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?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sunstone 2016 - Saturday July 30

Day three.

FACE TO FACE: FOUNDATIONS FOR A MYSTICAL TRADITION IN MORMONISM
Panelist: Philip McLemore
Moderator: Michael J. Stevens

At this point, any panel that brought up mysticism was the one I wanted to attend. He did a good job of dwelling on the abstracts of God, and how really modern Mormonism has put God in a box, and Jesus was broader than that. It gave me a new way of thinking about being born of the Spirit.

FROM LOST TRIBES TO MORMON HUMOR: ONE MAN'S FAITH JOURNEY THROUGH MORMON
Panelist: Glenn Ostlund
Moderator: Alicia Aiken

This was Glenn's story, how he went from faithful member / returned missionary to being one of the goofs on Infants on Thrones, a subversive ex-Mormon podcast. He spent a lot of times tlaking about the folklore around the Lost Tribes and how many thought that Japan or other parts of Asia contain lost tribes.

JOSEPH SMITH'S TEACHINGS ABOUT PRIESTHOOD, TEMPLE, AND WOMEN
Panelists: Clair Barrus, Bryndis Roberts, Nancy Ross.
Moderator: Nadine Hansen.

This one discussed not only the Gospel Topic essay that has the title of this presentation. It goes into more historical details about the Anointed Quorum, and how the attempt to explain away the interpretation of the word "ordain" is strained. Women used to be ordained, they used to lay on hands for healings, they used to anoint with oil, and they used to have more autonomy in the Relief Society.

THE 2ND REFORMATION? KEEPING A RECORD OF THE MORMON INTERNET EXPERIENCE IN THE BEGINNING OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Panelists: Bill Reel, Melissa Young, Gina Colvin, Sarah Collett.
Moderator: Brooke Walrath.

This explored the internet's affect on the gospel, and how blogs, podcasts, social media, etc., are shaping people's perceptions. Are they overall helpful or detrimental? Bill and Gina were able to come at it from their perspectives as hosts of the podcasts Mormon Discussions and A Thoughtful Faith, respectively.

NEW BOOK: THE GHOST OF ETERNAL POLYGAMY
Panelist: Carol Lynn Pearson
Moderator: Lindsay Park

Carol Lynn Pearson has a new book out where she makes the argument that the time has come for the LDS church to disavow the doctrine of eternal polygamy. She read a pssage from her book. I'll say that Pearson has the presence of a true artist, in her oratory, in her poetry, in her presentation. She argues that men and women are not equal before God when God says to the men: have many wives.

REPAIRING AND PRESERVING RELATIONSHIPS DAMAGED BY FAITH CRISES
Panelists: Steve Lowther, John Dehlin, Grant Palmer, Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Sandra Tanner, Gina Colvin, Nathan McCluskey.
Moderator: Derrick Clements.

Now this was a diverse panel. You had everyone from the faithful Nate McCluskey, the Betweeners like Gina and Thomas, to the decidedly ex-Mormons in Grant, John, and Sandra. Sandra Tanner's been "anti-Mormon" for 50 years (she doesn't care for the label), but she still has family members who belong, and their relationship's been rough. Grant spoke about the pain of sitting in the foyer of the temple for sealins and such, but he said the amount of people in the foyer has been growing.

John gave a rapid-fire slideshow of advice to ex-Mormons on how to act around the faithful, all with the message about remember to be patient and merciful, and you used to be just like them.

Nate and Gina are husband and wife, and they spoke about making it work when spouses are on different pages. Which is the story of Monica and me. (The four of us went out for dinner later. I love those two.)

AN EVENING WITH TYLER GLENN

Tyler Glenn, former lead singer of Neon Trees, showed the video of "Trash", and he read some journal entries from his past, where he talked about realizing he was gay, where he talked about supressing it, talked about serving a mission, talked about falling in love but not wanting to do anything about it, talked about speaking at Affirmation and telling others how you could make being a gay Mormon work. And then he talks about the anguish and heartbreak when the November 2015 policy came out, the one that automatically declared same-sex married couples apostates and said that their children could not partake in any church ordinances (baby blessing, baptism, etc.) until they turn 18 and disavow their gay parents' lifestyle. I could feel Tyler's pain. it was that policy that made him question his testimony. He looked up YouTube videos of "I am an ex-Mormon" and devoured John Dehlin's podcasts. He teased his next song "Shameless." he also sang a slow, acoustical version of "Trash."

It reaffirmed what I already concluded about the November policy. It is not from God.

Sunstone 2016 - Friday July 29

Day two.

BY THE POWER OF THE SPIRIT: MARTIN HARRIS IN THE MORMON MOVEMENT
Panelist: H. Michael Marquardt
Moderator: Clair Barrus

This explored Harris' journey not only into Mormonism, but it demonstrated how he bounced around from church to church, claiming divine revelations all along the way. He claimed in 1832 that all churches but the LDS church would crumble by 1836. He was excommunicated in 1837 but was rebaptized in 1842. After Joseph Smith's death he joined the Shakers, saying his testimony of their truthfulness was stronger than his for the Book of Mormon. In 1846 he joined James Strang. In 1847 he joined the David Whitmer / William McLellin's branch. Signed a "Three Witnesses" testimony that Smith had ordained Whitmer in 1844 to be his successor. Signed one of "Three Witnesses" testimony for Francis Gladden Bishop of the Flying Roll of scripture. Write a proclamation in 1855 that he claimed was the word of the Lord to Moses, Elijah, Elias, and John.

In 1857 he joined William Smith's church. Shortly after he damned Smith to hell. Re-rebaptized in LDS church in 1870. Died in 1875. Overall, Harris came off as an unreliable witness of anything.


A SEER IS GREATER THAN A PROPHET: EMPOWERING MORMON MYSTICS
Panelist: Michael Ferguson.
Moderator: Seth Anderson.

This one was interesting. Feguson had slides about the early mystic experiences in the church and how we don't need to shy away from them. We should embrace mysticism and spirituality that dervies from it. He pointed out how different aspects of people's personalities means that not everyone taps into their own spirtuality the same way. He took us through a meditation exercise, and it wound up being one of my favorite presentations.

"THE POLICY" IN CONTEXT OF MORMON THOUGHT ON CURSED LINEAGE AND MARRIAGE
Panelists: Clair Barrus, Newell G. Bringhurst.
Moderator: Chelsea Shields.

Bringhurst actually wasn't there so someone else read his prepared remarks. This one focussed on the 19th century language and beliefs around the church's policy on banning blacks from priesthood and temple work, and then compares it to the church's recent statements and policies on gays. The theme of this class seemed to match many others. Here's a problem, but nothing will change as long as the Top Fifteen don't want it to change. And since senior apostles have more sway, it really means nothing will change as long as Monson, Nelson, Oaks and Ballard are still alive.

WHY WE STAY
Panelists: Bill Reel, Jerri Harwell, Eric Samuelsen
Moderator: Dan Wotherspoon.

I went to this one so I could meet Bill Reel. I've been on his podcast but we'd never met in real life. Bill shared his spiritual journey and how it's important to stay and be a voice for those who can't speak. Harwell and Samuelsen shared similar sentiments, albeit they've been on different journeys.

THE EVOLUTION OF THE DOCTRINE & COVENANTS TEXT: A PRELIMINARY & EXPLORATORY STUDY
Panelist: Bill Speer.
Moderator: Brooke Scott.

This one was interesting at first, but it became clear that it really needed more time for it to develop before any conclusions could be drawn. he showed the difference in the D&C with words, spelling, punctuation, but it felt incomplete (which it was; he said it was "preliminary.") So maybe next year, it'll be a more full presentation.

THE TRANSCENDENT POWER OF THE BETWEEN
Panelists: Thomas Wirthlin McConkie, Gina Colvin.
Moderator; Chelsi Archibald.

This explored the experience of those who feel they're stuck between, with one foot in the church and one foot out, and yet how to stay there and make it work. McConkie's experience is unique in that he's the grandson of Joseph B. Wirthlin and grandnephew of Bruce R. McConkie. He was away from the church for a while and has come back recently, though in his own way. He also led us on a meditative exercise, and this was the main thing I got out of it. I need to use meditation more to keep in touch with my personal spirituality.

One my way to the next class, I saw Peggy Fletcher Stack, someone else I hadn't met in real life. The closest I've come is we were on a TribTalk panel with Jennifer Napier-Pierce, Gina Colvin and Dan Wotherspoon discussing the vacancies in the Quorum of the Twelve after Richard G. Scott died. After about ten seconds of me fumbling my words, I just ejected and left.

MAKING MORMONISM MINE: CLAIMING SPACE WITHIN THE FAITH
Panelists: Robert Kirby, Carol Lynn Pearson, Fernando Gomez, Cathy Stokes, Lorie Winder Stromberg.
Moderator: Jim Murphy.

Each speaker had ten minutes before opened up for questions. Kirby's was humorous, and he pointed out his wife and kids all left the church so he's the only one in his family who still goes. Pearson opted to be serious with her ten minutes. She said when the church preaches something as doctrine or correct policy, but you know it's wrong, you can blow it away. She blew away the church's past racism, blew away eternal polygamy, blew away the November policy. i can't remember much from the other three speakers.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Sunstone 2016 - Thursday July 28


I went to my very first Sunstone symposium this year, so here's what I attended.

BLACK & WHITE: THE CHALLENGES OF COLONIAL ART IN MORMON ART & SCHOLARSHIP
Panelists: Mica McGriggs, Russell Stevenson, Nancy Ross, Brad Kramer
Moderator: Seth Anderson

Mainly dealt with the controversy around J. Kirk Richards' painting "Eve and the Fruit of the Tree of Knowledge" where she is African, nude, and facing sideways. Standout comment for me was McGriggs saying there's a cultural difference between white and black nudity. Black nudity instantly recalls the auction block.

LIQUID ASSETS
Panelist: Mark Thomas
Respondent: D. Michael Quinn
Moderator: Paul Malan

Thomas focussed on the real estate assets of the Church, primarily all of the land they're buying in Florida, but from what we know of climate change, the bottom fourth of Florida will be underwater in the next 50-100 years. Why isn't the Church more serious about climate change?

Quinn pointed out the Church buys assets in high-risk locations all over the world, not just Florida, and so it is not inconsistent of them to purchase there and these other places. Quinn also let us know his latest book, the third part of his Mormon Hierarchy series, is about the finances of the Church and will be out in a few more months. When I asked him about it later, he said it'd probably come out somewhere between November and January.

STUMBLING BLOCKS & STEPPING STONES: INCLUDING LGBTI CHILDREN OF GOD IN THE LDS PLAN OF SALVATION
Panelist: Duane Jennings
Moderator: Lavina Fielding Anderson

This presentation showed all of the places where the scriptures deal with homosexuality and how most of them have been misinterpreted. For example, whenever the reasons in the scriptures are given why Sodom & Gomorrah was destroyed, it's about the pride and idleness of its inhabitants. He also pointed out that when it came to modern revelation, there's nothing in the Book of Mormon or Doctrine & Covenants about it. He also posited that the groundwork is there for same-sex sealings, as it happened in the church in the earliest days when adult men would be sealed together as father and son.

FAITH & DOUBT IN CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN MORMONISM: A QUANTITATIVE EMPIRICAL PERSPECTIVE
Panelist: Benjamin Knoll

This looked at the 2011 Pew Research study on U.S. Mormons and went through all of the statistics. It had details like the most likely political bent of someone who's having serious doubts about the Church are independents who lean Democratic. I left about halfway through, because I can always just look up the study myself, to catch the second half of...

EVOLUTION: ANALYSIS OF THE "FACTS"
Panelist: Joe Jensen
Moderator: Whitney Moulton

This was an engineer's perspective on the amazing complexity of the human body and how it makes him lean more toward intelligent design rather than pure evolution. Once he was finished, he had an evolutionary biologist and then a chemist refute some of his conclusions, basically saying he was playing "God of the gaps," where if we don't understand something we assign it to God or intelligent design until we know how it works.

FROM EXCLUSION TO ACCEPTANCE: THE TASK OF GOD'S PEOPLE IN ALL DISPENSATIONS
Panelist: Lisa Hansen
Moderator: Roy Schmidt

This started with all of the people excluded from enterting the temple in Old Testament times, such as the disabled, because they were imperfect and therefore unclean. One of Jesus' main messages was inclusion as he healed the sick and ate with sinners.

She tied this to the restoration and how the Church excluded blacks from holding the priesthood or entering the temple until 1978, when the excluded finally became the accepted, and she also posited that this will eventually happen for the LGBTI community in the Church.

MOVING PAST BLACK & WHITE THINKING ABOUT GOD, RELIGION, AND MORMONISM
Panelists: Jody England Hansen, John Hatch, Dan Wotherspoon
Moderator: Sarah Hancock Jones

This featured three different perspectives of complex faiths, and how to make a place for it in Church. Hansen spoke about her faith transition, and how she still makes the Church work for her even if she doesn't believe some of its truth claims. Hatch came at it from a ex-Mormon view and he spoke about "outrage," how social media has amplified outrage, and he directed his thoughts to other ex-Mormons, who become mirror versions of what they're angry about by letting themselves get so angry about it. Wotherspoon spoke about staying near the fire, the fire of spiritual experience. He talked about how when you have an experience and you share it, the words calcify and become more and more set the farther you get away from the actual experience. We should all try to keep having actual experiences. (if that doesn't make, I think Dan will be the first to admit he can bounce around when talking.)

Q&A WITH REZA ASLAN
Panelist: Reza Aslan
Moderator: Mica McGriggs

Reza Aslan, author of Zealot, spoke about being a progressive Muslim, and how progressives in all faith traditions can communicate and make the world a better place. He also pointed out that 95% of victims of ISIS attacks are Muslim. I missed part of this, but what I caught was good. (I should also mention he was on Skype, not in person.)

Friday, July 1, 2016

#LDSConf April 2016: Sunday Afternoon Session

ROBERT D. HALES - "The Holy Ghost"

I begin by acknowledging the Light of Christ, which is given to “every man [and woman] that cometh into the world.” All of us benefit from this holy light. It is “in all and through all things,” and it allows us to distinguish right from wrong.

But the Holy Ghost is different from the Light of Christ. He is the third member of the Godhead, a distinct personage of spirit with sacred responsibilities, and one in purpose with the Father and the Son....

Each of us may feel the influence of the Holy Ghost differently. His promptings will be felt in different degrees of intensity according to our individual needs and circumstances.

In these latter days, we affirm that only the prophet may receive revelation through the Holy Ghost for the entire Church.

GERRITT W. GONG - "Always Remember Him"
of the Presidency of the Seventy

The Lord remembers His everlasting covenants—from Adam’s time to the day Adam’s posterity “shall embrace the truth, and look upward, then shall Zion look downward, and all the heavens shall shake with gladness, and the earth shall tremble with joy.”

The Lord remembers His promises, including promises to gather scattered Israel through the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ and promises given to every member and missionary who remembers the worth of souls.

The Lord remembers and assures nations and peoples. In these days of motion and commotion, “some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God,” who guides “the future as he has the past.” In “perilous times,” we “remember that it is not the work of God that is frustrated, but the work of men.”

We can always remember Him on the Sabbath through the sacrament. At the end of His mortal ministry and the beginning of His resurrected ministry—both times—our Savior took bread and wine and asked that we remember His body and blood, “for as oft as ye do this ye will remember this hour that I was with you.”

In the ordinance of the sacrament, we witness unto God the Father that we are willing to take upon us the name of His Son and always remember Him and keep His commandments, which He has given us, that we may always have His Spirit to be with us.

PATRICK KEARON - "Refuge from the Storm"
of the Seventy

“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

There are an estimated 60 million refugees in the world today, which means that “1 in every 122 humans … has been forced to flee their homes,” and half of these are children. It is shocking to consider the numbers involved and to reflect on what this means in each individual life. My current assignment is in Europe, where one and a quarter million of these refugees have arrived over the last year from war-torn parts of the Middle East and Africa. We see many of them coming with only the clothes they are wearing and what they can carry in one small bag. A large proportion of them are well educated, and all have had to abandon homes, schools, and jobs.

Under the direction of the First Presidency, the Church is working with 75 organizations in 17 European countries. These organizations range from large international institutions to small community initiatives, from government agencies to faith-based and secular charities. We are fortunate to partner with and learn from others who have been working with refugees around the world for many years.

As members of the Church, as a people, we don’t have to look back far in our history to reflect on times when we were refugees, violently driven from homes and farms over and over again...

The Lord has instructed us that the stakes of Zion are to be “a defense” and “a refuge from the storm.” We have found refuge. Let us come out from our safe places and share with them, from our abundance, hope for a brighter future, faith in God and in our fellowman, and love that sees beyond cultural and ideological differences to the glorious truth that we are all children of our Heavenly Father.

“For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love.”

Being a refugee may be a defining moment in the lives of those who are refugees, but being a refugee does not define them. Like countless thousands before them, this will be a period—we hope a short period—in their lives. Some of them will go on to be Nobel laureates, public servants, physicians, scientists, musicians, artists, religious leaders, and contributors in other fields. Indeed, many of them were these things before they lost everything. This moment does not define them, but our response will help define us.

DALLIN H. OAKS - "Opposition in All Things"

The purpose of mortal life for the children of God is to provide the experiences needed “to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize their divine destiny as heirs of eternal life.” As President Thomas S. Monson taught us so powerfully this morning, we progress by making choices, by which we are tested to show that we will keep God’s commandments. To be tested, we must have the agency to choose between alternatives. To provide alternatives on which to exercise our agency, we must have opposition.

The rest of the plan is also essential. When we make wrong choices—as we inevitably will—we are soiled by sin and must be cleansed to proceed toward our eternal destiny. The Father’s plan provides the way to do this, the way to satisfy the eternal demands of justice: a Savior pays the price to redeem us from our sins. That Savior is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God the Eternal Father, whose atoning sacrifice—whose suffering—pays the price for our sins if we will repent of them...

From the beginning, agency and opposition were central to the Father’s plan and to Satan’s rebellion against it. As the Lord revealed to Moses, in the council of heaven Satan “sought to destroy the agency of man”. That destruction was inherent in the terms of Satan’s offer. He came before the Father and said, “Behold, here am I, send me, I will be thy son, and I will redeem all mankind, that one soul shall not be lost, and surely I will do it; wherefore give me thine honor”.

Thus, Satan proposed to carry out the Father’s plan in a way that would prevent the accomplishment of the Father’s purpose and give Satan His glory...

The Church in its divine mission and we in our personal lives seem to face increasing opposition today. Perhaps as the Church grows in strength and we members grow in faith and obedience, Satan increases the strength of his opposition so we will continue to have “opposition in all things.”

Some of this opposition even comes from Church members. Some who use personal reasoning or wisdom to resist prophetic direction give themselves a label borrowed from elected bodies—“the loyal opposition.” However appropriate for a democracy, there is no warrant for this concept in the government of God’s kingdom, where questions are honored but opposition is not.

KENT F. RICHARDS - "The Power of Godliness"
of the Seventy

Just a few months before the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith, he met with the Twelve Apostles to talk about the greatest needs the Church was facing in that very difficult time. He told them, “We need the temple more than anything else.” Surely, today in these trying times, each of us and our families need the temple more than anything else.

During a recent temple dedication, I was thrilled with the entire experience. I loved the open house, greeting many of the visitors who came to see the temple; the cultural celebration with the vibrancy and excitement of the youth; followed by the wonderful dedicatory sessions. The Spirit was sweet. Many people were blessed. And then the next morning, my wife and I entered the baptismal font to participate in baptisms for some of our own ancestors. As I raised my arm to begin the ordinance, I was nearly overcome by the power of the Spirit. I realized again that the real power of the temple is in the ordinances.

As the Lord has revealed, the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood is found in the temple and its ordinances, “for therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained, that you may receive honor and glory.” “Therefore, in the ordinances thereof, the power of godliness is manifest.” This promise is for you and for your family.

PAUL V. JOHNSON - "And There Shall Be No More Death"
of the Seventy

The Resurrection is brought to pass by the Atonement of Jesus Christ and is pivotal to the great plan of salvation. We are spirit children of heavenly parents. When we come to this earth life, our spirit is united with our body. We experience all the joys and challenges associated with mortal life. When a person dies, their spirit is separated from their body. Resurrection makes it possible for a person’s spirit and body to be united again, only this time that body will be immortal and perfect—not subject to pain, disease, or other problems.

After resurrection, the spirit will never again be separated from the body because the Savior’s Resurrection brought total victory over death. In order to obtain our eternal destiny, we need to have this immortal soul—a spirit and body—united forever. With spirit and immortal body inseparably connected, we can “receive a fulness of joy.” In fact, without the Resurrection we could never receive a fulness of joy but would be miserable forever. Even faithful, righteous people view the separation of their bodies from their spirits as captivity. We are released from this captivity through the Resurrection, which is redemption from the bands or chains of death. There is no salvation without both our spirit and our body.

Each of us has physical, mental, and emotional limitations and weaknesses. These challenges, some of which seem so intractable now, will eventually be resolved. None of these problems will plague us after we are resurrected.

JEFFREY R. HOLLAND - "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You"

During His earthly ministry, Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the Mount of Transfiguration, where, the scriptures say, “his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light.” The heavens opened, ancient prophets came, and God the Father spoke.

After such a celestial experience, what does Jesus come down the mountain to find? Well, first He found an argument between His disciples and their antagonists over a failed blessing administered to a young boy. Then He tried to convince the Twelve—unsuccessfully, it turns out—that He would soon be delivered up to local rulers who would kill Him. Then someone mentioned that a tax was due, which was forthrightly paid. Then He had to rebuke some of the brethren because they were arguing about who would be the greatest in His kingdom. All of this led Him at one point to say, “O faithless generation, … how long shall I suffer you?” He had occasion to ask that question more than once during His ministry. No wonder He longed for the prayerful solitude of mountaintops!

Realizing that we all have to come down from peak experiences to deal with the regular vicissitudes of life, may I offer this encouragement as general conference concludes.

First of all, if in the days ahead you not only see limitations in those around you but also find elements in your own life that don’t yet measure up to the messages you have heard this weekend, please don’t be cast down in spirit and don’t give up. The gospel, the Church, and these wonderful semiannual gatherings are intended to give hope and inspiration. They are not intended to discourage you. Only the adversary, the enemy of us all, would try to convince us that the ideals outlined in general conference are depressing and unrealistic, that people don’t really improve, that no one really progresses. And why does Lucifer give that speech? Because he knows he can’t improve, he can’t progress, that worlds without end he will never have a bright tomorrow. He is a miserable man bound by eternal limitations, and he wants you to be miserable too. Well, don’t fall for that. With the gift of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the strength of heaven to help us, we can improve, and the great thing about the gospel is we get credit for trying, even if we don’t always succeed...

My brothers and sisters, the first great commandment of all eternity is to love God with all of our heart, might, mind, and strength—that’s the first great commandment. But the first great truth of all eternity is that God loves us with all of His heart, might, mind, and strength. That love is the foundation stone of eternity, and it should be the foundation stone of our daily life. Indeed it is only with that reassurance burning in our soul that we can have the confidence to keep trying to improve, keep seeking forgiveness for our sins, and keep extending that grace to our neighbor... Of Him I bear witness. Of Him I am a witness.