Continuing the conversation begun by Neylan McBaine’s “Women at Church”

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At the recent 2014 FairMormon Conference, I picked up a pre-release copy of Neylan McBaine’s new book “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact”, which is being released publically today. I started reading it on the airplane ride home on Saturday and couldn’t put it down and I finished it the next day after Church. It was amazing. Since it is officially being released today, I thought I would share my thoughts about the book and about the message that I think Neylan is trying to convey concerning how we can improve our Church culture and our rhetoric to match our doctrine.

This is not a book about doctrine, nor does Neylan intend for it to be. Instead, it is written for men and women, Church leaders and fill-the-pews-every-week Church members. First, it illustrates how some Church culture, rhetoric, and practices unnecessarily make some women (and in many cases the men who love and support those women) feel less-than, and then it provides several suggestions for how we might change our culture, rhetoric, and practices without requiring any changes in doctrine or official policy.

Both the descriptions of “the problem” and the suggestions for “solutions” are backed up by anecdotes from a wide range of sources that Neylan collected after considering some of the reactions to her 2012 FairMormon Conference address and being encouraged to expand her work there into a larger project. She sought for stories and suggestions from Church members across the belief and political spectrum. She then pulled them together to illustrate how, when we talk about gender balance in the Church, we are not only dealing with doctrine – we are dealing with emotions, culture, public relations, and long-standing group dynamics, many of which have little or nothing to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Neylan’s message was full of “a-ha” moments for me. One occurred when I listened to her 2012 FairMormon Conference talk and heard her describe why language matters, both internal and external to the Church, when we talk about things like “equality”. For example, When we use the words “equal”, “alike”, or “equality” in a gospel setting:

“…and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike [or equal] unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne 26:33),

we have developed a good internal (as in, inside the Church) understanding of what “alike” or “equal” means and looks like: God loves everyone without regard to race, color, gender, occupation, etc., and we, as disciples of Christ should seek to emulate that same principle.

Where we run into trouble is when we try to pass off this internal definition or understanding of “equal” in our external public relations messaging as a Church. The rest of the world uses a measuring stick that is vastly different to measure “equality”, and our rhetoric will fall on deaf ears if we do not recognize this fact and adapt our message accordingly.

When I say “vastly different” from the rest of the world, I mean we are different by almost every criteria the world uses to gauge these sorts of things: prominence of women’s events compared with men’s, prominence of women leaders compared with men, emphasis on women’s public teaching and influence compared with men’s, opportunities for institutional or organizational “span-of-control” and “span-of-influence” positions for women compared with men, etc. All of these are simple, basic, easy-to-calculate, easy-to-see, measuring sticks by which the rest of the world gauges the word “equality”. We have to consider what the rest of the world hears when we put out our public relations messaging or our social media posts about media stories regarding gender-related issues in the Church. We need to realize that when we talk about “equality” between men and women within the Church, but then the world sees something totally different when they look at our organization, their reaction will be to discount or dismiss our comments and messaging as not credible or misleading. When we try to pass off our internal definition of “equality” as equivalent to the world’s definition of “equality,” we will fail every time. And when we fail in the public relations space, we lose credibility.

“But who cares?” we might ask. “Since when are we concerned with what the rest of the world thinks of us? Shouldn’t we be more concerned with what God thinks of us?” Sure. Absolutely. But if that were the only consideration, we would have no need for a Church Public Affairs function! It seems like at least one of those reasons should have something to do with aligning our internal and external rhetoric. As long as we want to maintain our ability to appeal to the rest of the world through our missionary efforts, we would do well to listen to people with the experience and expertise to help us at least reduce the number of “unforced errors” on this subject.

This is where I think McBaine’s approach is so valuable. By challenging us to refine our rhetoric first, and not agitating for changes in doctrine, she is reinforcing the point that it is not only important what we say, but how we say it.

One of my favorite parts in “Women at Church” is where Neylan points out the strong and empowering message that we could send to the world about the importance of women’s contributions in the Church by making those contributions more visible. We live in a visual world, and while words are important, so are images. The recent changes in seating assignments during General Conference, for example, where Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary General Presidencies have been invited to take a more central position on the rostrum, and the addition of these women’s portraits in the lobby of the Conference Center and in the center page of the Conference issue of the Ensign and Liahona alongside the General Authorities are some examples of this being put into practice. One of Neylan’s suggestions is that we consider inviting ward or stake Relief Society, Young Women, and/or Primary presidencies to sit on the stand during Ward or Stake Conferences.

Some may consider this an example of tokenism or window dressing, since these women do not preside over the meeting. But whereas changing who presides would require a change in doctrine (as Elder Oaks’ April 2014 General Conference address made clear), the change suggested by Neylan would require no change in doctrine, nor any change in official church policy. And the benefits could be great: both men and women, old and young, would see women as well as men recognized on the stand for the important work that they do in the Church. Our doctrine is clear on this: the work that Priesthood brethren do in the Church is no more nor less valuable than the work that sisters do in their Relief Society, Young Women, Primary, and other callings. So how can it hurt us to have a visible representation of the equal value of those contributions on the stand? Making women’s roles and responsibilities more visible to both the men and the women in the ward by having RS, YW and/or Primary leaders sit on the stand, even if only for Ward and Stake Conference, does not fly in the face of anything more than our traditions and customs (and perhaps in some cases our prejudices). And if it removes a potential hurdle for our youth or other members struggling because of the imbalance in the visibility of women’s contributions, all of whom are growing up and living in a world where the world’s definition and visual depiction of equality is what they live and experience every day at school, at work, and in their other non-Church associations, and if it can remove that hurdle without changing doctrine or policy, then indeed, why not!?

We ignore or minimize the distinction between our “gospel” understanding of these terms and concepts and the “worldly” understanding to our great detriment, as it undermines our ability to be “in the world but not of the world.”  We need to be not only multi-lingual in our missionary training centers as we teach the various languages of the world, but also multi-lingual in our cultural rhetoric and understanding. This will help us guide those who would welcome such empowering and ennobling doctrines if they could see them through a gospel lens, unburdened of the rhetorical baggage that otherwise prevents them from seeing the beauty of our doctrine.

Faith and Reason 18: Names in The Book of Mormon

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EP

The Elephantine Papyri


From the Book: 80 Evidences Supporting the Prophet Joseph Smith

by Michael R. Ash

Critics typically contend that Joseph Smith either invented the names in the Book of Mormon or borrowed them from his surroundings. The first name mentioned in the Nephite record is Nephi. We find this name in the Apocrypha. The Apocrypha are part of the Catholic collection of scriptures, but are not included in the Protestant scriptures such as the King James Version Bible. Whether Joseph has access to the Apocrypha in 1829 is unknown.

Sariah was Lehi’s faithful wife who endured so much tribulation during their journey through the Arabian Peninsula. Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, who holds a PhD in Archaeology and Semitic Languages, believes that a likely Hebrew spelling of Sariah would be s’ryh and would be pronounced something like Sar-yah. The name s’ryh has been found on ancient Aramaic papyri in Egypt, dating to the time of Lehi, which was not discovered until the twentieth century. Although the language of the document is Aramaic, the name, it has been shown, is Hebrew. Non-Mormon scholars have translated this part of the papyri as “Sariah daughter of Hoshea son of Harman”.

Many critics have laughed at the Book of Mormon for using “Alma” as a masculine personal name. In the United States, Alma is typically a female name of Latin origin. Alma-mater, for example, means “nourishing mother” and was used during medieval times to refer to the Virgin Mary. In the late twentieth century, however, it was found that some ancient Near Eastern documents –such as letters from Bar Kokhba and clay tablets from Ebla –contained the male name “Alma”.

With the exception of Alma, the few times that the critics have mentioned Book of Mormon names has been to ridicule them as strange and obviously created by Joseph Smith. One critic wrote: “It required something of a genius, it must be confessed, to manufacture some of the names of the Book of Mormon… names that at least have a certain syllabic jingle, if they have no meaning”. As light is shed on all areas of Book of Mormon studies, however, we gain new support for the names found in the Nephite scripture.

Many Book of Mormon names, we find, have Near Eastern parallels, several of which are Egyptian. Dr. Hugh Nibley wrote: “It should be noted that archaeology has fully demonstrated that the Israelites, then as now, had not the slightest aversion to giving their children non-Jewish names, even when those names smacked of a pagan background. Recently discovered ancient manuscripts who that many Jews in the days of Lehi names their children after Egyptian hero kings of the past.

For a time, Mormon scholars were confused as to why the Book of Mormon does not include a single name containing the element of Baal, which is so common in the Old Testament. The recent discovery of the Elephantine papyrus from Egypt shows that Israelites eliminated all names with Baal elements during Lehi’s day. Of the over four hundred names among the Elephantine manuscripts, not one is compounded of Baal.

“It is no small feat,” writes Nibley, “simply to have picked a lot of strange and original names out of the air. But what shall we say of the man who was able to pick the right ones?”.

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.

RiseUp Podcast: Overcoming Struggles and Doubts

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Jimmy Carpenter gives some personal insights as well as quotes from Elder D. Todd Christofferson, President Uchtdorf, President Monson, and Elder Ridd of the Young Men’s General Presidency. These insights address the idea that we all face struggles and doubts, but there are ways to prepare yourself for those times, as well as provide insights on the best ways to be patient in studying the gospel and finding answers to doubts.

The RiseUp Podcast is designed to offer answers to difficult or critical questions young adults have about LDS Church teachings or cultural practices. Feel free to ask questions about this episode or other topics in the comments section of this post @ blog.fairmormon.org, or email.

Articles of Faith 14: Mormon Women Stand – Defending Prophetic Authority

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Kathryn-Skaggs

Kathryn Skaggs is the founder, and Angela Fallentine the co-founder of the Mormon Women Stand Website and Mormon Women Stand Facebook Page—an effort that focuses its efforts on defending the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it’s leaders and its teachings by using a united voice of faithful women from the Church.

Kathryn Skaggs is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She took the Ann Romney approach to womanhood by staying home and raising her children, and making no apologies for doing so. Her online efforts started in 2008 with the blog A Well Behaved Mormon Woman where she shares her voice on a variety of social issues.

Angela grew up in Alberta Canada, and later attended Rick’s College/BYU Idaho, and Utah State UAngela-Fallentineniversity with a degree in Journalism with an emphasis in public relations and corporate communications. After graduating she interned for the Church Public Affairs Office and also worked for the Church’s Office of International and Governmental affairs in Washington D.C.

Both are here today to talk about what it means to be a voice on the internet, more specifically a female voice on the internet and the opportunities that effort has in sustaining Church leaders and furthering church dialogue online.

Questions we address in this interview: We are here (being recorded) at the Provo City library because you are both in town for BYU’s Education Week. How has your experience been so far?

In what ways does attending this conference help you in your efforts as a voice online in defense of the gospel and the church.

You have a combined effort that you co-founded, Mormon Women Stand. Was this a response to something in particular, the ground up inspiration to add your voice to the discourse online?

How and why is MWS different? (how many people involved and what is your audience?)

Who is the intended audience of your work with MWS?

There is an article posted on the Mormon Women Stand website entitled Chipping Away at Priesthood Authority of Mormon Prophets to Undermine Faith. This was written by Angela, but I was told by Kathryn that she shares your words. While neither of you have been guilty of too much subtlety when it comes to your online articles, I am sure the title is a bit of a giveaway, what is the genesis of the article?

The warning that you give in the article is that we need to give care and attention to the idea that the more we seek out the faults of our leaders, and they will be found as all of them will have them, the more we give place for discord, for distancing ourselves from orthodoxy. Is that accurate? What then is the remedy as many will say that there is nothing wrong with becoming aware of even the self proclaimed faults of the leaders themselves?

You give a statement in the article that might come across as strongly worded so I want to give you the opportunity to develop it further, “Is it wrong to speak ill or critically of church leaders or of a talk they give in General Conference? Yes. How serious is speaking and writing against the leaders of the Church? Very serious.”

You give in support of the thesis and title of your article, a quote from Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Criticism is particularly objectionable when it is directed toward Church authorities, general or local. Jude condemns those who ‘speak evil of dignities.’ (Jude 1:8.) Evil speaking of the Lord’s anointed is in a class by itself. It is one thing to depreciate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or depreciate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true. … When we say anything bad about the leaders of the Church, whether true or false, we tend to impair their influence and their usefulness and are thus working against the Lord and His cause.”

You encounter people everyday leaving comments on your articles and your accompanying Facebook posts. You are actively engaged in online discussion, which leads me to Elder Bednar’s talk here at Education Week regarding the proper use and role of social media online. In what ways has that presentation effected you, in what ways might you change and in what ways did you find yourselves affirmed by his presentation?

 

Kathryn Skaggs is the founder and Angela Fallentine the co-founder of Mormon Women Stand, found at mormonwomenwomenstand.com.

 

 

Book Review: “Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact”

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Neylan McBaine is one of several notable and thoughtful participants in the conversation that has been taking place about the roles and situation of women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Her soon-to-be-released book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact, is both a tremendous synopsis of that conversation for those who are still trying to get a handle on its many facets and a valuable and constructive contribution in its own right. Sister McBaine is the founder of the Mormon Women Project, which collects stories of LDS women for the purpose of celebrating and highlighting their lives, accomplishments, and contributions, a worthy goal in a church that celebrates that which is of good report and praiseworthy, but also a worthy goal for one interested in better understanding the human condition.

Her book draws upon a wide variety of sources. I saw mention of most of the major discussants, a host of more minor ones, and many individual women and men who shared their experiences navigating the labyrinth of gender relations in the relative privacy of their own lives. Apart from merely having a large pool of sources from which to draw experience and wisdom, this book also accomplishes a measure of balance. The author explains both sides of many of the issues in LDS gender relations in terms proponents of each position will likely relate to. Thus people with a variety of opinions will be both informed and challenged by this book. The author also presents some challenging perspectives. Not all of her anecdotes end well. But this also plays the important role of highlighting the real human lives and souls that are at stake in the effort to live our religion in a truly thoughtful, inclusive, and Christ-like manner. Though the book contains a number of stories that are necessarily sorrowful, the book maintains a genuinely hopeful tone of focused optimism. This is not a book that should leave people depressed or hopeless, but instead give them perspective and ideas for how to improve.

For me personally, this book succeeded in accomplishing several important things. It helped me understand some of the more common or characteristic sources of frustration. It convinced me that having sisters more visible is important for spiritual reasons beyond any worldly arguments that may exist for it. And it helped reinforce my confidence that our leaders are working to improve these situations, and that there is significant scope for us to work for better relationships within the scope of our own stakes, wards, and branches.

Why is it important for women (or any sort of person, really) to be visible to others? In reading this book, a few reasons become apparent. One that the author brings up is that the process of creation necessarily involves models. When God created the earth, those creations were “spiritually, before they were naturally upon the face of the earth.” And it makes sense for us to desire models to use to form our own worlds as well. Jesus, who also famously counseled that we should do our alms in secret, commanded the disciples to “let your light so shine before this people, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (3 Nephi 12:16). While on the surface these two directives appear to be at variance, the principle appears to be that we are not rewarded of God for self-aggrandizement and seeking the praise of the world, but we nevertheless help to glorify God when our example teaches others how to succeed in living in accordance with His plan. Not every woman’s path will look the same, and it is important to have women who represent the variety of possible righteous lives visible so that others seeking to find a righteous example upon which to pattern a faithful life in their own circumstances can have the undergirding benefit of an example. The life of faith is one of challenges, but challenges that need not be encountered alone and without a map.

Turning attention to some of the means the author proposes for providing female role models, one of the most encouraging points she brings up is the fact that many of the practices that could be adopted to provide visibility to women on a local scale are already being modeled by our general leaders. She notes the recent deliberate inclusion of women auxiliary leaders in prominent positions in the seating arrangements for General Conference, as well as their inclusion in the Conference Ensign center sheets showing general leaders. Of particular interest in this last conference is a talk by Linda S. Reeves dealing with protecting the home from pornography. This talk sets a strong example of a general leader speaking to the whole church, just as one giving a talk in sacrament meeting (who likely holds some particular stewardship in the ward) speaks by default to the whole group rather than only those who they are assigned to serve in some particular capacity. This was further driven home by her choosing to address what has traditionally been thought of as a male problem, though participation by either gender is thoroughly unfortunate.

This idea of leaders speaking to the needs of the whole church rather than just one particular subset of it is further amplified in the council setting. In a ward council, the sisters who preside over the auxiliary organizations are asked to share their insights and inspiration on all matters that come before the council. The inspiration of these sister leaders is then able to benefit the entire ward body. When all functions properly, input from sisters functions on an equal footing with input from the brothers in the ward. This practice has likewise been modeled at the general level. Sister Eubank’s recent FairMormon talk included her recounting of her experiences with councils that made sure they heard and understood her insights before proceeding. Properly conducted ward councils have received strong encouragement from Elder Ballard, who has been counseling leaders to properly harness the full potential of their Ward Councils for 20 years. The more these councils fulfill their full potential, the more our sisters are able to fulfill theirs.

Neylan McBaine also discusses the great latitude that local leaders have to solve problems of visibility and recognition on the local level. She emphasizes the importance of spiritual creativity by leaders in the process. She discusses a number of approaches that have been taken with baby blessings to make sure the mother was recognized, while still keeping within the bounds of church policies. One of several discussed was inviting the mother to sit on the stand at the meeting where the blessing occurred so that she had a good view of the ordinance and so that she could be seen and receive the recognition of the congregation. A number of other good approaches were discussed. The key really does seem to be in spiritual creativity, and a willingness to explore ways to include and recognize the real and significant contributions and accomplishments of women. There is enough space within the church policies for these things to happen, if people are willing to experiment a bit, be patient with one another, and withhold judgment.

Another area where she identified possibilities for women to contribute is the sacrament. Apparently, (something I was less aware of before reading this book) women have historically provided bread for the sacrament, and any way you look at it, purchasing Wonder Bread is an assignment not strictly necessitating priesthood authority. Reading the beautiful account of a sister who prepared the sacramental bread, I couldn’t help recalling that the bread represented the flesh of the savior, and that, indeed, that flesh was molded and formed and prepared by a woman. Inviting then the Lord’s handmaids to provide the bread might even enhance the meaning of the ordinance and at the same time highlight one of the most uniquely key and feminine contributions to the salvific history of the human family.

The insights shared in this review are a very small sampling of what one person got out of a remarkably thoughtful book. Anyone that would like to get up to date on the conversation about women in the Church of Jesus Christ should locate a copy of it immediately. I’d loan you mine (with a deposit), but I am but one man with but one copy. If you’d like, though, this is important enough of a book that we have them available for preorder at the FairMormon bookstore at a bit of a discount. The author was kind enough to personalize my copy while I was at the FairMormon Conference, where she received the FairMormon Award of Excellence. She wrote, “With hope in the future.” This book gives me a lot of reasons for hope.

Fair Issues 63: The tree of life and the Book of Mormon

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MAAs we begin our final discussion about the tee of life and the Book of Mormon, I quote the words of C. Wilfred Griggs, professor of ancient scripture: “The Book of Mormon brought the tree of life to our attention long before modern scholarship revealed how common the tree was in ancient history.  The symbol of that tree pervades the art and literature of every Mediterranean culture from centuries before the time of Lehi until well after the time of Moroni.  This fact, and the fact that Lehi and Nephi portrayed the spiritual meaning of that symbol much the same way other ancient cultures portrayed it, demonstrates that the Book of Mormon is an ancient text, not an invention of the 19th-century social milieu.”

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

 

Truth, Subjectivity, and History

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scripture-study-243080-galleryWritten by Stephen Trayner

I was recently drawn into a fascinating discussion of truth and history. I have always loved history. In part, my love of history led to my study of political science and a career in law. A recent online post I read started with an invitation to learn the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have read posts of others questioning, “How can a person can be active in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in view of the history of the Church and the different beliefs held and practiced by the Church?”

I have spent the majority of my life investigating, researching, sorting through, and evaluating “facts.” John Adams stated, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” I too have found facts, including historical facts, to be stubborn things. It has been my professional experience that witnesses to events sometimes misperceive, mis-recall, and even misstate facts for a variety of reasons. I have seen witnesses testify under oath inconsistently with one another, both claiming to have seen and recalled an event. Likewise, I have had witnesses, who after the passage of time, recall events memorialized in photographs and contemporary documents in a manner inconsistent with that unquestioned photographic and documentary proof.

The philosopher Voltaire assailed history as being “a pack of lies we play upon the dead.” While Voltaire’s view may be extreme, it is clear that an element of subjectivity is inherent in investigating and retelling history. Subjectivity may also play a role in our study of history, despite the reader/investigator’s best intentions and desires. The student of history may unconsciously allow the present to influence his or her knowledge or interpretation of past historical events. (An interesting article on the problem of bias in the study of history can be found online.)

Knowing the inherent limitations in the recording (and studying) of the history, including the true and unbiased context in which past events may have occurred, religious scholarship and discipleship often require consideration of and sifting through potentially contravening and contradictory evidence. To find eternal truths, especially historical religious truths, the seeker or disciple must turn to the Author of truth, knowing that He will give knowledge to all men liberally in response to the proper exercise of faith and study.

The seeker of eternal truths soon understands that His ways are not necessarily our ways, nor our thoughts, His thoughts. At times, we may struggle to understand how a loving God could send floods to cover the earth, plagues to afflict the disobedient, direct His chosen leaders to take multiple wives, or order the death of evil men. At times, we may struggle to understand how the use of spittle could restore the sight of one who was blind (Mark 8:22–25), how Jordan’s waters could heal the leper (2 Kings 5), or how the mere touch of the hem of His garment could heal the infirm (Matthew 9:20–22). We may even struggle to understand the importance of His teaching to Thomas, “blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29). Faith is often born as we ”learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you” (source). He encourages us to “dispute not” in part because we often do not receive a witness of the truth until after the trial of our faith (Ether 12:6). Having spent a lifetime in search of religious truth based upon facts and the Spirit, I think it is fair to say that the Church and faithful third parties have provided well researched and scholarly responses to each of the matters currently in discussion and debate. History is not to be feared. History can and does build faith.

The Church in recent months has addressed a number of doctrinal and historical issues raised in recent years concerning variety of topics largely by those openly opposed to the Church. The Church’s responses are found in its “Gospel Topics” website. While detractors may choose to assert that such statements are evidence of a “cover up,” others may rightfully assert that such official statements are merely the result of a need to address clear and unequivocal falsehoods which have been raised and disseminated against the Church on a broad scale due to the influence of the Internet.

Some may ask, “Why would God allow such claims to be so prevalent in our day? Why would God allow His work to be opposed by such vocal and persistent voices of dissent and doubt?” I think there are reasons for this. As darkness approaches and as dissenting voices ring out, we must turn to Him for understanding and truth. Ultimately a testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ comes down to one’s testimony and conversion born of the Holy Ghost. The Savior’s ministry was notable for open and fierce opposition to Him personally as well as His teachings. The Lord’s people and His servants have always been the object of false persecution and claims. His ways were not the ways of the people of His day. His teachings were not well accepted by the masses. Some even questioned his history. Many asked, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? and are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him” (Mark 6:3).

Such opposing forces led directly to His crucifixion and the persecution of His early church, its teachings, its leaders, and its members. The world soon fell into a great apostasy and spiritual darkness. The world rejected the Light of the world. I testify that the ensuing darkness was not dispelled until the spring of 1820 when He answered a young boy’s prayer and the work of the restoration of His truths, priesthood authority, and Church commenced anew. That boy, Joseph Smith, became God’s prophet. Even after the restoration of His gospel in these modern days, similar forces continue to oppose God’s truths, Church, and people.

Faith is a personal matter between God and each and every one of His children. I choose to believe. I have felt His spirit bear witness to my soul of the truthfulness of my beliefs. I know His Son lives and is my Redeemer. His truths set me free each day. I pray for those who stumble in darkness, those whose faith and light may be weak, and those whose faith once bright has faltered. I pray for those who choose not to believe. They are my brothers and sisters.
I bear my witness that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is God’s kingdom here on earth and is led by a living prophet. Christ stands at the head of His Church today. His invitation to all to come unto Him has not and will not change.

I close with the words of one of His modern day Apostles, which I know to be true. Elder Russell M. Nelson said, “Even more amazing than modern technology is our opportunity to access information directly from heaven, without hardware, software, or monthly service fees. It is one of the most marvelous gifts the Lord has offered to mortals. It is His generous invitation to ‘ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’”

This timeless offer of personal revelation is extended to all of His children. It almost sounds too good to be true. But it is true!

The God-Science Conundrum (Part 1)

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt would be so easy if science could prove religion in our quest for truth, and vice versa. Many people hold tenaciously to one or the other and won’t allow for even the slightest deviation in what they believe. Sadly, by doing so, they miss out on incredible possibilities that could broaden their understanding and illuminate truths that are right at their fingertips. The more study we put into this God-science conundrum, the more we discover that the two really do go hand in hand. They provide more harmony than dissonance and in those areas where it may appear that neither side has a conclusive answer, there is enough agreement to maintain a working symbiosis.

The Savior said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). Science and religion can actually harmonize because both involve a spirit of inquiry that seeks out truth. Since the gospel welcomes and incorporates all truth, both science and religion have important roles in separating fact from fantasy.

God’s counsel to Joseph Smith opened a world of resources for learning truth: “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand; of things both in heaven and in the earth and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must shortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the nations, and the judgments which are upon the land; and a knowledge also of countries and of kingdoms” (D&C 88:78-79).

Other prophets also have taught this principle. Brigham Young said, “All wisdom, and all the arts and sciences in the world are from God, and are designed for the good of his people.”[i] He also reminded us that we are obligated and indebted to God for the benefits that flow to us from the truths He has revealed, whether “scientific or religious.”[ii] President Harold B. Lee stated, “All truths, whether called science or religion, or philosophy, come from a divine source.”[iii] President Spencer W. Kimball said modern scientific findings “harmonize with revelation through the ages.”[iv] He also said, “No conflict exists between the gospel and any truth … All true principles are a part of the gospel of Jesus Christ. There is no principle that we need to fear.”[v] President Ezra Taft Benson once stated that Mormons “have no fear that any discovery of new truths will ever be in conflict with … any fundamental basic principle which we advocate in the Gospel.” He affirmed his comfort with “any new truths, whether discovered in the laboratory, through the research of the scientist, or whether revealed from heaven through prophets of God.”[vi]

It is clear that God sees no conflict in putting science and scholarship right alongside revelation and spirituality in establishing truth. It is also clear that mankind has assimilated elements of science over time in a kind of evolution of belief.

History shows us that flanking even the most rudimentary discoveries in science since early man, is evidence of various cultures in worship of a deity. Ancient Egyptians held such strong belief in their gods that they built massive pyramids to honor them. Ancient Greeks worshipped Zeus, early Romans worshipped Jupiter, and the Aztecs in Mexico offered human sacrifice to keep their god happy. Today, Hindus believe in the triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva; Islamic theology espouses Allah as being above all comprehension; and of course, Christians worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and view him as the only true God.

Though only a few are mentioned here, the list of deities today and throughout history is enormous, to say the least. Why is that? What is it that pushes humans to seek out and ultimately devote their lives to a supreme being they can’t even see? Some argue that the ancients believed in a God because their limited world view and sometimes barbaric lifestyles easily led them to Pagan-type ideologies. In today’s modern world with its ever accelerating technological advances and scientific breakthroughs, some find it ludicrous that people still believe in a Supreme Being.

Those who adopt science as their main purveyor of truth simply can’t understand why any intelligent, rationally thinking person would continually look to the supernatural for answers to their existence. They can’t grasp why people so tenaciously hope that things they can’t see are nevertheless true. Could it be that we humans have always gravitated toward God because we are connected to him as his children? Could it be that as God’s literal offspring, we have a spark of the divine that makes us long for the filial connection we once had and a desire to find our way back home? Could it be that the longing, yearning, all-consuming need to know God is not because we are delusional people who need some outside support to get through life, but because we are connected like an umbilical cord to a Heavenly Father who loves us?

Atheists often suggest that belief in God exists to bridge the gap between what we can understand about life and what we can’t. They purport our use of religion is a crutch to help us limp through life, buoy ourselves up, and give our lives meaning. Science, they say, can now explain what has historically been inexplicable. Those gaps in information and evidence that supported the need for a belief in God in times past have now been filled, making a belief in God superfluous. And while this argument may seem logical on its face, scientists are usually the first to say they don’t know everything.

Historically, many scientists actually held a strong belief in God because they grew to acknowledge a spiritual element to the universe. Even Albert Einstein, one of the greatest minds of all time, couldn’t completely disavow the notion of God. While developing his general theory of relativity, his calculations led him to draw only one conclusion—there had to be a beginning. (Later, Hubble discovered the universe was expanding, which further verified this requirement for a beginning). This troubled Einstein because it meant the universe and all that it holds must have been created by a deity, something he had always rejected. Ultimately, he became a deist—a believer in an impersonal creator God, who “did not concern himself with fates and actions of human beings.”[vii]

The atheist, or just the simple Doubting Thomas who would like to believe in his heart of hearts, is sometimes duped into thinking the scientific method is the only way to investigate, research, and find truth. They limit their quest to only what they can see and touch. We can’t see and touch gravity. We can’t see and touch thoughts. We can’t see and touch atoms, yet we know through evidence that each of these things is real.

Think about it. For God to create the vast expanse of the universe, he, himself, would have had to exist far beyond the limitations of his creation and the science associated with it. Therefore, in our efforts to find him, we would likewise need to look beyond the laws of physics for more cosmic measuring devices that could lead to his doorstep.

Consider the account of Korihor in Alma 30, who antagonistically argued against the existence of God in the Book of Mormon. Gerald Lund, LDS author (Work and the Glory series), Church Education System director, and former General Authority, put it this way:

Korihor will consider only evidence that can be gathered through the senses. In such a system, it is much easier to prove there is a God than to prove there is not a God. To prove there is a God, all it takes is for one person to see, hear, or otherwise have an experience with God, and thereafter the existence of God cannot be disproved. But here is what it would take to prove there is no God:

“Since God is not confined to this earth, we would have to search throughout the universe for him. We assume God is able to move about, so it would not be enough to start at point A in the universe and search through to point Z. What if after we leave point A, God moves there and stays there for the rest of the search? In other words, for Korihor to say that there is no God, based on the very criteria he himself has established, he would have to perceive every cubic meter of the universe simultaneously. This creates a paradox: In order for Korihor to prove there is no God, he would have to be a god himself! Therefore, in declaring there is no God, he is acting on faith, the very thing for which he so sharply derides the religious leaders!”[viii]

It’s an astoundingly complex topic and one in which volumes of literature have barely scratched the surface. After pouring through these volumes, it’s easy to conclude there is no way to prove or disprove the existence of God using empirical scientific methods. This methodology excludes anything that cannot be tested with our five senses. But while there is no scientific proof of God’s existence, there certainly is an abundance of evidence—evidence that can create fertile ground for a seed of faith to be planted and nourished (see Alma 32).

From a biblical perspective, God has not left us alone and without verification of his divine signature all around us. In fact, we learn that the world is replete with evidence of God, so much so that we are “without excuse” if we reject him (Romans 1:19-20). Paul said to “prove all things,” (1 Thessalonians. 5:21), and to use reasoning instead of blind faith in matters of God and his plan of salvation (Acts 18:4, 19). In essence, though we can’t see God, he is evident in every facet of life. In any court of law when there is no smoking gun, a preponderance of evidence will provide a conviction every time. It is that kind of evidence that helps establish the groundwork for the existence of God and the restored gospel.

As we explore the evidence of creation, we should understand that it is not only acceptable, but also beneficial, to look at science as a way of adding beauty and clarity to gospel doctrine. Evidence is always a great defender of truth by pointing out error, and provides broader meaning and perspective for the honest seeker of truth. Elder Neal A. Maxwell counseled that learning through discoveries would help “make plain and plausible what the modern prophets have been saying all along.”[ix] President Gordon B. Hinckley said that evidence derived from scientific and historical research can “be helpful to some” and “confirmatory.”[x]

It’s the melding of research with revelation that provides the confirmatory weight so many of us need for faith to flourish. Until we accept how interlocked science and theology are, even the explosion of information we enjoy today as compared with the ancients, will not be enough to provide sufficient answers to many of our questions. It’s amazing what we know, but equally amazing what we don’t know. As predicted by Paul, we are truly “ever learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 3:7).

In our quest to meld what we know through science with the restored gospel, it’s important to acknowledge scholars are continually learning about our world. What was once considered truth in science in the past is often disproved as new information is discovered. As Christians, and Mormons in particular, we are instructed to seek out and embrace truth wherever we find it. But if scientists go beyond or fall short of what they can actually prove, we are not obligated to buy into their theories.

Some Church members may have no interest in what these secular experts have to say because their faith is sufficient the way it is. But others who grapple with the very existence of God will be keenly attentive to scientific and historical findings because their faith may require the added value of physical evidence. There’s nothing wrong with this, and in fact, great blessings will surely come to anyone who sincerely seeks out God and Christ wherever they may be found.

–Notes–

[i] Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, John A. Widtsoe (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1966), 247.

[ii] Brigham Young, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1997), 17.

[iii] Harold B. Lee, Life under Control, Brigham Young University commencement speech, June 4, 1951, L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 19.

[iv] Spencer W. Kimball, Modern Scientific Findings Harmonize with Revelation through the Ages (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1962).

[v] Edward L. Kimball, ed., The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1982), 391.

[vi] Ezra Taft Benson, Conference Report, April 1958, 60.

[vii] Walter Isaacson, Einstein: His Life and Universe. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2008), 388-389.

[viii] Gerald Lund, “Countering Korihor’s Philosophies,” Ensign, July 1992, online at https://www.lds.org/ensign/1992/07/countering-korihors-philosophy?lang=eng.

[ix] Neal A. Maxwell, Deposition of a Disciple (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1976), 16.

[x] Gordon B. Hinckley, Faith: The Essence of True Religion (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 10.

4th Watch 16: A Broken Vessel – What is clinical depression?

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4thWatch SmallBrother Ned returns to his podcast after recovering from what he refers to as “minor heart surgery.”  In this episode he talks about how our health, both physical and mental can affect our understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and our relationships.  Having lived with clinical depression for most of his adult life he is well acquainted with this affection and the suffering this serious condition can cause.

In the October 2013 general conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints brother Jeffery R. Holland of the quorum of the twelve apostles gave a talk titled “Like a broken Vessel.”  Brother Scarisbrick bases much of this podcast on Elder Holland’s counsel given in this talk and the hope we have in God’s eternal love for all His children.

A basic explanation of cognitive behavioral therapy as talked about in this podcast can be found here.

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

 

 

 

Faith and Reason 17: “Reformed Egyptian”

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                             The Amherst Papyrus The Amherst Papyrus

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

by Michael R. Ash

Near the beginning of the Book of Mormon, Nephi tells his readers that the record was written in “the language of my father, which consists of the learning of the Jews and the language of the Egyptians” (1 Nephi 1:2) Critics have asserted for years that there is no such thing as reformed Egyptian, and even if there were, devout Israelites such as Lehi would not have written scripture in a pagan Egyptian script but would have only used Hebrew.

Nearly fifty years ago, Hugh Nibley showed that the Egyptian culture played an influential role in seventy century BC Palestine –primarily in the area of culture and language. Modern studies verify that Nibley was right. Recently rediscovered writings from approximately Lehi’s day tell us that Jews and other foreigners were all instructed in the language of Egypt. We now know of other Hebrew and Aramaic texts –such as Papyrus Amherst 63 –that were written in Egyptian characters.

Also discovered a decade ago, were ancient potsherds from Lehi’s vicinity and time, that contained a script composed of a modified form of Egyptian hieroglyphics. This script was used almost exclusively by Israel and not any of the neighboring communities. Some Near Eastern scholars now believe that scribes and students in Lehi’s day were trained in both Hebrew and Egyptian writing systems.

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.