Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The War (Against Gays) Goes On

Whenever the LDS Church tries to send signals it's becoming more open-minded about gay people, it sends louder signals it is not. The November 2015 policy against children of gay parents is the most problematic of the past few years. Now comes an Ensign article by Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy, doubling-down against gay relationships.

The headline is "The War Goes On," about the war between good and evil. It starts with the War in Heaven in the pre-existence, it continues with Satan's war against all people on Earth, and it will continue until the Second Coming.

Buried deep in the article:
Marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, but same-sex marriage is only a counterfeit. It brings neither posterity nor exaltation. Although his imitations deceive many people, they are not the real thing. They cannot bring lasting happiness. God warned us about counterfeits in the Doctrine and Covenants. He said, “That which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness” (D&C 50:23).
The conclusion he's asking you to draw is that gay marriage is of darkness.

But what really struck me is how he's couching this entire argument about the power of Satan. Many Church leaders give waaaaaay too much credit to Satan.  Here are some excerpts from the same article:
"The devil is brazen when it comes to putting wicked ideas into our minds. The Book of Mormon teaches that Satan whispers unclean and unkind thoughts and sows thoughts of doubt. He nags us to act on addictive urges and to entertain selfishness and greed...
Any bad thought or negative mood you've ever had, you can blame on Satan.
"The devil has been called “the great deceiver.” He attempts to counterfeit every true principle the Lord presents. Remember, counterfeits are not the same as opposites. The opposite of white is black, but a counterfeit for white might be off-white or gray. Counterfeits bear a resemblance to the real thing in order to deceive unsuspecting people. They are a twisted version of something good, and just like counterfeit money, they are worthless...
The setup for calling gay marriage counterfeit and worthless.
"Ever since he convinced Cain to kill Abel, Satan has influenced siblings to quarrel. He also stirs up problems in marriages, among ward members, and between missionary companions. He delights in seeing good people argue. He tries to start family arguments right before church on Sunday, right before family home evening on Monday night, and whenever a couple plans to attend a temple session. His timing is predictable...
Man, Satan is powerful. He's with you more than the Holy Ghost, whom we are taught will withdraw at the slightest offense.
"Satan loves to spread contention in the Church. He specializes in pointing out the faults of Church leaders. Joseph Smith warned the Saints that the beginning step to apostasy is to lose confidence in the leaders of the Church.  Almost all anti-Mormon literature is based on lies about the character of Joseph Smith. The enemy works hard to discredit Joseph because the message of the Restoration hangs on the Prophet’s account of what happened in the Sacred Grove. The devil is working harder today than ever before to make members question their testimonies of the Restoration...
Emphasis mine. I grew up believing that anti-Mormon stuff was just that. Anti-Mormon lies. And since the first two anti-Mormon books I ever read were nasty pieces of work trying to convince its Christian readers that Mormons really worship Satan, well it was easy to dismiss them. Later in life, I learned that there was a lot more truth to "anti-Mormon lies" than I'd originally believed.

But I also look at how losing confidence in church leaders is one of the first signs of Satan working on you. Was it Satan who agitated members in Joseph's time who had a problem with him marrying other men's wives? Was it Satan who agitated members in Brigham's time when he was calling for blood atonement? Was it Satan who agitated members when church leaders taught for over a century that black people could not hold the priesthood or be sealed in temples?

These scare tactics of blaming everything on Satan need to stop. And if church leaders today recognize mistakes of the past, I would pray they also stop to ponder if they're making any in the present.

Monday, December 5, 2016

#LDSConf October 2016: Sunday Morning Session

THOMAS S. MONSON - "The Perfect Path to Happiness"
President of the Church

Essential to the plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances. Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness.

We are blessed to have the truth. We have a mandate to share the truth. Let us live the truth, that we might merit all that the Father has for us. He does nothing save it be for our benefit. He has told us, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

From the depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.

RUSSELL M. NELSON - "Joy and Spiritual Survival"
President of the Quorum of the Twelve

Saints can be happy under every circumstance. We can feel joy even while having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad year!

My dear brothers and sisters, the joy we feel has little to do with the circumstances of our lives and everything to do with the focus of our lives.

When the focus of our lives is on God’s plan of salvation, which President Thomas S. Monson just taught us, and Jesus Christ and His gospel, we can feel joy regardless of what is happening—or not happening—in our lives. Joy comes from and because of Him. He is the source of all joy. We feel it at Christmastime when we sing, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come.” And we can feel it all year round. For Latter-day Saints, Jesus Christ is joy!

That is why our missionaries leave their homes to preach His gospel. Their goal is not to increase the number of Church members. Rather, our missionaries teach and baptize to bring joy to the people of the world!

Just as the Savior offers peace that “passeth all understanding,” He also offers an intensity, depth, and breadth of joy that defy human logic or mortal comprehension. For example, it doesn’t seem possible to feel joy when your child suffers with an incurable illness or when you lose your job or when your spouse betrays you. Yet that is precisely the joy the Savior offers. His joy is constant, assuring us that our “afflictions shall be but a small moment” and be consecrated to our gain...

Anything that opposes Christ or His doctrine will interrupt our joy. That includes the philosophies of men, so abundant online and in the blogosphere, which do exactly what Korihor did.

If we look to the world and follow its formulas for happiness, we will never know joy. The unrighteous may experience any number of emotions and sensations, but they will never experience joy!

PETER F. MEURS - "The Sacrament Can Help Us Become Holy"
Of the Seventy

Participation in the sacrament ordinance provides an opportunity to more fully yield our hearts and souls to God. In our preparation, our hearts become broken as we express gratitude for Christ’s Atonement, repent of our mistakes and shortcomings, and ask for the Father’s help in our continuing journey to become more like Him. We can then look forward to the opportunity the sacrament provides to remember His sacrifice and renew our commitments to all the covenants we have made.

As we consider our sacrament experience, we might ask ourselves:

What will I do this week to better prepare for the sacrament?
Could I contribute more to the reverence and revelation that can accompany the beginning of sacrament meeting?
What doctrine was taught in the sacrament hymn?
What did I hear and feel as I listened to the sacrament prayers?
What did I think about as the sacrament was passed?

LINDA S. REEVES - "The Great Plan of Redemption"
2nd Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency

When we have sinned, Satan often tries to convince us that the unselfish thing to do is to protect others from the devastation of the knowledge of our sins, including avoiding confessing to our bishop, who can bless our lives through his priesthood keys as a common judge in Israel. The truth, however, is that the unselfish and Christlike thing to do is to confess and repent. This is Heavenly Father’s great plan of redemption...

To me, the greatest miracles in life are not the parting of the Red Sea, the moving of mountains, or even the healing of the body. The greatest miracle happens when we humbly approach our Father in Heaven in prayer, fervently plead to be forgiven, and then are cleansed of those sins through the atoning sacrifice of our Savior.

M. RUSSELL BALLARD - "To Whom Shall We Go"
Quorum of the Twelve

One of the most heart-wrenching stories in scripture occurred when “many of [the Lord’s] disciples” found it hard to accept His teachings and doctrine, and they “went back, and walked no more with him.” As these disciples left, Jesus turned to the Twelve and asked, “Will ye also go away?”

Peter responded:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life.
“And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God.”
In that moment, when others focused on what they could not accept, the Apostles chose to focus on what they did believe and know, and as a result, they remained with Christ...

Today is no different. For some, Christ’s invitation to believe and remain continues to be hard—or difficult to accept. Some disciples struggle to understand a specific Church policy or teaching. Others find concerns in our history or in the imperfections of some members and leaders, past and present. Still others find it difficult to live a religion that requires so much. Finally, some have become “weary in well-doing.” For these and other reasons, some Church members vacillate in their faith, wondering if perhaps they should follow those who “went back, and walked no more” with Jesus.

If any one of you is faltering in your faith, I ask you the same question that Peter asked: “To whom shall [you] go?” If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do? The decision to “walk no more” with Church members and the Lord’s chosen leaders will have a long-term impact that cannot always be seen right now. There may be some doctrine, some policy, some bit of history that puts you at odds with your faith, and you may feel that the only way to resolve that inner turmoil right now is to “walk no more” with the Saints. If you live as long as I have, you will come to know that things have a way of resolving themselves. An inspired insight or revelation may shed new light on an issue. Remember, the Restoration is not an event, but it continues to unfold...

Never fail to give equal time to the Lord through honest attempts to understand what the Lord has revealed. As my dear friend and former colleague Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said, “We should not assume … that just because something is unexplainable by us it is unexplainable.”

So before you make that spiritually perilous choice to leave, I encourage you to stop and think carefully before giving up whatever it was that brought you to your testimony of the restored Church of Jesus Christ in the first place. Stop and think about what you have felt here and why you felt it. Think about the times when the Holy Ghost has borne witness to you of eternal truth.

Where will you go to find others who share your belief in personal, loving Heavenly Parents, who teach us how to return to Their eternal presence?

Where will you go to be taught about a Savior who is your best friend, who not only suffered for your sins but who also suffered “pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind” so “that his bowels may be filled with mercy, according to the flesh, that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people according to their infirmities,” including, I believe, the infirmity of loss of faith?

Where will you go to learn more about Heavenly Father’s plan for our eternal happiness and peace, a plan that is filled with wondrous possibilities, teachings, and guidance for our mortal and eternal lives? Remember, the plan of salvation gives mortal life meaning, purpose, and direction.

Where will you go to find a detailed and inspired Church organizational structure through which you are taught and supported by men and women who are deeply committed to serving the Lord by serving you and your family?

Where will you go to find living prophets and apostles, who are called by God to give you another resource for counsel, understanding, comfort, and inspiration for the challenges of our day?

DEAN M. DAVIES - "The Blessing of Worship"
1st Counselor, Presiding Bishopric

Latter-day Saints are exceptional when it comes to serving in Church callings. But sometimes we may go about our work routinely, as though we are merely performing a job. Sometimes our attendance at meetings and our service in the kingdom may lack the holy element of worship. And without that, we are missing an incomparable spiritual encounter with the infinite—one we are entitled to as children of a loving Heavenly Father.

Far from being an accidental, happy occurrence, worship is essential and central to our spiritual life. It is something we should yearn for, seek out, and strive to experience.

When we worship God, we approach Him with reverent love, humility, and adoration. We acknowledge and accept Him as our sovereign King, the Creator of the universe, our beloved and infinitely loving Father.

We respect and revere Him. We submit ourselves to Him. We lift our hearts in mighty prayer, cherish His word, rejoice in His grace, and commit to follow Him with dedicated loyalty.

Worshipping God is such an essential element in the life of a disciple of Jesus Christ that if we fail to receive Him in our hearts, we will seek for Him in vain in our councils, churches, and temples.

LYNN G. ROBBINS - "The Righteous Judge"
of the Presidency of the Seventy

While few of us will be called to be common judges, the principles of righteous judgment apply to all of us, especially to parents who have a daily opportunity to use these principles with their children. To effectively teach a child is the very essence of good parenting, and to lovingly discipline is the very essence of being a righteous judge.

President Joseph F. Smith taught, “If children are defiant and difficult to control, be patient with them until you can conquer by love, … and you can then [mold] their characters as you please.”8

It is insightful that in teaching how to discipline, the prophets seem to always refer to Christlike attributes. The Doctrine and Covenants gives us this well-known advice on discipline:

“No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

“By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

“Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love."

HENRY B. EYRING - "Gratitude on the Sabbath Day"
1st Counselor, First Presidency

I receive letters and visits from faithful Latter-day Saints who feel burdened with a load of care. Some are close to feeling that, at least for them, all is lost. I hope and pray that what I say about being grateful on the Sabbath will be helpful to make doubts fly and for singing to start in your hearts.

One blessing for which we can be grateful is that we are there in that sacrament meeting at all, gathered with more than one or two of His disciples in His name. There are some at home unable to rise from their beds. There are some who would like to be where we are but are instead serving in hospitals and providing public safety or are defending us at the risk of their own lives in some desert or jungle. The fact that we are able to gather with even one other Saint and partake of the sacrament will help us begin to feel gratitude and love for God’s kindness.

Because of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restored gospel, another blessing we can count is that we have the opportunity to take the sacrament each week—prepared, blessed, and passed by authorized servants of God. We can be grateful when the Holy Spirit confirms to us that the words of the sacrament prayers, offered by those authorized priesthood holders, are honored by our Heavenly Father.

Of all the blessings we can count, the greatest by far is the feeling of forgiveness that comes as we partake of the sacrament. We will feel greater love and appreciation for the Savior, whose infinite sacrifice made possible our being cleansed from sin. As we partake of the bread and water, we remember that He suffered for us. And when we feel gratitude for what He has done for us, we will feel His love for us and our love for Him.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

#LDSConf October 2016: Priesthood Session

JEFFREY R. HOLLAND - "Emissaries to the Church"
Quorum of the Twelve

Brethren, in the best of all worlds and in those circumstances where it can be done, a monthly visit in each home is still the ideal the Church would strive for. But realizing that in many locations around the world achieving such an ideal is not possible and that we cause those brethren to feel like failures when we ask them to do what cannot realistically be done, the First Presidency wrote to the priesthood leaders of the Church in December 2001, giving this inspired, very helpful counsel: “There are some locations in the Church,” they wrote, “where … home teaching to every home each month may not be possible because of insufficient numbers of active priesthood brethren and various other local challenges.” We’ve mentioned some of them. “When such circumstances prevail,” they go on, “leaders should do their best to use the resources they have available to watch over and strengthen each member.”...

Brethren, the appeal I am making tonight is for you to lift your vision of home teaching. Please, in newer, better ways see yourselves as emissaries of the Lord to His children. That means leaving behind the tradition of a frantic, law of Moses–like, end-of-the-month calendar in which you rush to give a scripted message from the Church magazines that the family has already read. We would hope, rather, that you will establish an era of genuine, gospel-oriented concern for the members, watching over and caring for each other, addressing spiritual and temporal needs in any way that helps.

Now, as for what “counts” as home teaching, every good thing you do “counts,” so report it all! Indeed, the report that matters most is how you have blessed and cared for those within your stewardship, which has virtually nothing to do with a specific calendar or a particular location.

LeGRAND R. CURTIS JR. - "There Is Power in the Book"
of the Seventy

Some people have such a powerful experience with the Book of Mormon the first time they open it, but for others the witness of the truthfulness comes more gradually as they read and pray about it. That was my case. I first read the Book of Mormon as a teenage seminary student. This is the copy of the Book of Mormon that I read. I cannot tell you the exact time or place that it happened, but somewhere during that reading, I started sensing something. There was a warmth and a spirit that came every time I opened the book. The feeling grew as I continued my reading. That feeling continues to this day. Every time I open the Book of Mormon, it is like turning on a switch—the Spirit flows into my heart and soul.

For yet others, a testimony of the Book of Mormon comes more slowly, after much study and prayer. I have a friend who read the Book of Mormon searching to know if it was true. He applied the invitation in Moroni to ask God with a sincere heart, with real intent and faith in Christ, if the Book of Mormon is true. But he did not immediately get the promised spiritual answer. However, one day as he was deep in thought, driving down the road, the Spirit testified to him of the truth of the Book of Mormon. So happy and overwhelmed was he that he rolled down the car window and yelled, to no one in particular and yet to all the world, “It’s true!”

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "Learn from Alma and Amulek"
2nd Counselor, First Presidency

Let me begin by asking all past, current, or future leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ, “What can you learn from Alma?”

Alma was an exceptionally gifted and capable man. It may have been easy to think that he did not need anyone’s help. Nevertheless, what did Alma do when he returned to Ammonihah?

Alma found Amulek and asked him for help.

And Alma received help.

For whatever reason, sometimes we as leaders are reluctant to find and ask our Amuleks. Perhaps we think that we can do the work better by ourselves, or we are reluctant to inconvenience others, or we assume that others would not want to participate. Too often we hesitate to invite people to use their God-given talents and engage in the great work of salvation.

Think of the Savior—did He begin to establish His Church all alone? No.

His message was not “Stand back. I’ll handle this.” Rather it was “Come, follow me.” He inspired, invited, instructed, and then trusted His followers “to do the things which ye have seen me do.” In this way, Jesus Christ built up not only His Church but also His servants.

In whatever position you currently serve—whether you are a deacons quorum president, a stake president, or an Area President—to be successful, you must find your Amuleks.

It may be someone who is unassuming or even invisible within your congregations. It may be someone who seems unwilling or unable to serve. Your Amuleks may be young or old, men or women, inexperienced, tired, or not active in the Church. But what may not be seen at first sight is that they are hoping to hear from you the words “The Lord needs you! I need you!”...

While some of us should be looking for an Amulek, for others the question might be “How am I like Amulek?”

Perhaps you have, over the years, become less committed in your discipleship. Perhaps the fire of your testimony has dimmed. Perhaps you have distanced yourself from the body of Christ. Perhaps you have become disillusioned or even angry. Like some of the ancient Church of Ephesus, you may have left your “first love”—the sublime, eternal truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Perhaps, like Amulek, you know in your heart that the Lord has “called [you] many times,” but you “would not hear.” Nevertheless, the Lord sees in you what He saw in Amulek—the potential of a valiant servant with an important work to do and with a testimony to share. There is service that no one else can give in quite the same way. The Lord has trusted you with His holy priesthood, which holds the divine potential to bless and lift others. Listen with your heart and follow the promptings of the Spirit.

HENRY B. EYRING - "That He May Become Strong Also"
1st Counselor, First Presidency

Wilford Woodruff, as President of the Church, described his experience in the offices of the priesthood:

“I heard the first sermon I ever heard in this Church. The next day I was baptized. … I was ordained a Teacher. My mission immediately commenced. … I went through that whole mission as a Teacher. … At the conference I was ordained a Priest. … After I was ordained a Priest I was sent … on a mission to the southern country. That was in the fall of 1834. I had a companion with me, and we started out without purse and scrip. I traveled alone a good many miles and preached the Gospel, and I baptized a number that I could not confirm in the Church, because I was only a Priest. … I traveled some time preaching the Gospel before I was ordained an Elder. …

“[Now] I have been some fifty-four years a member of the Twelve Apostles. I have traveled with that and other quorums now for sixty years; and I want to say to this assembly that I was just as much sustained by the power of God while holding the office of a Teacher, and especially while officiating in the vineyard as a Priest, as I ever was as an Apostle. There is no difference in this so long as we do our duty.”

That wonderful spiritual possibility of no difference is suggested in the Lord’s description of the Aaronic Priesthood as an “appendage” of the Melchizedek Priesthood. The word appendage means the two are connected. This connection is important to the priesthood becoming the force and the blessing it can be, in this world and forever, for it “is without beginning of days or end of years.”

The connection is a simple one. The Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men for an even more sacred trust.

THOMAS S. MONSON - "Principles and Promises"
President of the Church

In 1833 the Lord revealed to the Prophet Joseph Smith a plan for healthy living. That plan is found in the 89th section of the Doctrine and Covenants and is known as the Word of Wisdom. It gives specific direction regarding the food we eat, and it prohibits the use of substances which are harmful to our bodies.

Those who are obedient to the Lord’s commandments and who faithfully observe the Word of Wisdom are promised particular blessings, among which are good health and added physical stamina...

Brethren, may we care for our bodies and our minds by observing the principles set forth in the Word of Wisdom, a divinely provided plan. With all my heart and soul, I testify of the glorious blessings which await us as we do.

#LDSConf October 2016: Saturday Afternoon Session

==First Presidency==
(1)  1963-(DOM)-Thomas S. Monson - 8/21/1927 - 89 - USA-UT
(7)  1995-(GBH)-Henry B. Eyring - 5/31/1933 - 83 - USA-NJ
(8)  2004-(GBH)-Dieter F. Uchtdorf - 11/6/1940 - 75 - Czech (German)

==Quorum of Twelve Apostles==
(2)  1984-(SWK)-Russell M. Nelson - 9/9/1924 - 92 - USA-UT
(3)  1984-(SWK)-Dallin H. Oaks - 8/12/1932 - 84 - USA-UT
(4)  1985-(SWK)-M. Russell Ballard - 10/8/1928 - 88 - USA-UT
(5)  1994-(ETB)-Robert D. Hales - 8/24/1932 - 84 - USA-NY
(6)  1994-(HWH)-Jeffrey R. Holland - 12/3/1940 - 75 - USA-UT
(9)  2004-(GBH)-David A. Bednar - 6/15/1952 - 64 - USA-CA

(10) 2007-(GBH)-Quentin L. Cook - 9/8/1940 - 76 - USA-UT
(11) 2008-(TSM)-D. Todd Christofferson - 1/24/1945 - 71 - USA-UT
(12) 2009-(TSM)-Neil L. Andersen - 8/9/1951 - 65 - USA-UT
(13) 2015-(TSM)-Ronald A. Rasband -- 2/6/1951 - 65 - USA-UT
(14) 2015-(TSM)-Gary E. Stevenson - 8/5/1955 - 61 - USA-UT
(15) 2015-(TSM)-Dale G. Renlund - 11/1/1952 - 63 - USA-UT

QUENTIN L. COOK - "Valiant in the Testimony of Jesus"
Quorum of the Twelve

Eternal life is the greatest gift of God and is bestowed on those who “keep [God’s] commandments and endure to the end.” On the other hand, eternal life with our Heavenly Father is denied those “who are not valiant in the testimony of Jesus.” There are a number of stumbling blocks to our valor that can prevent us from reaching the goal of eternal life...

What are some of the stumbling blocks that confuse and complicate our pure and simple testimony of the Father and the Son and keep us from being valiant in that testimony?

We are committed to knowledge of every kind and believe “the glory of God is intelligence.” But we also know that the preferred strategy of the adversary is to lead people away from God and cause them to stumble by emphasizing the philosophies of men over the Savior and His teachings...

Heber C. Kimball was one of the original Twelve Apostles of this dispensation and First Counselor to President Brigham Young. He warned: “The time is coming when … it will be difficult to tell the face of a Saint from the face of an enemy to the people of God. Then … look out for the great sieve, for there will be a great sifting time, and many will fall.” He concluded that there is “a test coming.”

In our day, the influence of Christianity in many countries, including the United States, is significantly reduced. Without religious beliefs, there is no feeling of accountability to God. Accordingly, it is hard to establish universal values about how to live. Philosophies which are deeply held often conflict with each other.

Unfortunately, this also happens with some members of the Church who lose their bearings and become influenced by the cause of the moment—many of which are clearly not righteous.

In line with Heber C. Kimball’s prophecy, Elder Neal A. Maxwell said in 1982: “Much sifting will occur because of lapses in righteous behavior which go unrepented of. A few will give up instead of holding out to the end. A few will be deceived by defectors. Likewise, others will be offended, for sufficient unto each dispensation are the stumbling blocks thereof!”...

The prophet Jacob referred to ancient Jews as “a stiffnecked people [who] despised … plainness, … killed the prophets, and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall.”

While there are many examples of looking beyond the mark, a significant one in our day is extremism. Gospel extremism is when one elevates any gospel principle above other equally important principles and takes a position that is beyond or contrary to the teachings of Church leaders. One example is when one advocates for additions, changes, or primary emphasis to one part of the Word of Wisdom. Another is expensive preparation for end-of-days scenarios. In both examples, others are encouraged to accept private interpretations. “If we turn a health law or any other principle into a form of religious fanaticism, we are looking beyond the mark.”

Speaking of important doctrine, the Lord has declared, “Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me.” When we elevate any principle in a way that lessens our commitment to other equally important principles or take a position contrary to or which exceeds teachings of Church leaders, we are looking beyond the mark.

GARY E. STEVENSEN - "Look to the Book; Look to the Lord"
Quorum of the Twelve

Do you realize that the Book of Mormon was written for you—and for your day? This book is one of the blessings of living in what we call the dispensation of the fulness of times. Although the Book of Mormon was written by inspired, ancient authors—many of whom were prophets—they and the people of their day did not have the benefit of possessing the whole book. You now have easily within your reach the sacred record that prophets, priests, and kings treasured, embraced, and preserved! You have the benefit of holding in your hands the complete Book of Mormon.

Interestingly, one of the Book of Mormon prophets, Moroni, saw our day—your day. He even saw you, in vision, many hundreds of years ago! Moroni wrote:
“Behold, the Lord hath shown unto me great and marvelous things concerning … that day when these things,” meaning the Book of Mormon, “shall come forth among you.
“Behold, I speak unto you as if ye were present, and yet ye are not. But behold, Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing.”
Within the book’s pages, you will discover the infinite love and incomprehensible grace of God. As you strive to follow the teachings you find there, your joy will expand, your understanding will increase, and the answers you seek to the many challenges mortality presents will be opened to you. As you look to the book, you look to the Lord. The Book of Mormon is the revealed word of God.

D. TODD CHRISTOFFERSON - "Abide in His Love"
Quorum of the Twelve

There are many ways to describe and speak of divine love. One of the terms we hear often today is that God’s love is “unconditional.” While in one sense that is true, the descriptor unconditional appears nowhere in scripture. Rather, His love is described in scripture as “great and wonderful love,” “perfect love,” “redeeming love,” and “everlasting love.” These are better terms because the word unconditional can convey mistaken impressions about divine love, such as, God tolerates and excuses anything we do because His love is unconditional, or God makes no demands upon us because His love is unconditional, or all are saved in the heavenly kingdom of God because His love is unconditional. God’s love is infinite and it will endure forever, but what it means for each of us depends on how we respond to His love.

Jesus said:
“As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love.
“If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.”
To “continue in” or “abide in” the Savior’s love means to receive His grace and be perfected by it. To receive His grace, we must have faith in Jesus Christ and keep His commandments, including repenting of our sins, being baptized for the remission of sins, receiving the Holy Ghost, and continuing in the path of obedience. God will always love us, but He cannot save us in our sins...

God’s greater blessings are conditioned on obedience. President Russell M. Nelson explained: “The resplendent bouquet of God’s love—including eternal life—includes blessings for which we must qualify, not entitlements to be expected unworthily. Sinners cannot bend His will to theirs and require Him to bless them in sin. If they desire to enjoy every bloom in His beautiful bouquet, they must repent.”

W. MARK BASSETT - "For Our Spiritual Development and Learning"
of the Seventy

Nephi’s example of seeking knowledge included (1) a sincere desire, (2) humility, (3) prayer, (4) trust in the prophet, and an exercise of (5) faith, (6) diligence, and (7) obedience...

In this modern age, we have come to expect that knowledge can and should be obtained immediately; when information is not easily known or accessible, it is often dismissed or mistrusted. Because of the abundance of information, some unwittingly give more credibility to available sources with an unknown origin rather than relying on the Lord’s established pattern for receiving personal revelation. Jacob could have been describing our time when he said: “But behold, [they] were a stiffnecked people; and they despised the words of plainness … and sought for things that they could not understand. Wherefore, because of their blindness, which blindness came by looking beyond the mark, they must needs fall; for God hath taken away his plainness from them, and delivered unto them many things which they cannot understand, because they desired it.”...

During last April’s general conference, Elder Dallin H. Oaks explained: “The Church is making great efforts to be transparent with the records we have, but after all we can publish, our members are sometimes left with basic questions that cannot be resolved by study. … Some things can be learned only by faith."

KAZUHIKO YAMASHITA - "Be Ambitious for Christ"
of the Seventy

Being ambitious for Christ means being motivated, focused, and dedicated to His work. Being ambitious for Christ will seldom mean that we are singled out for public honor. Being ambitious for Christ means that we serve faithfully and diligently in our wards and branches without complaint and with joyful hearts...

In our lives we experience trials, but if we are ambitious for Christ, we can focus on Him and feel joy even in the midst of them. Our Redeemer is the ultimate example. He understood His holy mission and was obedient to the will of God the Father. What a choice blessing it is to bring His wonderful example to our remembrance each week as we partake of the sacrament.

My dear brothers and sisters, we are ambitious for Christ when we serve faithfully, accept humbly, endure nobly, pray fervently, and partake worthily.

May we be ambitious for Christ as we accept our difficulties and trials with patience and faith and find joy in our covenant path.

DALLIN H. OAKS - "Sharing the Restored Gospel"
Quorum of the Twelve

We should be because we know that God loves all of His children and that in these last days He has restored vital additional knowledge and power to bless all of them. The Savior taught us to love all as our brothers and sisters, and we honor that teaching by sharing the witness and message of the restored gospel “among all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people”. This is a vital part of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint. We look on this as a joyful privilege. What could be more joyful than sharing the truths of eternity with God’s children?

Today we have many resources to share the gospel that were not available in earlier generations. We have TV, the internet, and social media channels. We have many valuable messages to introduce the restored gospel. We have the prominence of the Church in many nations. We have a greatly increased number of missionaries. But are we using all these resources to maximum effect? I believe most of us would say no. We desire to be more effective in fulfilling our divinely appointed responsibility to proclaim the restored gospel in all the world...

There are three things all members can do to help share the gospel, regardless of the circumstances in which they live and work. All of us should do all of these.

First, we can all pray for desire to help with this vital part of the work of salvation. All efforts begin with desire.

Second, we can keep the commandments ourselves. Faithful, obedient members are the most persuasive witnesses of the truth and value of the restored gospel. Even more important, faithful members will always have the Savior’s Spirit to be with them to guide them as they seek to participate in the great work of sharing the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Third, we can pray for inspiration on what we can do in our individual circumstances to share the gospel with others. This is different than praying for the missionaries or praying for what others can do. We should pray for what we can do personally. When we pray, we should remember that prayers for this kind of inspiration will be answered if accompanied by a commitment—something the scriptures call “real intent” or “full purpose of heart.” Pray with a commitment to act upon the inspiration you receive, promising the Lord that if He will inspire you to speak to someone about the gospel, you will do it.


#LDSConf October 2016: Saturday Morning Session

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "O How Great the Plan of Salvation"
2nd Counselor, First Presidency

For a large part of human history, communication happened at the speed of a horse. Sending a message and getting a reply could take days or even months. Today our messages travel thousands of miles into the sky or thousands of meters beneath the oceans to reach someone on the other side of the world, and if there is a delay of even a few seconds, we get frustrated and impatient.

It seems to be human nature: as we become more familiar with something, even something miraculous and awe-inspiring, we lose our sense of awe and treat it as commonplace.

Taking for granted our modern technologies and conveniences may be a relatively small matter. But, sadly, we sometimes take a similar attitude toward the eternal and soul-expanding doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the Church of Jesus Christ, we have been given so much. We are surrounded by such an astonishing wealth of light and truth that I wonder if we truly appreciate what we have.

Think of those early disciples who walked and talked with the Savior during His earthly ministry. Imagine the thanksgiving and reverence that must have flooded their hearts and filled their minds when they saw Him risen from the tomb, when they felt the wounds in His hands. Their lives would never be the same!...

Considering all of this, how could it ever be possible that we of all people would not be excited about attending our Church worship services? Or get tired of reading the holy scriptures? I suppose this could be possible only if our hearts were past feeling to experience gratitude and awe for the sacred and sublime gifts God has granted us. Life-changing truths are before our eyes and at our fingertips, but sometimes we sleepwalk on the path of discipleship. Too often we let ourselves be distracted by the imperfections of our fellow members instead of following the example of our Master.

ROBERT D. HALES - "Come, Follow Me"
Quorum of the Twelve

When the Savior called His disciples to follow Him, they were living the law of Moses, including seeking “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth,” but the Savior came to fulfill that law with His Atonement. He taught a new doctrine: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

The disciples were taught to turn from the ways of the natural man to the loving and caring ways of the Savior by replacing contention with forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. The “new commandment” to “love one another” was not always easy to keep. When the disciples worried about associating with sinners and certain classes of people, the Savior patiently taught, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Or, as a Book of Mormon prophet explained, “When ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.”...

Brothers and sisters, if we have not fully done so yet, let us turn more toward forgiveness, kindness, and love. Let us renounce the war that so often rages in the heart of the natural man and proclaim Christ’s caring, love, and peace.

If “ye have come to the knowledge of the glory [and goodness] of God” and also “the atonement which was prepared from the foundation of the world,” “ye will not have a mind to injure one another, but to live peaceably. … And ye will not suffer your children that … they transgress the laws of God, and fight and quarrel one with another. … But ye will teach them … to love one another, and to serve one another.”

Just before the Savior’s Crucifixion, He taught His Apostles: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you."

CAROL F. McCONKIE - "The Soul's Sincere Desire"
1st Counselor, Young Women General Presidency

Prayer is essential to developing faith. When the Lord comes again, will He find a people who know how to pray in faith and who are prepared to receive salvation? “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” We are children of a loving Heavenly Father, and we may enjoy personal communion with Him when we pray “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” and then act in accordance with the answers we receive by the promptings of the Holy Ghost. In faith we pray, we listen, and we obey, that we might learn to become one with the Father and the Son.

A prayer of faith opens the way to receive glorious heaven-sent blessings. The Savior taught:
“Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
“For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.”
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ because our salvation is in Christ, and “there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” We come unto the Father in the sacred name of Jesus Christ because He is our Advocate with the Father and He does plead our cause. He suffered, bled, and died to glorify His Father, and His merciful petition on our behalf opens the way for each of us to obtain peace in this life and everlasting life in the world to come. He does not want us to suffer longer or endure more trials than needed. He does want us to turn to Him and allow Him to ease our burdens, to heal our hearts, and to cleanse our souls through His purifying power.

CRAIG C. CHRISTENSEN - "A Choice See Will I Raise Up"
of the Presidency of the Seventy

When Moroni first came to Joseph Smith, he warned that Joseph’s “name should be had for good and evil among all nations.”1 We have seen the fulfillment of that prophecy. In the war between good and evil, the Restoration of the gospel through the Prophet Joseph Smith has both inspired believers who follow him and also provoked antagonists who fight furiously against the cause of Zion and against Joseph himself. This battle is not new. It began soon after young Joseph walked into the Sacred Grove and continues today with added visibility on the internet...

Joseph Smith saw God, the Eternal Father, and Jesus Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of the world. This was Joseph’s First Vision. In the years that followed, Joseph translated the Book of Mormon by the gift and power of God. Numerous other heavenly beings visited him, restoring truths and authority that had been lost for centuries. These divine communications to Joseph Smith opened the windows of heaven and the glories of eternity to our view. Joseph’s life stands as a testimony that if any of us lack wisdom, we can ask God in faith and receive answers—sometimes from heavenly beings but more often by the power of the Holy Ghost, who speaks to us through inspired thoughts and feelings. It is through the Holy Ghost that we can “know the truth of all things.”...

To any who may be questioning their testimony of Joseph Smith or are struggling with erroneous, misleading, or superficial information about his life and ministry, I invite you to consider the fruits—the many blessings that have come to us through the miraculous mission of Joseph Smith, the Prophet of the Restoration.

Because Joseph was a prophet, revelations and prophets are no longer a thing of the past. The “day of miracles”—of visions, healings, and ministering of angels—has not ceased.

Because Joseph was a prophet, each of us has access to the power and blessings of the holy priesthood, including baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and the sacrament.

Because Joseph was a prophet, we have the blessings and ordinances of the temple that bind us to God, make us His people, and manifest to us “the power of godliness,” making it possible one day to “see the face of God, even the Father, and live.”

JUAN A. UCEDA - "The Lord Jesus Christ Teaches Us to Pray"
of the Seventy

On one occasion the Lord Jesus Christ “was praying in a certain place,” and “when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray”. Then He taught His disciples to pray. And today He teaches you and me to pray as we see Him in our minds praying in Gethsemane and saying, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done”. When you pray, do you really, truly want that “not my will, but thine, be done”?

Paul describes how Jesus prayed “in the days of his flesh,” especially in Gethsemane: “When he had offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared”. When you pray, are you really praying or just saying prayers? Are you superficial with your prayers?

Jesus prayed intensely and spoke with His Father. “It came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened”. When you pray, do you feel like heaven is opened? When was the last time you felt that connection with heaven?

Jesus prepared Himself to make important decisions by praying to His Father.
“He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God.
“And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve."
Do you prepare yourself to make important decisions by praying to your Heavenly Father? Do you prepare yourself for a moment of prayer?

J. DEVN CORNISH - "Am I Good Enough? Will I Make It?"
of the Seventy

Please, my beloved brothers and sisters, we must stop comparing ourselves to others. We torture ourselves needlessly by competing and comparing. We falsely judge our self-worth by the things we do or don’t have and by the opinions of others. If we must compare, let us compare how we were in the past to how we are today—and even to how we want to be in the future. The only opinion of us that matters is what our Heavenly Father thinks of us. Please sincerely ask Him what He thinks of you. He will love and correct but never discourage us; that is Satan’s trick.

Let me be direct and clear. The answers to the questions “Am I good enough?” and “Will I make it?” are “Yes! You are going to be good enough” and “Yes, you are going to make it as long as you keep repenting and do not rationalize or rebel.” The God of heaven is not a heartless referee looking for any excuse to throw us out of the game. He is our perfectly loving Father, who yearns more than anything else to have all of His children come back home and live with Him as families forever. He truly gave His Only Begotten Son that we might not perish but have everlasting life!1 Please believe, and please take hope and comfort from, this eternal truth. Our Heavenly Father intends for us to make it! That is His work and His glory.

I love the way President Gordon B. Hinckley used to teach this principle. I heard him say on several occasions, “Brothers and sisters, all the Lord expects of us is to try, but you have to really try!”

NEIL L. ANDERSEN - "A Witness of God"
Quorum of the Twelve

The gathering of Israel is a miracle. It is like an enormous puzzle whose pieces will be set in place prior to the glorious events of the Second Coming. Just as we might be perplexed with a mountain of puzzle pieces, the early Saints must have seen the commission to take the restored gospel to all the world as a nearly impossible task. But they began, one person, one puzzle piece at a time, finding the straight edges, working to rightly frame this divine work. Little by little, the stone cut without hands began to roll forth; from hundreds to thousands, to tens of thousands, and now millions of covenant Latter-day Saints across every nation are connecting the puzzle pieces of this marvelous work and a wonder.

Each of us is a piece of the puzzle, and each of us helps to set in place other essential pieces. You are important to this great cause. Our view ahead is now clear. We can see the miracle continuing and the Lord’s hand guiding us as we complete the gaps that remain. Then, “the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done,” and He will return in majesty and glory...

Even with a strong desire to share the gospel, you may be less than happy with the success of your past efforts. You may feel like a friend who said, “I have talked to our family and friends about the Church, but few have shown any interest, and with each rejection, I have become more hesitant. I know I should do more, but I am stuck, and all I feel is enormous guilt.”

Let me see if I can help.

Guilt has an important role as it awakens us to changes we need to make, but there are limits to how far guilt will help us. Guilt is like a battery in a gasoline-powered car. It can light up the car, start the engine, and power the headlights, but it will not provide the fuel for the long journey ahead. The battery, by itself, is not sufficient. And neither is guilt.

I suggest that you stop feeling guilty about any insufficiency you think you have in sharing the gospel. Rather, pray, like Alma taught, for opportunities “to stand as [a witness] of God at all times and in all things, and in all places … that [others] may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, [and] have eternal life.” This is a much stronger motivation than guilt.


Sunday, October 9, 2016

#LDSConf October 2016: Women's Session

This was the first session of the 186th Semi-Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

JEAN B. BINGHAM - "I Will Bring the Light of the Gospel into My Home"
1st Counselor, Primary General Presidency

Many of you have been involved in thoughtful and generous acts of charity focused on meeting the needs of refugees in your local area. From simple, one-on-one efforts to community-wide programs, those acts are the result of love. As you have shared your time, talents, and resources, your—and the refugees’—hearts have been lightened. The building of hope and faith and even greater love between receiver and giver are inevitable results of true charity.

The prophet Moroni tells us that charity is an essential characteristic of those who will live with Heavenly Father in the celestial kingdom. He writes, “Except ye have charity ye can in nowise be saved in the kingdom of God.”

Of course, Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of charity. His premortal offering to be our Savior, His interactions throughout His mortal life, His supernal gift of the Atonement, and His continual efforts to bring us back to our Heavenly Father are the ultimate expressions of charity. He operates with a singular focus: love for His Father expressed through His love for each of us. When asked about the greatest commandment, Jesus answered:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.
“This is the first and great commandment.
“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”

CAROLE M. STEPHENS - "The Master Healer"
1st Counselor, Relief Society General Presidency

When the Savior taught the Samaritan woman at the well, He knew about her serious sins. However, “the Lord looketh on the heart,” and He knew she had a teachable heart.

When the woman came to the well, Jesus—the embodiment of living water—said simply, “Give me to drink.” Our Savior will likewise speak to us in a voice we recognize when we come to Him—for He knows us. He meets us where we are. And because of who He is and what He has done for us, He understands. Because He has experienced our pain, He can give us living water when we seek it. He taught this to the Samaritan woman when He said, “If thou knewest the gift of God and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” Finally understanding, the woman responded in faith and asked, “Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not.”

After the Samaritan woman had this experience with the Savior, she “left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men,

“Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”

She had received a witness—she had begun to partake of the living water—and she desired to witness of His divinity to others.

When we come to Him with humble and teachable hearts—even if our hearts are heavy with mistakes, sins, and transgressions—He can change us, “for he is mighty to save.” And with hearts changed, we can, like the Samaritan woman, go into our own cities—our homes, schools, and workplaces—to witness of Him...

Remember your divine identity: you are a beloved daughter of Heavenly Parents. Trust your Father’s eternal plan for you. Continue daily to increase your understanding of the doctrine of Jesus Christ. Exercise faith each day to drink deeply from the Savior’s well of living water. Rely on the endowment of power made available to each of us through ordinances and covenants. And allow the healing power of the Savior and His Atonement into your life.

BONNIE L. OSCARSON - "Rise Up in Strength, Sisters of Zion"
Young Women General President

President Russell M. Nelson told us a year ago: “Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation. We need women who can detect deception in all of its forms. We need women who know how to access the power that God makes available to covenant keepers and who express their beliefs with confidence and charity. We need women who have the courage and vision of our Mother Eve.”

This message reassures me that despite the conditions of our day, we have many reasons to rejoice and be optimistic. I believe with all of my heart that we sisters do have the innate strength and faith that will allow us to meet the challenges of living in the last days. Sister Sheri Dew has written, “I believe that the moment we learn to unleash the full influence of converted, covenant-keeping women, the kingdom of God will change overnight.”...

All women need to see themselves as essential participants in the work of the priesthood. Women in this Church are presidents, counselors, teachers, members of councils, sisters, and mothers, and the kingdom of God cannot function unless we rise up and fulfill our duties with faith. Sometimes we just need to have a greater vision of what is possible....

I worry that we live in such an atmosphere of avoiding offense that we sometimes altogether avoid teaching correct principles. We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married or those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices. On the other hand, we may also fail to emphasize the importance of education because we don’t want to send the message that it is more important than marriage. We avoid declaring that our Heavenly Father defines marriage as being between a man and woman because we don’t want to offend those who experience same-sex attraction. And we may find it uncomfortable to discuss gender issues or healthy sexuality.

DIETER F. UCHTDORF - "Fourth Floor, Last Door"
2nd Counselor, First Presidency

Faith is a strong conviction about something we believe—a conviction so strong that it moves us to do things that we otherwise might not do. “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”

While this makes sense to believing people, it is often confusing to nonbelievers. They shake their heads and ask, “How can anyone be certain of what they cannot see?” To them, this is evidence of the irrationality of religion.

What they fail to understand is that there are more ways to see than with our eyes, more ways to feel than with our hands, more ways to hear than with our ears...

God will invite, persuade. God will reach out tirelessly with love and inspiration and encouragement. But God will never compel—that would undermine His great plan for our eternal growth.


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Patrick Mason's Talk at FairMormon

THE COURAGE OF OUR CONVICTIONS: EMBRACING MORMONISM IN A SECULAR AGE

Patrick Mason
This is an hour-long presentation but it's worth watching the whole thing. I wish they'd open the next General Conference with it. Patrick Mason is the author of Planted. Some highlights:

I don’t think that we can just blame the doubters for not believing enough. Indeed, in some cases they were set up by being asked to believe too much, either in the absence of actual data or in doctrinal propositions or theological frameworks that could not stand the test of time, let alone a basic smell test. Take two examples from my mission. First, I repeatedly and passionately bore testimony that as a young man Joseph Smith was absolutely not engaged in treasure seeking or money digging. Second, I read and discussed with other missionaries various talks by General Authorities teaching that blacks were “fence-sitters,” or otherwise “less valiant,” in the pre-existence, which explained why they were “cursed” in mortality. In the first case, I certainly did not intend to lie to anyone, but that’s precisely what I did because I hadn’t been taught any better. The second case is more pernicious to me, with moral and ethical implications that make me shudder as I look back. But as missionaries we were simply doing what the rest of the church and its leaders had been doing for almost a century and a half—filling in theological and historical blanks with what were really some rather reprehensibly bad explanations, because we felt like we had to have a solid doctrinal basis for everything, even if we were making it up. And if a General Authority said it, well then, it must be dictated straight from heaven. I’ve had to repent for my own un-Christian acts and words, and have been able to reconcile myself to the fact that the church that sent me out as an official representative didn’t arm me with better and more accurate information. However, many people have not been able to make the same peace. They feel that they were betrayed or set up by the very institution that had taught them to be honest and true.

. . . .

In recent years many thousands have found their way to the previously mentioned “Letter to a CES Director,” a slick but in my opinion intellectually amateurish document that has midwifed countless people out of the church. Unfortunately, for many who land there, the “Letter” is the culmination of their quest for knowledge rather than being just one data point among many.

In any case, once they discover these new facts and realize they are not just the inventions of malicious anti-Mormon propaganda, many people start to wonder what else they haven’t been told. They begin to see duplicity rather than sincerity in the church’s presentation of its doctrine and history. Skepticism and doubt begin to overcome trust and faith. One of the ironies we haven’t fully appreciated in our discussions of doubt is that to some degree our church culture is responsible for many people’s reactions to troubling information. Whether consciously or not, they are simply applying what they learned in well-intentioned but ultimately damaging Primary and youth lessons, such as when the teacher offers the class a bowl of ice cream, then dumps a small amount of dirt on it and asks if anyone wants it now. Of course they say no, and the teacher points out that this is what just a little bit of sin does—it ruins everything. So those who see a little bit of dirt in church history are acting in ways that seem entirely commensurate with what they have been taught their whole lives—God cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, so we turn away from sin and touch not the unclean thing. Unable to manage the cognitive dissonance, these people’s relationship to the church becomes tenuous, and often breaks. Many feel that they cannot participate with integrity in church meetings where certain details are either neglected, covered up, or denied. In short, they have become switched off. Some of these people not only leave the church, but also abandon Christianity and even theism, since God, Jesus, and Mormonism had always come as a package deal in their minds.

. . . .

My strong belief is that the most important thing we can do to empathize with and minister compassionately to those who are experiencing doubt and disaffection is to make the church a more welcoming place for those who struggle. It is our responsibility, in our church callings but also as parents and siblings and friends, to create the conditions in which people can feel comfortable working through their questions and doubts in the midst of the body of Christ rather than feeling excluded from it. I believe that a more embracing Mormonism may be the most important factor in helping people more fully embrace Mormonism. I recently read about certain members of a ward who refused to take the sacrament from a young man who had come out as gay but who was declared worthy by his bishop. That is not an embracing Mormonism.

. . . .

I was recently struck by a comment made to me by a work colleague. She and her husband have been looking for a good church community to support them as they raise their two adopted granddaughters. They’ve been attending an LDS ward for a few months now. They love it and are talking seriously about getting baptized. At lunch a couple weeks ago, she was regaling me with the many virtues of Mormonism and Mormons—which I thought was my job!—when she paused and said, “I just don’t get why they’re all so defensive.”

I think her comment was more perceptive than she may have realized. As I look across nearly two hundred years of Mormon history, I see a people who have been motivated first by faith, but secondly by fear. That has led us to think, speak, and behave in ways that are not always welcoming either to outsiders or to those within our midst who have questions, different perspectives, or otherwise don’t fit a certain mold. Having written a book about nineteenth-century anti-Mormon violence, I get that there were really good reasons why our pioneer ancestors were scared.[3] And even since systematic anti-Mormon violence ended, we have continued to endure more than our fair share of misunderstanding and misrepresentation, sometimes innocent but often malicious. Afraid of giving our critics any ammunition, we have closed ranks and presented only what we think is the image of our best selves to the world. Furthermore, we have created the impression of absolute unity in both the leadership and membership that is in many ways a useful fiction, but a fiction nonetheless. I’m not saying that this came out of anything but the best intentions—namely, the survival and unity of the church. But I do think that a lot of the way we have constructed our community has been predicated on fear, which has led to a certain parochialism, risk aversion, lack of moral imagination, reticence to take accountability for past missteps, and the overall defensiveness that my colleague spotted.

Circling the wagons was an effective pioneer tactic, but was also a telltale sign of vulnerability and weakness, not strength. Shifting analogies somewhat, for too many years we refused to yield to dissenters and critics even an inch of territory—including some pretty rocky, barren outposts that should never have fallen within our borders and definitely weren’t worth defending. This no-retreat-no-surrender mentality has only fueled the CES Letter and other polemics, which have made the claim that a series of apparent infelicities, contradictions, gaps, errors, and transgressions invalidate the entire Mormon system. They can effectively make that argument, and lead many thousands of people out of the church, because too many Latter-day Saints, including many of our leaders, have over the years essentially made that same all-or-nothing argument. In the process we constructed an edifice that was too rigid and brittle to withstand the storms of scrutiny that have been unleashed especially in our Internet age.

. . . .

without forgetting our past or wilting in the face of opposition, I believe it’s time for Latter-day Saints to move forward with the courage of our convictions. I would suggest that doing so will go a long way in addressing the current predicament of doubt and disaffection that so many of our members are experiencing. Mormonism is a young religion, still finding its legs. For its first century it necessarily focused on origins and basic survival in the face of tremendous persecution and hardship. In its second century the church successfully emphasized stability, respectability, and growth. Only now, as we approach Mormonism’s third century, are we in a position where we can think bigger and bolder. I believe that Mormonism’s challenge and opportunity in the 21st century will not be simply to survive or even to grow, but rather to contribute, to give something novel and unique that the world desperately needs and can have no other way. What will be our community’s gift to the world in this century and the centuries beyond? As we figure it out together, we will galvanize the commitment of our own members, especially our Millennials, who don’t just want to belong to a church but yearn to join a movement that they understand to be relevant and to make a real difference in the world.

Living Mormonism with the courage of our convictions will allow us to embrace a wider cross-section of those who may currently feel switched off or squeezed out. The gospel revealed through Joseph Smith is grand, sweeping, and capacious—not narrow, petty, and restrictive. Whatever you think about the Prophet Joseph, you can’t say he thought small. It was the audacity, not the conservatism, of his thought that captured the imaginations of the early Saints.

. . . .

As part and parcel of embracing our doctrine of God, it’s encouraging to see more members courageously embracing our theology of Heavenly Mother and the divine feminine, rather than simply perpetuating the patronizing stance that she can’t bear us talking about her. And even with the question of women’s ordination to the Aaronic and Melchizedek priesthoods off the table, we are beginning to improve in discussing the priestly roles that women serve both in temples and in the everyday church, though of course we still have a long way to go.

It’s encouraging to see greater courage in our Seminaries & Institutes, BYU Religious Education classrooms, and even a few Sunday School classes, which are demonstrating that holistic discipleship means educating people’s minds as well as their hearts. We are seeing that people can not only tolerate challenging information but indeed are strengthened by the faithful presentation of the whole truth. Facts are stubborn things. When our members, and especially our children, see that their religion can be subjected to the same level of scrutiny as any other topic of study, and doesn’t need protective hedges of dumbing-down, denial, and deferred questions, then they will have greater courage in living out their Mormonism.

. . . .

This is a hard one for many people, but I am seeing us begin to courageously explore what it really means to sustain fallible prophets and apostles, and to develop a robust theology that sustains our sustaining. The chapter in Planted that I get the most comments on is chapter 6, “In All Patience and Faith,” which addresses prophetic fallibility while maintaining the conviction that God does reach down and call a few mortals among us to dedicate their lives and best efforts to proclaiming the gospel, leading the church, and calling us to repentance. One of our community’s gifts, as Latter-day Saint Christians, is that we declare that God points us to prophets, apostles, and the church—not because they can save or redeem us, but because they are the temporal means by which he orients us to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ.

Even with all these positive developments, I believe there are many areas where there is still ample room for improvement. You will have your own list, and may well disagree with mine—but I’ve got the mic.

I believe we need to summon the courage to finally and truly repent for some of our past transgressions. Let’s start with the obvious stuff, like Mountain Meadows, the spurious racial ideologies surrounding the priesthood-temple ban, and generations of patriarchal discourse that relegated women to being reflected light compared to the glory of their husbands and priesthood leaders. Repentance, at least as the church has taught me the principle, requires an admission of wrongdoing and an effort toward reconciliation with those who have been trespassed against. It is more than either just moving on or a lawyerly expression of remorse that bad things may have happened.

I believe we need to summon the courage to authentically incorporate more of the diversity of God’s children into our—rather, his—church. Twentieth-century Mormonism was astonishingly successful at creating a committed core of white, middle-class, upwardly mobile, professional, suburban American nuclear families. We need greater courage to allow members in the international church, having been taught correct principles, to govern themselves. We need greater courage to pursue real and sustained ministries to the urban poor, in this country and around the world. Even without changing our doctrine, we need greater courage not just to tolerate but to do all we can to reach out to and welcome our LGBT brothers and sisters who are hurting so badly right now. That includes partaking of the sacrament when it is blessed or passed by gay boys deemed worthy by their bishop like any other Aaronic Priesthood holder, or not isolating LGBT members and treating them like they have or are an infectious disease. And for heaven’s sake, let’s stop fussing over women wearing pants to church, or men coming with beards or blue shirts. With all the other problems in the church and the world, is that where we’re going to spend our emotional energy?

I believe we need to summon the courage to make secularism an ally rather than a bogeyman. Secularism is here to stay as one of the principal conditions of late modern society. Furthermore, we of all people should be grateful for it, because without secularism, with its bequest of disestablishment and religious freedom, there would be no Mormonism. Secularism is not the enemy—it is the very air we breathe, and the foundation for our modern democratic, scientific, and human rights regimes that we all value and which have led to such a dramatic increase in human flourishing. To be sure, secularization can also include an aggressive campaign toward the privatization of religion, in which it is banned mostly or entirely from the public square. And in their most hostile forms, secularization theorists and champions have predicted the inevitable decline of religion, celebrated any movement in that direction, resisted any indicators to the contrary, and portrayed the stubborn persistence of religion as not only backward but genuinely dangerous. But before dismissing secularists as bigoted cranks, let’s have the courage to listen to their real grievances and fears about what centuries of state-sponsored religious majoritarianism and moral establishments did to atheists and religious minorities—including, let’s not forget, Mormons. Despite the cries of the merchants of fear on both sides, my personal feeling, and scholarly analysis, is that at least in America, thanks to the First Amendment, secularism is still mostly benign and generally beneficial to the flourishing of voluntary religious commitments and communities, including ours.

. . . .

As I wrap up, I will admit that I have two fears for the church that I love and am totally committed to. First, I fear for what I call the “juvenilization” of Mormonism, or the “EFY-ification” of the church, or the “Gospel According to Internet Memes.” When it’s adults in the room, let’s respect one another enough to talk like adults. Most people can handle complexity and nuance. We can stretch beyond what we learned in seminary, though we are so rarely invited to. I have a really smart colleague who once invited the missionaries into his home so he could learn more about Mormonism. When they finished their discussion, with frequent references to their accompanying flipchart, he thought to himself, “That’s it?” Indeed, I fear that in too many contexts we’re feeding our members and investigators a low-nutrition religious diet that leaves them not only with the unsatisfied feeling of “That’s it?” but also leaves them poorly fortified against challenges to their faith. I see signs that we’re starting to do better on this score, but frankly only in patchwork fashion.

My second fear is for the fundamentalist takeover of Mormonism. I’m not referring to fundamentalism in terms of polygamy—I’m pretty confident we’re totally past that phase of our history. Instead, this is a reference to what I think is the rather remote possibility of a process similar to what happened in the Southern Baptist Convention in the early 1990s, when theological fundamentalists took over the churches, seminaries, and governing bodies of the denomination and either pushed out liberals and moderates or made their lives in the church so miserable that they left on their own, thus leaving only the fundamentalists to control the whole denomination. There are occasional signs that moderates and liberals are simply not wanted in the contemporary LDS Church. We have already lost too many who feel, incorrectly in my estimation, that the church is simply a shill for the Republican Party and Family Research Council. But for the most part I’m optimistic that the center will hold, and that Zion will transcend the ongoing culture wars.

In the end, I’m bullish about the future of Mormonism, and its ability to speak to the needs of a wide range of God’s children, including those who find belief and belonging in the church a genuine struggle. In this moment when we are speaking so much of doubt, perhaps it’s helpful to remember that Jesus chided his disciples for their fears as much as, if not more than, their doubts. Remember Paul’s counsel to Timothy: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind” (2 Tim. 1:7). I’m convinced that a church that is simultaneously humbler and more self-possessed can capture the imaginations and loyalties of those who feel switched off and squeezed out more than could a church leadership and laity that are constantly on the defensive.

We have a theology that empowers each of us to be anxiously engaged in good causes, to be co-creators and co-participants with Christ in the work of redeeming the world. Flipcharts and risk management will never capture people’s hearts. In our 21st-century secular age, Mormonism will succeed because it stretches people’s moral imaginations, and calls them to a life of faith that is not small and fearful, but rather creative, venturesome, open, and empowering.

Zion calls. Will we have the courage to get there?