Monday, July 31, 2017

Review of "What We Wish We'd Known When We Were Newlyweds"

While I have been married for six months, I recently realized that my wife and I had never read a book on marriage together. I thought this was significant considering that on my side of the family, many marriages and relationships had failed and I did not want our eternal relationship to suffer the same fate. Therefore, I suggested that we read a book about being newlyweds together. Since we are both fans of John Bytheway, we were intrigued by the book that he co-authored with his wife Kimberly: What We Wished We'd Known When We Were Newlyweds. Luckily, thanks to there insight, we learned things that will greatly benefit us as we go through our first year of marriage on to eternity.

The book is short, less than 150 pages and divided into eight chapters. It talks about some of the most awkward parts of marriage (the honeymoon) as well as many of the practical areas of marriage (finances, courtship, forgiveness). The Bytheways have a way of teaching a principle not only in a clear, understandable manner, but also in a light-hearted and funny way. A good example of this is when they talk about marital intimacy and make the remark that "men are like microwaves, women are like crockpots." As a person who never had the birds and the bees conversation with my parents (I did not hear the term until I was 18), that taught me alot.

The most significant aspect of the book (and one that can be found in every chapter) is that marriage is work and takes time to perfect. We all want our marriage to be like our wedding day; beautiful and photo-worthy. Well, a wedding is a one day event and marriage is for eternity. There will be bumps, bruises, tears and heartache along the way; that is simply part of the human condition. But, if we put as much work into our marriage as we do into planning our wedding, both can be beautiful and worth it in the end. Like all good things in life, a strong marriage cannot be had without great effort and patience.

Whether you are a newlywed, preparing for a scheduled marriage, or are preparing to prepare to schedule a marriage, this book is for you and your perspective partner. This short book can get your marriage off to a strong start, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Traditio: Richard Lyman Bushman

In September of this year, I will celebrate eight years of church membership. I had the opportunity last night to share my conversion story (albeit very briefly) with my stake president. As I look back on it, one of the main reasons for my conversion was the Prophet Joseph Smith. His story and teachings touched my heart and soul in a way that no one had at that time and no one else has since. I was shown by many non-Mormons all (or at least many) of his flaws. Through it all, I retained my testimony (and still do) that God and Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him in the Sacred Grove, that he organized the modern Church of Jesus Christ under their direction, and that the doctrines he taught (especially in his latter life) are true. This was not just a supernatural thing. As I think about his teachings as a philosopher, they still show themselves to be logically coherent and answer many of the traditional questions in the philosophy of religion (existence of God, problem of evil, fate of the -un-evangelized etc) in a way that not even someone like Thomas Aquinas could (a philosopher for whom I have the deepest respect). If no one else will say it (and there are millions who will) I will say it: For all the flaws that he had, and they were numerous, Joseph Smith was not only a prophet, but one of the greatest men who ever lived.

Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration

Having said that, I am painfully aware that many members of the Church are not aware of some of the activities that the Prophet was involved in (treasure seeking, multiple accounts of the First Vision, plural marriage, etc). When they hear about these things, they wonder how such a flawed man could be called of God, and sadly many members leave the Church after becoming aware of these things. John Dehlin recently wrote on his Facebook that some people had mentioned to him that they had a testimony of who Joseph Smith truly was (which is laughable, because if they did they would not have left the Church).

One of the best resources that the modern Church has is Richard Lyman Bushman, author of the landmark book Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling and a current patriarch. I am convinced that no one (or if any, very few) knows more about Joseph Smith than does Bro. Bushman, and yet he is one of the Prophet's staunchest advocates. I ask my friends who have left the Church over what they have learned of the Prophet the following questions: Is it possible that Bro. Bushman knows more than you do about Joseph Smith's activities, character, and life? If so, is it possible that there is something that you missed and that you are looking beyond the mark(to borrow a phrase from the Book of Mormon)?

In this weeks traditio, I invite my readers to watch as Bro. Bushman talks about his landmark book and some of the concerns people have about what he wrote. Member or non-member, you will enjoy this.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Understanding Apologetics

A week ago today I posted the ninth installment in the CES Letter series. After sharing it on Facebook, the author of the CES Letter, Jeremy Runnells, commented that LDS Apologists were making his point in the CES Letter and that we should keep it up since we were leading more people out of the Church than we were keeping in (he gave no statistical data to give evidence for the point he was making, so take that with a grain of salt).

The terms "apologetics" and "apologist" are often thrown around by anti-Mormons as a sort of pejorative term, one that deems those who write about LDS issues as apologizing or explaining away objections that are seen as substansial.

This is a misunderstanding of the term. The term "apologetics" comes from the Greek word "apologia" which means "to give a defense." So, an apologist is anyone who defends a particular point of view; since all people have beliefs and opinions they will defend occasionally we are by definition all apologists. Thus, characters like Runnells and John Dehlin are apologists just like their alleged enemies Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen Smoot.

Further, it is worth pointing out that many LDS apologists point out both sides of the story and are trained in the area that they write about  (John Gee is a trained Egyptologist and John Sorenson is a trained anthropologist for example). Runnells simply dismisses these people rather than engaging with them, and so he shows himself to be a bad apologist for anti-Mormonism.
In short, the next time someone calls you an apologist,  flash them a smile and say "So are you."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Answering Letter to A CES Director #9

Before I start my counterargument in this edition, I would like to thank Stephen Smoot and Brian C. Hales for their help during this series (Smoot wrote #7 and Hales wrote #8). Both are men of great understanding and great faith. In respect to Smoot, few people know as much about the Book of Mormon, the Book of Abraham, and early Mesopotamian and Egyptian culture, while still having faith that the two former books are of ancient date and point to the authenticity of the Prophet Joseph Smith's divine mission. I am also convinced that no one knows as much about Joseph Smith's plural marriages as does Brian Hales, and few people have as strong a testimony of the Prophet as he does. His Joseph Smith Polygamy series is one that should be in all Mormon homes so we can have a better understanding of what plural marriage was, what it was not, and how to move forward from there.

After discussing plural marriage for several pages, Letter to A CES Director moves on to pinning the words of past prophets against living prophets, something Ezra Taft Benson warns about in his landmark talk Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet. He uses the examples of the Adam-God theory, blood atonement, plural marriage, blacks and the priesthood, and Mark Hoffman to bolster his thesis that prophets cannot be trusted because they have contradicted each other.

Before getting into the particulars of what Runnells has mentioned, a quote from the Prophet Joseph Smith would be very helpful here:
This morning I read German and visited with a brother and sister from Michigan, who thought that "a prophet is always a prophet;" but I told them that a prophet was a prophet only when acting as such. (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pg. 286)

This quote is often used but sadly often forgotten. Everything that comes out of a Prophet's mouth is not the mind and will of the Lord. Prophets are humans, and humans have opinions on things that may be wrong; we all do. If a prophet does not say "Thus saith the Lord" or take up an idea for a sustaining vote, then he is offering his opinion which is not binding on the Church. That is not to say that the prophet cannot give advice that is useful that is non-binding on the church; often he and those sustained as prophets, seers, and revelators will. However, not everything that a prophet says has scriptural stature. B.H. Roberts, a former member of the Presidency of the Seventy, made this point when he said:
"Relative to these sermons [Journal of Discourses] I must tell you they represent the individual views of the speakers, and the Church is not responsible for their teachings. Our authorized Church works are the Bible, Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price. In the Church very wide latitude is given to individual belief and opinion, each man being responsible for his views and not the Church; the Church is only responsible for that which she sanctions and approves through the formal actions of her councils. So it may be that errors will be found in the sermons of men, and that in their over zeal unwise expressions will escape them, for all of which the Church is not responsible.” (Letter written November 4, 1887, London, Millennial Star 49. 48 (November 28, 1887)
There are many wise things in the Journal of Discourses, Conference Sermons, BYU addresses and the like; I and others are often uplifted by what we hear and read in these speeches. But, there is no doctrine of infallibility in this Church, errors can and do happen. We would do well to remember that if an idea is not in scripture or sustained as binding on the Church, then it is an opinion and nothing more.

Brigham Young, Lion of the Lord

The Adam-God theory is an idea that reoccurs often in Anti-Mormon literature; the only thing that occurs more are the ideas of eternal progression and plural marriage. In several sermons, Brigham Young talks about the station of Adam, who we know from modern revelation was also Michael, the Archangel. In one sermon he states that Adam is "our Father and our God, and the only God with whom we have to do." President Young also incorporated this idea into the temple endowment ceremony, but it was removed soon after his death. This view was controversial in President Young's administration, as apostles Orson Pratt and John Taylor repeatedly said that there was no evidence for the idea (Pratt had to be censured by Young before he would stop denying it), and the idea was never sustained as binding on the Church by common consent. Thus, there is and never was an "Adam-God doctrine" only an "Adam-God theory". The idea was also rejected by President Spencer W. Kimball and Elder Bruce R. McConkie, who labeled the theory a "deadly heresy".

It is not clear entirely what President Young meant by this theory. He only spoke of it a few times, and at other times he seemed to contradict the view that Runnells is accrediting him. Even if Brigham Young did believe the doctrine as Runnells is describing, this would only prove what the Prophet Joseph Smith and B.H. Roberts stated previously; that men who lead this Church at times have erroneous ideas and that a prophet is not infallible. So, whether President Young believed the theory or not is of little consequence or interest.

Blood atonement is next mentioned IN short, blood atonement is the teaching that certain sins go beyond the atonement of Christ and a persons blood should be shed if they commit them and to have any chance at redemption. Brigham Young did teach this idea and the idea capital punishment; there is no question in my mind about that. And once again, the teaching was never sustained by common consent. President Young's ideas are not much different from the ones enunciated by Christ himself when he said that some sins were beyond forgiveness (Matt 12:31-32). Considering that Brigham Young claimed to be a special witness of the said Christ, it only makes sense that he would be in agreement with his teachings. Runnells' real problem seems to be with the principle of the atonement itself rather than Brigham Young's teachings on the issue. There are many different theories on the atonement (Compassion, Moral, Penal Substitution, Ransom for example) of which Brigham Young's is only one.

As mentioned previously, Brian Hales did a post on plural marriage in this series which can be found here. I would like to address a quote that Runnells borrows from Brigham Young that is popular in anti-Mormon tracts: "The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter
into polygamy." It would seem based on this quote that men must be polygamists in order to receive exaltation, a belief still held by the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, this is not the entire quote. Here is the full quote in context:
Now, we as Christians desire to be saved in the kingdom of God. We desire to attain to the possession of all the blessings there are for the most faithful man or people that ever lived upon the face of the earth, even him who is said to be the father of the faithful, Abraham of old. We wish to obtain all that father Abraham obtained. I wish here to say to the Elders of Israel, and to all the members of this Church and kingdom, that it is in the hearts of many of them to wish that the doctrine of polygamy was not taught and practiced by us. It may be hard for many, and especially for the ladies, yet it is no harder for them than it is for the gentlemen. It is the word of the Lord, and I wish to say to you, and all the world, that if you desire with all your hearts to obtain the blessings which Abraham obtained, you will be polygamists at least in your faith, or you will come short of enjoying the salvation and the glory which Abraham has obtained. This is as true as that God lives. You who wish that there were no such thing in existence, if you have in your hearts to say: “We will pass along in the Church without obeying or submitting to it in our faith or believing this order, because, for aught that we know, this community may be broken up yet, and we may have lucrative offices offered to us; we will not, therefore, be polygamists lest we should fail in obtaining some earthly honor, character, and office, etc.” The man that has that in his heart, and will continue to persist in pursuing that policy, will come short of dwelling in the presence of the Father and the Son, in celestial glory. The only men who become Gods, even the Sons of God, are those who enter into polygamy. Others attain unto a glory and may even be permitted to come into the presence of the Father and the Son; but they cannot reign as kings in glory, because they had blessings offered unto them, and they refused to accept them. (Journal Of Discourses 11: 268-269)
We can see from the quote in its entirety that Brigham Young was not saying that plural marriage had to be entered into in order to go the celestial kingdom, but rather that you had to accept that principle and any other principle the Lord revealed in order to be admitted to that kingdom. Runnells' representation of the quote is plainly dishonest.

The issue of Blacks and the Priesthood is of course near and dear to my heart (I have written on it recently here) as a black Latter-day Saint, and suffice it to say that there is no evidence that the policy came by revelation, though it was ended by revelation. Having said that, I have come to believe that this line of argument is a red herring. The policy is of no interest unless a person affirms that the LDS Church has unique priesthood authority and that the president of the Church holds the keys of that priesthood. Otherwise, who cares if the Church does not give its non-existent power to men of color or anyone else? It is a non-issue because there is no such power.

The case of Mark Hoffman has to do with artifacts, not revelation. The Church, like any other organization, wants to own artifacts related to its history, and assuming that Hoffman had such artifacts they would of course want them. Not being linguists or archaeologists, they were fooled by forgeries. It was an honest mistake, which could happen to anyone. Ancient prophets were also fooled, such as Joshua when the Gibeonites fooled him and escaped being slain in battle (Joshua 9:3-15)

Finally, Runnells mentions to the term "Follow the Prophet." I refer the reader to President Benson's talk mentioned earlier, but with a caution. The term "Follow the Prophet" is a catchy slogan, but it is incomplete. The term should be "Follow the Prophet as he follows and points to Christ." We do not literally follow the prophet around the Earth, or believe his every opinion is binding on us. However, we recognize that he is the only person who can speak for the Lord in everything, has the keys of the priesthood, and the person who has the right to direct the affairs of the Church. We would do well to pray for him and listen to his counsel, but also be aware that everyone can make mistakes and that we will have to revise our view of things (even on major issues) from time to time.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Traditio: Sharon Eubank

When I took the class Philosophical Issues in Feminism taught by my friend Shannon Mussett, it gave me alot to think about. In fact, not a day goes by now that I do not think of issues relating to women and how they are treated. Unfortunately, we did not talk much about women and religion during the class, although the issue did show up on the periphery.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that all are equal in the eyes of God (2 Nephi 26:33). However, some have felt that this is untrue since the LDS Church does not ordain women to its lay priesthood. Some, such as Margaret Toscano, have argued that the early Church did ordain women to the priesthood and it is a sign of apostasy that the Church no longer does this.

From my examination of the evidence, I don't think a case can be made that Joseph Smith, Jr. ordained women to the priesthood, and I also believe that priesthood is not something that can be demanded (Numbers 16). That being said, if the president of the Church had a revelation to extend the priesthood to women as well as men, then I would sustain the revelation. But, as the lead-up to the 1978 priesthood revelation showed us, that can only happen when the Lord commands it to. No amount of rallying and screaming will make a revelation come faster. I would also like to be clear that I am not advocating for a revelation of this sort. I am merely saying that I would not oppose a revelation if it did come. I am prepared to go to my grave with situation as it is.

You do not have to have the priesthood to receive the blessings of the restored gospel or to make a difference in the Church. Sharon Eubank, now 1st counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, makes the case for his plainly. Enjoy.