Elder Jeffrey R. Holland Addresses Religious Persecution Conference in the UK

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Elder Jeffrey R. Holland addresses humanitarians, scholars, faith and government leaders at a conference sponsored by the AMAR Foundation at Windsor Castle in the United Kingdom titled “Religious Persecution: The Driver for Forced Migration.”

Details about the address can be found on the Mormon Newsroom website.

 

The Historical Jesus

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You may have heard discussions about the historical Jesus and wondered exactly what that term means. This episode explores the use of the phrase and why studying the New Testament differently can help us discover the Jesus of history.

Often we concentrate our study of the New Testament on the teachings and ministry of Jesus, but there is value in studying the historical Jesus. Do we sometimes forget he was a man who lived over 2000 years ago in Palestine? Do we think about what kind of clothes he wore? Were they the same or different than those commonly portrayed in portraits? Does what he was wearing tell us anything about Jesus as a man or lend understanding to the stories of the miracles of Jesus? Biblical historians believe it does. These are the things that made Jesus a man living in his time who accomplished the miraculous.

In the past, the Gospels of the evangelists have often been taught through harmonization or the comparing of each authors’ telling of a miracle, parable, or event in the life of Jesus. But when we homogenize, we lose the voice of each author who had a distinct story to tell to a specific audience. Matthew was Jewish and wrote to the Jews. Luke was a gentile and fashioned his narrative for a gentile audience. Their different presentations lend richness and diversity to the telling of a common story, while sometimes even correcting prior writings.

In this episode, Dr. Thomas Wayment chats with Laura Harris Hales about the value of looking for the historical Jesus in our study of the New Testament.

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This podcast is presented in partnership with LDS Perspectives Podcast. Additional resources on the historical Jesus can be found on the LDS Perspectives website.

Yongsung Kim painted the featured cover art. You may purchase this picture at Foundation Arts.

 

Will You Engage in the Wrestle?

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“Questions are not just good, they are vital, because the ensuing spiritual wrestle leads to answers, to knowledge, and to revelation. And it also leads to greater faith” –Sheri Dew

From a BYU Idaho Devotional on May 17, 2016

It is a privilege to be here-especially with President and Sister Gilbert. They are dear friends and remarkable exemplars. Now, we are not here today to listen to me speak. We are here to receive revelation. I invite you to invite the Holy Ghost to speak to you so that you hear what you need to hear.

A couple of years ago a reporter from an international broadcasting network visited Salt Lake City researching a story on women in the Church. She was intrigued that a female was leading a Church-owned media company and asked me for an interview.

I liked this reporter. She’d done her homework and asked good questions, though one of them was predictable: “How do you feel about not being eligible for priesthood ordination?” I outlined the extensive leadership opportunities women have in the Church and then explained that, as a woman endowed with power in the temple, I had complete access to God’s power-or priesthood power-for my own life. And I explained that my focus had long been on learning how to gain full access to that power.

She paused and then asked: “Are you saying that you believe you have more access to God’s power than I do?”

What a loaded question! My brain began to spin in search of a truthful but politically correct answer. But I couldn’t bring myself to sell our doctrine or our privileges as women short. So finally I said, “Well, actually …yes.”

“Now, do not misunderstand what I’m saying,” I quickly added. “I am not saying the Lord loves me more than He loves you or that I’m better than you. I’m not saying that He is more likely to bless me than you. But if you’re asking if I believe I have greater access to God’s power than you do, the answer is yes! That is one of the blessings of joining this Church. We believe that when we make promises to God to follow His Son, He in turn makes promises to us. And one of those promises is that He will give us greater access to His power.”

As I spoke, the Spirit filled the room and disarmed her. Her demeanor softened, and then she asked how the gospel affects me personally. She basically opened the door for me to testify.

I told her that Jesus Christ hasn’t just made a difference in my life, He has made all the difference. That every good thing that has ever happened to me has come because of my membership in His Church. And that I have experienced the Savior’s healing, enabling power again and again.

At that point, the Spirit flooded the room and we were both in tears. She finally said, “That is beautiful.” That day I experienced the sublime beauty of standing as a witness and bearing witness of truth.

Consider the miracle of it! Through the power of the Holy Ghost,[i] we can know what is true with enough surety to testify of truth.

We can only bear witness of what we know. We can’t testify of a wish or a hope or even a belief. We can express a hope, a wish, or a belief. But we cannot stand as witnesses of Jesus Christ unless we can bear witness of Him.[ii] We can defend the faith only if we have faith.

Our society seems determined to set aside any semblance of faith or right and wrong. But the world’s condition today is no surprise to the Lord, who told the Prophet Joseph that we are living in the “eleventh hour,” that this is the last time He will call laborers into His vineyard, and that His vineyard has become “corrupted.”[iii] But the Lord also declared that in the midst of all this moral and spiritual chaos, the fullness of His gospel would be “proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.”[iv] And He promised that if we would open our mouths, they would be filled.[v]

You and I are “the weak and the simple,” but we are not here now by accident or without the Lord’s endorsement. President George Q. Cannon taught that “because of the…magnitude of the work to be accomplished… [it] has required apparently the most valiant men and women to come forth [now]…God has reserved spirits for this dispensation who have the courage and determination to face the world and all the powers of the evil one…and [to] build up the Zion of our God fearless of all consequences.”[vi]

Make no mistake about it: You are here now because in the beginning our Father chose you to be here now. And He has hard work for you to do.

How, then, do we strengthen our faith so that we can defend the faith?

Four years ago, a marvelous young woman who had just graduated with honors from BYU called me, distraught. Through sobs she blurted, “I’m not sure I believe the Church is true anymore, and I’m scared. What if  my family isn’t going to be together forever?”

I asked, “Do you want a testimony?” “Yes,” she said.

“Are you willing to work for it?” Again, “Yes.”

And she was. She had a great bishop and an off-the-charts Relief Society president, both of whom worked with her. Friends and family came to her rescue. And she and I began to meet for gospel study sessions. I told her, “Bring your scriptures and every question you have. Questions are good. Let’s see what the Lord will teach us.”

She took me at my word and brought one thorny question after another. We searched the scriptures and the teachings of prophets for answers. Little by little, she began to realize that just because she had questions didn’t mean she didn’t have a testimony. The scriptures are filled with accounts of prophets who had questions. And she began to recognize when the Spirit was bearing witness to her-including bearing witness that prophets, seers, and revelators are truly prophets.

Her testimony began to grow, and time passed. Then about a year ago she called again. “I wanted you to be one of the first to know that I am holding in my hand a temple recommend. Will you come when I receive my endowment?” Then she added, “Do you know what you said that helped me the most? You told me that questions are good, and that allowed me to see myself as a seeker rather than a doubter.”

I was overjoyed! But two days later, I received a much different call from another BYU graduate. “Sister Dew,” she said, “before you hear it from someone else, I want you to know that I’m pregnant.” She said that for several years she had doubted the truthfulness of the gospel and had finally decided there was no reason to live the law of chastity.   

I told her that I was not her judge and that I loved her. Then I asked her if she would like to have a testimony. “No, I don’t think so,” she said.

The contrast was stunning. At about the same time, these two young women had questions that threatened their testimonies. One of them sent out a cry for help, and family, friends and leaders followed President Monson’s counsel and went to her rescue. The other girl nursed her doubt and convinced herself that her immoral choices were acceptable. I love and care about this girl. But for now, she has chosen a spiritually perilous path.

One girl’s questions propelled her to become a seeker of truth. The other girl used her questions to justify her immorality.

My dear friends, questions are good. Questions are good if they are inspired questions, asked in faith, and asked of credible sources where the Spirit will direct and confirm the answer.[vii]

Nephi asked an inspired question in faith when he asked the Lord if he could see what his father saw. The Lord responded by showing Nephi the tree of life, the iron rod, the great and spacious building and mists of darkness, and the fruit of the tree, which is “sweet above all that is sweet.”[viii]

And the vision didn’t stop there. Nephi saw the birth, ministry, and Crucifixion of the Savior. He saw the coming forth of latter-day scripture, the Restoration, and the building of latter-day Zion.

Nephi saw all this and much more, only to return to his father’s tent and find Laman and Lemuel arguing about the meaning of their father’s vision. When Nephi asked them, “Have ye inquired of the Lord?” they gave the classic response of doubters: “We have not; for the Lord maketh no such thing known unto us”-as though nothing was required of them.[ix]

None of us are entitled to revelation without effort on our part. Answers from God don’t just magically appear. If we want to grow spiritually, the Lord expects us to ask questions and seek answers. “If thou shalt ask,” He promised, “thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge….”[x] How much clearer can it be? The Lord loves inspired questions asked in faith because they lead to knowledge, to revelation, and to greater faith.  

We all have questions. Some are doctrinal, historical, or procedural. Some are intensely personal. Here are just a few of the questions men and women your age have asked me recently:

Why am I the only one in my family who struggles to believe?

Should I serve a mission if my parents don’t want me to?

Why did I spend all that time on a mission and not convert anyone?

Why can’t I find “the one?”

If I go to graduate school, will the Lord think that means I don’t want to get married? Will I be able to provide for a family today?

Will the Lord ever forgive me for breaking my covenants?

I came home early from my mission. What do I do now?

Is a prophet infallible?

Did Joseph Smith really have more than one wife?

How do I know if I’m receiving revelation?

Do I dare get serious with a guy who has struggled with pornography?

Why can’t women be ordained to the priesthood?

What if the Church’s position on gay marriage bothers me?

How do I understand the temple when I can’t ask questions about it?

May I answer these questions, and any questions you may have, by posing a question: Are you willing to engage in the wrestle? In an ongoing spiritual wrestle?

Enos described the “wrestle that he had before God to obtain a remission of his sins.”[xi]And Alma “[wrestled] with God in mighty prayer.”[xii]

Champion wrestlers tell me that it isn’t necessarily the strongest wrestler who wins. It is the wrestler who knows how to leverage his strength to overpower his opponent. Spiritual wrestling leverages the strength of true doctrine to overpower our weaknesses, our wavering faith, and our lack of knowledge. Spiritual wrestlers are seekers. They are men and women of faith who want to understand more than they presently do and who are serious about increasing the light and knowledge in their lives.

I recently engaged in a wrestle. When the policy was announced that the children of gay parents might not be eligible for baptism at age eight, I was confused. I did not question the Brethren or doubt their inspiration, but neither did I understand the doctrinal basis for the policy. So I asked the Lord to teach me. I prayed, searched the scriptures, studied the teachings of prophets, and pondered my question in the temple. This went on for several months. Then one day a colleague made a statement that sparked a new thought for me, and in that moment the Spirit illuminated the doctrine in my heart and mind. I consider that answer personal revelation and not something I should teach. Though I have wept with friends to whom this policy directly applies, the doctrine gave me peace and understanding.[xiii]

When we have unresolved questions, our challenge doesn’t lie in what we think we know. It lies in what we don’t yet know.

The Lord has promised to open the “eyes of our understandings”[xiv] and to reveal “all mysteries.”[xv] But He isn’t likely to do either of these unless we seek to know. Truman Madsen taught that he could find “nothing in the scriptures…to excuse anyone from brain sweat and from the arduous lifetime burden of seeking ‘revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge.'”[xvi] He was describing an ongoing spiritual wrestle.

The Lord wants us to ask every probing question we can muster because not asking questions can be far more dangerous than asking them.[xvii] In other words, sin makes you stupid-and so does refusing to seek after truth.

Remember my friend who thought she’d lost her testimony? Her doubt was triggered by a television drama featuring a scientist who didn’t believe in God. I said, “You mean that a fictional character fabricated by a Hollywood writer has obliterated 24 years of gospel teaching?” “But she’s so smart,” my friend said.

There have always been and will always be charismatic men and women who can launch what sound like, on the surface, reasoned arguments against the Father and the Son, the Restoration, the Prophet Joseph, the Book of Mormon, and living prophets. But doubters and pundits never tell the whole story, because they don’t know the whole story-and don’t want to know. They opt for clever sound bites, hoping no one digs deeper than they have.

Sound bites will never lead to a testimony. As seekers of truth, our safety lies in asking the right questions, in faith, and of the right sources-meaning those who only speak truth: such as the scriptures, prophets, and the Lord through the Holy Ghost.

President Spencer W. Kimball declared, “Why, oh, why do people think they can fathom the most complex spiritual depths without the necessary…work accompanied by compliance with the laws that govern it? Absurd it is, but you will…find popular personalities, who seem never to have lived a single law of God, discoursing…[about] religion. How ridiculous for such persons to attempt to outline for the world a way of life!…One cannot know God nor understand his works or plans unless he follows the laws which govern.”[xviii]

Questions are not just good, they are vital, because the ensuing spiritual wrestle leads to answers, to knowledge, and to revelation. And it also leads to greater faith.

Men and women of faith are expected to have faith. While the Lord will reveal many things to us, He has never told His covenant people everything about everything. We are admonished to “doubt not, but be believing.”[xix] But “doubting not” does not mean understanding everything.

Doubting is not synonymous with having questions. To doubt is to reject truth and faith. As covenant sons and daughters, we are required to have faith, live by faith, “ask in faith, nothing wavering,”[xx] and “overcome by faith.”[xxi] Learning by faith is as crucial as learning by study, because there are some things we cannot learn from a book.[xxii]

Elder Dallin H. Oaks underscored this truth: “[A]fter all we can publish, our members are sometimes left with basic questions that cannot be resolved by study…Some things can be learned only by faith. Our ultimate reliance must be on faith in the witness we have received from the Holy Ghost.”[xxiii]

Thus, once the Spirit has borne witness to you that God is our Father and Jesus is the Christ, that Joseph Smith was a prophet called to restore the gospel, and that we are led by a prophet today, then you know the gospel is true because the Spirit has borne witness of the foundational truths that comprise a testimony. You have a testimony!

At that point, when questions arise or when blessings you’ve been pleading for remain unfulfilled, they are not an indication that you don’t have a testimony or that the gospel isn’t true. They are an invitation for you to grow spiritually.

I repeat, once you have received a spiritual witness of the truths that form a testimony, even your thorniest questions about our doctrine, history, positions on sensitive issues, or the aching desires of your hearts, are about personal growth. They are opportunities for you to receive personal revelation and increase your faith.

We don’t have to have answers to every question in order to receive a witness, bear witness, and stand as a witness.

But questions, especially the tough ones, propel us to engage in a spiritual wrestle so that the Lord can lead us along. Without plain old spiritual work, even God can’t make us grow-or at least, He won’t.[xxiv]

My life has been filled with spiritual wrestling-not because of any great valor on my part but because I have yearned to understand why certain things were happening to me, and why others were not. For decades I have fasted, prayed and pleaded for a husband. I’ve asked who he is, where he is, and when he’s coming. As of today, I still don’t know the answer to any of those questions. But the wrestle has blessed me with the knowledge that Jesus Christ is my Savior, that His gospel is filled with power, and that God will talk to and direct me.

Growing spiritually and receiving answers to our questions depends  upon our ability to feel, hear, and understand the whisperings of the Spirit. It is worth engaging in a spiritual wrestle to learn to receive personal revelation, because we can only know what is true when the Spirit bears witness to our hearts and minds as only the Holy Ghost can.[xxv]Revelation must include both, because intellect alone cannot produce a testimony. You cannot think your way to conversion, because you cannot convince your mind of something your heart does not feel.[xxvi]

The Prophet Joseph declared that “the Holy Ghost…comprehends more than all the world”[xxvii] and that we must all “grow into the principle of revelation.”[xxviii]  And President Henry B. Eyring added: “We all know that human judgment and logical thinking will not be enough to get answers to the questions that matter most in life. We need revelation from God…We need not just one flash of light and comfort, but we need the continuing blessing of communication with God.”[xxix] Every truth-seeking member of the Church can and should be receiving revelation for his or her life.

In my early twenties, I faced a difficult decision and asked a friend for a priesthood blessing. He asked what the Lord had already told me, and I admitted that I could feel the presence of the Spirit but couldn’t discern specific revelation. He then asked if I had ever asked the Lord to teach me what it felt like when He was speaking to me? I hadn’t. But that night, I began to ask the Lord to teach me the language of revelation.

That was forty years ago, and over time I have come to know that what President Boyd K. Packer taught is true: That “if all you know is what you see with your natural eyes and hear with your natural ears, then you will not know very much.”[xxx]

Seekers have certain habits that are key to learning to communicate with God. For starters, they engage in the wrestle, meaning they work at it. They immerse themselves regularly in the scriptures, because the scriptures are the textbook for the Lord’s language. They also work to be increasingly pure-pure in their heart and thoughts, pure in what they say, watch, read, and listen to. Purity invites the Spirit. And then, pure seekers listen. One of my former institute students periodically turns everything electronic off. TV off. Music off. Phone off. Computer off. She says, “I like to let the Lord know I’m listening.”

As you cultivate these spiritual habits, there are two questions that will help open the heavens. First, ask the Lord to teach you what it feels and sounds like for you when He is speaking to you via the Holy Ghost, and then watch how He tutors you. And, second, if you’ve never asked the Lord how He feels about you, that is a great question to ask. In time, He will tell you, and as He does, you’ll learn more about speaking His language.

When the Lord sees that you want to communicate with Him, He will teach you how.

Recently, a friend working on her Ph.D. received an impression during a Relief Society conference to shift the focus of her dissertation. She also felt prompted to go directly to the temple to ask the Lord further questions. She said, “While there, I was told how to make [this new focus] work…[and] how I could be both academically unbiased and spiritually honest. I occasionally receive clear words from the Spirit, but never have I been given such clear instructions….The task ahead feels incredibly difficult, but I know what direction to go and that the Lord expects it of me, and that makes all the difference.”[xxxi]

Receiving revelation is the key to receiving answers to our questions. Joseph Smith promised that “even the least Saint may know all things as fast as he is able to bear them.”[xxxii]

My dear friends, make no mistake about it: we are here now because we’re supposed to be here now. And we each have a mission to fulfill. Part of that mission requires us to stand as witnesses of truth. And that means we must receive a witness that Jesus is the Christ and that His gospel has been restored.

I invite you to decide today that you will pay the price to wrestle with difficult questions, to become lifetime seekers of truth, to learn to speak the Lord’s language, and to receive a witness of Jesus Christ and the Restoration of His gospel.

If you will, you’ll have the privilege of helping prepare the earth for His return. You’ll be able to defend the faith because of your ever-increasing faith.

The Savior is going to come again. May we stand for Him and with Him.

Jesus is the Christ. This is His Church, and it is filled with His power. Of this I testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


[i] 1 Nephi 13:37. [ii] Further, we can only bear witness if we have received a witness from the Holy Ghost. [iii] See D&C 33:4. [iv]  See D&C 1: 23. [v] See D&C 33:8. [vi] George Q. Cannon, Gospel Truth, 1957, Deseret Book. [vii] “Searching “diligently in the light of Christ” is the only way to “know good from evil.” (Moroni 7:19.) [viii] Alma 32:42. [ix] Nephi went on to teach his brothers, “Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said?-If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive,…these things shall be made known unto you. (See 1 Nephi 15:8, 9, 11.) [x] D&C 42:61. [xi] Enos 1:2. [xii]Alma 8:10. Paul told the Ephesians that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6: 12-13.) [xiii] Look at the life of any prophet, and you’ll find lots of spiritual wrestling. Imagine the pleadings of Joseph, sold into Egypt by jealous brothers; or Brigham Young’s, as he led a band of beleaguered converts on a trek through uncharted territory to a place he’d only seen in vision.  [xiv]D&C 76: 19. [xv] See D&C 76: 7, 8. [xvi] Truman G. Madsen, Defender of the Faith, Bookcraft, 1980, 387. Elder Richard G. Scott taught that “the Lord will not force you to learn. You must exercise your agency to authorize the Spirit to teach you. (21 Principles: Divine Truths to Help you Live by the Spirit, Deseret Book, Salt Lake City.) The scriptures repeatedly urge us to “ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (See Matthew 7:7; 3 Nephi 14:7; 3 Nephi 27:29.) [xvii] The scriptures are filled with warnings like this one: “Wo be unto him that saith: We have received, and we need no more.” (2 Nephi 28:27.) The Lord also said, as a further example of this point,  “Wo unto the deaf that will not hear; for they shall perish. Wo unto the blind that will not see; for they shall perish also.” (2 Nephi 9:31-32.) A pattern of not seeking help from heaven blocks revelation and leaves a person alone with downward spiraling thoughts or seeking out like-minded doubters in the blogosphere. [xviii] Spencer W. Kimball, “Absolute Truth,” BYU Devotional, 6 September 1977, found at www://speeches.byu.edu. [xix] Mormon 9:27-28.[xx] Joseph went to the grove after reading, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God….” The very next verse admonishes us to “ask in faith, nothing wavering. (James 1: 5, 6.) [xxi] D&C 76:53. [xxii] See D&C 88:118. Faith does not stand still. It is either increasing or disappearing. As President Henry B.  Eyring has said, “Faith has a short shelf life.” (“Spiritual Preparedness: Start Early and Be Steady,” Ensign, November 2005.) [xxiii] Dallin H. Oaks, “Opposition in All Things,” April 2016 General Conference. President Harold B. Lee said something similar: “It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” (Conference Report, October 1963, 108.)   [xxiv] President Howard W. Hunter explained that “the development of spiritual capacity does not come with the conferral of authority. There must be desire, effort, and spiritual preparation. This requires, of course,…fasting, prayer, searching the scriptures, experience, meditation, and a hungering and thirsting after the righteous life.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Howard W. Hunter, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015, 82.) Sometimes we look upon those who have strong testimonies and wonder if faith somehow comes “naturally” for them. But even those blessed with the gift to believe must wrestle for revelation and greater faith. In fact, it is likely because of their challenges that their testimonies have been forged-and usually in the “furnace of affliction.” (See Isaiah 48:10.) [xxv] DYc 8:2-3. [xxvi] Abinadi told the wicked priests of King Noah that they had not applied their “hearts to understanding; therefore, ye have not been wise” (Mosiah 12:27; 13:11). King Benjamin told his people that true followers of Christ would have His name written in their hearts. (See Mosiah 5:12.) One way to know you’re receiving revelation is that you will have both clarity of thought and feel peace. [xxvii] This quote in context reads: “I have an old edition of the New Testament in the Latin, Hebrew, German and Greek languages….I thank God that I have got this old book; but I thank him more for the gift of the Holy Ghost….The Holy Ghost…comprehends more than all the world; and I will associate myself with him.” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2007, 132.) Joseph Smith also said, in a frequently quoted but important statement: “God hath not revealed anything to Joseph, but what He will make known unto the Twelve, and even the least Saint may know all things as fast he is able to bear them, for the day must come when no man need say to his neighbor, Know ye the Lord; for all shall know Him…from the least to the greatest.” (Ibid., 268.) [xxviii] Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 151. The Apostle Paul taught, “Ye may all prophesy….Covet to prophesy.” (See 1 Corinthians 14:31, 39.) [xxix]Henry B. Eyring, “Continuing Revelation,” October 2014. [xxx] As quoted by David A. Bednar, “Quick to Observe,” BYU Devotional, 10 May 2005. [xxxi] Email, Susannah Bingham Buck to SLD, 18 February 2016. [xxxii] TPJS, 149. Elder Heber C. Kimball declared that “the Church has before it many close places through which it will have to pass before the work of God is crowned with victory….The time will come when no man nor woman will be able to endure on borrowed light.” (Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball, 3d. edition, Salt Lake City, Bookcraft, 1945, 50.)   for transcript.

Book Review: A Reason for Faith: Navigating LDS Doctrine & Church History

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Available from the FairMormon bookstore at 20% off

Available from the FairMormon bookstore at 20% off

In the prologue of A Reason for Faith, the editor, Laura Hales, lays out the purpose of the book. Members of the church sometimes come across new information in an unfriendly setting that damages their faith. This book is a compilation of articles about many of the topics that are not often discussed in a church or family setting, and can be difficult to understand. They are laid out by scholars in an honest but faithful manner, and while they can’t possibly cover the topics completely in the amount of space given, they are meant to be a springboard for further study where necessary.

The first chapter is by Richard Bushman, on “Joseph Smith and Money Digging.” He recounts the history of scholarship in this area, where it was originally denied by those inside the church due to being based on accounts thought to be unreliable published by critics of the church. As he began his own research, he found evidence that convinced him that Joseph was indeed involved with folk magic and seer stones, and that these things were too common in the 19th century to invalidate Joseph’s prophetic claims or be scandalous. Continue reading

President Scott Gordon Reviews the 2016 FairMormon Conference

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FFMM

“If we can’t have a discussion, then we might as well not have a conference” –Scott Gordon

In this edition of the Mormon FairCast, President Scott Gordon reviews the 2016 FairMormon Conference held at the Utah Valley Convention Center in Provo, Utah. Gordon offers three themes from this year’s conference:

  1. Women in the church
  2. The Book of Mormon
  3. How to do apologetics

Gordon also discusses how speakers are chosen and why FairMormon invites Dr. Daniel Peterson to deliver the closing address year after year.

Gordon

President Gordon retains his belief in “Big Tent” Mormonism and says we can all be good members yet have differing opinions on topics such as feminism, Book of Mormon geography, and LGBTQ issues. Gordon says FairMormon is dedicated to standing as a witness of Christ and His restored church.

SLT

Scott Gordon has an MBA from Brigham Young University, and a BA in Organizational Communications from BYU. He is currently an instructor of business and technology at Shasta College in Redding, California. Scott has held many positions in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints including serving as a bishop for six years. He is married and has five children.

Julianne Dehlin Hatton  is the recipient of FairMormon’s 2016 John Taylor Defender of the Faith Award. She has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, Television Host, and Airborne Traffic Reporter. She graduated 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.

The Probability of Mormonism as Divine

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FAIRMormon welcomes Paul Brooks as a guest blogger.

Paul is from the United Kingdom, runs the website reasonablemormon.com and volunteers at Book of Mormon Central. For a good example of the use of Bayesian analysis in apologetics see G. Bruce Schaalje.

The Probability of Mormonism as Divine

A review

Introduction

“The Probability of Mormonism as Divine” (authored by R. Keith Widdowson and published by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform) uses the Bayesian probability theory to mathematically assess the hypothesis “Mormonism is divine.” The book concludes that the primary hypothesis has a 30% probability of being true.

The first thing to note is that this level of probability is described as not being worthy of abandoning belief:

According to my findings, given our current state of knowledge, it would be reasonable to be a Mormon believer (1).

Naturally when using Bayes’ Theorem, there is a huge amount of subjective scoring involved. Over the course of the methodology used in the book, over 400 individual scores/decisions are made which all contribute to the final probability.

The two-stage mathematical process used to arrive at the conclusion is well documented and the calculations are all correct, but unfortunately I found the final probability was made quite unreliable due to:

  1. The sub-hypotheses selected
  2. The scoring criteria selected
  3. The evidence selected and conclusions drawn
  4. The characteristics of God selected

Each of these will be discussed below. Continue reading

The Critic’s Big List of Problems

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by Michael R. Ash

hands-computer-828898-galleryAny member who has undergone a faith crisis knows that there are many critics on the Internet who are happy to share a Big List of Mormon Problems to help facilitate one’s exit from the Church. These lists can serve as the catalyst for the initial testimony damage, or contribute the final straw in a “death by a thousand cuts” (the “Big List of Mormon Problems” is not the real name of any list but designates features which all of these lists have in common).

Such lists have been around long before the Internet was invented but received limited interest and distribution. While some of the works found their way into member or investigator homes, in the hands of missionaries, or even in local libraries, much of the material was picked up only by those critics or LDS apologists (defenders) who found the topics interesting.

Today, however, anyone can create a quick Big List of Mormon Problems, convert it to a pdf, and post it on-line. Depending on the creator’s writing abilities and social networking skills, a well-written piece by an outgoing author could quickly attain viral status. Continue reading

The Courage of Our Convictions: Embracing Mormonism in a Secular Age

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Patrick Mason’s presentation from the 2016 FairMormon Conference. The transcript can be viewed here.

You can purchase access to the rest of the conference videos here.


Patrick Q. Mason holds the Howard W. Hunter Chair in Mormon Studies at Claremont Graduate University, where he is also an associate professor of religion and chair of the Religion Department. After earning his BA in History from Brigham Young University, he attended the University of Notre Dame where he earned an MA in International Peace Studies and PhD in History. He is the author, editor, or co-editor of several books, including most recently Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt (Deseret Book and Neal A. Maxwell Institute), Out of Obscurity: Mormonism since 1945 (Oxford University Press), Directions for Mormon Studies in the Twenty-First Century (University of Utah Press), and later this fall an introductory college textbook called What Is Mormonism? (Routledge). A frequently sought-after expert on Mormonism and religion in American life, Mason has appeared in numerous media outlets including National Public Radio, the Today Show, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Huffington Post. He lives in Claremont, California, with his wife Melissa and their four children.

Faith and Reason 76: Deification

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

by Michael R. Ash

Joseph Smith taught that we are of the same lineage and race of God. As God’s children, we have the potential to reach spiritual maturity and become like him. Most other Christians are shocked or outraged at such a suggestion. But this is what the scriptures tell us. The Psalmist wrote: “Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High” (Psalms 82:6). Many ancient Christians in the primitive Church also understood that we are to follow Christ’s example in a literal sense. Gregory of Nazianus taught: “I may become God to the same extent as He became man”. Likewise, the early Christian Irenaeus wrote that Jesus Christ became “what we are, that He might bring us to be even what He is Himself”. Even as late as the early part of the fourth century, Athanasius said that Christ “was made man that we might be made God”.

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 has worked as a News Director at an NPR affiliate, News Anchor, 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.

Glamis Castle Scotland

Charity Never Faileth

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And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity[1]

Last month, I had the pleasure of meeting with members in Norway, Sweden, and Scotland. I met with members who had strong testimonies, members who were struggling, and members who no longer believe. It was a wonderful experience, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Ok, almost every minute. There were some moments of being a bit uncomfortable in a discussion or two. But, by and large, I really enjoyed it.

With that in mind, I would like to tell you about my interaction with some of the Saints in Scotland. I loved my time in the Nordic countries as well, but I can only talk about one thing at a time. In Scotland, I met with three different stakes. I was really impressed that all of the stake presidents were kind and really cared about all of their people. They loved them. That came across strongly in their words and actions.

In two of the stakes, the Stake presidents had me meet with members who had concerns about the Church. [2]

Now, first of all, it is difficult to put a label on these members. We love to put labels on people. We routinely talk about active and less-active members in our wards. We sometimes even talk about faithful, or less faithful. I have heard labels such as disaffected, discouraged, or in extreme cases disloyal. I don’t think any of those labels apply perfectly to the individuals that I met with, and certainly the word disloyal would not apply at all. The best label I could have would be brothers and sisters in the Gospel who have concerns. Yes, some of them no longer attend church, but all of them wanted things to be better.

In my first meeting, I was one-on-one with a member who attends church but has questions.[3] He had spent significant time reading most of the Websites that FairMormon spends time responding to. In other words, they were Websites that I wouldn’t recommend for people who are interested in becoming and remaining faithful. But, the man was a lovely man. A wonderful man. A man whom I hope I can now count as my friend. His questions were not a burden or a problem. He wanted answers. He had been unable to find them. He had read some responses, but didn’t find them all persuasive. This made him concerned. He saw value in the Church, and value in FairMormon. He saw value in his family attending church. He made helpful suggestions.  We left with him giving me a list of concerns and me promising to read them all carefully. At this point, I have been really busy catching up at work, but I have read some of them and intend to read and examine all of them.

In the second meeting I walked in and found 15 to 20 (I didn’t count) people sitting there, most of them having significant questions about the Church. While things were a bit tense at first, after we got to know each other better, it became more of an exchange of experiences. Things became much more relaxed. As we were talking, I saw that these were good people. Salt-of-the-earth people. People who I would truly value and cherish. Let me put it this way, if I were sitting at a ward dinner, and one of these people came to sit down next to me, I would be really happy. If I saw them before they saw me, I would invite them over. I would love to have them at my house for dinner. If they ever come to Northern California, the invitation stands open. They were honest and sincere. They had legitimate concerns that they had not been able to reconcile, partly because, in my opinion, they fully embraced the outside narrative and discounted the faithful narrative. But, they had reasons for doing so. Did I convince anyone? I doubt it. That wasn’t really the point. I hope that by the time I left they became a little more trusting of the sources that promote the positive narrative, and a little more skeptical of the sources that promote the negative narrative. For my part, I know that I became more sympathetic to their concerns.

Think about this. They had concerns about the Church. Some of them don’t attend any more. The stake president had called and invited them to this meeting at the Church building and they came. They showed up! If I were in their position, I’m not sure I would have done the same.

Sometimes in our discourse about the truth claims of the Church, we forget that there are real people on the other side of the issue. In a recent blog post about online discussions Sean Blanda writes:[4]

It’s a preference to see the Other Side as a cardboard cutout, and not the complicated individual human beings that they actually are.

I see this happening on both sides.

The active (faithful, believing, true blue, whatever) members see the questioning (disaffected, discouraged, less active, whatever) members as attacking them personally when they raise questions about the fundamental truth claims of their belief. I believe some of this comes from a fear that we might not be able to answer the questions, or that there is no answer to the questions. This means we sometimes lash out in an attempt to silence them.

The questioning members, on the other hand, see this wall of silence from people who don’t want to hear their questions. Conversations, attempts to connect, and attempts to correct from the non-questioning (fully believing) side are sometimes seen in a less than charitable light. Let’s face it, many members have not studied the issues, and often their attempts to answer the questions are simply incorrect. Those sincere, but unsatisfying answers are seen as manipulative and misleading. Other times, for those who have completely left, their leaving experience was so painful that they feel justified in giving a little payback. I have been on the receiving end of that on more than one occasion.

I have seen some very hurtful things. The blogger Sean Blanda further writes:

Over time, this morphs into a subconscious belief that we and our friends are the sane ones and that there’s a crazy “Other Side” that must be laughed at — an Other Side that just doesn’t “get it,” and is clearly not as intelligent as “us.” But this holier-than-thou social media behavior is counterproductive, it’s self-aggrandizement at the cost of actual nuanced discourse and if we want to consider online discourse productive, we need to move past this.[5]

This is the message I would like to get across. We need to have charity for each other. We need to see others as our brothers and sisters – whether you or they remain in the Church or not. No matter which side you are on. Based on their experiences and information, the “Other side” is being rational. Those that leave are not evil, and those that stay are not “Living in a bubble.”[6] Charity never faileth. Let’s try to put that into practice.

[1] . 1 Corinthians 13:13

[2] I would like to talk about all three stakes, but I have to limit this to get through the post. You don’t want to have to read a post the length of War and Peace.

[3] In the interest of full disclose my wife and the Stake President were there as well. But, the two of us did most of the talking.

[4] https:[email protected]/the-other-side-is-not-dumb-2670c1294063#.d50kq3cjm

[5] ibid

[6] It would be difficult to portray me, or other FairMormon volunteers, as living in a bubble as we have read all of the criticisms that are out there. I have been reading anti Mormon literature since I was 14 years old. A few of my non-Mormon friends have tried to convert me. FairMormon gets multiple questions every day. Through long experience, I have learned to be skeptical of the less faithful narrative.

 

Picture of Scott Gordon

Scott Gordon

Scott Gordon is president of FairMormon.

Picture at the top of the blog is from Glamis Castle in Scotland. Source:Rev Stan (Flickr: Glamis Castle) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons