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.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

The singing monks of Norcia Italy

A nice report on the life and music of some American monks living in Italy.

Is faith irrational?

(by Daniel Peterson 1-27-16)

Is faith irrational? Is it merely wishful thinking, believing something for which we have no solid grounds?

Many skeptics insist that religious faith violates reason. Yet that’s not the nature of the faith described in the scriptures. Jesus, for example, didn’t invite his audiences to believe in him without reason, but appealed (among other things) to his own miracles and good deeds: “Though ye believe not me,” he said, “believe the works” (John 10:38). “Jesus of Nazareth,” the apostle Peter told his listeners at Pentecost, was “a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22). The evangelist Luke mentioned “many infallible proofs” of Christ’s resurrection experienced by numerous eyewitnesses (Acts 1:3). Writing to the Romans, the apostle Paul cited the evidence found in nature: “For since the creation of the world,” he wrote, “God’s invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature — have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse” (Romans 1:20, New International Version).

What is faith? Another way of translating the Greek word in the New Testament that’s typically rendered as “faith” would be “trust.” Or, perhaps, “confidence.” (Please see my earlier articles on this topic titled “What exactly does ‘faith’ mean? Trust removes misunderstanding” and “Critics misunderstand the nature of faith.”) It’s useful to keep these other translations in mind because faith, trust or confidence isn’t solely a religious phenomenon. In fact, in ordinary daily life, those terms are most commonly used for interpersonal earthly relationships, as well as for our dependence on processes, machines, tools and other human creations. And we can learn quite a bit about the nature of even religious faith from considering such usage.

For instance, a baseball manager who puts his faith in an ace relief pitcher at the pivotal moment of a championship game, or in a player with a high batting average, isn’t being irrational. Parents who entrust their children to a baby sitter with whom they’re well-acquainted aren’t forsaking reason.

A couple exchanging wedding vows are expressing trust in each other. They’re making a leap of faith. Of course, their faith plainly exceeds the evidence — after all, their hoped-for happily-ever-after hasn’t actually happened yet — and goes well beyond demonstrable proof. But it’s not necessarily unreasonable, illogical or irrational.

Astronauts waiting for liftoff atop an enormous rocket may have a fairly good idea of how their vehicle is supposed to work and why, but they must trust those who built it and the folks at Mission Control who’re doing the countdown. They cannot possibly have built or even inspected everything personally.

A sailor on a submarine commits himself to the crushing pressures of the sea’s depths based on confidence in his captain, the expertise of those who designed and constructed the vessel, its navigational systems, the integrity of its hull, and the training and competence and goodwill of his fellow crew members. He has no hard proof that everything is perfect, but he doesn’t do so whimsically, recklessly or irrationally.

The opposite of “reason” isn’t “trust,” “confidence” or “faith.” It’s “irrationality.” The opposite of “faith” isn’t “reason.” It’s “disbelief” or “lack of trust.” Trust or confidence isn’t typically something that’s given purely at random, without reason, irrationally.

Faith or trust can be rational or not or somewhere in between. Confidence can be well-placed or misplaced. Plainly, though, it isn’t intrinsically irrational. And, as we gain positive experience with the person or object we’ve trusted, our confidence approaches certainty. Our faith grows. As Ernest Hemingway once remarked, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.”

And faith or trust is typically expressed in action. (In this sense, the traditional opposition of faith to works is misconceived.) Parents, trusting in the baby sitter, leave for their play. Astronauts, confident in their support personnel, strap themselves into their seats for launch. A department is entrusted to a new and, by definition, untested vice president. A father hands the car keys to his teenage daughter. A submarine’s crew seals the hatches and prepares to dive.

We live by faith. It cannot be otherwise. A world in which we trusted nobody and relied on nothing without complete advance proof, beyond reasonable doubt, is virtually inconceivable and would be quite unlivable. We would be paralyzed. And if that’s so in daily life, it’s surely true in much larger matters — where things are neither easily checked nor easily proved.


Saturday, January 30, 2016

America's liberal Christians might be progressive and inclusive, but they are also dying out

The Episcopal Church suffers from a staggering fall in church attendance

(by Tim Stanley 7-24-12)

The marketing mantra of liberal Christianity is “change or die.” Here’s the pitch: society has evolved since the 1960s, shedding its old prejudices and misunderstandings and replacing them with a new consensus based on reason and tolerance. Unless the mainstream churches embrace women priests, socialism and gay marriage, they will lose relevance and die out. Conservatives might protest that the beauty of God is rooted not in relevance but timelessness. But, like any other business, Christianity is a numbers game – so making that argument sounds like saying, “Yes the car might be popular, but the horse and cart is a design classic.” Intellectual momentum, liberals insist, is with love and diversity.

Not so, says Ross Douthat in a New York Times article that has caused quite a stir among the liberal faithful. Douthat charts the strange demise of the US Episcopal Church, which he describes as “flexible to the point of indifference on dogma, friendly to sexual liberation in almost every form, willing to blend Christianity with other faiths, and eager to downplay theology entirely in favor of secular political causes.” And yet, against the predictions of liberal theologians, the result has been the evolution from a pseudo-national church to a hippie sect. “Last week, while the church’s House of Bishops was approving a rite to bless same-sex unions, Episcopalian church attendance figures for 2000-10 circulated in the religion blogosphere. They showed something between a decline and a collapse: In the last decade, average Sunday attendance dropped 23 percent, and not a single Episcopal diocese in the country saw churchgoing increase.”

This story is familiar across many mainline Protestant denominations. William Briggs’ work shows that the Methodists and Presbyterians have all but disappeared in the last twenty years. By contrast, the Catholics and Assemblies of God have slightly increased their numbers and the Southern Baptists are “treading water.” This map reveals an astonishing picture of faith in the 21st century. Thanks to immigration and a steady increase in priests and congregations, the closest thing the US has to a national church is now the Roman Catholics. The only bastions of Protestantism are the Baptist South and Methodist West Virginia. The Mormons have a strong presence out West, too.

What is going on? From the Right, Charles Coulombe has a typically witty article in which he notes that the Episcopalians are doing what they always do, which is to imitate the social values of the establishment. The problem is that the establishment no longer directs popular tastes in the way that it used to. Diana Butler Bass offers a more liberal response, writing that Christianity is declining in general, not just liberal Christianity in particular. The problem with Bass’ pessimistic argument is that Pentecostalism bucks the trend. Where it is ultra-orthodox, Christianity is actually flourishing.

The other problem is that Americas’ overall belief in God shows no great evidence of decline. What has really fallen isn’t faith but patterns of communal worship. For millions of folks, it is no longer the default to join a church. In fact, giving up your Sunday morning to sit in a cold temple listening to a kazoo band playing Nearer My God To Thee is, for most people, a perverse thing to choose to do. Ergo, it is not enough to get them into the pews by saying, “We've driven out the bigots!” – ministers now how to convince the public that church attendance is in their personal interest. And conservatives are better at doing this than liberals because the product they are selling makes a stronger claim for its value to the individual.

Think of faith as operating within a highly competitive marketplace of ideas. Faith is no longer a product that people presume they need and are looking to buy (soap or shoes). Instead it has become a luxury item, or something that they have to be convinced that they might want (a sports car or a puppy). What kind of luxury is more likely to sell? Liberal Christianity is wracked with doubt, ducks strong conclusions and often seems to apologise for its own existence. Its liturgy is a confusing blend of styles and belief systems – just take a look at this colourful consecration of an Episcopalian bishop in Los Angeles. What do these people believe, and how is it relevant to me?

By contrast, the conservative Christian product is a zinger. It screams loudly that it is the only way to Heaven, its Protestant services tend to be packed and charismatic, and its theology is straight-forward and uncompromising. In case you think all this business talk is crass, take a look at the way that evangelicalism skillfully pitches itself as a lifestyle. It has become a multi-million dollar industry that offers advice on everything from parenting to drug rehabilitation. Tithing is pushed by some preachers as if it was a pyramid scheme – "You gotta give to receive." This is why conservative congregations grow while liberal ones dwindle. It pays to advertise.

Douthat ends his piece by making an historical case for the value of liberal Christianity through its centuries of good works. It’s a fair point, but it betrays a little of the establishment thinking that is destroying the Episcopal Church. Sadly, no one in the 21st century remembers or cares that the Episcopalians once helped feed the hungry or clothe the poor. What post-modern man is looking for is something that speaks to his desire to find clear, satisfying answers in a sick world of confusion and despair. Ironically, in its search for “social relevance,” liberal Christianity risks making itself irrelevant to many people’s lives.


Friday, January 29, 2016

The restoration of the ancient temple

(by Daniel Peterson 9-11-14)

Shortly before the dedication of the London England Temple, Hugh Nibley wrote a path-breaking article for the “Millennial Star” titled “The Idea of the Temple in History.” It’s been republished a number of times since, often under the title of “What is a Temple?” (it is online at

As members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints throughout Utah prepare to mark the rededication of the massively renovated Ogden Utah Temple later this month, it seems appropriate to call attention, once again, to that now classic 1958 article, and to some of the temple-related scholarship that Nibley and other Latter-day Saint researchers have produced since its original appearance.

Nibley first sketches Christian ambivalence toward Jerusalem’s ancient temple. Mainstream Christians have found it difficult to decide whether they should be glad at its destruction or lament its tragic loss. Should it be imitated, or condemned and ignored?

He then turns his attention to explaining the nature of ancient temple ideology, which, as he sees it, extended well beyond Jerusalem and Israel, and even beyond the Middle East.

Temples were typically oriented to the four cardinal directions, he says, and to the three principal levels of reality — the underworld, earth and heaven or the celestial world. Indeed, they were places of contact with God or the gods, the knot that connected and bound earth with the worlds “above” and “below.” Moreover, they were terrestrial representations of their heavenly and underworld archetypes.

In them, rites of initiation were performed that represented death and rebirth or resurrection. In fact, a ritual drama re-enacted the creation of the world, including also the temporary defeat but ultimate triumph of a great hero — another symbol of resurrection and victory over death.

These temple-related ideas and practices, Nibley says, were diffused around the world, but, to a substantial degree, were also corrupted and eventually lost.

However, he declares, “In the fourth decade of the 19th century the idea of the Temple suddenly emerged full-blown in its perfection, not as a theory alone, but as a program of intense and absorbing activity which rewarded the faithful by showing them the full scope and meaning of the Plan of Salvation."

This reborn complex of temple architecture, symbolism and ritual, Nibley argues, was inaccessible to Joseph Smith by natural means; it was unavailable from his environment. On the contrary, its best parallels lie in antiquity. But how can this be explained? Nibley plainly regards the temple as powerful evidence for Joseph Smith’s claim of divine revelation.

And he’s not alone in that belief. His own many publications on ancient temples — including, but not limited to, “Temple and Cosmos" (Deseret Book, 1992) and “The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyri: An Egyptian Endowment” (Deseret Book, 2005) — have been supplemented by the work of other Latter-day Saint scholars who explicitly describe themselves as continuing his research. In the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, scholars at Brigham Young University and elsewhere produced three multi-author volumes on “The Temple in Antiquity” (BYU Religious Studies Center, 1984), “Temples of the Ancient World” (Deseret Book, 1994) and “The Temple in Time and Eternity” (Maxwell Institute, 1999).

Some of this scholarship — John Lundquist’s “The Temple: Meeting Place of Heaven and Earth" (Thames and Hudson, London, 1993) and “The Temple of Jerusalem: Past, Present and Future” (Praeger, New York, 2007), for example, and William Hamblin and David Seely’s “Solomon’s Temple: Myth and History” (Thames and Hudson, London, 2007) — has been published for non-Mormon audiences. (Significantly, the latter two books are dedicated to Nibley.)
And the work continues.

On Oct. 25, for example, the 2014 “Temple on Mount Zion Conference” will be on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo (see In it, a number of scholars will apply their specialist training to ancient temple-related concepts not only out of antiquarian interest but also with modern temple-going Latter-day Saints in mind.

In her alleged biography of Joseph Smith, the late Fawn Brodie mocked the grandiosity of his ideas. With the temple in Nauvoo, Illinois, she remarked, he was attempting to make that sleepy Mississippi River town the center of the universe. But her jibe is truer than she understood. For the temple, as the point of contact between earth, heaven and the realm of the dead, is in very fact the center of the cosmos. Indeed, as Nibley explained, “It is a grandiose concept. Here for the first time in many centuries men may behold a genuine Temple, functioning as a Temple should — a Temple in the fullest and purest sense of the word.”

In Ogden, no less than in Nauvoo.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

David Hyrum Smith grave

(by Kenneth Mays 1-20-16)

Emma Hale Smith was pregnant when her husband the Prophet Joseph Smith was killed on June 27, 1844. She bore a son on Nov. 17, who was one of four sons to live to adulthood. He was named David Hyrum Smith.

Initially, David was raised by his widowed mother. He had a stepfather beginning in December 1847, when Emma married Lewis Bidamon. David was a remarkably gifted individual. In addition to being very musical, he was also a poet and an artist. Some of his original paintings and poetry are displayed at the Joseph Smith Historic Site in Nauvoo, Illinois, a must-see for visitors. It is maintained by the Community of Christ.

David was an effective missionary and leader in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now Community of Christ). Beginning when he was a young adult, David experienced a serious struggle with mental illness. He married and had a daughter. After fighting his challenges valiantly, he was eventually committed to the Northern Illinois Hospital and Asylum for the Insane at Elgin, Illinois, where he remained until his passing in 1904. He was buried at Lamoni, Iowa, not far from his brother Alexander.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Homeless baby, born on the street, embraced by pope’s charity

( 1-21-16)

Pope Francis’ outreach to the homeless with showers, shelters and other services may have its youngest beneficiary — an infant born on a street near St. Peter’s Square.

A homeless woman gave birth on a cardboard box mere yards from the Vatican on Wednesday (Jan. 20) in near-freezing temperatures, according to Reuters.

Police said the 35-year-old Romanian woman gave birth to a baby girl with the aid of police officers.

The head of Pope Francis’ charity office, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, later visited the woman and baby in a hospital a few blocks away and offered her one year’s free accommodation in a church-owned apartment, a Vatican spokesman said.

Krajewski knew both the mother and her partner because they use showers and food services the Vatican provides to a growing number of homeless in the area.

Serving the homeless has been an ongoing theme for Pope Francis.
  • In June, he donated money for two busloads of poor people to travel from Rome to see the Shroud of Turin, a cloth that many believe covered Jesus after he was crucified.
  • In March, Francis invited 150 mostly homeless people to a private viewing of the Vatican museums and the Sistine Chapel.
  • In February, he asked that showers be set up for homeless people under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square. The Vatican’s charity office began offering haircuts and shaves by professional volunteers, as part of the shower service.
  • And earlier this month the Vatican treated 2,000 people — the poor, homeless, refugees and a group of prisoners — to a visit to a circus in Rome.
There have been rumors that the pope occasionally sneaks out of the Vatican to join those helping homeless people, although his staff insists that is an urban legend.

Of course, Francis is not the first pope to reach out to the poor and homeless. Mother Teresa persuaded St. John Paul II to open a soup kitchen and homeless shelter just inside the Vatican walls in the 1980s.


see also

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Haka performed at LDS wedding reception viewed over 25 million times

(by Lindsey Williams 1-22-16)

A traditional Maori war dance performed at the wedding reception of an LDS couple is receiving worldwide attention.

The haka, filmed by Westone Productions, took place at the reception for Benjamin and Aaliyah Armstrong.

The Armstrongs were sealed in the Hamilton New Zealand Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Jan. 15.

At the couple’s reception, friends and family members performed the haka for the newlyweds, moving the bride to tears.

"All those guys, the people that are so close to your heart and who you've shared so many experiences with — you can't help but feel overwhelmed,” Benjamin Armstrong told ONE News.

The video was posted to the I’m Proud to be Tongan Facebook page on Jan. 20. At the time this article was published, it had been viewed over 25 million times.


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Recent scholarship and the search for the historical Jesus

(by Daniel Peterson 1-21-16)

Many assume, and some triumphantly boast, that the scholarship of the past 150 years has gutted the New Testament gospels and their story of Jesus. And no wonder: Popular articles and documentaries appear every year — often at Christmas and Easter — suggesting that Christian belief rests more on mythology, even on flat-out historical fabrication, than on genuine history. Moreover, a small but noisy movement, mostly among atheists and agnostics on the Internet and mostly disdained by scholars in relevant disciplines, now confidently declares that Jesus himself never existed at all — not even as a merely mortal Jewish teacher or peasant reformer. (See my previous column titled "The evidence for Jesus is early and powerful.")

As its subtitle indicates, Robert Hutchinson’s interesting and accessible book “Searching for Jesus: New Discoveries in the Quest for Jesus of Nazareth — and How They Confirm the Gospel Accounts” argues, to the contrary, that scholarship increasingly supports the four gospels rather than undercutting them.

Among the highlights of Hutchinson’s discussion are these:

• The 2012 announcement of seven previously unknown New Testament papyri — one of which, a text from the gospel of Mark, may date to the first century of the Christian era — seems to contradict suppositions that the biblical accounts were created long after the death of Jesus. And these manuscripts are presumably copies of even earlier writings.

• One young secular scholar in Britain now argues that Mark’s account, usually reckoned to be the earliest of the four canonical gospels, wasn’t written half a century after Jesus but, rather, within perhaps five or 10 years of his crucifixion.

• For a long time, it’s been assumed that the New Testament gospels rest on anonymous and doctrinally prejudiced reports that had circulated for decades prior to being written down in their ultimate form, and that, as folklore and rumor typically do, they had grown considerably in the telling. However, excellent recent scholarship argues that, on the contrary, the gospels are based on eyewitness testimony from identifiable, named individuals.

• For decades, many scholars have contended that ancient Christian leaders suppressed early Gnostic “gospels” in favor of the theologically biased and less women-friendly narratives of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Some have claimed that such documents provide an earlier and more accurate view of Jesus than the canonized documents do. Increasingly, though, scholarship recognizes that the Gnostic texts aren’t earlier — they were actually written between one and three centuries after Jesus — and that they’re sometimes extremely misogynistic.

• One of the arguments commonly made against the reality of Jesus is that Nazareth itself, his supposed hometown, didn’t even exist in the first century. The Old Testament and the ancient historian Josephus never mention it, and there were no archaeological traces of it. As one writer quipped, we know that Jesus isn’t real just as we know that the Wizard of Oz isn’t real because both Nazareth and the Land of Oz are fictional. In 2008, one such skeptic even published a book titled “The Myth of Nazareth: The Invented Town of Jesus.” Unfortunately for his thesis, it was just a year later that archaeologists discovered the remains of a first-century stone house only a few steps from Nazareth’s beautiful Basilica of the Annunciation — a house that, its excavator suggests, might even be the very house in which Jesus grew up. (See my previous column titled "Archaeology and the boyhood of Jesus in Nazareth.")

• Tangible archaeological proof of the existence of key New Testament figures such as the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, the high priest Caiaphas, and perhaps even James, the half-brother of Jesus, has now been found.

• Some scholars have long suggested that first-century Jews were expecting a militant messiah who would liberate them from Roman oppression, which is probably true for most, but also that the idea of Jesus as a suffering and dying Savior was invented in order to excuse his obvious failure to expel the Romans. Now, though, a Hebrew-language tablet dating to the early first century has been found that seems to speak not only of a suffering and dying messiah but even, possibly, of an expectation that he would rise from the dead after three days.

• During the 20th century, many scholars maintained that belief in Jesus as a divine savior arose 50 or even 100 years after his death. Newer research, though, contends that it emerged very early, within perhaps a year or two of his crucifixion.

Recent scholarship, far from being an enemy to Christian faith, may have become a powerful ally.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Howard Divinity School returns sacred Ethiopian manuscript to Orthodox monastery

(by Adelle M. Banks 1-20-16)

A delegation from Howard University Divinity School has returned an ancient manuscript to an Ethiopian monastery after scholars discovered its place of origin.

The manuscript contains two texts, the Acts of Paul and the Acts of Serabamon, and is part of one of the largest collections of Ethiopian sacred artifacts in the U.S. The manuscript was owned by the late Dr. Andre Tweed, a prominent psychiatrist and Howard alumnus who donated it in 1993.

Alton B. Pollard III, the school’s dean, said the manuscript was returned on Jan. 11 to the Debre Libanos monastery, which is about two hours away from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. A crowd of several thousand was on hand as dignitaries formally received the manuscript, which will be housed in a glass case and be available for the public to touch once a year on Jan. 11, the date of its return, he said.

Pollard said the centuries-old books are sacred to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and are distinct from the Book of Acts in the New Testament. They describe the work and life of the Apostle Paul and the lesser-known story of Serabamon, a martyred bishop in the early church who was named a saint.

The manuscript dates to the 15th century. It formed part of a larger collection housed at Howard’s divinity school, and intended to connect “peoples of African descent the world over with Christianity as a religion of African peoples well prior to the trauma caused by the mass enslavement and colonization of Africa’s people,” Pollard said.

Gay Byron, a New Testament and early Christianity expert at the divinity school, was one of the first to recognize that the document should be returned, but it took years to pinpoint its exact place of origin. The discovery was made in the cataloging process after the manuscript was digitized.

George Fox Evangelical Seminary professor Steve Delamarter, another researcher involved in the process of returning the manuscript, said it is one of the oldest surviving Ethiopian manuscripts and especially meaningful for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

“Their artifacts are for them enormously significant and there’s been a few such cases where institutions outside of Ethiopia have returned things to them and they’ve been enormously grateful for that,” said Delamarter, director of the Ethiopian Manuscript Imaging Project, who joined the Howard scholars in Ethiopia last week.

He said the just-returned Tweed manuscript was ordered by the 15th-century abbot of the monastery, who was the indigenous leader of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church at the time.

“They’re very, very rare works,” he said. “I don’t know of any other manuscripts that contain these two apocryphal Acts of Paul and Serabamon.”

Howard delegation members hope their visit to Ethiopia will encourage others to return sacred documents to their original sites.

“With all due institutional integrity, we wanted to set an example for other schools, museums and institutions around this country and even throughout the world for what it means to have rare manuscripts actually in their rightful home of origin,” said Byron.

In recent years, Delamarter has helped turn over a psalter that was once owned by an Ethiopian emperor to a museum in the East African country and a book of the four Christian Gospels once used by an Ethiopian empress to the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The temple and the family

"There exists a righteous unity between the temple and the home. Understanding the eternal nature of the temple will draw you to your family; understanding the eternal nature of the family will draw you to the temple." - Elder Gary E. Stevenson

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Meet three of the Eight Witnesses

(by Daniel Peterson 1-14-16)

An examination of the lives of the witnesses to the Book of Mormon, beyond the testimony printed with each copy of the book for nearly two centuries, reveals the depth and consistency of their convictions.

Joseph Smith’s younger brother Samuel undertook the first missionary journey of the newly organized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April 1830. He took the Book of Mormon through parts of western New York — a mission that famously led to the conversion of such people as Heber C. Kimball and Brigham Young. Orson Hyde, who knew Samuel Smith well from having traveled with him a couple of years later as a missionary, described him as “a man slow of speech and unlearned, yet a man of good faith and extreme integrity.” And, reminiscing decades later, Daniel Tyler recalled the visit of Samuel Smith and Hyde to Erie County, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1832, which resulted in his own conversion.

They “came to our neighborhood and held a few meetings. Elder Smith read the 29th chapter of Isaiah at the first meeting and delineated the circumstances of the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, of which he said he was a witness. He knew his brother Joseph had the plates, for the prophet had shown them to him, and he had handled them and seen the engravings thereon. His speech was more like a narrative than a sermon.”

Samuel Smith died a month after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum at Carthage, Illinois, weakened by a dangerous and ultimately fruitless ride on horseback to save his brothers and, no doubt, deeply grieved at their assassinations. He can reasonably be counted as the family’s third martyr.

Hiram Page too paid a significant price for his testimony of the Book of Mormon. During the Missouri persecutions, according to one source, he was nearly whipped to death. Although he separated himself from the church after 1838, Page continued to insist on what he had seen. In fact, in a letter to William E. McLellin dated May 30, 1847, he even alluded to supplemental sacred experiences that weren’t directly connected to his role as one of the Eight Witnesses:

“You want to know my faith relative to the Book of Mormon and the winding up of wickedness. As to the Book of Mormon, it would be doing injustice to myself and to the work of God of the last days to say that I could know a thing to be true in 1830 and know the same thing to be false in 1847. To say my mind was so treacherous that I had forgotten what I saw. To say that a man of Joseph’s ability, who at that time did not know how to pronounce the word Nephi, could write a book of 600 pages, as correct as the Book of Mormon, without supernatural power. And to say that those holy angels who came and showed themselves to me as I was walking through the field, to confirm me in the work of the Lord of the last days — three of whom came to me afterwards and sang an hymn in their own pure language. Yea, it would be treating the God of heaven with contempt to deny these testimonies, with too many others to mention here.”

Hiram Page died in 1852, when his second son was 20 years old. Later, that son told Andrew Jenson, who served as assistant historian for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the early 20th century, “I knew my father to be true and faithful to his testimony of the divinity of the Book of Mormon until the very last. Whenever he had an opportunity to bear his testimony to this effect, he would always do so, and seemed to rejoice exceedingly in having been privileged to see the plates.”

Jacob Whitmer died on April 21, 1856. He had separated himself from the Latter-day Saints in 1838, and he lived the remainder of his life in the vicinity of Richmond, Missouri.

In 1888, Whitmer’s second son told Jenson, “My father, Jacob Whitmer, was always faithful and true to his testimony to the Book of Mormon, and confirmed it on his death bed.”

In fact, Jacob Whitmer seems to have confirmed his witness of the book even after his death: His marble tombstone featured both the Bible and an open copy of the Book of Mormon with a blooming rose set upon it.

Investigation into the testimonies and lives of the other witnesses reveals a completely consistent picture. That’s why the foremost authority on them, Richard Lloyd Anderson, emeritus professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, can truthfully say, “No testimony of direct revelation in the world’s history is better documented than the testimony of the Book of Mormon witnesses.”


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Mormon gay policy is ‘will of the Lord’ through his prophet, senior apostle says

(by Peggy Fletcher Stack 1-10-16)

After same-sex marriage became legal in several countries, including the United States, the LDS Church's top 15 leaders wrestled with what to do, weighed all the ramifications, fasted, prayed, met in the temple and sought God's guidance on the issue.
Balancing their understanding of Mormon doctrine about the "plan of salvation," which is built on male-female marriage, with compassion for children of same-sex couples, Russell M. Nelson, head of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, said Sunday night, "we considered countless permutations and combinations of possible scenarios that could arise."
Then President Thomas S. Monson, considered a "prophet, seer and revelator" in the 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, declared "the mind of the Lord and the will of the Lord."
That led to the Utah-based faith's new policy regarding same-sex Mormon couples — that they would be labeled "apostates" and that their children would not be allowed baptism and other LDS religious rites until they turn 18.
"Each of us during that sacred moment felt a spiritual confirmation," Nelson, next in line for the Mormon presidency, told the faith's young adults in the first official explanation of the hotly debated policy's origins. "It was our privilege as apostles to sustain what had been revealed to President Monson."
Nelson explained that revelation from the Lord to his servants is a sacred process.
"The [three-member] First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles counsel together and share all the Lord has directed us to understand and to feel, individually and collectively," he said. "And then, we watch the Lord move upon the president of the church to proclaim the Lord's will."
He said that protocol was followed when Monson, in 2012, announced lower minimum ages for full-time Mormon missionary service and again late last year with the new policy on same-sex couples and their children.
The 91-year-old apostle, joined by his wife, Wendy Watson Nelson, spoke from the campus of church-owned Brigham Young University-Hawaii, and his remarks were beamed across the globe and live-streamed on the Internet.
Nelson's talk addressed "millennials" — those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s — about their goals, their worries and their strengths.
These young adults were sent "to Earth during the most compelling dispensation in the history of this world," the apostle said, " … to help prepare the people of this world for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and his millennial reign."
This is civilization's "eleventh hour," Nelson said. "The Lord has declared that this is the last time he will call laborers into his vineyard to gather the elect from the four quarters of the Earth."
Millennials will be challenged and tested as the biblical Abraham, who was asked to ritually sacrifice his son. They will have to defend the faith from critics and stay true to their beliefs.
Young Mormons, like all members, should seek God in prayer for their own answers and confirmations about these issues, he said. "Every one of us has questions. Seeking to learn, understand and recognize truth is a vital part of our mortal experience. … You, too, will learn best by asking inspired questions."
The safest course, Nelson advised, is to heed the words of Mormon leaders, particularly Monson.
"Prophets see ahead. They see the harrowing dangers the adversary has placed, or will yet place, in our path," Nelson said. "Prophets also foresee the grand possibilities and privileges awaiting those who listen with the intent to obey.
" ... You may not always understand every declaration of a living prophet," he added. "But when you know a prophet is a prophet, you can approach the Lord in humility and faith and ask for your own witness about whatever his prophet has proclaimed."
Nelson, who became president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles last year, warned his listeners to beware of those who might tear down their faith.
"The somber reality is that there are 'servants of Satan' embedded throughout society," he said. "So be very careful about whose counsel you follow."
In the end, the apostle reminded the young people that they were born for this time — with an important assignment: to usher in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lottery not likely to come to Utah anytime soon

(by Dennis Romboy 1-14-16)

Utahns flocking to Idaho or Wyoming might have a better chance to win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot than the Beehive State has for running its own lottery.

Even before Utah became a state 120 years ago this month, early leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made it clear gambling wasn't welcome. Nothing has changed.  Utah is one of two states that prohibits all forms of gambling, and it is among six states that don't have a government-sanctioned lottery. And other than a few online petitions and calls for Utah to "grow up," there have been no serious efforts over the years to change the Utah Constitution to make way for Powerball or Mega Millions.  "I would suggest that any wise legislator or any wise governor would shoot it down immediately," said Joseph Rust, a longtime Salt Lake attorney who studies gambling issues.

Legalizing any kind of gambling in the state would pave the way for Native American tribes in Utah to open casinos, Rust said.

Federal law in 1988 recognized the right of Indian tribes to build casinos or other gambling establishments on their reservations, as long as the state where they are located has some form of legalized gambling.  "You would have slot machines in Fort Duchesne and down in the Four Corners area overnight," he said. "That would introduce this whole thing of widespread gambling into Utah."  A proposed amendment to the Utah Constitution takes a two-thirds majority vote from both the House and Senate to get on the general election ballot.

Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the odds are slim to none that lawmakers would do that for a lottery, though if they did place it before voters, "it may very well pass."

The veteran Senate budget chairman, though, would oppose a lottery measure at either stage.  "Does it really generate all this free money or does it bring all these social problems with it?" he said. Rust sees state-run lotteries as a "deceitful policy" that hurts poor people and fails economically. The state, he said, is better to raise taxes for education or roads so everyone pays a fair share and it doesn't burden the needy.  "It's not as popular, but it's a safer way," he said.  Rust said he'd like to show multimillion dollar lottery winners a picture of all the "poor people" standing in line for tickets to let them see who the money comes from.  "That image nobody talks about," he said.

Les Bernal, executive director of Stop Predatory Gambling, said there are several reasons why Utah is better off without a lottery. The nonprofit group, based in Washington, D.C., opposes state lotteries and casinos.

The state's economy is stronger and there are more jobs because people aren't spending their discretionary income on something that has no economic impact, he said.  State government finances are healthier without a lottery, Bernal said, adding that state-sponsored gambling worsens budget deficits over the long term. Also, he said residents end up paying higher taxes for fewer services.  "It's the biggest budget gimmick there is," he said.

The state, Bernal said, also has less financial inequality than states with lotteries.

"Utah, to its credit, is not actively cheating and exploiting its own citizens. There's no debate that much of the revenue collected from lotteries falls on those who are the most financially desperate in society. You have less barriers for a middle class life in Utah today because you don't have a lottery," he said.

Culture of Greed

Bernal said it's also more than just a coincidence that Utahns lead the nation in charitable giving. Gambling, he said, creates a culture of greed and selfishness and undermines the ethic of caring about other people.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Mormon temple to be built despite shakedown

(photo from article 1-5-16)

It is good to see plans for construction of a $70 million Mormon temple in Center City moving forward, despite the Nutter administration’s best efforts to undermine the deal.
( 10-18-13)

Mayor Nutter should be basking in one of the biggest development projects to come together on his watch. But instead, the administration managed to come away from a good deal looking bad.  Even in reaching a settlement, the Nutter administration still managed to squeeze $100,000 from the owner of the property and $300,000 from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At issue was a lawsuit the city’s Redevelopment Authority filed in December against the land owner, Stephen Klein, after he struck a deal to sell the property for $7.5 million to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The RDA suddenly wanted to seize the property, claiming Klein breached an agreement signed 23 years ago to develop the site within five years. The RDA then offered to drop its lawsuit if Klein would give the city a 25 percent cut — or $1.9 million — of the sale price for the property.
Such an offer was completely arbitrary, and reeked of extortion. More broadly, the move sent a negative message to developers throughout the city, which is already known as an unfriendly and costly place to do business. RDA director Terry Gillen argued that Klein had violated his 1987 agreement and the city should now share in his “windfall.” It was a lame argument given the facts. Klein made several attempts to develop the site over the years, but could never fashion a deal that worked. He maintained a parking lot on the site and paid his property taxes, which totaled $52,000 last year. And Klein is hardly making a killing on the deal. He paid $3.7 million for the property in 1987 and is selling it for $7.5 million.
The bigger issue is this: In a city struggling to attract investment and jobs, the Nutter administration’s heavyhanded tactics sent a bad message that threatened to kill this gift horse. The 68,000-square-foot temple is expected to create 300 construction jobs and 50 permanent jobs. Once complete, the temple is expected to attract 400,000 visitors a year. Fortunately, the Nutter administration came to its collective senses. The mayor announced that the differences between Klein and the RDA had been resolved and construction could soon move forward.
But even in announcing the deal, it was revealed that Klein would pay the city $100,000. (A far cry from the $1.9 million the city was seeking, but a shakedown nonetheless.) Gillen said the Mormons would fork over $300,000 to “a cause or program that is consistent with the church’s mission.” In return for what? The pleasure of spending $70 million in the city? Welcome to Philadelphia. The city that loves you back — provided you pay a six-figure fee.


Sacrament Meeting and the Sacrament

(by Elder Dallin H. Oaks October 2008 General Conference)

The ordinance of the sacrament makes the sacrament meeting the most sacred and important meeting in the Church.

We live in the perilous times prophesied by the Apostle Paul (see 2 Timothy 3:1). Those who try to walk the straight and narrow path see inviting detours on every hand. We can be distracted, degraded, downhearted, or depressed. How can we have the Spirit of the Lord to guide our choices and keep us on the path?

In modern revelation the Lord gave the answer in this commandment:
“And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day;
“For verily this is a day appointed unto you to rest from your labors, and to pay thy devotions unto the Most High” (D&C 59:9–10).

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

15 witnesses to the Book of Mormon

(by Daniel Peterson 12-30-15)

Some, unable or unwilling to take the witnesses to the Book of Mormon at their word, question their claims of seeing and hefting the golden plates, insisting instead that the witnesses “saw” only with “spiritual eyes” — which means, effectively, in their imaginations.

Historian Steven Harper explains in an article titled "The Eleven Witnesses" that “this explanation is appealing to some because it does not completely dismiss the compelling testimonies of the Book of Mormon witnesses, but it categorizes them as unreal.”

Harper’s essay appears in a valuable book called “The Coming Forth of the Book of Mormon: A Marvelous Work and a Wonder” (Salt Lake City, 2015), edited by Dennis Largey, Andrew Hedges, John Hilton III and Kerry Hull. Immediately following it in the same volume is an essay by Amy Easton-Flake and Rachel Cope, titled “A Multiplicity of Witnesses: Women and the Translation Process.” Viewed together, these two articles examine the role of 11 men and four women who saw, felt, heard and knew. We can accept their testimonies, or we can attempt to evade them.

Harper examines the surviving evidence of the witnesses, citing the basic, uncontroversial historical principle that, all else being equal, firsthand testimony should be preferred over secondhand reports when such testimony is available.

How does that principle apply in this case? Besides their formal testimonies printed in every edition of the Book of Mormon since 1830, two of the Three Witnesses and three of the Eight Witnesses are known to have left behind written accounts of their experience. And numerous statements survive from others who heard the testimonies of one or more of them.

Yet, Harper observes, critics of the Book of Mormon — to the extent that they engage the witnesses at all — “repeatedly choose to privilege selected hearsay more than the direct statements of the witnesses,” interpreting it by means of speculations and conjectures. (He writes of “selected hearsay” because the overwhelming majority even of the secondhand accounts are consistent with the official witness testimonies; only a small minority clash with them.)

Harper recounts the story of the intelligent but skeptical William McLellin, a onetime member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles who lived for five decades in embittered estrangement from the church. Yet he never lost his conviction, founded upon lengthy and searching interviews with the witnesses, that their testimonies were true and that, consequently, the Book of Mormon was of God.

“Why not make the same satisfying choice?” Harper asks. “Why not opt to believe in the direct statements of the witnesses and their demonstrably lifelong commitments to the Book of Mormon? This choice asks us to have faith in the marvelous, the possibility of angels, spiritual eyes, miraculous translation and gold plates, but it does not require us to discount the historical record or create hypothetical ways to reconcile the compelling Book of Mormon witnesses with our own skepticism.”

Easton-Flake and Cope contribute in their essay to our understanding of the Latter-day Saint past by addressing the “gap in scholarship and historical memory” connected with the role of women in the formative events of the Restoration. They concentrate specifically on four women — Mary Musselman Whitmer, Lucy Mack Smith, Lucy Harris and Emma Hale Smith — in their capacity as witnesses to the Book of Mormon and facilitators of its appearance.

I’ll mention the most surprising of them first: Lucy Harris. We’re accustomed to thinking of Martin Harris’ wife as an antagonist to the Book of Mormon, to Joseph Smith and, for that matter, eventually to her own husband. But this oversimplifies a very complex person: Before she became an opponent, she actually contributed money to help Joseph while he was translating the record. She did this after a remarkable dream in which an angel showed the plates to her. Later, she and her daughter were permitted to hold the wooden box in which the plates were kept, and both were impressed by how heavy they were.

Lucy Mack Smith and others in her family, as well as Emma Smith, were allowed to touch the plates and related objects through thin cloths. They heard the metallic sound that the plates made when they scraped together.

Finally, Mary Whitmer, David Whitmer’s mother, was shown the plates by an apparent angel while she was out in the family barn to milk the cows. (See my previous column on Mary’s account.) She may have been the first person to see them after Joseph Smith himself and Josiah Stowell.

These articles represent the latest scholarship on the Book of Mormon witnesses, who remain as formidable and as convincing today as they were when William McLellin interviewed them back in the early 1800s.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Alexander Hale Smith grave, Lamoni, Iowa

(by Kenneth Mays 12-30-15)

Of the 11 children of Joseph and Emma Smith, only four biological sons and one adopted daughter survived to adulthood. The third son was Alexander Hale Smith. He was born June 2, 1838, in Far West, Caldwell County, Missouri. His family had arrived there from Ohio less than two months before. Six months later, his father, the Prophet Joseph Smith, would be arrested and ultimately end up in Liberty Jail until April 1839.

Alexander’s older brother, Joseph, became the first president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (now the Community of Christ) in 1860. Another brother, Frederick, passed away in 1862 without having been baptized. This led Alexander to become more religiously inclined, and he was baptized into the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. He served in many important callings therein, including apostle, missionary, member of the First Presidency and Presiding Patriarch. He passed away on Aug. 12, 1909.

Friday, January 1, 2016

'Understanding Your Endowment' provides insight for LDS templegoers

(by Rachel Chipman 12-30-15)

Temple ordinances of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are rich with symbolism and teachings. As Utah native Cory B. Jensen's daughter prepared to receive her endowment, Jensen wanted her to understand enough to appreciate the significance of her temple covenants.

With this goal, he wrote an exploration of the symbolism and doctrine of LDS temple ordinances that was the basis for his recent book, "Understanding Your Endowment."

Jensen, a temple worker currently serving in the Mount Timpanogos Utah Temple, uses the scriptures and the words of latter-day prophets to explain the significance of temple clothing, temple architecture and other aspects of temple ordinances. Jensen uses only the most credible sources and largely limits himself to canonized scripture and the words of presidents of the LDS Church.

Jensen also explores ancient cultures to explain to modern-day readers the meaning certain actions would have had to earlier disciples of Christ. For example, in biblical times, Jensen explains, two people making a covenant would often exchange clothing. This gift of clothing symbolized a gift of identity and status. In the Bible, readers can note this in the stories of Jonathon and David and of the prodigal son and his father, as well as in Paul's admonition to put on the armor of God.

"Understanding Your Endowment" is geared toward members of the LDS Church who are preparing to receive or have recently received temple ordinances. However, any religious reader could find insight into his or her relationship with God through reading this book.

The author tastefully refers to the religious symbolism of war and sexuality.