Monday, January 30, 2006

No More Boring Sacraments

Christian A. Johnson in his "Seven Deadly Sins of Sacrament Meeting Talks" makes the following list:

1) The Sin of Unpreparedness.
2) The Sin of Time Enroachment
3) The Sin of Out-and-Out Time Theft
4) The Sin of Repeating Urban Legends
5) The Sin of Drawing Upon Inappropriate Material
6) The Sin of "Too Much Information"
7) The Sin of Casting Blame on Others for Your Speaking Assignment

To the above list I would like to add:

8) The Sin of Not Using the Scriptures. I don't know how many talks I have heard that pretty much contain Sin Six and Sin Four with almost no mention of the Scriptures. We should be teaching each other the Gospel, and it is in the Scriptures that the gospel truths are most readily available. Reading long excerpts from stories out of the Church magazines or any other material goes in one ear and out the other for me. It would be great to get people's insights into what they have learned or thought about as they Feast Upon the Word, rather than regurgitate another's creative tale spinning.

9) The Sin of Political Speaches. Believe it or not, even Conservative statements over the pulpit make me nervous. We should make sure what we say is backed up by recent prophets and plenty of scriptures. Quoting a politician, pundit, or pop culture is probably not a good idea. Small doses might be fine if carefully used.

I would like to elevate the Seventh Sin to the First slot. I love giving talks. Many years of my life have been devoted to the study of the gospel, so it is a thrill to get up and share what I have learned. Of course, it helps that I love getting in front of audiences as long as I have a reason. But to get up and say from the first "when the Biship called I hoped it wasn't about giving a talk" is a complete turn-off. It is the same for me as saying "I didn't want to do this and therefore I don't know why you should listen." This practice of voicing your disfavor for talking has got to stop!

Maybe I should set an example (I already completely skip out on saying anything about the act of speaking when giving a Sacrament talk) and just give a positive statement every time I get up. It would go something like this: It is so nice to get up in front of this ward and express my heartfelt gratitude for the gospel. When the Bishop asked me to give a talk on . . . add subject . . . it gave me the opportunity to revisit my favorite scripture . . . add scripture.

No matter what the probems might be that hamper the effectiveness of Sacrament meeting talks, lets all work together to improve our experiences. We all know how boring a group of lay speakers are. Something must be done to benefit the soul more fully during a time when we should be strengthening each other. Certainly its not about having a professional clergy. Rather, its about wishing for the voice of an angel and then reaching for the closeness of the Spirit in our communications. Its time to start a new crusade to rid the Sacrament Meetings of horrible talks. Especially when most people can do better when they put their hearts and minds into a project of personal importance. And the gospel is important.

Now lets all say together in our most enthusiastic voices: I am glad to be giving this talk today.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Family and Gender Success

It used to be that the girls were in trouble, and feminist ideas of equality would save the day. The main weapon of "equality" was to insist there was no difference between the sexes and attack males as if they were in the way. It appears that the technique is working. According to The Trouble with Boys by Peg Tyre, boys are turning off and tuning out education. Girls, on the other hand, are at least succeeding. This might be good news to those who believe in a Feminist utopia where women are significant and men are . . . something else. But, for those who care about the future of everyone this can only be bad. After all these years of equality of the sexes we are learning by science and society that there really are differences between males and females.

According to the blog commentary Does Our Society Treat Boys Like Defective Girls, society is most likely going to ignore the obvious:

Despite this crisis, our society is working hard to promote tolerance to the point of destroying the institution we need most – the traditional two-parent family with both a male and a female role model, where both parents fulfill their responsibilities to each other and to their children. Even as the pop culture regularly portrays men as unfeeling dolts, the tolerance crowd continues to blindly claim that their proposals will not harm the basic institution of our society, but long-term evidence shows that this is not true.

Ironically, the same same article rejects what it just suggested:

I’m not advocating a return to obviously bad sexist attitudes.

It is "bad sexist attitudes" that we need to return. I don't mean seeing women as inferior, unintelligent, and only objects of desire. Rather, I mean the attitudes that feminists would consider undesirable. That would include women as mothers and nurturers and men as providers and protectors. Latter-day Saints were warned by prophets in The Family: A Proclamation to the World exactly what happens when men, women, and children are not in stable relationships. Society sufferes and everyone loses. Girls and Boys don't need role models. They need loving and traditional parents:

The family is ordained of God. Marriage between man and woman is essential to His eternal plan. Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities. By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

We warn that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Loss of Bible Truths: A New Interpretation

It is often a Mormon viewpoint that the Bible is, regardless of the divine nature of its existance, textually problematic. The problems with the text are believed to have created huge holes in theological understanding. Usually it is an argument based off of Joseph Smith's statements such as:

From sundry revelations which have been recieved, it was apparent that many important points touching the salvation of men, had been taken from the Bible, or lost before it was compiled.

And perhaps from one of the most repeated quotes:

Ignorant translators, careless transcribers, or designing and corrupt priests have committed many errors.

Ironically, all major Mormon doctrine has been found in the Bible, regardless of the agreement of the textproof interpretation. The "translation" of the Bible by Joseph Smith hasn't even played a very important role in LDS Bible reading, acting more like supplimental material or grammatical correctives (part of this is because of historical rather than institutional reasons). One of the most common questions of non-Mormons to Mormons when they learn of how the Bible is viewed is why there are not Mormon specific translations beyond Joseph Smith's Translation (JST) by revelation. This is perplexing to some considering the JST isn't seen as complete or the last word and the number of Bible translations currently available. Certainly the Mormons would want their own evaluation of older documents with such a critical view of Bible completeness and innerancy.

I believe that answer is in how Nephi sees the apostacy and restoration in relation to the Bible at the dawn of the Christian era. One of the more mysterious comments is that the Bible came from the mouth of "a" Jew, rather than several individuals. It is clear from the context of the vision that Jew would be Jesus Christ. Related to this is the idea that the Bible is filled with Covenants that the Gentiles saw as precious. So, the Bible is first and foremost the Covenants between Jesus Christ and Israel, with the Gentiles taking them to heart.

At this point the Bible ". . . go[es] forth from the Jews in purity unto the Gentiles, according to the truth which is in God." There are no problems so far with the text or presentation. One could almost say it comes closest to the innerancy idea. But, things seem to go wrong. What happens next is what is usually interpreted as a corruption of the Scriptures:

And after they go forth by the hand of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, from the Jews unto the Gentiles, thou seest the formation of that great and abominable church, which is most abominable above all other churches; for behold, they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and most precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.

At this point the Joseph Smith statements about the Bible are added. But, a closer look shows they are not as related as first thought. The key is ". . . they take away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts . . . ," without invoking any Scriptural text mutilation. Those without authority distort and confuse issues and theology. It is a war of ideas more than paragraphs and pages. No doubt, the plain and precious losses are connected to the Bible. This is not because of what happens to the Bible as much as with the Bible. As Joseph Smith said:

There is no salvation between the two lids of the Bible without a legal administrator. Jesus was then the legal administrator, and ordained His Apostles.

what does all this mean? It explains why most Mormons are uneasy toward Biblical Higher Criticism. There are less problems with the text than with the interpreters. Joseph Smith himself seemed not to take the English version of the Bible as completely reliable and felt comfortable comparing textual variations. He probably would be thrilled with the study of the older text; although perfering a more creative examination of epistomology. What he did not accept was a Bible without its divine meaning and miracles.

For the members of the LDS Church it might mean letting go of our own reluctance to examine critical historical Bible texts. They are flawed, but no more than any other modern variations. Mostly, however, acknowledging the problem isn't with the Bible itself can take care of many straw man arguments. The biggest of these is that Mormons are somehow hostile and distrustful of the Bible. Rather, Mormons are distrustful of interpretations of the Bible and aware that imperfection is a portal of discovery rather than reason to discard.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Yet Again: Yes Mormons are Christians

The idea that they are not is inconceivable. It bears repeating that "Mormon" is only a nickname for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Going back to the original designation doesn't refute the Christian label either. It started out as "The Church of Christ" and progressed to the lengthy name we have today. There are, of course, some reasonable assumptions why "Mormons" cannot be called Traditional or Orthodox Christians, but they are not strong enough for an all-out descrimination.

The Trinity

This is usually seen as the number one reason for excluding "Mormons" from the lexicon. The problem is twofold. First, the Trinitarian concept was a rather late theological concept. Before, that were any number of non-Trinitarian concepts of Jesus and his relationship to God. Admittedly, the most talked about are the ones that rejected Jesus' divinity. That is something that even Mormons would consider false and suspect for inclusion in the Christian demographic. But, there were still others that believed in divine subordination of Jesus to God rather than fusing them together. The only reason for the exclusion today is because of tradition built from an iron fisted council in the Third Century after Jesus and his Apostles were long dead. As the book Lost Christianities by Bart D. Ehrman suggests, there were many Christian viewpoints of considerable scope and variety. Any number of them could have defined what we now know as Christianity. It is only through a quirk of history, theological wars, and suppression has a seemingly unified Christianity developed.

The second problem is that the Trinity is not particularly Biblical, no matter how much some have continued to argue otherwise. This is not to say there are not Scriptures that bolster the general idea. However, there are plenty of equally commanding Scriptures that can show another possible belief about Jesus' relationship to God. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into that. Plenty of other people, Mormon and non-Mormon (such as Nicene Creed and Truth about the Trinity. ), have discussed the topic. The point is that the Bible doesn't exactly show who is or isn't a Christian beyond the broadest of meanings.

The Book of Mormon and other Scriptures

The idea that a belief in other Scriptures is a prelude to non-Christian identity is problematic in the same way as Trinitary beliefs. Before the Constantine takeover, there were many Christians with many different Scriptures. Once again, "Lost Christianities" shows how delicate a balance the Bible in its present form is to what might have been. Even today there are still argumens over what books should or shouldn't be in the Bible by Orthodox Christians. This is especially the case if considering Catholics vs. Protestants with the so-called apocrypha.

Besides, the Book of Mormon has even been characterized as uber-Christian by the very critics who argue against the Christian self-identification. I will not go so far as to say the recent label of "Another Testament of Jesus Christ" says anything for its Christianity. However, its original introduction still contains the phrase "to the convincing of the Jew and the Gentile that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God, manefesting Himself to all nations." The Doctrine and Covenants is no less devoid of Christian statements such as from section 20:

21 Wherefore, the Almighty God gave his Only Begotten Son, as it is written in those scriptures which have been given of him.

22 He suffered temptations but gave no heed unto them.

23 He was crucified, died, and rose again the third day;

24 And aascended into heaven, to sit down on the right hand of the Father, to reign with almighty power according to the will of the Father;

25 That as many as would believe and be baptized in his holy name, and endure in faith to the end, should be saved—

26 Not only those who believed after he came in the meridian of time, in the flesh, but all those from the beginning, even as many as were before he came, who believed in the words of the holy prophets, who spake as they were inspired by the gift of the Holy Ghost, who truly testified of him in all things, should have eternal life,

27 As well as those who should come after, who should believe in the gifts and callings of God by the Holy Ghost, which beareth record of the Father and of the Son;

28 Which Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end. Amen.

29 And we know that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God.

30 And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true;

31 And we know also, that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength.

32 But there is a possibility that man may fall from grace and depart from the living God;

33 Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;

34 Yea, and even let those who are sanctified take heed also.

35 And we know that these things are true and according to the revelations of John, neither adding to, nor diminishing from the prophecy of his book, the holy scriptures, or the revelations of God which shall come hereafter by the gift and power of the Holy Ghost, the voice of God, or the ministering of angels.

36 And the Lord God has spoken it; and honor, power and glory be rendered to his holy name, both now and ever. Amen.


It is true that Mormons reject other Christian's baptism. That they would decide to reject Mormon baptisms as legit shouldn't be bothersome. However, this is understandable only if one is arguing from an authoritative, rather than theological, standpoint. The idea of not accepting other baptisms isn't because of what one believes, but by what authority one holds. Mormons simply believe they have been given the authority to act in the name of God and that other Christian denominations do not.

It is not much different than what most Protestants think of Catholics. Then again, there are many Protestants who don't think Catholics are Christians; an even more dubious exclusion. Interesting enough, there are some Christians who don't believe in baptisms at all, even if they accept the idea of such a practice. Never in 1000 years would Mormons not consider others as Christians simply because of a matters of authority. After all, the Christian religion is still splintered over that very topic or there wouldn't be so many different denominations (that isn't the only reason, but it basically boils down to who has the authority to interpret doctrine and practice).

Concluding Thoughts

There is much more that could be said on the subject. The book Are Mormons Christians by Stephen E. Robinson is more detailed and focused on the issue. To refuse the title "Christian" to Mormons, or think it a recent ruse, is to be either ignorant of what Mormons believe or extremist sectarian. It is true that we have different ideas about Jesus Christ than most mainstreamers officially accept, but ther are plenty of Christians ( Marcus Borg comes to mind) who could be defined as less Christian than Mormons are, yet still undisputedly hold that title. A belief in a divine Jesus Christ is more than just theology for Mormons. He defines our very lives as much as any mainline Christian. To deny that Mormons are Chrisitans is to do more than argue theology. It is an insult, and those who refuse to acknowedge the Mormon self-identification know it!

Note: see Understanding the Godhead for a discussion of what Mormons believe about the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Future is in the Past

Wow, the Editorial It's the Demography Stupid by Mark Steyn is very impressive. I don't know if this is particularly of Mormon interest, although it mentions Mormons and deals with a very Book of Mormon subject. I have been having the same ideas for some time about the ultimate defeat of liberalism by its own sword of human-hatred and bread and circuses in the name of human rights. Ironic that the ones that are screaming "human rights" and "diversity" will ultimately be the ones that usher in the exact opposite.

For conservative religions that will be both good and bad. Good, because the liberals will finally lose the culture war by fiate. The morality of the Godfearing will be back in world wide vogue. Bad, because the ones they are opening the doors to are not interested in any kind of human rights. And that is what Mormons will have to face in the next 50 to 100 years. Why must societies either become libertine godless immorals or absolutist god fearing hoards? Zion will definantly be born in pain, tears, and blood.

Some fine gems to quote:

The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a 21st-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could increase their numbers only by conversion. The problem is that secondary-impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths--or, at any rate, virtues--and that's why they're proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam.

Read this one and think of the Gadianton Robbers who could only be destroyed when the society rejected them without accomidation:

That, by the way, is the one point of similarity between the jihad and conventional terrorist movements like the IRA or ETA. Terror groups persist because of a lack of confidence on the part of their targets: The IRA, for example, calculated correctly that the British had the capability to smash them totally but not the will. So they knew that while they could never win militarily, they also could never be defeated. The Islamists have figured similarly. The only difference is that most terrorist wars are highly localized. We now have the first truly global terrorist insurgency because the Islamists view the whole world the way the IRA view the bogs of Fermanagh: They want it, and they've calculated that our entire civilization lacks the will to see them off.

And Satan slowlyand carefully leads us down to Hell. We worry about the world environment decay and don't see our own personal moral decay:

There will be no environmental doomsday. Oil, carbon dioxide emissions, deforestation: none of these things is worth worrying about. What's worrying is that we spend so much time worrying about things that aren't worth worrying about that we don't worry about the things we should be worrying about. For 30 years, we've had endless wake-up calls for things that aren't worth waking up for. But for the very real, remorseless shifts in our society--the ones truly jeopardizing our future--we're sound asleep. The world is changing dramatically right now, and hysterical experts twitter about a hypothetical decrease in the Antarctic krill that might conceivably possibly happen so far down the road there are unlikely to be any Italian or Japanese enviro-worriers left alive to be devastated by it.

I think the first half and the last sentence are significant. As much as I dislike Clinton and his kind, I don't think its important to the main point:

The latter half of the decline and fall of great civilizations follows a familiar pattern: affluence, softness, decadence, extinction. You don't notice yourself slipping through those stages because usually there's a seductive pol on hand to provide the age with a sly, self-deluding slogan--like Bill Clinton's "It's about the future of all our children." We on the right spent the 1990s gleefully mocking Mr. Clinton's tedious invocation, drizzled like syrup over everything from the Kosovo war to highway appropriations. But most of the rest of the West can't even steal his lame bromides: A society that has no children has no future.