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Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mormon Prayer

A news story today from (Pittsfield, Massachusetts) is headlined "Mormons direct prayers to Christ." The purpose of the story is to "clarify" a story that ran on Sunday which mistakenly indicated Mormons pray to Joseph Smith.

I'm glad to see the error corrected. It would be nice to be able to erase all the false information about Mormonism that is floating around. But that is not to be, and this "clarifying" article from the Berkshire Eagle illustrates that truth.

From "Mormons direct prayers to Christ":
"'I am a devout member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and I have never prayed, nor will I ever pray to Joseph Smith,' wrote Chad Francom, a resident of Salt Lake City, Utah. 'I pray to Jesus Christ. The same Jesus Christ spoke of in the New Testament. The same Jesus Christ that my Catholic and Protestant friends pray to for their salvation.'"

Well technically, Mormons do not pray to Christ. As the article points out elsewhere, "Mormons direct all prayers to 'Our Heavenly Father' and close all prayers with 'In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.'" Since Mormonism's Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are two Gods, this is an important technicality.

Furthermore, as I noted in yesterday's post, LDS leaders have made it clear that the God of Catholics and Protestants is not the God of Mormonism. To take it a bit further than I did yesterday, let's look at a few additional statements from official LDS sources.
"It is true that many of the Christian churches worship a different Jesus Christ than is worshipped by the Mormons or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." (Seventy Bernard P. Brockbank, Ensign, May 1977, page 26)

"In bearing testimony of Jesus Christ, President Hinckley spoke of those outside the [LDS] Church who say Latter-day Saints 'do not believe in the traditional Christ. No, I don't. The traditional Christ of whom they speak is not the Christ of whom I speak.'" (Gordon B. Hinckley quoted in Church News, 20 June 1998, page 7)

"As a Church we have critics, many of them. They say we do not believe in the traditional Christ of Christianity. There is some substance to what they say." (Gordon B. Hinckley, April 2002 General Conference, quoted in Ensign, May 2002, page 90)

"To say that Satan sits in the place of God in Christianity after the time of the Apostles is not to say that all that is in it is satanic." (Kent P. Jackson, Ensign, December 1994, page 9)

And this one bears repeating:
"And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ…" (Mormon Doctrine, page 269)

So in attempting to correct inaccurate reporting of Mormon doctrine, the newspaper is inaccurately reporting a different Mormon doctrine.

The Berkshire Eagle says:
"Misconceptions about the Mormon church have persisted for decades, said [local LDS resident Scott] Holley. Mormons continue to work hard to spread knowledge about their religion…"

Even so, I suspect there will be no outcry from the LDS community over the misinformation about Mormonism propagated in "Mormons direct prayers to Christ."

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Music of the Faiths

Today's Journal and Courier from Lafayette, Indiana reports on that city's Music of the Faiths hymn sing which took place Sunday afternoon. "The [participating] churches ran the gamut of Christian traditions," the article states, "including some Catholic, Protestant and Mormon groups."

Maybe I'm being too picky here, but this statement bothers me. If there's one thing Mormonism is not, it's a "Christian tradition." The basic message of Mormonism is that the tradition of Christianity—which has been in place for nearly 2000 years—is wrong/abominable/corrupt. I object to calling Mormonism a Christian tradition. I imagine the journalist intended only to convey that the choirs participating in the hymn sing did not include Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, etc., yet I am nevertheless unhappy over the validating label she gave to Mormonism, which is wholly undeserving of it.

The LDS choir sang I Need Thee Every Hour which, of course, is a Christian hymn, not a Mormon hymn. It was written in 1872 by Annie Sherwood Hawks. Annie was a Baptist, a member of one of those "wrong, abominable and corrupt" churches that, according to Mormonism, was the reason for the Restoration. Robert Lowry set Annie's words to music and added the beautiful refrain "I need Thee, O I need Thee; Ev'ry hour I need Thee! O bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee". Dr. Lowry was Annie's pastor.

Two years before this Christian hymn was written, John Taylor, later to become the third Prophet of the LDS Church, said this:
"What does the Christian world know about God? Nothing ...Why so far as the things of God are concerned, they are the veriest of fools; they know neither God nor the things of God" (Journal of Discourses 13:225, May 6, 1870).

I'm puzzled by the LDS Church choosing to sing (and include in its hymnal) spiritual songs written by those they believe knew absolutely nothing about God and who they believe belonged to the church of the devil (see the Book of Mormon, 1 Nephi 14:10).

Peggy Bryan, the Indiana state music chairman for the LDS Church, may have shed some light on this question. Remarking on the Music of the Faiths hymn sing she said, "They're all singing together and it doesn't matter what we believe because we're all singing to God."

I guess Peggy never read what the late LDS Apostle Bruce McConkie wrote:
"The gods of Christendom…are gods who were created by men in the creeds of an apostate people. There is little profit or peace in serving them, and certainly there is no salvation available through them" (A New Witness for the Articles of Faith, page 545).

"And virtually all the millions of apostate Christendom have abased themselves before the mythical throne of a mythical Christ…" (Mormon Doctrine, page 269).

My question for Peggy: To which God were you all singing?

For more on LDS vs. Christian hymns, check out Hymns of the Apostasy


Friday, January 27, 2006

Stirring Things Up in Nauvoo

Nauvoo, Illinois is an important place in both Mormon history and in the faith of today's Latter-day Saints. After being displaced from their homes in Missouri in 1839, the Mormons settled on the eastern bank of the Mississippi River and built the town of Nauvoo. While LDS Church headquarters resided in Nauvoo from 1839 to 1846 many distinctive doctrines of Mormonism were developed and introduced. Joseph Smith preached his famous King Follett Discourse in the western grove of Nauvoo in 1844 and died in nearby Carthage, Illinois a few weeks later. A majority of the Mormons left Nauvoo in 1846 to settle in the Great Basin, what is today known as Salt Lake City, Utah.

However, Nauvoo as a town continued; but until fairly recently it had been a small farming community virtually unknown outside of the surrounding area. That changed when the LDS Church began renovating and rebuilding the old Mormon properties in Nauvoo. Today the town is a tourist attraction. It has been called the Williamsburg of the West, though I think that's a bit of a stretch. Most of the tourists coming to Nauvoo are Mormons trying to connect with the history of their faith, wanting to experience a faith-promoting vacation with their spouses or families. However, there is definitely an element of planned proselytizing in the restored areas of the town. The LDS Church views Nauvoo as a missionary tool with over 100 missionaries serving the area at any given time.

So back in 1987 a group of Christians sent their own missionary to Nauvoo for the express purpose of providing tourists with the "other side of the story"—to share the good news of freedom in Christ. Colleen Ralson built a ministry there on the main street of Nauvoo, a visitors center. Colleen provided historic and spiritual information which shed light on the carefully-crafted but deficient message being given to tourists at the LDS sites. As you can imagine, she and her ministry were not welcome by the Mormons. But she kept a fairly low profile and was therefore tolerated—this is America.

Last fall Colleen Ralson retired from her Nauvoo mission and moved to Texas. She turned over the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center to new directors, Rocky and Helen Hulse. Rocky and Helen don't plan to keep a low profile as they continue the work Colleen has begun. This became evident in a recent newspaper report out of Burlington, Iowa.

On 23 January 2006 The Hawk Eye wrote about the Nauvoo Christian Visitors Center in Billboard's authors hope it brings attention to the debate. It seems the Hulses have set up a new billboard 4 miles south of Burlington, on the main highway to Nauvoo (another 20 miles distant). According to Rocky Hulse the purpose for the billboard is two-fold: 1. To let people know there is a Christian Visitors Center in Nauvoo; and 2. To alert people to the fact that there is tension between Mormonism and historic Christianity.

When The Hawk Eye contacted the LDS public affairs office for a statement, LDS spokesman Jon Larson said, "I think he [Hulse] is trying to stir things up…If he wants a billboard, that's OK."

Nauvoo's LDS Visitors Center maintains 24 billboards in the area of southeastern Iowa promoting the LDS sites in restored Nauvoo.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Fourteen Things Joseph Smith Brought Out of the Sacred Grove

Andrew Skinner, dean of BYU Religious Education, spoke at the 34th annual Sydney B. Sperry Symposium at Brigham Young University in October. As reported in Church News (17 December 2005, page 10), Dr. Skinner indicated that, "When Joseph Smith walked out of the Sacred Grove, at least 14 things were clarified or reestablished that had been lost or unknown during the previous 1,700 years" (quote from the article, not a direct quote from Dr. Skinner). The list provided by Church News is as follows:

  • God the Father and Jesus Christ are alive and reside in Heaven.

  • Their relationship is a familial one—Father to Son.

  • They are separate and distinct personages, not one spiritual essence.

  • They possess a glory beyond description.

  • They look, act, and speak like human beings.

  • Humans are created in the image of the Father and the Son.

  • The Father and the Son hear and answer prayers.

  • The Father and the Son know individuals by name.

  • There is an opponent to righteousness; he is real.

  • That adversary to righteousness tries to thwart prayer.

  • Revelation was a continuing reality 1,700 years after the so-called era of primitive Christianity.

  • The Father testifies of His Son, and the Son of God deals directly with humankind.

  • There had been an apostasy from Christ's Church.

  • None of the churches on the earth in Joseph's day possessed the fulness of Christ's gospel.

It's notable that 8 out of the 14 items on Dr. Skinner's list (those in red) were actually well known long before Joseph Smith came on the scene.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Nature of the Godhead, part II

Yesterday I wrote about the LDS doctrine of deification as taught by Joseph Smith, and how the Church today seems to want to cover up that "basic belief" of Mormonism. There's another aspect of that doctrine I'd like to talk about.

As I wrote yesterday, the LDS Church has begun a new series of articles in the Ensign for the purpose of "explaining the basic beliefs of the restored gospel." The first article, The Nature of the Godhead, appears in the January 2006 issue on pages 50-51.

As with the doctrine on the nature of man that I discussed yesterday, there is something missing from the article regarding the LDS doctrine on the nature of God as well. The Ensign quotes Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse in order to aid in explaining Mormonism's "basic belief" about the nature of God.
"It is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God,…and that He was once a man like us… When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation."

But the author of the Ensign article does not include Joseph's clear teaching "… I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea…"

In the LDS Sunday School book Gospel Principles the "ladder" portion of Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse is quoted. Then the book goes on to say, "This is the way our Heavenly Father became God." (p. 305)

[A separate issue, but one that I find interesting, is the fact that older editions of Gospel Principles are a bit different from the current edition. In my 1986 edition, page 293, it says, "This is the way our Heavenly Father became a God." (emphasis mine)]

The reason this captures my attention, apart from the heretical nature of the teaching, is because of some statements made by LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley in 1997.

In April of that year the San Francisco Chronicle's Religion Writer Don Lattin interviewed President Hinckley (13 April 1997). A portion of the interview went like this:

"Q: There are some significant differences in your beliefs. For instance, don't Mormons believe that God was once a man?"

"A: I wouldn't say that. There was a little couplet coined, 'As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become.' Now that's more of a couplet than anything else. That gets into some pretty deep theology that we don't know very much about."

"Q: So you're saying the church is still struggling to understand this?"

"A: Well, as God is, man may become. We believe in eternal progression. Very strongly. We believe that the glory of God is intelligence and whatever principle of intelligence we attain unto in this life, it will rise with us in the Resurrection. Knowledge, learning, is an eternal thing. And for that reason, we stress education. We're trying to do all we can to make of our people the ablest, best, brightest people that we can."

A few months later Time Magazine's cover story was Mormons, Inc., the secrets of America's most prosperous religion (4 August 1997; only a preview of the article, Kingdom Come, is available online from Time Magazine). Time gave this report of its interview with President Hinckley (page 56):
"On whether his Church still holds that God the Father was once a man, [President Hinckley] sounded uncertain, 'I don't know that we teach it. I don't know that we emphasize it…I understand the philosophical background behind it, but I don't know a lot about it, and I don't think others know a lot about it."

Well, it looks to me like President Hinckley was either mistaken or trying to hide a basic LDS belief about the nature of God. Perhaps his appeal to ignorance in stating that he didn't know that the Church taught the doctrine was not a dodge to keep from answering the question asked by Time Magazine. And I suppose it's possible that Mormons just don't believe the doctrine so clearly taught by Joseph Smith.

Whatever the reasons for President Hinckley's statements in 1997, this article in the Ensign should help clear up any confusion. We still don't know if members believe the doctrine, but we do know that the LDS Church still teaches it as a "basic belief of the restored gospel."

For more information on Gordon B. Hinckley's 1997 interviews check out these online articles:
Dodging and Dissembling Prophet?
Lord of the Dance

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Tuesday, January 24, 2006

The Nature of the Godhead

The LDS Church has begun a new series of articles in the Ensign which are for the purpose of "explaining the basic beliefs of the restored gospel, doctrines unique to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." The first article in the series, The Nature of the Godhead appears in the January 2006 issue on pages 50-51.

The portion of the article that I find most interesting is the part titled The Nature of Man. It states, "…from this restored understanding of the nature of God flows the Latter-day Saint belief regarding our nature and potential." The author (who is not named) continues by quoting a portion of Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse. Joseph's teaching that God [the Father] was once a man is quoted, but the author leaves out much of Joseph's important doctrinal exposition on the nature of man and God. For instance,
"…it is necessary we should understand the character and being of God and how he came to be so; for I am going to tell you how God came to be God. We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea… Here, then, is eternal life—to know the only wise and true God; and you have got to learn how to be Gods yourselves, and to be kings and priests to God, the same as all Gods have done before you,—namely, by going from one small degree to another, and from a small capacity to a great one;…"

This omitted teaching is important because, as the quote of Joseph's sermon in the Ensign article continues, readers are given the principle that
"When you climb a ladder, you must begin at the bottom, and ascend step by step, until you arrive at the top; and so it is with the principles of the gospel—you must begin with the first, and go on until you learn all the principles of exaltation."

When Joseph's words are removed from their clarifying context, as they have been in the Ensign article, the doctrines he taught become veiled; this leaves the article's conclusion wide open for a more orthodox personal interpretation.

The author closes by quoting LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks: "…the purpose of mortal life is to prepare us to realize our destiny as sons and daughters of God—to become like Him." But what does it mean to "become like Him" if the only information we're given is the selective quoting included in the article? The reader may be able to go a step beyond thinking it means merely sanctification; but surely he will not understand he's being told that as he faithfully climbs the ladder he will one day become a God just like Heavenly Father.

Looking back in an older edition of the LDS Sunday School book Gospel Principles I find, "We can become Gods like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation" (1988 ed., p, 290. Emphasis mine.). But today's edition reads, "We can become like our Heavenly Father. This is exaltation."

Isn't it odd? What's the purpose of the LDS Church fostering doctrinal confusion among its members? Why not just spell it out clearly? Either Mormons accept Joseph Smith's King Follett Discourse as true teaching on the nature of man and God, or they don't. But wouldn't it better accomplish the goals of the Church if leaders were to stop obscuring the "basic beliefs" of Mormonism and let people—both members and non-members—see what they really are?

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Monday, January 23, 2006

September Dawn

Sunday's online New York Times contains an article by John Anderson titled With Only God Left as a Witness. The article begins:
AS the new year dawned, Jon Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" - about a "divinely ordered" double murder in 1984 by two members of a breakaway Mormon sect - was fresh off the best-seller list. Warren Jeffs, the polygamist prophet of this splinter group, the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, was on F.B.I. wanted lists. And the world's first-ever "Mormonsploitation Retrospective" ("Passion! Polygamy! Pamphlets!") of vintage fear-mongering anti-Mormon movies had just finished at the fringy Pioneer Theater in the East Village in Manhattan.

In public relations terms, this is not the easiest time to have the words "Latter," "Day" and "Saints" anywhere close together in your name. And the going may get rougher after the filmmaker Christopher Cain finishes his new movie about one of the darkest moments in Mormon history, the Mountain Meadows massacre of 1857, in which 137 pioneers from Arkansas were killed in Utah by a raiding party whose ties to the Mormon church are still in dispute.

The film, "September Dawn," stars Jon Voight, Lolita Davidovich and Terence Stamp (Dean Cain, the director's son, makes a cameo appearance). Two newcomers, Trent Ford and Tamara Hope, play a frontier Romeo and Juliet in a romance played out against a drama of a mass murder that continues to engender controversy almost 150 years after the fact. Financed independently by September Dawn and Voice Pictures, it is currently being screened for distributors.

The entire New York Times article, though lengthy, is well worth reading.

Mr. Cain said he and his co-writer were helped as they worked on the script by one of Brigham Young's great-granddaughters who has left the LDS Church and become a born-again Christian.

Apparently none of Brigham Young's dialog in the film is fiction; it all came from the depositions Mr. Young gave after the massacre. "I sat here watching this a couple of weeks ago," Mr. Cain said, "and I was thinking: 'Maybe I made that up. I don't think he would have said that.' And I went back and pulled it up and, man, he did."

September Dawn promises to be a very interesting movie.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Polygamy is in the news again

On Tuesday (17 January 2006) the FBI offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Warren Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS), a Mormon Fundamentalist denomination. Mr. Jeffs has been on the Fugitives Wanted By The FBI list since August 2005. He is wanted for sexual conduct with a minor. The FLDS group believes the early doctrines of the LDS Church—which recognized the practice of polygamy as a binding commandment—are still in force today.

On Saturday (14 January 2006) Deseret News reported that HBO will debut a new series on Utah polygamists in March. Big Love will star Bill Paxton, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Ginnifer Goodwin and Chloe Sevigny as a non-Mormon independent polygamous family consisting of a man, his three wives, and their seven children. Set in Sandy, Utah, the producers say there will be many familiar landmarks filmed in the series, including the Salt Lake Temple. The LDS Church is concerned that viewers will be confused and associate today's polygamy with Mormonism; therefore, "a disclaimer will run at the end of each episode stating that the LDS Church does not condone polygamy."

Last Friday (13 January 2006) the Toronto Star reported on a study in Canada which calls for the legalization of polygamy. The article noted that "polygamy is openly practised [sic] in the religious community of Bountiful, near Creston, B.C., by a breakaway group of Mormons calling themselves the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." The study suggests "Canadian laws should be changed to better accommodate the problems of women in polygamous marriages, providing them clearer spousal support and inheritance rights." Reports of the study also appeared in US newspapers, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

The Spectrum, southern Utah's newspaper located in St. George, included a short editorial, Canada going too far on polygamy, apparently prompted by the Canadian study. This editorial in turn prompted a letter to the editor that I found really…interesting.

On 18 January 2006 The Spectrum published this letter:
Concubines aren't a covenant marriage

By using and following the principle and doctrine of God's laws, you shall know all things. Let's take the law that "no marriages are given in heaven." Concubines aren't a covenant marriage, it's a principle. Many wives is a doctrine law.

All things weren't told in Genesis on a day-for-day basis. Just things in general are all you needed to know at that time. We are to understand one, Eve. Doctrine claims that God has many wives. Adam indeed was a God who was chosen and set apart to be Adam. It took the fall of three Eves or more before Adam decided to follow Eve. This action gave Adam three wives or more to fulfill the doctrine law of many wives. Repentance and baptism, period.

Many generations passed until the Gods saw it fit and proper to give Adam his principle of the law - his "concubines." That made Adam's godhood bound on earth. This principle and doctrine had to be given to Adam in order for it to be handed down to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David and Solomon. What is bound on earth is bound in heaven? Are we bound on earth?

If we practice not this principle and doctrine, we enter not in heaven! No short cuts, no excuses for not upholding freedom for God's church and for God's law that was agreeable to the laws of this land until you, we, and us didn't do our job to elect just men. Please Lord, bring down Zion. To do the job that we have no guts or righteous desires to do so.

John Robb
St. George


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Worship of Joseph Smith?

Reading the December 31, 2005 issue of Church News I came across this:
"As Latter-day Saints we no more worship Joseph Smith than we do Peter or any of the other ancient apostles. Peter, in fact, is an apt comparison. Both Joseph and Peter fearlessly obeyed the Master in conveying His gospel to every nation, kindred, tongue and people. Both men dedicated their lives to the work of the Kingdom, ultimately suffering a martyr's death in the cause of Christ. To both men we give our honor, respect, reverence and love—but not our worship." (p. 16)

This topic of whether or not Latter-day Saints worship Joseph Smith interests me. I've tried to figure out why people think Mormons worship Joseph. The fact that many do is evidenced by the constant denials coming from Mormons and the LDS Church. I suppose it could be rumor, but rumors usually die out in the face of reality. Mormonism gets plenty of good press which should put a stop to unfounded rumors. That leaves me thinking that perhaps the rumors won't die because there is something within Mormonism that keeps them alive.

So I asked the question on my web site, "In practical terms, how does LDS reverence for the Prophet Joseph Smith differ from LDS worship of Jesus Christ?" I had hoped to get some definitive answers from Latter-day Saints pointing out something unique in their worship of Christ that is not found in their behavior and feelings toward Joseph; for I am not aware of any differences.

By that I mean that Mormons sing songs about both Joseph and Jesus. They celebrate the births of both. They commemorate the deaths of both. They display statues of both. They testify of both, etc. So how is the general public to know the difference between how Mormons honor Joseph but worship Jesus?

My web question didn't generate any responses of substance. Several non-Mormons and ex-Mormons wrote that Latter-day Saints do indeed worship Joseph Smith. The Mormons who responded to the question merely asserted that they don't.

The comment from Church News caught my attention because of the comparison between Joseph and the Apostle Peter. If, as is implied, Latter-day Saints reverence both Joseph and Peter in the same way, then I would expect to find LDS songs, statues and celebrations in Peter's honor just as I find in honor of Joseph.

But they are not there.

In fact, I've visited many LDS sites and I can't remember seeing even one statue or monument depicting a biblical prophet or apostle—unless it also included Joseph Smith.

Of course, the mere fact of the display of a statue or monument does not indicate worship given. Consider how many LDS monuments there are to the Mormon pioneers, yet no one (or hardly anyone) accuses Mormons of worshiping these people. Consider the extensive statuary of the Catholic Church… Well, maybe that's not such a good example.

At any rate, I think the rumor that Mormons worship Joseph Smith persists because there is fuel for the fire. LDS veneration of Joseph may be misunderstood (as Mormons say), but surely the mistake is an honest one and wholly understandable.

I'm not sure which side of the debate I come down on. Perhaps the truth of the matter lies in the way Latter-day Saints define the word "worship." Or, as one Mormon responder to my web question implied, the difference lies in the one to whom the honor is given: If it's given to man, it is reverence; if given to deity, it's worship. Whatever the case, as Latter-day Saints continue to interact with non-Mormons in sharing their feelings about Joseph Smith—to borrow the words of Ricky Ricardo—"They got a lotta 'splainin' to do."


Monday, January 16, 2006

Battle Cry

I received a call this morning from a Christian woman; we'll call her Bea.

I am so impressed by Bea, her obedience and her faith. She has struggled a long time now with cancer, and in November was told that she had but weeks to live. Through God's grace the doctors were able to find a medication that seems to be helping her and she is gaining a little strength back. Though Bea has been given an extension, she has not long to live in this world.

I try to imagine what I would do if I knew the rest of my life could be counted in days rather than the expected decades. I don't know how I would spend those precious moments, but Bea is an inspiration.

The LDS Church is building a new chapel in Bea's neighborhood and she's concerned for the spiritual welfare of her neighbors. As she told me, "I'm not concerned that the LDS building is going up. I love America and I love that people in our country have the freedom to worship according to their conscience. What concerns me is that my community does not understand how Mormonism differs from the Bible."

So Bea is busy preparing information for her neighbors. She has purchased the tract Is Mormonism Christian? and plans to begin going door to door this week. She has 200 tracts that she has labeled with her name and phone number; she plans to leave one with every person she meets. And if the Lord allows her to remain, she'll get more.

Bea isn't comfortable with her outreach. She's a little afraid to approach people's homes and doesn't know what sort of things she may encounter. She said, "I could easily use my disease as an excuse to stay home, but I'm convinced this is what the Lord wants me to do." So out she goes, to serve the Lord in this uncomfortable task as long as He gives her strength.

Bea makes me think of a scene from the movie The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. As his army prepares for the great conflict, Peter looks across the battlefield, viewing the immense force assembled against them. Just before the charge he raises his sword and cries, "For Narnia and for Aslan!"

I see Bea looking over the battlefield. All personal concerns aside, she has work to do. "For the kingdom and for Christ!" she cries, and charges ahead with her eyes set firmly on her King.

Friday, January 13, 2006

More on Horses and Ice

After my post yesterday about the frozen swamp I heard from two engineers and one scientist. Two common threads ran through all three responses: 1. There is not enough information in the story to reach a definitive conclusion; and 2. Even so, the veracity of the story is highly dubious.

One engineer said the missing information which needs to be considered includes the air temperature during the previous week, the temperature of the rocks and how long it took them to sink when they were thrown into the swamp, the temperature of the water before the 30 degree drop, the temperature of the surrounding soil, and the number and size of the wheels on the wagon carrying the monument.

The scientist said that we need to consider the mud/water/vegetation ratios in the swamp.

The other engineer, in agreement with the above considerations, nevertheless suggested that conservative assumptions could be made on many of these issues and a calculation could be applied. His opinion is that whether the "frozen solid" assertion in the story refers to water or to muddy muck, the rate for freezing for either substance is similar enough to determine times and temperatures "within the ballpark."

He sent a link to an equation from the Encyclopedia Britannica that models the rate of freezing of ice on water. Applying this equation, he provided the following information using the Fahrenheit scale:
If the temperature started out at 33 degrees (so the swamp was not yet frozen) and dropped to zero degrees, after 12 hours at zero degrees there would be 1.66 inches of ice on the swamp.

If the temperature was zero degrees and we needed to have 8 inches of ice on the swamp (a reasonable depth to hide the rocks that were thrown in) it would take 93 hours (almost 4 days) to freeze to that depth.

If we only had 12 hours for 8 inches of ice to form, to accomplish that the temperature would have to be 215 degrees below zero.

Furthermore, regarding ice and the load it can bear, this engineer reported that according to the State of Minnesota, a medium-sized pick-up truck needs 12 to 15 inches of ice to bear its weight safely, so the 1.66 inches that could reasonably be expected to form on the swamp overnight at zero degrees would certainly not be enough to hold 40 tons and 22 horses as they "passed over the swamp without difficulty."

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Horses and Ice

Well, here's something that's neither here nor there, but I'm curious about it.

On December 23rd 2005 LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley spoke at the commemoration of Joseph Smith's 200th birthday. In the course of his remarks, President Hinckley told the story of the 100-year-old monument which today graces the spot in Vermont where Joseph was born.

The monument is a 40-ton polished granite obelisk that measures 38 and a half feet tall. It was brought from the mill where it was cut and polished, to its final resting place, in November of 1805.

My curiosity is in the story of the monument's trip across country. President Hinckley stated the following (as reported in Deseret News):
A special steel-tired wagon was used to move the stone

The wagon was pulled by 22 horses

A bridge over the White River had to be strengthened to sustain the load

It was necessary to take the wagon and its load through a swamp

Rocks were dumped into the swamp, but they sank out of site

Hardwood planking over the swamp was useless

The weather had been relatively warm for that time of year

Overnight, the temperature dropped 30 degrees

In the morning, the swamp was frozen solid

Twenty-two horses pulling the steel-tired wagon carrying a load of 40 tons of granite passed over the swamp without difficulty

I'm not the scientific type, but I am from Minnesota. As a kid I wasn't allowed to go ice skating on the swamp near my home until well into December—the ice wasn't safe before that, though we always had plenty of very cold weather.

So I don't know. This story of the monument's trip across the swamp…can it be true? Can a swamp deep enough to swallow a load of rocks really freeze solid overnight? Could that new ice really support 40 tons of granite and 22 horses clomping across it? Or is this just folklore similar to "the miracle of the seagulls"?

It doesn't really matter; I'm just curious. Does anybody know?

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

What Do Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses Have in Common?

Christianity Today's current online Books & Culture (January/February 2006) features an article written by Gerald R. McDermott, Saints Rising. Dr. McDermott takes a look at The Rise of Mormonism, a new book by sociologist Rodney Stark and addresses the question, "Is Mormonism the first new world religion since the birth of Islam?"

One of the many segments in the article that I find interesting is a comparison of the LDS Church with The Watchtower (Jehovah's Witnesses). Dr. McDermott's purpose in making the comparison is to see if the LDS Church is indeed the newest world religion—or, taking it down a notch, the newest "new religious tradition."

Using the number of adherents as the primary measure of what is or is not a world religion, as Dr. Stark suggests; and using doctrinal departure from historic Christianity as a measure of a new religious tradition, as historian Jan Shipps suggests; Dr. McDermott writes:
[Jan Shipps] proposes that every other [non-Mormon] new American religion was sectarian, which means that none of them changed the mainstream Christian story in fundamental ways. Since Mormonism changed the story fundamentally by opening the canon with a new prophet and new revelation (and recapitulating key events in both Hebrew and early Christian histories in such singular ways that its history itself became a new text), it is a new religious tradition.

But what about Jehovah's Witnesses? Did they not change the dominant religious story in fundamental ways? The Mormons added new incarnations to the story, but the Witnesses denied the concept of incarnation entirely! The Mormons rejected traditional understandings of the origins of God the Son, but the Witnesses denied the existence of God the Son! Mormons disavow the Trinity but retain three "personages" of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each fully divine. Witnesses, on the other hand, don't even come close: Jesus is ontologically inferior to the Father, and the Spirit is an impersonal force.

If Mormons qualify as a new tradition because of their changes to the dominant religious story, Jehovah's Witnesses also deserve the label. In terms of numbers, Witnesses are doing even better. Despite starting later (1879 vs. 1830), they have more adherents and are in more countries. [David B.] Barrett reports that in 2000, there were 11 million Mormons in 116 countries, but 13 million Witnesses in 219 countries.

I'm glad that Dr. McDermott has provided some perspective to the oft-repeated myth that Mormonism is the fastest-growing religion around. But I suspect that Mormons will keep the myth alive as the news media quotes—unchallenged—statements like this:
"We are now the fastest growing church in the United States with 12.5 million members and we are growing faster outside the U.S."
Gainesville Georgia's LDS Mayor George Wangemann, Gainesville Times, December 17, 2005

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Brigham Young Testifies of Joseph Smith—and Then Some

I just received my December 31st issue of Church News. This issue is pretty much dedicated to "Remembering Joseph Smith." The first article (which is all I've read so far) is titled Prophets Testify of Joseph Smith. It consists of short excerpts from the sermons and talks of Latter-day prophets. Each of the 14 prophets since Joseph Smith are represented, and each one had something to say about Joseph.

The first quote in the article is from Journal of Discourses, volume 5, page 332, "Observations by President Brigham Young, made in the Bowery, Wednesday Afternoon, October 7, 1857." I thought it might be interesting to see Brigham's comment about Joseph's mission in its context, so I looked it up.

I found that Brigham made some rather interesting remarks in that sermon. On the two pages surrounding the portion quoted in Church News (pages 331 and 332) Brigham noted the following:

Brigham desired to do the work of the kingdom so it would be "right and acceptable" to Joseph when Joseph comes again

The terms "United States" and "united hell" were synonymous as the government was then conducted

The God the Methodists worshiped was the "Mormon's Devil"

After passing Joseph Smith, Peter, the Apostles, and Abraham on the way to the Celestial kingdom people will be "very glad to see the white locks of Father Adam." Brigham then quoted John 17:3, "This is eternal life, to know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent."

Brigham was an Apostle of Joseph Smith

All the priests contemporary to Joseph's day were "as blind as Egyptian darkness" and knew nothing correct about heaven, hell, God, angels, or devils

Faithful Mormons, though 60 or 70 years old, look young and handsome; but if they apostatize, "they will become gray-haired, wrinkled, and black, just like the Devil."

Any comments?

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Monday, January 09, 2006

Ultimate Sacrifice

Lee Davidson, journalist for the Deseret Morning News, wrote an interesting article which appeared in that paper on January 5th, 2006. Missionary slayings very rare in LDS Church was written in response to the January 2nd shooting death of LDS missionary Morgan Young. Mr. Davidson wrote that Morgan made "the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs."

Morgan's death was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He and his missionary companion were in the area as an apparent drug deal went wrong and people started getting shot. Morgan's companion, Joshua, was also shot; thankfully he survived.

The only way I can make sense of Mr. Davidson's implication that Morgan is a martyr is the fact that Morgan would not have been in the line of fire if he hadn't been sent to Virginia on a mission for the LDS Church. In that context, Morgan made the ultimate sacrifice for his beliefs; but he was not killed because he was LDS, or because someone didn't like what he was doing or what he was teaching. Morgan's death was tragic, as is the death of any person whose life is cut short. It was senseless. But Morgan is not a martyr any more than are the 2 LDS missionaries who died 4 days later in a car crash.

Mr. Davidson's article did draw a distinction between accidental missionary deaths and missionaries who have been murdered. He included some very interesting statistics on LDS missionary deaths as well as non-LDS Christian missionary deaths. He noted that only 3 of the 17 LDS missionaries who have died since January 1, 1999 did not die accidentally, while 155 out of 160 Christian missionary deaths during that same time span were murders. (Mr. Davidson provided new updated numbers on January 7th.)

Of all the missionary murders (LDS included) Mr. Davidson wrote, "Reasons behind the deaths are many, but the lion's share of those killed — 106 of 177, or 60 percent — appear to have been murdered because of unpopular religious or political beliefs." None of those who were killed for what they believe were LDS.

I am appreciative to Mr. Davidson for his article. I recall speaking with an emotional LDS missionary some years ago who, in his effort to prove his church true, cried, "I know of no other church that has martyrs!" Mr. Davidson has done a great service in educating the people of Salt Lake City (and beyond) to the fact that Christian missionaries are often persecuted and killed for the sake of the Gospel; many indeed make the ultimate sacrifice for their beliefs.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Sad News

It is with sadness that I note the deaths of 3 LDS missionaries in 5 days. On Monday (1/2/2006) Morgan W. Young was shot and killed in Virginia, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was reportedly killed by a man fleeing the scene of a drug deal gone bad. On Friday (1/6/2006) Bradley J. Isle and Jonathan R. Talmadge were killed in a head-on collision in New Zealand.

My prayers go out to the grieving families of these young men. May they be comforted by the God of all comfort.

Friday, January 06, 2006

To Contend or Not to Contend...

I was surprised the other day while reading the January 2006 issue of the Ensign. There's an article beginning on page 20 about the fourth LDS prophet, Wilford Woodruff, titled Contending for the Faith. The tag line to this article is, "While contending for the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, President Woodruff taught principles relevant for our lives today."

My surprise comes from the idea promoted within the article that "contending" is a good thing. Of course, as a Christian I support Jude's exhortation to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). But Mormonism typically shuns contention as being from the devil himself. The Book of Mormon says, “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me [saith the Lord], but is of the devil, who is the father of contention…" (3 Nephi 11:29).

Some people might say that contention is argument accompanied by anger. However, LDS Apostle Russell M. Nelson wrote an article for the Ensign titled The Canker of Contention (May 1989) in which he made the claim that conflicting ideas are "the beginning of contention." This really sums up the usual Mormon-on-the-street understanding of the issue.

An online letter at Contender Ministries illustrates this point. On November 16th 2005 a Mormon wrote, "Argument, no matter what kind, is a form of contention." Contender Ministries provided a good response to this Latter-day Saint. You might want to take a look.

It's been my experience that this is how most Mormons understand their Church's injunction against contention. Typically, when I have a friendly encounter with a Mormon, if we reach a point where he feels at a disadvantage in the discussion he does one of two things. He either drops the topic and proclaims his testimony of the truth of the Church; or he says, "I feel a spirit of contention," and refuses to continue the conversation. I once asked a Mormon "host" at the Orlando Temple Open House how he determined when a discussion became contentious. His answer: A conversation became contentious whenever someone disagreed with him.

And truly, this is a good definition of contention. My dictionary says "contend" is when someone "asserts something as a position in an argument." Therefore, any disagreement--no matter how friendly or easy-going--would be contentious and, according to Mormonism, would be "of the devil." Thus my surprise to read of the LDS praise for Mr. Woodruff 's public contention for the LDS faith.