Front Page News Review Podcast #9 – Week of May 24th, 2015

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FairMormon’s Front Page News Review is a podcast where we provide context and analysis of the past week’s media coverage of Mormons and the LDS church. Hosted by Nick Galieti and manager of the FairMormon Front Page news service, Cassandra Hedelius.

What we present is not to be understood as being the official position of FairMormon or The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We speak for ourselves, and sometimes not even then.

This week’s news stories:

http://www.laobserved.com/archive/2015/05/mormon_temple_finally_emb.php

http://www.sltrib.com/news/2538827-155/boy-scouts-leader-says-ban-on

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/22/mormons-more-likely-to-marry-have-more-children-than-other-u-s-religious-groups/

DON’T FORGET! Get your Early-Bird FairMormon Conference Tickets now!

On August 6 & 7 we will be having our FairMormon conference at the Utah Valley Convention center.

To register click here http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a and scroll down the the conference registration.

Speakers this year include Margaret Barker, Ed Pinegar, Stephen Webb , Brant Gardner, Ron Dennis, Brittany Chapman, David Larsen, Jim Gordon, Laura Hales, Cassandra Hedelius, Paul Reeve, and, Dan Peterson.

Topics include:

History and Historicity in the Book of Mormon

Faith and Scholarship

How to help young Latter-day Saints

Why Mormon materialism matters

Joseph Smith Polygamy

Challenges to church legitimacy

And more.

We have both Mormon and non-Mormon scholars this year speaking about Mormon topics, so this conference is one that you don’t want to miss.

Sign up at this link: http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/conf15a

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The Restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ

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the-first-vision-82823-galleryThis post by FairMormon volunteer Jordan Latimer was originally delivered as a farewell address on May 24, 2015. Elder Latimer will begin his service as a missionary in the Oklahoma Tulsa Mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in June 2015.

Early in the spring of 1820, a troubled young man named Joseph Smith retired to a grove near his home and prayed to God. He was unsure which of the churches of that day he should join. Kneeling down, he asked God to provide him with the answers he so earnestly desired. He desired his salvation and wanted to know which church would be able to grant it. His prayer was answered, and in quite an extraordinary manner. Two beings appeared to him, identifying themselves as Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Christ answered Joseph’s question, informing him that none of the churches of the day had the ability to provide him with what was necessary for salvation. He instructed him to join none of the churches, because the fullness of his gospel was to be restored in his lifetime. Little did Joseph know that it was through him that it would be restored.

This experience set in motion what we in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints call the Restoration.

After the death of the Christ’s apostles, the authority to perform priesthood ordinances was lost for centuries, and the world entered a state of apostasy. This apostasy had been prophesied by Paul in his 2nd epistle to the Thessalonians: “Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day [meaning the day of Christ’s return] shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess. 2:3) Many early Christians probably didn’t expect this “falling away” to come so soon. Not only did the death of the apostles cause a loss of authority, it also led to unauthorized changes in doctrine and ordinances.

But his epistle to the Thessalonians is not the only place where prophecies of the coming apostasy can be found. When speaking to the elders at Ephesus, Paul said that after his departing, “grievous wolves [shall] enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29). He informed Timothy that “the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Tim. 4:3). Peter also prophesied of such corruption, saying that false teachers would “bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of” (2 Pet. 2:1).

The death of the apostles resulted in the loss of the priesthood keys needed to perform saving ordinances. Also, because there was no prophet on the earth, revelation could no longer be received for all of Christ’s church. The pure doctrines of Christ began to be corrupted by the philosophies of men. Without the gift of the Holy Ghost, people struggled to determine the difference between truth and falsehood. The church that Christ established was ultimately lost.

Fortunately, the Lord planned to restore the gospel in the latter-days, prior to his coming. This restoration would usher in the last days and would be the final time that Christ would restore his church upon the earth. We know that Joseph Smith was the vessel through which truths were restored. A list of things restored may be helpful.

The Restoration restored the true nature of the relationship between Heavenly Father, his son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost. In the 4th century A.D. the doctrine of the Trinity was first articulated. This blend of Greek philosophy and Christianity introduced a concept of God people have been trying to comprehend ever since. Joseph Smith restored knowledge of the true nature of the Godhead: that they are three separate beings, who are united in purpose. Joseph restored the concept that we are children of both a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother. Jesus Christ is our brother, the first spirit-born of the Father, and the savior of the world. Both Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have bodies of flesh and bone. The Holy Ghost is a personage of spirit, and its role is to comfort, testify of truth, and bestow gifts of the spirit. As Moroni said: “By the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:5). The Restoration rejected the idea of Original Sin. Instead of the Fall being a grievous mistake by Adam and Eve, it was a necessary part of the plan of salvation for God’s children. Adam and Eve didn’t mess things up. They did what was necessary to move God’s plan forward. As the prophet Lehi said, “Adam fell that men might be. And men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25). And while most Christians believe that Eve, the mother of all living, failed, we know that she actually succeeded. Eve’s role in moving the plan forward is very significant. True to the title of “mother,” she made the choices necessary for mankind to exercise their powers of procreation and provide bodies for God’s spirit children. The role of righteous women cannot be dismissed when the true story of the Garden of Eden is realized.

The Restoration simplified and clarified the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel. These are listed in the 4th Article of Faith. “We believe that the first principles and ordinances of the Gospel are: first, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; second, Repentance; third, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; fourth, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Article of Faith 4). While such concepts have always been a crucial part of Christianity, the LDS church provides this outline in its purest, simplest form. It also clarifies the manner in which baptism is to be performed. Immersion is required. This is symbolic of the death of the natural man, and the birth into sainthood.

The Restoration restored the power of the priesthood, and the authority to act in God’s name. All of the keys necessary for providing saving ordinances and of receiving revelation for God’s children now reside with our current prophet, President Thomas S. Monson. As the 5th Article of Faith says, “We believe that a man must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel and administer in the ordinances thereof” (Article of Faith 5). Through the priesthood power, we can be baptized, receive the Holy Ghost, be endowed, and be sealed to spouses and other family members in the House of the Lord.

Speaking of the House of the Lord, the Restoration restored the practice of building and worshiping in temples. In the temple, we can perform ordinances necessary for eternal life. The initiatory and the endowment ceremony are both ordinances that help qualify us for exaltation. They provide power from God, and help to protect us from the deception of the adversary. Such blessings are not only for the living, however. The temple allows and encourages work for the dead. How comforting this doctrine is, to know that the blessings of salvation can be provided to our ancestors who have passed on. It is a fulfillment of the words of Moroni, who said that the prophet Elijah “shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (Joseph Smith–History 1:39).

The Restoration produced the largest women’s organization in the world. The Relief Society is an essential element of the organization of the church. It has provided and will continue to provide countless hours of selfless service for the Lord’s church. The organization of the Church was not complete until the Relief Society was organized.

The Restoration presented additional scripture to support and clarify the word of God contained in the Bible. The Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price provide inspiration and direction in a day full of deception. In particular, the translation of the Book of Mormon was essential to the establishment of truth, and it provides strong evidence for Joseph Smith’s prophetic authority, for only a man of God could bring forth such a text.

The Restoration provided a church that is self-reliant. The Church provides a powerful welfare system. This system includes ranches, orchards, vineyards, canneries, bakeries, meat and milk processing facilities, storehouses, and its own transportation and funding. The church also provides education, counseling, and addiction recovery for individuals inside and outside the church. There’s also Deseret Industries, which provides jobs for thousands of individuals. And, to top it all off, the Church has done extensive humanitarian work in over 178 countries and territories. This work includes clean water, vision care, food production, wheelchair projects, neonatal resuscitation training, emergency response, and a measles campaign. Such service is done to fulfill the promises of baptism “to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light; to mourn with those that mourn; and [to] comfort those that stand in need of comfort” (Mosiah 18:9).

The Restoration added knowledge concerning the Atonement of Christ, the most significant event in the history of the world. Our teachings on the Atonement are reflected in the words of Alma: “And he will take upon him death, that he may loose the bands of death which bind his people; and he will take upon him their infirmities, 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. Now the Spirit knoweth all things; nevertheless the Son of God suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance” (Alma 7:12–13). The Lord descended below all things that we may ascend above all things. The power of Christ’s Atonement can change our minds, hearts, and desires, if we only turn to him and rely upon his grace. We know that works are required for salvation, and that we will be judged by them; but we also know that we are ultimately saved by the grace of God. As King Benjamin said, “If ye should serve him with all your whole souls yet ye would be unprofitable servants” (Mosiah 2:21). We are completely dependent upon Christ’s Atonement for our salvation.

The Restoration provided knowledge of our pre-mortal life. We learn of the council of the gods, where Heavenly Father introduced a plan for us to become like him. Jehovah volunteered to fulfill the plan, and the glory would be to the father. He said, “Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever” (Moses 4:2). Such humility and selflessness was not to be found in Lucifer, who wanted it done a different way. He said, “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” (Moses 4:1). Jehovah was chosen, and Lucifer was cast out for seeking to destroy the agency of man and attempting to elevate himself above the Father. We are here on this earth because we chose the father and his plan. This life tests us on how we will use our agency. Will we use our agency to further the work of the Father, or will we use it to further the work of the Adversary? The choice is ours. Because we will slip up at times, the Lord has provided a Savior, Jesus Christ, to satisfy the demands of justice and forge the way back into his presence.

The Restoration explained elements of the post-mortal life as well. We know that when we die, our spirits enter the spirit world, which is divided into spirit prison and spirit paradise. In the words of Alma, “Then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of the wicked, yea, who are evil [shall be] in darkness, and a state of awful, fearful looking for the fiery indignation of the wrath of God upon them; thus they remain in this state, as well as the righteous in paradise, until the time of their resurrection” (Alma 40:12–13). Further light and knowledge was given to Joseph F. Smith in a vision. He saw that those in spirit prison would actually have a chance to accept Christ’s Atonement and begin living the gospel. Messengers from spirit paradise teach them. He said, “But behold, from among the righteous, he [meaning Jesus Christ] organized his forces and appointed messengers, clothed with power and authority, and commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (Doctrine and Covenants 138:30).

The Restoration restored knowledge of the three kingdoms of glory. In 1832, Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon had a vision wherein they saw the three kingdoms of glory, with their respective inhabitants. The Celestial Kingdom will contain “they who received the testimony of Jesus, and believed on his name and were baptized after the manner of his burial, being buried in the water in his name” (D&C 76:51). The Terrestrial Kingdom will contain those “who received not the testimony of Jesus in the flesh, but afterwards received it. These are they who are honorable men of the earth, who were blinded by the craftiness of men” (D&C 76:74–75). The Telestial Kingdom will contain those that “received not the gospel of Christ, neither the testimony of Jesus” (D&C 76:82).

The Restoration provides more information on our potential exaltation and eternal life. Our inheritance isn’t merely a small cloud and a golden harp, to sing praises to God for all eternity. Christ revealed to Joseph a more profound reward for righteousness when he said, “He that receiveth me receiveth my Father; And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him” (D&C 84:37–38). How much does Heavenly Father, the creator of the universe and everything contained therein, have? A lot, to put it mildly. And all that he has is promised to us. We cannot fathom the blessings that the Father has prepared for us. As Paul said, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9). We do know one thing: that we shall receive the status of godhood. In the Doctrine and Covenants, Christ said, “And then shall the angels be crowned with the glory of his might, and the saints shall be filled with his glory, and receive their inheritance and be made equal with him” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:107). Christ also said, “Wherefore, as it is written, they [meaning the saints] are gods, even the sons of God. Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s. And they shall overcome all things” (Doctrine and Covenants 76:58–60). As the primary song says, we truly are children of God.

There are many more teachings that the Restoration brought forth. Such truths can be found in Church publications and the scriptures. I encourage Church members of all ages to study the Restoration and feast upon the doctrine and principles that have been restored by the Lord. Follow the Lord’s counsel to “seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom, seek learning even by study and also by faith” (D&C 109:7). I promise that if you do, the Lord will testify of truth by the power of Holy Ghost.

Faith and Intellect

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man-praying-1082988-galleryI recently read a blog post on Patheos about archeology and the Book of Mormon. The author’s tone was friendly and accepting of Latter-day Saints as a people, for which I am grateful, but his ultimate conclusion was that there is absolutely no archeological evidence of the Book of Mormon, so there is no way it can be an authentic historical text. While this is not correct, I will not attempt to refute this particular claim in this post, but rather will simply mention that answers to his questions can be found here on the FairMormon website.

I will concede the point that you cannot scientifically prove that the Book of Mormon is true. However, this shouldn’t be anything shocking to believers; the same thing is true about the Bible, Jesus Christ’s divinity, and even for the all-encompassing question of God’s existence. And it is certainly true that while there is evidence for all of these issues, there isn’t any proof. Why is this?

Part of the reason lies in the limitations that are inherent in the scientific method. Science is just incapable of answering certain questions: Why are we here? Does God exist? Do the Book of Mormon and Bible contain the word of God? You get the idea. These questions just don’t lie within the scope of what can be tested scientifically. Regardless of personal belief systems, one has to give some value to religion because it answers those questions that cannot be answered in any other way. It can also give greater meaning and purpose to science, just as science can help validate (but not necessarily prove) many of the tenets of religion.

Another reason is that “proof” can be a rather elusive principle when it comes to truly changing people. Laman and Lemuel saw an angel, but they still rebelled. Despite all of the wonders shown to the Children of Israel, they still wanted to go back to Egypt. And despite being shown the Gold Plates by an angel, all of the Three Witnesses fell away from the Church, at least for a time (although the fact that they never denied their testimony is powerful evidence for the truthfulness of that event). I would argue then that we should not be seeking evidences as a means to prove that the gospel is true, but rather as a means to assist with conversion, which causes a much deeper and more profound change.

Conversion is unique in that it requires us to use both intellect and spirit. We are to “study [the gospel] out in [our] mind” (D&C 9:8) and then ask if it is right. But we must do so with “a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ” (Moroni 10:4). In other words it is the convergence of faith and reason to bring about a “mighty change of heart.” While science and reason can assist in conversion, by themselves they are not enough.

Let’s make no mistake about it. If Heavenly Father saw fit, He could certainly offer up irrefutable science on any matter, but it doesn’t usually happen that way. Why not? Doing so would certainly make it easier for us to convince the rest of the world that the Church is true, but it would also undermine the entire point of our existence. Although conversion is not an easy or quick process, it gives us a strength that could not be gained in any other way.

Elder Jeffery R. Holland, in his discourse “Missionary Work and the Atonement,” had this to say concerning missionary work and conversion:

Anyone who does any kind of missionary work will have occasion to ask, Why is this so hard? Why can’t our success be more rapid? Why aren’t there more people joining the Church? Why isn’t the only risk in missionary work that of pneumonia from being soaking wet all day and all night in the baptismal font?

I have thought about this a great deal. I offer this as my personal feeling. I am convinced that missionary work is not easy because salvation is not a cheap experience. Salvation never was easy. We are The Church of Jesus Christ, this is the truth, and He is our Great Eternal Head. How could we believe it would be easy for us when it was never, ever easy for Him? It seems to me that missionaries and mission leaders have to spend at least a few moments in Gethsemane. Missionaries and mission leaders have to take at least a step or two toward the summit of Calvary.

Now, please don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about anything anywhere near what Christ experienced. That would be presumptuous and sacrilegious. But I believe that missionaries and investigators, to come to the truth, to come to salvation, to know something of this price that has been paid, will have to pay a token of that same price.

For that reason I don’t believe missionary work has ever been easy, nor that conversion is, nor that retention is, nor that continued faithfulness is. I believe it is supposed to require some effort, something from the depths of our soul.

If He could come forward in the night, kneel down, fall on His face, bleed from every pore, and cry, “Abba, Father (Papa), if this cup can pass, let it pass,” then little wonder that salvation is not an easy thing for us.

Although we are not talking specifically about missionary work I believe what Elder Holland said is the essence of this issue. If we had every question answered, our experience here in mortality would not be a test but rather a “cheap experience.” While in mortality, it is absolutely essential that we don’t know everything, otherwise there would be no need for faith and no need to lean on our Father in Heaven.

Now, I don’t want anyone to misunderstand where I am coming from. I am a firm and ardent believer of science–––in my personal, professional, and religious life. I believe there are literally thousands of strong evidences that support the authenticity of the Restoration. We should (and do) continually search out these evidences from all sources possible, including scientific research, but in the end, without the Spirit, what we find won’t be enough for a true change of heart.

So then, let’s not be distraught over any supposed lack of “proof.” All answers will come in the Lord’s own time–––both through our efforts to learn and through revelation to His prophets. Let us instead be grateful. For what may seem as a hindrance at first is actually an opportunity to grow, develop our faith, and walk a few steps along side our Savior on our symbolic journey “toward the summit of Calvary.”

Articles of Faith Podcast: Jeffrey Thayne – Some Thoughts on Discipleship and “Staying Mormon”

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Jeffrey ThayneJeffrey Thayne grew up in Elk Ridge, Utah, collecting bugs in the woodland hills behind his home. He has wanted to be a physicist, a detective, a entomologist, a cartographer, an explorer, a linguist, an astronaut, an architect, a writer, a teacher, a video-game programmer, and all of the above. He therefore graduated from BYU in April 2009 with a degree in psychology, a master’s degree in psychology at BYU, and is finishing a PhD in Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences at Utah State University. Jeff is the author of the blog article on Millennial Star.org entitled: Some Thoughts on Discipleship and “Staying Mormon”.

Questions addressed in this episode:

You often write responses to current events, or even criticisms that are leveled against the church. In your recent article on MillennialStar, you respond to an article entitled How to Stay Mormon When You’re Tired of Mormons. What is the article and how would you classify it?

Who, as you see it, is the audience for that original article?

Doubt. So many different ways to look at, and approach doubt when it comes to the LDS Church, its teachings and its culture. How do you address the subject of doubt in this article?

I got the impression that you were hoping to speak to the same audience as the original article but offer a different approach to the issues and challenges this audience may face. You give three suggestions (other than the title) to help people feel more at home in the church, as you put it “not strangers, or foreigners.”

1. Remember that Christ is the cornerstone of our faith.

2. Find opportunities to communicate with God.

3. Remember the covenants we have made with God.

It’s hard to want to be committed to covenants that have been made to a person you don’t like or agree with. It’s hard to want to be someone’s friend when you feel like there are problems with your friendship. It is hard to want to be married when you don’t love or agree with the person. So #3 seems like a really hard thing to wrap your head around when you are going through what many refer to as doubts. How do covenants help someone over come doubt?

In the article you make the assertion that there are two dichotomous paradigms that seem to pervade the LDS experience. Expressive Individualism, and Discipleship. What are these two things and how do they relate?

You also introduce an idea I had not really spent much time considering with respect to the general view of the Church, its role in our spirituality, and our relationship with it, by putting forward that idea of viewing church as a consumer? What do you mean by that and how does it relate?

Jeffrey Thayne is the author of several blog articles at Millennial Star.org.

FairMormon---Articles-of-Faith-Podcast

Faith and Reason 45: Metal Plates and Stone Boxes

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copper scroll

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

By Michael R. Ash

When the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947, one of the startling finds was a copper scroll.  Hundreds of other metal plates have surfaced since then, including a bronze plate found during the same period that the Lehites fled Jerusalem with Laban’s brass plates, and a copper scroll inscribed in Hebrew and dating to the twelfth century BC. In 1933, a scholar discovered “two shallow, neatly made stone boxes with lids, each containing two square plates of gold and silver”. Not only did ancient civilizations write on metal plates, but many of these plates were buried in stone boxes.

 

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.

Fair Issue 87: Is the “Promised Land” limited to one area?

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MAIn this episode brother Ash relates how the term “promised Land” can refer to many areas and is not confined to any specific geographical location but to a faithful people.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon

 

 

RiseUp Podcast: Dealing with gender dysphoria – Finding inner peace through Christ

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Dealing with gender dysphoria: Finding inner peace through Christ – An interview with Kyle and Amy Merkley. To read Kyle’s story and be introduced to the Journey’s of Faith Project from NorthStarLDS, click here.

Kyle and Amy MerkleyKyle is the oldest of five children. He grew up in an amazing family and he’s grateful for the strength his family gives him. Kyle is currently attending graduate school at Brigham Young University studying Classical Languages and Literature. He loves literature and loves sharing this love of literature with others. Music has always been a huge part of his life and he plays trumpet, piano, and organ. Kyle has been married for almost five years to Amy who is one of the most amazing women in the world. She helps him to be a better person every day. Kyle loves reading, watching chick flicks, shopping with his wife, and all things nerdy.

Kyle is here with his wife Amy to talk about their very unique circumstances. For the sake of our conversation today, those unique circumstances will likely focus on the topic of Kyle identifying as being transgender or experiencing gender dysphoria. Kyle has contributed to a new project of the group NorthStar LDS entitled Journeys of Faith – The Journeys of Faith Project is a growing repository of personal essays by Latter-day Saint individuals and families wrestling with issues related to gender identity (e.g., gender dysphoria and/or transgenderism) and are striving to find congruence and peace within the context of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

RiseUp is a podcast designed to offer answers and frameworks for youth, or young adults who are seeking answers to difficult or critical questions about LDS Culture and doctrine.

Questions addressed in this episode:

There is so much to learn and absorb with the topic of being transgender or experiencing gender dysphoria, but let’s first set some foundational items for the basis of our getting to know you and some of the challenges that you face starting with the terms, the lexicon of words that are most welcome to be used when dealing with this subject. What does it mean to be transgender, and what does it mean to experience gender dysphoria in perhaps a more clinical or text book sense?

In your essay on the Journeys of Faith project, entitled: Jesus Wins: Finding Faith in Ambiguity” you express some concepts that may sound familiar to some teenagers in some respects, but maybe not in others. If you could talk about your experience with mirrors growing up.

With your specific life scenario, you were born a genetic male. When did you feel that just didn’t fit your mind’s eye of yourself?

How did your parents respond to this scenario?

It’s important to make the distinction, that in your experience, the thoughts you had were not related to sexual urges or attraction, per se, but just how you saw yourself.

Being a teenager is typically defined in some part with the experience of self-discovery, and the challenges that arise when your body goes through certain biological changes, as well as social independence. But here you are, with another layer to that, something very uncharted in the Mormon experience. In your essay you state that the atonement of Jesus Christ gave you hope, particularly Moroni 10:32 “Yea, come unto Christ, and be perfected in him, and deny yourselves of all ungodliness; and if ye shall deny yourselves of all ungodliness, and love God with all your might, mind and strength, then is his grace sufficient for you, that by his grace ye may be perfect in Christ…”

Music also became a part of your life a coping mechanism. We are both trumpet players as I understand it.

So, even with all that was going on with your life you decided to attend BYU as opposed to perhaps some other university where being transgender would be more either present, accepted, if not encouraged to a certain extent.

BYU led you to a mission call to the California Anaheim Mission. Opening that letter, Dear Elder Kyle Merkley. How did that feel to read that, given your trials and circumstances up to this point? Did you see this as a point of success, of achievement to even feel ready to put in your papers?

In your essay you state: “While serving a mission was really hard in some ways (I had to deal with constant depression, and living with all guys triggered my gender dysphoria), I found serving a mission also clearly defined a role for me. I didn’t have to struggle with the question of who I was. I was told exactly who I was and how I was supposed to act every day. It was that sense of purpose which kept me going.”

It was on your mission that you actually first learned the name for what you were experiencing, or at least a term that has been assigned to those experiencing similar emotions, transgender.

At some point you describe studying for hours, days, weeks, what have you, to find some guidance on what it means to be Transgender and a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and you kind of snap under the cognitive dissonance, or maybe it would be vacuum of space where questions remained unanswered.

In all this there were some coping mechanisms that you installed, some self-medication that served as a sort of pressure release for all that you were feeling. What were some of those things?

This is when Amy your now wife enters the picture. I have hears some very dear things about Amy, I can’t wait to hear her side of things. How did you two meet?

Kyle has some incredibly tender words to describe what you meant to him, “She asked me out when I didn’t have the self-confidence to ask anyone out. She liked me when I couldn’t find the strength to like myself. And eventually, she loved me when all I felt inside was self-loathing. When we started dating she brought happiness back into my life. Every time I was around her, I felt so right—a rightness I’d been searching for my whole life. She made the pain of gender dysphoria recede into the background. She brought light and color back into a world which was colorless and bleak. She gave me hope. She loves life so much and finds joy in so many little things. Every time I was with her I found little joyful reasons to love life as well. As we dated, she began the process of healing my broken spirit.”

Amy, when did you know this is what you meant to Kyle? When were you opened up to what Kyle was feeling?

You wrote a letter to Amy explaining what was going on, what was in that letter? Is that something public or too personal to be public?

That reprieve from the gender dysphoria came back three months after you were married. What happened? How did you choose to respond?

Here you are today, still together, and now putting your story out there in an effort to help others, to strengthen others to stay true, to know that there is an answer in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the atonement is stronger than some of the most discouraging trials one can face.

Now that we know your story, and what an amazing story it is and will continue to be, the next little bit I would love to get some insights or suggestions both for those who may be experiencing gender dysphoria themselves, as well as for their family, friends, and even ecclesiastical leaders in order to help all understand this issue more fully, but also to find a path of faith, a journey of faith that includes gender dysphoria.

Starting with those who are experiencing gender dysphoria, if you haven’t already said it in the telling of your story, what would you say to the person listening that may be in that place? Kyle I would like you to answer first, and then Amy, if you could also have a response for that same person.

You go on to say in this essay, “I don’t always know how to deal with the pain of having gender dysphoria, and I constantly wonder how my identity as transgender fits with my identity as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” I think members of the Church are in the same place, we don’t always know what to think or how to respond. I can think of the bishop sitting in his office and having someone come to them and say, Bishop, I think I am transgender, and that Bishop going, hmm… what does the handbook say about this? I have looked, and it’s currently blank on this issue. There are issues relating to chastity in which one may make some educated and hopefully inspired decisions, but it is one of those points where we will believe what God will reveal with respect to this issue, but until then, perhaps you could give your advice to a bishop or stake president that is approached with this issue and wants to do so with love, but also inspired guidance.

Perhaps you would be willing to provide some answers and insight you have received as you have fasted and prayed, in an effort to reconcile the lack of information in church manuals and scriptural sources on gender dysphoria specifically, with things like the Family: A Proclamation to the World which clearly asserts the teachings on gender.

Moving forward on the right path, or the choice you have made to remain faithful to your covenants; how does one live by faith when approaching gender dysphoria or being transgender?

Kyle and Amy Merkley are defining what it means to be on a journey of faith. We will post a link to Kyle’s essay as part of the Journeys of Faith project from NorthStarLDS, we encourage all to read it and come to feel the spirit of Kyle’s testimony. Please feel free to share this message with others as part of an effort to show forth love and support, to do as Elder Christofferson encouraged in the April 2015 general conference, to march with those who are experiencing gender dysphoria, and to extend a hand of fellowship as a way of building a zion people.

For Additional Resources on Gender Dysphoria or related issues, please visit NorthStarLDS’s resources by clicking here.

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Fair Issues 86: The Lamanite prophet Zelph

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MAIn this article brother Ash considers the account of the prophet Joseph Smith when he discovers the bones that belonged to a “white Lamanite” named Zelph who was a warrior under the prophet Onandagus.

The full text of this article can be found at Deseret News online.

Brother Ash is author of the book Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt, as well as the book, of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith. Both books are available for purchase online through the FairMormon Bookstore. Tell your friends about the Mormon Fair-Cast. Share a link on your Facebook page and help increase the popularity of the Mormon Fair-Cast by subscribing to this podcast in iTunes, and by rating it and writing a review.

The views and opinions expressed in the podcast may not reflect those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or that of FairMormon

 

Dating Christ’s Birth

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I have always loved Christmas. As far as I can remember, it has always been my favorite time of the year. I love the sights, the smells, and the tastes. Most of all, however, I love that we are able to remember the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ.

This leads me directly into the perennial debate: when was Christ actually born? Has there been any modern-day revelation on the matter? What is the Church’s official position about this? These are all interesting questions to ponder, and I will attempt to address these to the best of my ability throughout this post.

We, as members of the LDS Church, celebrate the birth of Christ on December 25, along with the rest of the Christian world. Many faithful Latter-day Saints (including many of our leaders), however, believe that April 6 was actually the birth date of our Savior, using D&C 20:1 as scriptural justification. Does that match what the scholars say? And if not, how can we explain the disparity?

Before we get into the meat of this question, it is important to first determine the Church’s official position. In this case it’s easy—there isn’t one. Knowing the exact day and year He was born simply does not pertain to our salvation, and as far as I was able to tell, there has been no official revelation on the matter. The Church, as an organization, simply has not spent that much time and energy worrying about it.

Why then should we worry ourselves about something that (in the eternal scheme of things) really doesn’t matter all that much? That’s a legitimate question. First, I believe very strongly in gaining as much knowledge as possible (D&C 130:18–19), especially knowledge related in any way to the Savior. Second, I believe that as defenders of the faith, we need to be able to have ready answers to questions that we might be asked, and this topic is certainly fair game. Furthermore, no one should have their testimonies rocked because a critic brings this up as evidence that the Church cannot be true.

First, let’s examine what the Prophets and apostles have said on this matter. The first LDS author to speak on this subject was Elder James E. Talmage in his book Jesus the Christ. He was of the opinion that Christ was born on April 6, 1 B.C. He apparently interpreted D&C 20:1 as meaning that April 6, 1830, was literally one thousand eight hundred and thirty days to the day that Christ was born, as opposed to just the day that was revealed for the Church to be organized.1

The next major work by an apostle touching on the matter was done by Elder Hyrum M Smith in his 1919 commentary on the Doctrine and Covenants. He stated his belief that April 6 was probably the birthdate of Christ, but at the same time also commented that “all that this Revelation means to say is that the Church was organized in the year that is commonly accepted as 1830, A.D” and is not meant to be a revelation about the day Christ was born.2

In 1954 President J. Reuben Clark of the First Presidency, in his book Our Lord of the Gospels, said, “I am not proposing any date as the true date. But in order to be as helpful to students as I could, I have taken as the date of the Savior’s birth the date now accepted by many scholars,—late 5 B.C. or early 4 B.C.” This would clearly exclude April 6.3 It is also interesting that this book was later reprinted as the Melchizedek Priesthood manual in 1958.4

Finally, we had Elder Bruce R. McConkie addressing the issue in his Messiah series. Elder McConkie referenced all of the three aforementioned apostles, reiterated the fact that no one knows for certainty the true date of our Savior’s birth, but noted that for his purposes he would use the same timeline as President Clark.5 To date, he is the last apostle or prophet that I am aware of to try and address this issue in any comprehensive form.

I should also mention that there have been other apostles and prophets who have spoken (at least briefly) on this matter, including President Harold B. Lee, President Spencer W. Kimball, President Gordon B. Hinckley, and Elder David A. Bednar. When I read their various talks, I was unable to tell if they were saying that they had personally received revelation on the matter, if it was their own opinion, or if they were basing their remarks on what Elder Talmage and others have previously stated. None of them, however, declared it as official Church doctrine.

It also needs to be said that D&C 20:1 was not originally part of section 20 but was added at a later date.4 As far as we know, Joseph Smith never officially attempted to answer the question of the official date of Christ’s birth. And as discussed earlier in this post, no date has ever been presented to the Church as an official declaration or proclamation.

In addition to the leadership of the Church, multiple LDS scholars have attempted to answer this question. Some have been in favor of April 6, and others have fallen more in line with what other scholars hold to—that the date falls sometime between the end of 5 B.C. and the beginning of 4 B.C. (which interestingly means that December 25 could have actually been the day Christ was born). For those interested, you can read the arguments both ways here and here.

The purpose of this blog post isn’t to answer this question, and indeed it is impossible to do so. Rather, I wanted to present enough information so readers can research this issue on their own and make informed decisions as well as be able to give informed answers. I hope that I have been able to at least point readers in the right direction and have shown that this should be a non-issue when dealing with critics of our faith.

I definitely can’t end this blog post without one last comment. Remember that the important part of all of this was that the Savior was actually born. He wasn’t a fictional character invented for a book to teach us good moral principles. He was a real person, and really was the Son of God who came to this world to save us all from sin and death. Though it has been absolutely fascinating (and faith building) to research the day of His birth, it is secondary at best to His mission and His ministry. May all of us grow closer to our Savior the more we learn of His birth, His life, and His matchless grace.

References:

  1. Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Dating the Birth of Jesus Christ,” Brigham Young University Studies 49 no. 4 (2010), 28–29, fn. 12.
  2. Ibid
  3. Ibid
  4. Jesus Christ/Date of birth. (2014 June 7). Retrieved at http://en.fairmormon.org/Jesus_Christ/Date_of_birth
  5. Ibid

Faith and Reason 44: Temple Outside of Jerusalem

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The Elephantine Papyri

From the book: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences  Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

One of the first things which Nephi was commanded to do when he arrived in the New World was to build a temple “after the manner of Solomon”. Just as the critics ridiculed Nephi’s tale of travel through the Arabian Desert, so likewise they ridiculed the idea that the Nephites would build a temple in the New World.

At the turn of the century some papyri was found at Aswain, Egypt and has become known as the Elephantine Papyri. The translation of the documents tells of a group of Jewish soldiers who left Jerusalem to protect the Persian interests in South Egypt.  As the records unfold, we find that the Jewish soldiers are interested in building a temple soon after they arrived at their destination, just as their contemporaries Nephi and his family were.

 

Michael R. Ash is the author of: Of Faith and Reason: 80 Evidences Supporting The Prophet Joseph Smith. He is the owner and operator of MormonFortress.com and is on the management team for FairMormon. He has been published in Sunstone, Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, the Maxwell Institute’s FARMS Review, and is the author of Shaken Faith Syndrome: Strengthening One’s Testimony in the Face of Criticism and Doubt.  He and his wife live in Ogden, Utah, and have three daughters.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is a broadcast journalist living in Louisville, Kentucky. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Radio and Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated with an MSSc from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University in 2008. Julianne and her husband Thomas are the parents of four children.

Music for Faith and Reason is provided by Arthur Hatton.