Muslims, Mormons, and Freedom of Speech

Muslims reverence and honor Muhammad as God’s most special prophet.  As a Mormon, I understand that.  While I and other Latter-day Saints share their dedication to following a prophet, there is absolutely no amount of obscene libel or slander that could ever justify violence in the defense of that reverence.

I believe in God, and I also believe in the marketplace of ideas.  I believe that to truly serve the first, we must preserve the second.

To put it another way: if there were some cabal of fundamentalist Mormons who started assassinating anyone involved in the Book of Mormon Broadway musical, I would immediately, publicly, and totally take the side of the play.  There would be no hesitation, no caveats, no excuses about how the killers were “provoked,” no aggrieved pleas for any “respect” that would equal censorship.

The old saying of Voltaire’s, the one about not agreeing with what one says, but defending to the death their right to say it, may be apocryphal, but it is nonetheless a cornerstone value of Western civilization.  Anyone outside of that civilization must know that, as one of our primary values, that must be respected, and if our value comes into direct conflict with anyone else’s value, we will fight to defend it.

And those of us who are inside of this civilization must actually be willing to do that.

Otherwise, we will lose that freedom which has served us so well for so long.

The LDS Vote Dissenters And The Intolerance Of The American Left

At this weekend’s global General Conference, the annual sustaining vote for our church’s overall leaders had an unusual wrinkle.  Tens of thousand of Mormons there in person–any many more watching online–said yes.  But about seven people stood up to say nay.

This was a planned protest vote by a group called “Any Opposed?”.  According to their web site, they seem to have wanted an audience with the Apostles so they could air their grievances.  They might have been surprised when the conducting officer, President Uchtdorf, referred them to their stake presidents.

Perhaps they didn’t realize that the church has grown far too large for the old policies of the 70’s to be practical anymore.  (Hopefully they then learned from Elder Cook’s talk on the subject.)  Perhaps they didn’t know that this is the procedure outlined in the Church’s official Handbook of Instructions:

If a member in good standing gives a dissenting vote when someone is presented to be sustained, the presiding officer or another assigned priesthood officer confers with the dissenting member in private after the meeting. (emphasis added)

If they’d really read the handbook, they’d know why dissenting votes are asked for in the first place.  From the same paragraph cited above:

The officer determines whether the dissenting vote was based on knowledge that the person who was presented is guilty of conduct that should disqualify him or her from serving in the position. (emphasis added)

The point of a dissenting vote is to reveal that a nominee for a calling has been cheating on a spouse, or beating children, or getting drunk every night, etc.

But, again according to their own web site, the dissenting voters weren’t accusing leaders of such immoral behavior.  They were protesting the fact that the Church holds opinions contrary to their own about (surprise!) gay marriage and the role of women in the Church.

So their dissenting vote had nothing to do with unworthiness, much less an attempt to find answers or engage in dialogue.  It was an attempt to blacklist people who disagree with their political views.  They wanted to publicly punish and suppress those who are different from them.

This, of course, has become the modus operandi of the American Left these days.  (See here for some recent examples, though there are many, many more.)  The mindset of too many liberals today has become one of automatic righteous indignation towards those who dare to dissent from their party line, with a reflexive response to censor them.

Actually, in the eyes of those who gave the dissenting votes, our general Church leaders really are immoral and thus unworthy to hold office.  Our leaders have committed the ultimate sin, after all: they don’t confess loyalty to the creeds of liberalism.

Such is the “tolerance” of the American Left.

The Book of Mormon and Female Scandinavian Olympians

Talking online with a critic of the Book of Mormon recently, I was reminded of a scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s last good movie, 2002’s Signs.

In the film, two brothers living on a farm in the Midwest investigate noises outside at night.  In classic suspense style, movement just off screen causes the characters and camera to look, just in time to miss whatever was there, but it was clearly someone.  When a police officer comes out the next day to look into it, the following exchange takes place:

OFFICER PASKI
How certain are you, that this was a male?

MERRILL
I don’t know any girls can run like that.

OFFICER PASKI
I don’t know, Merrill. I’ve seen some of those women on the Olympics. They could out run me easy.

MERRILL
This guy got on the roof in like a second. That roof is over ten feet high.

GRAHAM
He’s telling you the truth. Whoever it was, is very strong and can jump pretty high.

OFFICER PASKI
They got women’s high jumping in the Olympics. They got these
Scandinavian women who could jump clean over me.

GRAHAM
I know you’re making a point. I just don’t know what it is.

OFFICER PASKI
Yesterday afternoon, an out of town woman stopped by the diner and started yelling and cussing cause they didn’t have her favorite cigarettes at the vending machine. Scared a couple of customers. No one’s seen her since… My point is, we don’t know anything about the person you saw. We should just keep all possibilities available.

MERRILL
Excluding the possibility that a female Scandinavian Olympian was running around outside our house last night, what else is a possibility?

So, what does this have to do with the Book of Mormon?

In my online conversation, I offered to share three of the best evidences for the Book of Mormon, and invite the critic to analyze and account for them if the book is a hoax.  I suggested 1) the accurate, previously unknown geography of Arabia (Nahom, Bountiful, etc.), 2) the ancient texts that nobody had access to, given in 2 Nephi 12:16 and 3 Nephi 4:28-29, and 3) chiasmus.

His responses were quick.  Continue reading

President Shields

This Sunday the president of the North Las Vegas Stake of the LDS Church will be released. He and his counselors have served for nine and half years. The president himself served as a counselor in the previous presidency for ten years, meaning he’s been in the same leading body for nearly two decades.

President Shields has earned a great deal of love and respect from the North Stake. Here are just ten of the many highlights from his years at the head of our stake:

10. Call to make sacrifices for the stake. Soon after becoming stake president, he asked members to make some kind of financial sacrifice and donate what they could to the stake. He stressed that blessings would come to those who would make a real sacrifice for the stake. In fact, especially in his early years in the calling, he emphasized the blessings that would come to people if they would stay here and not move away.

9. Practical counsel. Around the time the recession started, he gave stake members a list of eight frugal habits to practice that would help get them through hard times, including not letting our vehicles’ gas tanks get more than half empty, and picking up an extra can of food each time we go to the store. If anybody remembers the rest, please let me know: I don’t have them written down and I forgot!

8. Urging everyone to get a blessing. In the September 2007 stake conference, he implored everybody to get a priesthood blessing before General Conference. This endeavor was largely realized through the ministrations of home teachers.

7. Temple painting. President Shields commissioned a unique painting of the Las Vegas Nevada Temple to be done by a talented member of the stake high council, which he then encouraged members to place prominently in their homes. The painting is highly symbolic, including the very vantage point: the temple is seen from several hundred yards away from the southeast, which puts much of North Las Vegas in the background. The painting, titled “A Light on a Hill,” is described in the section of the same name in this Deseret News article.

6. Service initiative. As the recession worsened and more people needed financial help, he instituted a program whereby people needing assistance would be asked to also help in the maintenance work of church buildings, and service for the homes of those stake members who couldn’t physically do it themselves. This program was a beautiful win-win of charity: nobody getting help was idle, and everybody involved got the experience of helping each other.

5. Temple attendance. President Shields once challenged stake members to increase their temple attendance, suggesting that they try for once or twice a month, if possible, for a year. He reiterated the challenge throughout the year, and set an example himself: the stake presidency attended the temple together every Thursday night.

4. Stake choir and orchestra. First he organized a stake choir, to which several dozen members were called; they rehearse weekly and perform at stake conference, every ward conference, and at special concerts throughout the year, including pop concerts, a patriotic fireside in July, and at an annual stake Christmas devotional. Then, he organized an orchestra with members called for that purpose, who perform with the choir. The quality of their combined work easily rivals anything coming out of the Tabernacle! A promotional CD was put together at one point, available on YouTube.

3. Ordained dozens of new high priests. One time, after much meditation in the celestial room at the temple (where President Shields is known to often ponder issues for several hours at a time), he was inspired to do something that nobody had ever heard of before: ordain dozens of men throughout the stake to the office of high priest. There was no calling associated with the ordinations; it was purely a move to strengthen the priesthood and motivate the stake to greater service and devotion. Ultimately, 60 men received such ordinations.

2. Three sessions of stake conference. I was once in a stake that went a year and a half between stake conferences. In North Las Vegas, not only are conferences held every six months, stake priesthood meetings are held halfway between each of those. In fact, in another unprecedented move, President Shields initiated three sessions of our stake conferences—wards would be assigned, say, an 8:30 AM, 11 AM, or 1:30 PM session to attend, where the presidency would speak and the choir and orchestra would perform at all three, and each would feature speakers invited from the wards attending that particular session.

Attendance is always high at our stake conferences.

1. Reading the Book of Mormon. Perhaps the single most impressive thing President Shields has done: our stake’s Book of Mormon reading. In early 2013, he announced in a conference (spontaneously, he explained) that the stake would all start reading two chapters of the Book of Mormon, out loud, in their families, every day. Every household in the stake would read the same chapters, starting and finishing together.

It took about four months, and it was dramatic. He encouraged people to pray about the truth of the Book of Mormon on the last day, and many people wrote down their testimonies and sent them to him.

During this period, sacrament speakers would often refer directly to passages that everyone had just read that week, or would read in the week coming up. The effect was powerful.

In fact, President Shields repeated the same program the next year, and our stake just finished the Book of Mormon together, again, last month.

**********
These are hardly all of the amazing things that have happened during President Shields’ tenure, but they’re my favorites, and the ones that he personally created and managed. Among the other great events that he’s been involved in over the last decade are these seven:

• Stake young men shuttling up to Salt Lake and then spending days riding bikes the 500 miles back to North Las Vegas, together, with spiritual experiences along the way.
• Stake young women having high adventure excursions.
• A stake Primary sports program being organized, with seasons for softball and soccer.
• A vigorous Spanish-language ward (not branch) having amazing activation and attendance rates through a process of personal ministering that President Shields has taught since day one.
• The founding of a Samoan ward (our stake officially has 14 wards now).
• The building of a beautiful new stake center.
• Heavy renovations and improvements at a stake park here in town and, especially, at a camp up in the mountains—those latter improvements have been easily doubled the usefulness and capacity of the camp.

*******

As the North Las Vegas stake prepares to say goodbye to the leadership of President Shields, we all know that it’s not good bye for us as much as it will be hello for many others. After such a record of strong discipleship—and still only in his 50s—every Latter-day Saint around here knows that we’ll be seeing him in much larger and wider roles someday soon.

The $1 Study Bible

I’d been looking around for study Bibles to supplement my scripture study when I was at Alexander Library on Wednesday and saw The NIV Archaeological Study Bible on the shelves.  It looked really good–tons of color maps and articles–but I didn’t check it out at the time.

I kept thinking about it, though, and on Friday I was near Aliante and stopped at their library, hoping they had the same one there. As soon as I walked in, I faced their racks of used books for sale.  The first one that jumped out at me was The NIV Archaeological Study Bible.

It was in perfect condition and was on sale for one dollar.  The cover price was $49.99.

I took the hint and bought it.

Complete Chronological Standard Works-DRAFT

CCSWThis graphic on the left is a rough draft of a project I’m working on—organizing all the standard works of the LDS Church into a single timeline. I think this will be a valuable scripture study tool because it will help us see these writings outside of their monolithic arrangement in our books, and inside their chronological contexts.

For example, instead of seeing the Old Testament as the law, and then the writings, and then the prophets—where the timeline actually ends halfway through the Old Testament and then doubles back to fill in the narrative with the writings of the various persons in that narrative—we can read it in the order in which all of its contents occur. It will aid understanding and appreciation. This makes sense.

Not only the Bible benefits from this, though. By integrating its unique scriptures into this timeline, we can really see just how much time the book of Ether occupies, and how much the early Book of Mormon authors were in tune with the events of the end of the Old Testament.

We can see Book of Mormon stories filling in the gaps between the two testaments, and continuing the tragic legacy of the earliest Christian era after the New Testament ends.

We can see how complicated the “flashbacks” in the books of Mosiah and Alma are.

Much of this is speculative. I’m happy to hear from anyone with refinements. I intend to keep revising it, myself. As I said, this is only a draft.

Narratives that take place at the same time—or nearly so—are presented next to each other. This is most important in the four gospels.

I’ve used the gospel harmony available here at lds.org for this, as well as the chronological order of the Doctrine and Covenants, available here. These are both products of the LDS Church, not mine, and they belong to the Church.

The Bible chronology is one that is widely available online (for example, here, here, and here); I have modified it only very slightly where I thought useful.

The color coding should help us all to follow the flow and see the connections between the various bodies of scripture. The first three—the law, writings, and prophets—are traditional divisions of the Old Testament (see Luke 24:44).

 

 

 

 

 

The Online Atonement Library

“There is an imperative need for each of us to strengthen our understanding of the significance of the Atonement of Jesus Christ so that it will become an unshakable foundation upon which to build our lives.… I energetically encourage you to establish a personal study plan to better understand and appreciate the incomparable, eternal, infinite consequences of Jesus Christ’s perfect fulfillment of His divinely appointed calling as our Savior and Redeemer.”

–Elder Richard G. Scott, “He Lives! All Glory to His Name!” April 2010 General Conference

jesus-praying-in-gethsemane-39591-gallery

Contents:

Book of Mormon Sermons
Topical Guide Lists
Teachings of Presidents of the Church
General Conference Talks
Other Works by General Authorities
Other Official Church Resources
Works by Other Latter-day Saints
Art
Music
Video

Book of Mormon Sermons

2 Nephi 2
2 Nephi 9
Jacob 4
Mosiah 3-4
Mosiah 12-16
Alma 5
Alma 34
Alma 42
3 Nephi 27

Topical Guide Lists

Blood

Fall Of Man

Forgive

God, Love Of

Jesus Christ, Atonement Through

Jesus Christ, Mission Of

Jesus Christ, Redeemer

Jesus Christ, Resurrection

Jesus Christ, Savior

Reconciliation

Redemption

Resurrection

Sacrifice

Teachings of Presidents of the Church

Joseph Smith:

Chapter 3: Jesus Christ, the Divine Redeemer of the World

Brigham Young:

Chapter 5: Accepting the Atonement of Jesus Christ

Chapter 40: Salvation Through Jesus Christ

Continue reading

My New Article on Temples and Families in the Bible

The Integration of Temples and Families: A Latter-day Saint Structure for the Jacob Cycle” was published on Friday.  This is my first peer-reviewed, academic article, so I’m pretty excited.  Anyone with an interest in Biblical literature, or its temple and family themes, would likely enjoy it.

Favorite Quotes from Brigham Young

Finished the second volume in the Teachings of Presidents of the Church series: Brigham Young.

Here are my favorite quotes from volume 1: Joseph Smith.

These are the passages I marked from Brigham Young:

“Mormonism,” so-called, embraces every principle pertaining to life and salvation, for time and eternity. No matter who has it. If the infidel has got truth it belongs to “Mormonism.” The truth and sound doctrine possessed by the sectarian world, and they have a great deal, all belong to this Church. As for their morality, many of them are, morally, just as good as we are. All that is good, lovely, and praiseworthy belongs to this Church and Kingdom. “Mormonism” includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods (DBY, 3).

Chapter 2: The Gospel Defined

  Continue reading

Everything About The Book of Mormon

Here’s everything significant I’ve ever written here about the Book of Mormon:

1 Nephi

Recommended: Jeremiah

2 Nephi

The Psalm of Nephi: Strength and Peace Through God’s Love

The Nephi Complex

Illustrating Jacob’s Definition of Easter

“Truth comes from the earth”

Jacob

Jacob’s Temple Sermon

Enos-WoM

200 Years For Three Generations

Book Of Mormon In New York Times Crossword!

Mosiah

The Complicated Book of Mosiah

Testifying of Testimonies

Spoiled Brats

The Relationship Between Discipleship and Love

King Benjamin On Happiness

A Book of Mormon Verse Endorsing Welfare

Alma

Sacrament Talk: Pioneer Faith Yesterday, Today, And Tomorrow

Answering Alma’s Questions

Linguistic Links Unlock Alma 13

Missionary Reality Check

The Book of Mormon and Agnostic Prayer

The “Gift” Of Faith

Helaman

A Homily on Helaman: Choosing Faithfulness in a Changing Church Culture

Chiasmus in Helaman 13:29-39

Ayn Rand and the Book of Mormon

3 Nephi

The Sermon on the Mount and the Temple Endowment

On America’s Future

Jesus Christ Teaches Us How To Minister

Ironic Rhetoric Advances the Book of Mormon’s Thesis

Notes On The Ministry And Character Of Jesus Christ

Ether

The Mysterious Religion of the Jaredites

The Book of Ether and “The Power Cycle”

Moroni

“Let Us Labor Diligently”

Whole Book

The Book of Mormon as Clickbait: 10 Awesome Examples That Will Totally Blow Your Mind Forever!

Catholic Scholar at First Things Gives Book of Mormon Backhanded Praise

Explaining the Book of Mormon

The Condensed Book of Mormon, In 15 Verses

The Exodus Pattern In Scripture And History

Apologetics / Evidence

God’s Gift to Atheists, Agnostics, and Skeptics

The “Racist” Book of Mormon

Top 10 Book of Mormon Evidences

The Moon Landing and The Book of Mormon As Hoaxes?

Volcanoes and Lightning

The Book of Mormon and Gulliver’s Travels As Hoaxes

Ironic: Current Anti-Mormons Just Copying Anti-Mormons in Book of Mormon

Defending Internal Book of Mormon Evidence: The Lesson of Proto-Indo-European

Book of Mormon Birthers

The Secret Book of Mormon

A Silly Test of Book of Mormon Authorship

Faith and Teachings

Lehi, King Benjamin, and President Monson On Why We Follow the Prophet

Spiritual Lessons From Difficult People

The Book Of Mormon and the Heart On the Window

Death and Perspective

Worshipping Through Prayer, Singing, and Fasting

I Give A Morningside At Seminary

Disciples Of Jesus Christ Are Ministers

On The Virtue Of A Soft Heart, Despite Discouragement

Ten Conservative Principles Endorsed By The Book Of Mormon

Linguistic Links Unlock Alma 13

Alma 13:1-20 may be the most linguistically and theologically dense section of the entire Book of Mormon.  The first half–about ordination to the high priesthood–has been considered in pieces such as this, and the second half–about Melchizedek–has been analyzed in works such as this.

I see these as part of a whole–a single sermon where Alma not only elucidates several tough ideas in a masterful lecture, but does so in a way that was appropriate for the context and powerfully motivates us to act on the implications of his teachings.  This is actually part of a longer work I’m drafting about Alma’s standard teaching template, where his unique pedagogical paradigm in the Book of Mormon–establishing authority, delivering content, and inspiring with a challenge–is briefly repeated towards the end of each of his sermons.

The colors, italics, underlining, etc. in the chart given here are meant to connect the many words and phrases that are identical, or at least synonymous.  Just glancing at this arrangement shows how dense the concepts are, especially in the first half of the pattern.  We see priesthood, discipleship, and Atonement themes discussed here, and this colorful arrangement shows how they are entwined in Alma’s sermon.

As the punctuation was not part of the original translation, I’ve taken some liberties with it here, modifying it as needed to clarify the meaning of the passage.

I hope this helps demystify a difficult passage for Book of Mormon students.

 

Alma 13

 

 

Alma 13

The Relationship Between Discipleship and Love

I’m not a people person by nature.  I can enjoy company, but I don’t often seek it out.  Usually, I try to avoid it, though I’ve been working on this.

Yesterday I re-read something that had jumped out at me when I read it earlier this year.  Actually, I’d read this many times before, but it was upon this reading that something new struck me.  Such is the experience of those who study the Book of Mormon.

I’d often wondered how to increase my capacity for charity–the inherent desire to know people, to love them, to want to help them.  I’ve prayed for growth in this capacity, but I still have a long way to go.

But then I read these verses:

Continue reading

200 Years For Three Generations

On Thursday of this week, people in my stake read the Book of Mormon’s little Book of Enos.  At the end of that short work, Enos says that as he approached the end of his life, “an hundred and seventy and nine years had passed away from the time that our father Lehi left Jerusalem.” (Enos 1:25)

That actually used to bug me–it seemed implausible that nearly 200 years could pass in the space of only three generations.  Any time I tried to make the math work, it just didn’t seem realistic.

But upon reading it again this week, I remembered this story from a couple of years ago: John Tyler, 10th president of the United States, who was born in 1790, has grandsons who are still alive.

Not great-great-great-grandsons, mind you.  Grandsons.

That’s well over 220 years covered by only three generations, more than 40 years longer than the time mentioned in the Book of Mormon.  If you figure that Lehi might have been about 40 when he “left Jerusalem,” the chronologies aren’t far off at all.  Indeed, the Book of Mormon says that Enos’s father Jacob was the next-to-youngest son of a large family (1 Nephi 18:7), and that his parents were quite old at the time (1 Nephi 18:17-18).  Enos may well have also been a youngest son of old age.

179 years from 1 Nephi 2 until the end of Enos is perfectly plausible.

Create a Book of Mormon Day

Please sign the petition and share!

http://wh.gov/i32vA

Here’s the text:

Create an annual Book of Mormon Day | We the People: Your Voice in Our Government

// //

Since being published in 1830, the Book of Mormon has had an enormous impact on American history and culture.

More than 150 million copies have been printed. It has appeared on multiple polls of the most influential books in people’s lives. It has appeared in both scholarly editions and a Penguin Classics version.

The Book of Mormon played a pivotal role in the settlement of the American West. More recently, it has even inspired an award-winning Broadway play of the same name.

It’s time to formally recognize the large contributions made to the United States, its history, and its people, by the Book of Mormon.

March 26–the day it was first published, in New York–should be declared a national Book of Mormon Day.

Two Great Temple Resources

1. This post at Jr. Ganymede makes some excellent observations gleaned from the temple. I especially like how the author uses his thoughts to draw spiritual lessons for appreciating the wisdom of our Heavenly Father.  

2. This video about symbology in LDS architecture, particularly in temples but also in regular meetinghouses, is fascinating. It made me look at my own Sunday church building differently, and more reverently.  

 

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