Category Archives: Conversion

Fair Issues 99: Emotion is part of testimony and decision making

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Ash (newer) PictureIn this article brother Ash discusses how emotions play an integral part in our decision making process.

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

Fair Issues 98: What critics don’t understand about testimony

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Ash (newer) PictureIn this weeks issue brother Ash talks about how testimonies are balanced with reason and spiritual confirmation.

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

4th Watch 23: The challenge of discipleship

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4thWatch SmallBack in the day, late 60’s and the early 70’s just across the border in Rosarito Beach, Baja California the big “X” XERB was one of the flamethrower am radio stations of its day. The big “X” was the brainchild of Robert Weston Smith.  Bob Smith?  So who is Bob Smith?  If you don’t recognize the name you just might remember the voice.

It’s the “Wolfman.”  He was one of the most successful disk jockeys of his day.  You might remember him in the movie “American Graffiti” done by George Lucas in 1973.  The Wolfman made a considerable amount of money on the big “X” and most of it came from the late night programs that came to be known as the prayer shawl preachers or PSP’s as I call them.

At one point Wolfman Jack was said to be making over $50,000.00 a month from the revenue generated by these programs.  A considerable amount of cash back then which did NOT go unnoticed by the Mexican authorities. Kind of like when Han Solo said to Luke Skywalker in the original Star Wars movie, “ancient weapons and hokey religions are no match for a good blaster at your side kid.” The blaster of the PSP’s made the bucks.  I’m not sure how the radio station changed hands but the Wolfman got pushed out and things changed.

Running at 250,000 watts XERB could be heard from border to border.  American stations could only broadcast at 50,000 watts of power due to FCC regulations so the big “X” was quite an adventure for am radio.

If we go back further in time the most powerful commercial radio station in the ever in the USA was WLW in the (700KHz AM) in Cincinnati Ohio, which during certain times in the 1930’s broadcast 500,000 watts of radiated power.  At night, it covered half the globe.  Neighbors within the vicinity of the transmitter heard the audio in their pots, pans and mattresses, literally.  I’m providing a link in the show notes for those who may be interested in the history of WLW.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/wlw

Today we have the new and improved border blasters and you’re listening to one of them now.  The internet podcast.  Just about anyone with a computer and microphone can produce and air podcasts.  For that matter you can effectively have your own TV station.  It’s called YouTube.  All without the need for mass quantities of money.

Bob Dylan sang the lyrics of our day thinking he was just talking about the days in which he lived.  That was in 1964.  Over fifty years ago. Truly the times are a changing and I would suspect that in another fifty years our todays might seem as foolish to those who look upon us from their enlightened era with mild if not outright amusement.

Some things don’t change and for good reason.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is one of those things that doesn’t change.  The way we show our discipleship does and should change to adapt to the environment and culture in which we live.  What may be welcomed in Mormon Central aka Salt Lake City Utah may not be well received in another part of the world but our intent should always be the same. To represent our Lord and Savior and his loving and kindness by using our hands as His hands and the tone of our voice as He would talk to those in need of His care.

In October of 2006 brother James A. Faust, second counselor in the First Presidency of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints offered this view of discipleship.

Our responsibility is clear for those who have received the testimony of Jesus Christ.  To become His disciples.

In doing so I try hard not to denigrate another’s testimony or their faith tradition.  In the opening of this podcast I referred to the “prayer shawl preachers” in a manner that some may see or in this case hear as unacceptable . Truth is often in the ear of the beholder because our intent is interpreted by the distance from our heads to our hearts and that takes time.  Oh, I know what you think I meant but I’m not sure what you heard is what was in my heart. Yes yes, I know. Ain’t it the truth?  Does this happen to you?  Happens to me.

When such events take place I try really hard to apologize and not defend what I said or did.  It is not about being right but building a bridge of understanding.  Brother Ned, you need to build a bridge to get over yourself!  Sorry if my style offends you.  I meant no disrespect.  I’m sorry.  Well, you’re still a jerk!  I sorry you feel that way.  It’s just my amateur attempt at humor.  Amateur?  You got that right! Now Brother Ned,…

So you got a spiritual wound did you?  Here, let me have a look under that bandaged dressing. Oh, you’ll be fine just take some Life-N-All and call me in the morning.  By the way, Life-N-All is available online at Brother Ned’s Discount Warehouse of Worship right here in Boise Idaho, say hallelujah! Life-N-All is the only supplement that contains the three essential elements to get you up to speed and keep your there.  Vitamins R, P and M.

What’s next?

Do what you can do not what someone else can do.  They may need just what you have.  Your hands may what they see and feel.  It may be your voice that offers what they need to hear.  Perhaps your smile is the one they can understand better than anyone else’s.  Make sense?

I would like to offer two extreme views of how we can experience the gospel as a disciple of Jesus.  The first one I call the “Mormon-Gnostics” or as   Cassandra Hedelius would say Mormon Gnosticism.   She gave a presentation at the August 7, 2015 annual conference of the FairMormon group about this subject which you can read with the link I’m providing in the show notes…

http://www.fairmormon.org/perspectives/fair-conferences/2015-fairmormon-conference/a-house-of-order-a-house-of-god

They go too far.  There is little if any need of a Church structure.  The only relationship that counts is the one with the Lord.

Going to the other extreme are those whom I call the Corporate Mormons.  They have turned the gospel into a company.  By what they say and do they wind up worshipping the structure instead of He who created them.  They go too far.  If you find yourself going too far in one of these directions start asking yourself questions.  Both directions can lead to dangerous forms of discipleship.

In a Zoom conversation with Scott Gordon a few of us on the FairMormon volunteer blog list had a conversation about the direction our podcasts and written blog articles should be going.  A decision was made to focus our efforts toward your standard and average member who sit in the pews week after week.  So my podcasts are designed to fit that mold.  Mold?  Did I say mold?  Who’s mold?  Standard and average?  So the enlightened or the ultra-ignorant need not read or listen? Ultra-ignorant their talking about you Brother Ned. I’m going to take care of this right now.  Where’s the forget me stick? An effective piece of equipment to be sure.  You decide what’s best for you.  In my view there are no “molds” we are relegated to fit into.  Make up your own mind and choose for yourself.  You are a child of the ever living God. Don’t let me or anyone else tell you what or who you are.

Continuing on…

It is rather easy to see those who are becoming more Gnostic in their form of worship.  They start distancing themselves for Church activity because “they” have received the true light of the gospel.  It might be more difficult for those who are going toward the corporate world view to see that they are becoming administrators of the bureaucracy instead of a minister of the gospel.  Numbers, percentages and ratios may have value for a general overview of how a Ward or congregation is moving but if that becomes our defining attention perhaps our discipleship is moving in the wrong direction.

Next segmento…

You may have seen the movie Mars Attacks or not.  It was done is 1996 and is probably the best spoof of the fifty’s and sixty’s science fiction “B” movies ever made.  If you done seen it you know what I mean if you haven’t you might want to give it try. Extra campy and lots of great performances by well-known actors.

Peirce Brosnan who was great in the 007 movies plays a scientist in this flick who portrays great wisdom and superior knowledge to whom all most bow with awe and reverence.

In one part of the movie some engineer type comes up with a translation device of the Martian language.  All the Martians say in the movie is, ak, ak ak, ak, so we never know what they are really saying until we can hear the translation.  In the clip I’m going to let you hear tell me if it makes sense to you.

Peirce Brosnan is sitting at a table with a pipe in his hand and looking upward as if he has just heard some great new cosmic wisdom.  Also in the room is an Army general.  Both hear the same thing and the general has a different reaction to the translation than that of the great super genius professor.  Being as I’m your basic simple person and not a super genius my reaction to the translation is pretty close to the generals response.

If you are part of a group, congregation, study club or other religious / spiritual path and what you are hearing doesn’t line up with the “four points on the eternal line of wisdom” you might want consider moving away from such an affiliation.

Some of the Mormon-Gnostics may fall into this classification.  For dark is the suede that mows like a harvest is just a bunch of baloney sauce.  Don’t go in that direction.

Next…

The four points of truth? This is part of the brother Ned value system and not to be considered official doctrine but probably should be.  First point.  Our heads.  Second point.  Our hearts.  Third point. Our gut.  Point number four.  The Holy Scriptures.

You ever get that “gut” feeling you know something is just wrong or right?  What does our out gut have to do with feelings?  The Savior told us that His bowels were full of compassion.

Mosiah 15:9, “Having ascended into heaven, having the bowels of mercy; being filled with compassion towards the children of men; standing betwixt them and justice; having broken the bands of death, taken upon himself their iniquity and their transgressions, having redeemed them, and satisfied the demands of justice.”

What does mercy have to do with our bowels?  A figurative representation I would think even though back in the day they thought feelings generated in our bowels.  The Savior knew better of course but He was relating in terms they could understand without going into the science of how feelings are created.  Ever heard the saying, “go with your gut?” So, if you’re gut, heart and head line up with God’s revealed word I would say your discipleship is moving in the right direction.

Last segment…

In listening to all these colorful illustrations you may recall something the Lord has pressed upon your “four lines of truth.”   You may remember something you did or said back in your day.  Could have been in ’69 or ’89 or even in ’09 that you considered the best days of your life. A mission perhaps?  You just laid in down and forgot to pick it up again. So, how about we pick it back up and keep moving forward in our discipleship to the glory of Him who is our Lord and Savior.

President Faust offers us a good guideline…

How about if we go about doing good?  We may not need the loud voice that the border blasters used but then again we may need it to get someone’s attencion then the quit voice of love could move in to replace the giant noise of the world’s value system.

In closing what I’m about to offer as a question that just might be the most important part of this podcast.

If you’re listening say Amen…

What if the disappearance of a sense of responsibility is the most far-reaching consequence of submission to authority?

As always the views expressed in this podcast are those of the presenter and may not represent, reflect or even remotely resemble those of anyone who is lives in the real world about anything at any time but they should and are soon be canonized by the Church.  Or not… J

 

 

 

 

Best of FairMormon Conference 2015: Michael Otterson – On The Record

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Michael_Otterson_FairMormon_Aug_7_2015On the Record – (audio only)

Fair Mormon conference Aug 6-7, 2015

This is a wonderful conference, full of bright people asking and answering great questions. The list of speakers and their topics is impressive, and it’s encouraging to see how FairMormon has grown in recent years.  Among the rich assortment of topics in these two days of presentations, I’ve thought carefully about what I could and should contribute that’s related to my work in Church Public Affairs that would also be helpful to this inquiring audience.

First some background. This is somewhat of a personal nature, so please forgive me for that, but it has a bearing on what I will say later. I’m a convert to the Church, and in my particular line of work I have found that to be an advantage. I was 19 when I joined the Church in England, after a rather intense and lengthy engagement with lots of missionaries. Before I joined the Church I read everything I could get my hands on, and my first hint at that time of the controversial nature of our faith came from my visit to the large city library in Liverpool. Now, when I mention Liverpool as my birthplace, I’m frequently asked whether I knew the Beatles. The answer is “No, not personally,” although my wife as a teenage girl did once knock on Paul McCartney’s front door with the excuse that she needed to use the bathroom. She was admitted, but sadly he wasn’t home. But in the Church, Liverpool is more importantly known as the landing place for the first missionaries in this dispensation outside of North America, Heber C. Kimball having leapt to the dock as his ship, the Garrick, moored there in 1837. Later, in 1851, Franklin D. Richards compiled the first edition of The Pearl of Great Price in Liverpool, and the city became the publishing center for the Millennial Star.

One hundred and thirty years after Heber C. Kimball’s leap to the dock on the River Mersey, I went to the main library in that same city to see what I could find about Mormons. I found more than 30 volumes that either dealt with the subject in detail or in extracts. If memory serves, all but two of those volumes had a negative tone or were outright attacks.  I therefore became familiar, even before I was a member, of the nature and tone of criticism of the Church.

The fact that I am here suggests that I didn’t find those arguments more persuasive than the Book of Mormon itself – not intellectually, and especially not when matched against a powerful spiritual witness of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. Fast forward to April 19, 1970, where I was living in Australia with my new bride. When a dear patriarch laid his hands on my head to give me a patriarchal blessing, his words included this phrase:  “You will be given opportunities to defend the gospel.” I was always interested in that choice of words – “defend,” not “preach” or “proclaim” or “teach.” What was it that the patriarch saw that I didn’t at that time, in choosing the word “defend?”

One month later my wife and I were at the temple in New Zealand where, since I was now an elder, we could be sealed. In the temple, where we stayed for a week, one of the veteran temple workers approached me.  “You’re a journalist, aren’t you?” he asked. The question surprised me because I wasn’t aware I had mentioned that to anyone. He then directed me, rather forcefully, to listen very carefully to the language of the male initiatory ordinance that had to do with defending truth. I won’t mention them here, but I think of those words every time I do initiatory ordinances.

Fast forward again, to 1974, back in England where I was Business Editor of the Liverpool Daily Post. One day I took a call from President Royden Derrick, who was the president of the England Leeds Mission, which covered all of northern England. He was in Hull, a city on the northeast coast almost directly east of Liverpool, where he had seen a critical letter about the Church in a local newspaper from a minister of another faith. He knew my profession, and wondered if I had a suggestion as to how it might be handled.  I took a few minutes to write a kind, conciliatory letter to the paper and included an invitation to anyone who wanted to know what we really teach to “come and see.” The letter was duly printed, and although I didn’t know it, I had just embarked on a journey that would immerse me in Church public affairs for the next 40-plus years.

Two years later I was invited by the Church to manage the newly opened Public Affairs office in London, and three years after that I returned to Australia at Church invitation to establish a public affairs office for the Pacific Area based in Sydney. For the past 24 years I have been here at Church headquarters.

What has changed in those 40 years? Less than we might think, in terms of the questions being asked today. In fact, many of them are pretty similar to questions that confronted me in the Liverpool Library, which were the same as those raised in Joseph Smith’s day: the veracity of the Book of Mormon, the witnesses, the translation process, the nature of revelation, the personal history of Joseph Smith.  Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but it mildly surprised me, in the wake of publication on LDS.org of a series of in-depth essays on various topics, that so many faithful members expressed surprise at discovering some things like multiple accounts of Joseph Smith’s First Vision for the first time in their life-long membership. Since I was reading that readily available stuff in 1967 before I was even a member of the Church, I had erroneously imagined that most members read the same things. For example, the Improvement Era – the forerunner to the Ensign – carried a detailed article on eight contemporary accounts of the First Vision in its April, 1970 edition.

In other ways, a great deal has changed in the past few decades, and I don’t just mean world-class historical scholarship and the immense amount of research material and resources that are at our fingertips today, such as the Joseph Smith Papers, and insightful work by some brilliant young and emerging historical scholars. I refer primarily to the environment created by the Internet, and to social media in particular, which has brought both challenges and opportunities that we all recognize.  For Church Public Affairs, the explosion of voices – both pro and con – have made our work demanding and exciting all at the same time. For instance, I love the Church’s passionate commitment to religious freedom as a universal human right, and I applaud its increasing transparency – evidenced again this week in the announcement of the latest volume of the Joseph Smith Papers.

Since we are often on the cutting edge of public issues, I’d like to give you an insight today into how Church Public Affairs works, and then I’d like to share some perspectives on some much-discussed topics that will illustrate that working process. I have chosen to call this discussion “On the Record” because I think some things have not been said clearly enough, or they have been overlooked or misconstrued.  I won’t be breaking any new ground today on such perennial topics as race or polygamy or other questions on which there are more competent speakers. I will try to leave 10 minutes at the end for questions, and I invite you to write your question on a card and pass it to an usher in the next 30 minutes or so. Please focus your questions on matters directly related to public affairs so I have a chance of responding. (So, no, I don’t know where the Ten Lost tribes are…. Although I did have a bishop once who was called by a member at 1 o’clock in the morning who asked him exactly that. The bishop’s pointed response: “I presume they are all in bed”).

How Public Affairs is structured

The Public Affairs work of the Church is overseen by the Church’s Public Affairs Committee, which is chaired by a member of the Twelve. Other General Authorities or General officers include the senior president of the Seventy, the Presiding Bishop, the Church’s legal counsel, one of the female general officers, and an additional seventy who serves as executive director of the department. The executive director works particularly closely with me, especially on strategic planning matters.  In addition, several senior Public Affairs staff, including myself, attend the weekly committee meetings.

The first thing I want to put on the record is this: Public Affairs does not have its own agenda, independent from the Brethren. I work on a daily basis with the member of the Twelve and the Executive Director. In addition to regular meetings twice a week with the member of the Twelve, we talk every day, often several times.  With the executive director, I make presentations to the full Quorum of the Twelve monthly and receive direction from them. Sometimes a member of the staff with a particular specialty makes a presentation and receives counsel. I mention this because we sometimes have rocks thrown at us by some bloggers who love to postulate as to why Public Affairs does this or that. One blogger even referred to Public Affairs recently as a “rogue department,” which would be news to the Brethren.  Newsflash:  We don’t freelance.

Sadly, the insight and understanding of some who love to write volumes of commentary seems often in inverse proportion to the amount of words they write. Perhaps it’s simply easier to target Public Affairs because it seems less disrespectful than criticizing Church leaders.  If so, we are honored to take those “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” A thick skin is a pre-requisite for Public Affairs employment. This makes me think of that wonderful verse in Acts, when the high priest and his council were attempting to intimidate Peter and the apostles, and had them beaten up. Verse 41 of Acts 5 says: “And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.” And the next verse notes, almost parenthetically, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.” (Acts 5:41-42).

No member of the Public Affairs staff would last long if he or she issued a statement on behalf of the Church that had not been approved.  Of course, we frequently suggest a response to a breaking issue, but the Brethren are not shy in editing or rejecting those statements or writing their own versions.  In addition, the member of the Twelve who chairs the Public Affairs Committee will confer with other members of the Twelve or with the First Presidency on major issues. Our task is to find language that most accurately reflects what’s in the Brethren’s minds.  There is no place for private agendas on the part of staff.

I’m taking more than a moment on this point because it is extraordinarily important.  This audience probably understands, but let me give you an example of what happens when it isn’t understood. Earlier this year, the Church held a news conference to call on the Utah Legislature to pass a bill that treated religious rights and gay rights in a balanced and fair way. Three apostles attended that news conference, and Elder L. Tom Perry later attended the bill signing with the Governor and other community leaders. Some people actually challenged the validity of the message because there were “only” three members of the Twelve, and not all of them plus the First Presidency.  Presumably these three apostles were “rogue” also. This so reminds me of the Savior’s critique of “blind guides” who “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matt. 23: 24)

What about other communications, for instance on Mormon NewsroomNewsroom and the department’s Facebook and YouTube channels are among the primary communications media we use to disseminate significant news and latest developments.  Much of what is posted there deals with routine news stories, but even these cannot be posted without approval from Church Correlation, which has the responsibility to ensure that all Church communications are doctrinally sound and consistent.  Because of the nature of our work, Correlation gives us high priority when we are dealing with breaking news or issuing a commentary on a significant topic. But again, there is a check-and-balance system that should give members of the Church a high level of comfort that what they read on Newsroom has been well vetted. Are we infallible? Of course not. Might we occasionally make mistakes or fail to choose exactly the right word in a statement or interview? Assuredly, yes. But you can be sure we know who runs the Church, and of the respect we have for the established processes.

“Defend” v “Promote”

Despite the words my patriarch chose when he said I would have opportunities to “defend the gospel,” there are words I prefer to use other than “defend.” If all we ever play is a defensive game, the most we can hope for is a draw. While it can be extraordinarily difficult when under attack or critique from unfriendly voices, it’s important that we try not to sound defensive. We would do better to explain or promote an idea, concept or principle. For example, when the “Book of Mormon Musical” first surfaced, despite its blasphemy, crudeness and bad language, we opted for a non-defensive statement that taught a principle. Our much-quoted response was: “The Book of Mormon musical may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.”  As many of you know, we even took out ads in the show’s Playbill, inviting people who had seen the show to now “read the Book.”

It isn’t easy to avoid sounding defensive when things we love are belittled. This applies also to critiques of the Brethren themselves. Personally, I view habitual criticism of the Brethren as one of the most pernicious of pastimes, so let me spend a moment on this.  I will use the term “Brethren” here because this is an LDS audience and you all know what that term usually means – the General Authorities of the Church, and in particular the First Presidency and the Twelve Apostles. I try to avoid that term when talking to secular media because it sounds strange, even antiquated, to non-LDS ears, and I generally opt instead for the term “Church leadership.”

If memory serves, I think the first time I encountered an accusing finger pointed at the Brethren was from an English journalist who I’d invited to meet with a visiting apostle while I was managing the Church’s London public affairs office. He asked how we could justify leaders of the Church flying trans-Atlantic jets when Jesus used a donkey.  My response to him was that as soon as they invent a trans-Atlantic donkey we would be happy to use it. That may not have been original – I can no longer remember whether I borrowed it from something I’d heard – but it did seem to address the absurdity of the question. I can hardly believe it when I hear people question the motives of the Brethren for the work they do, or when they imply there is somehow some monetary reward or motive.

Let me share the reality.  Not all the Brethren have been businessmen, but most have had extraordinarily successful careers by the time they are called to be an Apostle. As President Spencer W. Kimball once pointed out, the ability to lead people and an organization is a more-than-helpful attribute in a Church of millions of people, especially when combined with spiritual depth and a rich understanding of the gospel.  Because several have been highly successful in business careers, when they become apostles their stipend and allowances may literally be less than a tithe on what they previously earned.

Some of the Brethren have been educators. Elder Scott was a nuclear physicist, Elder Nelson a heart surgeon. Several were highly successful lawyers. Right now we have three former university presidents in the Twelve. President Boyd K. Packer was also an educator by profession, although in his spare time and in his earlier days he loved to carve beautiful things out of wood. That sounds curiously related to another scripturally honored profession – that of a carpenter.

Can you imagine what it would be like to be called to the Twelve?  In most cases you have already had a successful career. You know you will continue to serve the Church in some volunteer capacity, but you have begun to think of your future retirement. The First Presidency and the Twelve, of course do not retire. Neither are they released. With their call comes the sure knowledge that they will work every day for the rest of their lives, even if they live into their nineties, until they literally drop and their minds and bodies give out. Their workday begins early and does not end at 5pm.  The Twelve get Mondays off, and those Mondays are frequently spent preparing for the rest of the week. If they have a weekend assignment, they will often travel on a Friday afternoon. Periodically, even though in their 80s, they face the grueling schedule of international speaking conferences and leadership responsibilities.

What about when they are home? I have the cell phone numbers of most of the Brethren because I sometimes have to call them in the evening, on weekends or when they are out and about. I’m not naïve enough to think that I am the only Church officer to do so. So even their downtime is peppered with interruptions. I invariably begin those calls by apologizing for interrupting them at home. I have never once been rebuked for calling. They are invariably kind and reassuring, even early in the morning or late at night.

Their primary time off each year is from the end of the mission presidents’ seminar at the very end of June, through the end of July. And while this time is meant as a break, most of the Brethren use this time to turn their thoughts, among other things, to October General Conference and preparation of their remarks. During Christmas break they do the same for April conference. Every one of them takes extraordinary care and time in deciding on a topic and crafting their messages. The process weighs on them for months as they refine draft after draft.

This is not a schedule you would wish on anyone. Yet they bear it with grace and find joy for some overwhelmingly important reasons – their testimony and commitment to be a witness of the Savior of the world and their desire to strengthen His children everywhere. They would be the very first to acknowledge their own faults or failings, just as we can readily point to the apostles of the New Testament and see imperfect people.

As I read the gospels and the book of Acts, or the various letters written by the apostles to the various groups of members scattered throughout the Mediterranean area, I get a glimpse of extraordinary men. Men with individual faults, certainly. Yet I choose not to view Peter through a critical lens that dwells on the impetuous elements of his nature, or as the wavering soul who failed to affirm he knew the Christ. I see him more in the winter of his life, having weathered trials and storms to become one of the towering figures of Biblical history, whose name and accomplishments have endured for two millennia. The same can be said for many others of the ancient apostles, perhaps especially Paul whose life transformed him from persecutor to persecuted. And so today, because my testimony tells me that the gospel has been restored, I see the senior Brethren in the same way.  Yes, they are individual, mortal men, but the Lord has given them, not me, the mantle to lead the Church and make the tough decisions.  I am not lionizing the Brethren. I am not over-awed because I have shaken the hand of an apostle. But I do sustain them with all my heart, and I have a quiet and reassuring confidence born of personal experience and exposure to their councils that the Church is in good hands.

The big questions

Certain it is that the Brethren have to wrestle with big questions. Let me turn to some of those now, and since I am about half way through I have time to address perhaps three or four before we break for questions. Since it has become such a big question, I’ll talk a little about the emergence of gay rights and what it has meant for the Church, especially as it relates to religious freedom.

I will also talk a little about dissent and disciplinary councils, and the in-depth Church essays now appearing on LDS.org. And I’ll end with an explanation of what principles shape and drive our messaging from Public Affairs.

One advantage in having worked for Church Public Affairs for so long is that one gains a long-term perspective that comes with institutional memory, and that sometimes is valuable. Certainly you don’t have to be very old to remember a time when some of the language used in the Church to describe homosexual behavior was intemperate, even harsh, by today’s standards. We’ll talk more about that in a moment. But the fundamentals haven’t changed. Sex outside marriage is morally wrong, by God’s law. Sex with a person of the same sex is wrong, by that same standard.  The doctrine hasn’t changed, but our way of addressing it has changed significantly.

Most people here will understand the word “presentism” – defined by Webster’s as “an attitude toward the past dominated by present-day attitudes and experiences.”  Presentism is a common problem. It’s so easy to dig into the past and find a statement that reflects the norms of the times in which it was stated and then incorrectly apply it to our day. Is there any one of us who wouldn’t like to un-say or un-write something we once said that in today’s parlance seems at best in-artful, and at worst, offensive?

Unquestionably, there has been a more careful and considerate choice of language in the past few years, as the Church has engaged with the pro-gay rights movement. As I said, this doesn’t reflect a change in a doctrinal understanding of the purpose of sex, marriage and the family, or what constitutes sin, but it does reflect a deeper understanding and consciousness among Church leadership of the unwelcome trials of some of our own people.

While acknowledging that, it would be a mistake to assume that the Brethren were ignorant of these trials years ago. I’m thinking particularly of Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Twelve, who was a stake president in – of all places – San Francisco in the ‘80s when the AIDS epidemic broke out. I was with Elder Cook when we interviewed him on camera about this topic, and it was clear that he was deeply, emotionally touched by his experiences in helping several gay members with AIDS navigate their last days. Likewise, I have heard others among the Brethren describe the pain they feel for families, including gay family members, who have been torn apart while trying to navigate this extremely difficult issue.

As same-sex attraction has become more talked about in society, our language has changed in order to speak to an evolving audience even as our standards of chastity have remained constant. One might say the same for co-habitation before marriage of heterosexual couples. We don’t like it, we discourage it, we teach young people chastity before marriage, but we also understand the reality that most of the world today has different, ever-changing standards or values, and a strident voice from the Church is going to do nothing to change behavior.

Toward the end of the 2012 presidential election campaign, Public Affairs prepared a website that we called “mormonsandgays.org.”  The site included several interviews with members of the Twelve, and it had the most intense scrutiny by the Brethren before it was launched. Frankly, the website had more than one purpose.  In the heat of an election campaign in which a member of the Church was his party’s nominee for the presidency, we thought it likely that the “gay issue” would be dragged into the campaign at some point, and we would be confronted with all of the misrepresentation and distorted perspectives that we had dealt with ever since Proposition 8 in 2008.  But the website was also an opportunity to recognize the plight of some of our own young people who were struggling with their sexual identity.

In some Latter-day Saint homes, when teens had “come out” as gay to their parents, the reaction had been anything but compassionate, or reflective of a mutual search for understanding. In extreme cases, young people were ordered out of their homes. Being homeless and destitute made such young people prey to drug pushers, prostitution and other degrading experiences, and in some cases even to suicide.  I am unaware of any Church leader who countenanced such actions, but awareness of some of these problems was not universal among leadership and certainly not among the membership at large. Mormonsandgays.org, which was carefully scrutinized by the Brethren before it launched, was designed to address that by encouraging parents and other family members to embrace their children, brothers or sisters while not condoning immoral behavior.

This issue remains a difficult one. The Church is now working to further develop mormonsandgays.org, and version 2.0 is scheduled for completion and launch early next year. Meanwhile, the topic leads us naturally to a related one, and that is the Church’s position on religious freedom vis-à-vis LGBT rights.

Even as early as Proposition 8, the Church said publicly that it did not oppose extending rights to LGBT people covering such areas as housing, employment, probate, hospital visits, etc., that posed no threat to the family. The problem it had was with efforts to redefine marriage. Even at that early date I remember the Brethren opining strongly that legalizing gay marriage would bring multiple challenges to religious freedom. In that, they were remarkably prescient. If you aren’t aware of the great cultural clash that has arisen between LGBT rights proponents and many faith groups over the perceived threat to religious rights, I can assure you that it’s becoming one of the great social issues of the day.

It’s beyond my scope today to dig more deeply into this topic than I need to, but even a casual read of what many LGBT advocates are saying about religious rights is sobering. The ink was barely dry on the recent decision by the Boy Scouts of America’s National Executive Council to allow gay scout leaders, when the Human Rights Campaign – one of the major LGBT advocacy groups – was saying that it was a helpful “first step” – meaning they won’t be satisfied until all churches are also forced to accept gay scout leaders in their troops. Even before the scout issue arose, many on that side of the debate had been clamoring for removing university accreditation from religious colleges who failed to meet the LGBT definition of what is or isn’t socially acceptable. And removing tax exemption from churches has been another agenda item emerging recently.

The Church’s response has been a model of restraint, reasonableness and Christ-like behavior. While not yielding an inch on our Father’s plan for his children and the purpose of our life here on earth, including how sexuality is to be expressed, the Church has recognized the legitimacy of LGBT claims to fair housing, employment and other services such as those I have mentioned. Further, without the Church’s public call last January in a news conference for an equitable treatment of both religion and LGBT rights, Utah would not have the laws it has today protecting the rights of both.

Going forward, the Church will continue to urge for this kind of balance. It is not easy for all of our members to understand this. There are some whose views carry a tone we heard many years ago, and who believe that any gesture of compassion toward LGBT people is tantamount to condoning sin, even though simple attraction in itself is not a sin.

Others seem to want to reshape the Church into whatever the latest politically correct social convention says it should be. Consequently, much internal teaching needs to be done on this topic, especially among our youth and millennial members – i.e. young adults. Wisely, the Brethren will chart a course that adheres to the doctrine of the Church while emulating Christ’s inclusiveness and love for all people.

Can members have their own views on this topic and still stay faithful to the Church? That’s a question we hear often, and it arises from a number of different scenarios.  Can a member be a Democrat and a good Mormon? That one makes me smile, because if the members who ask it could travel to some countries of the world and meet faithful members of the Church who belong to their national communist parties I fear their blood pressure might be permanently damaged. Can I believe in women’s rights and be a good Mormon? Can I think that our hymnals might benefit from a good revision? If I sometimes think that every minute of our three-hour block isn’t entirely inspirational, am I on the road to apostasy?

I don’t mean to be flippant, because I know that some questions are more important than others. All I can tell you is how I approach this subject personally. I have never found the Church to be an intellectual straitjacket.  We have an enormously diverse membership.  I have spent time with members of the Church on every continent where we have units. One of the most thrilling aspects to being a Latter-day Saint is the sense that we belong to a diverse but unified global family.  Because I’m British, I admittedly joke about the French from time to time – it’s kind of an obligatory thing that goes with British citizenship.  (Actually, I’ve never forgiven them for backing the wrong side in the American Revolutionary War). And, of course, the French respond in kind about the English.  But if I’m on a plane and sitting next to a French Latter-day Saint, I feel an immediate bond. National and cultural differences evaporate. I have far more in common with that person than with one of my own non-LDS countrymen, even one my own age from my hometown or school. As a Latter-day Saint, I know instantly that my newly met French acquaintance and I share the most important core values and experiences, and we have the same broad aspirations for this life and the next. I am content to rest on the assurance that as Latter-day Saints we are, in reality, no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens in a kingdom that traverses all national boundaries and cultures.

Am I interested in making sure that my French seat companion comports precisely with my views in every nuanced interpretation of how to live his or her life?  Do I insist that we both must be on exactly the same point on our spiritual journey? Or do I, like the Lord, allow room for personal interpretation, growth and understanding?

It is only when my friend begins to insist that I interpret everything his way, or that he suggests the Brethren are misleading the members, or that he elevates himself to be more than my friend but rather my uninvited teacher, that I may worry about his direction. If he tells me about his blogs and public demonstrations to prove the Brethren are wrong, and resists counsel, I might expect that Church leaders would counter that influence even if they would prefer not to. If kindness and gentle persuasion and love unfeigned prove unsuccessful, I would fear for his eternal future. But I would not deny him the right to believe differently.  While I love the diversity in the Church, I don’t believe that ultimately, diversity trumps unity. “If ye are not one, ye are not mine.”

To my certain knowledge, the First Presidency and the Twelve do not direct the outcomes of disciplinary councils, and studiously avoid doing so. Indeed, as the court of final appeal, the First Presidency cannot do so. They must remain independent.  Church policy is that decisions rest with bishops and stake presidents, both as to whether to hold such councils and what the outcome might be.  Of course, stake presidents may confer with Area Seventies up their priesthood line for counsel about process, but not about decisions and outcomes.

There has been speculation recently that disciplinary councils, or invitations to a sit-down with the bishop, have coincided and therefore have the appearance of being centrally directed.  This is not the case, however, and there is a simple, plausible explanation that requires no mental gymnastics to understand. General Authorities – including all of the quorums of seventy – come to Church headquarters every six months for training right before General Conference. Over the years, these training sessions cover a wide range of diverse topics.  If how to hold disciplinary councils in accordance with Church processes is one of those topics – which it was recently was – it isn’t surprising that as the training works its way down to the stake and ward level, some leaders may feel better prepared to engage with members whom they feel need counsel. This might especially occur at a time when some members are publicly campaigning for changes counter to Church policy or doctrine. Frankly, I don’t know whether there has been any increase in such counseling, and if there has, whether I have correctly identified the reason. But looking for a conspiracy behind every hint of change isn’t healthy and is rarely accurate.

I promised a word about the in-depth essays on LDS.org that address subjects that some members have found challenging.  Frankly I don’t have much to say about these. Feedback we received on LDS.org suggests that some members felt the essays should have been placed in a more prominent position and preceded by a major announcement. Other members think they got more attention than they deserved. Overall, I think there’s some merit in the argument that they should have been more prominent from the beginning, but there is more context to this. Certainly several of them received significant press coverage when published. Those who follow Church developments closely will have seen an increasing emphasis on study and learning in the home, on Sabbath day observance that incorporates such learning into our daily lives, and an increasingly flexible teaching curriculum that draws on many resources – including these essays – for content and support. It’s the intent of Church leaders that these essays be more than just a one-read experience on LDS.org, but rather that their content and principles work their way into the larger tapestry of learning, especially for our youth.

Much discussion preceded the publication of these essays, including a determination about their length. At one point, 50-page page essays or even longer were contemplated, and some were drafted with extensive footnotes. But it was acknowledged that few rank-and-file members would wade through such heavy work, other than scholars who were already familiar with the substance of the issues. An alternative was considered – a brief two- or three-page commentary, but this was felt to be inadequate and failed to meet the main criterion of transparency. The result of these deliberations is what you currently have on LDS.org and generally these essays have been well received. Although highly competent LDS scholars prepared initial the drafts, they had extensive review by Church History staff and other scholars. Their review was followed by a rigorous reading for accuracy and balance by the Twelve before approval by the First Presidency.

Now, let me wrap up and then we’ll take some questions.  Earlier, I mentioned the importance of not being too defensive. I hope I have not sounded overly defensive today.  You may find this a little surprising coming from someone whose profession is public relations, but I’d like to leave you with a final thought.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, also a former chairman of the Public Affairs Committee, used to talk about what he called “the central dilemma of public affairs.” Do we let our light shine so that men may see our good works, or does that risk looking like doing alms before men, for the praise of the world.

Today we have an additional dilemma. The core function of the Public Affairs department is to build relationships with opinion leaders whose influence can either help or hinder the Church’s mission. We can do much good in society with that objective. It leads to such things as engagement with other churches, with political leaders of different stripes, with LGBT and other community leaders and many others.

At the same time, the Church from ancient times has essentially been counter-cultural, which means that it often pushed back against social conventions and established institutions. Jesus talked a lot about sheep, but he never acted like one. He challenged social norms, associated with people who polite society rejected, and confronted the Establishment when it displayed hypocrisy. The apostles, too, fearlessly challenged convention time after time in order to teach gospel truths.

So how do we balance these two seemingly competing principles, of building relationships in the secular world with those outside the Church who see things differently, yet pushing back against growing secularism and disaffiliation with organized religion?

The answer to these and other difficult questions is found in following Jesus Christ in every circumstance. This is our principal mandate, our prime directive. Our Church bears the Savior’s name. It’s His Church. The teachings are His and we try to model our lives on what Jesus taught. Our messages from the Church, therefore, must always be crafted with that in mind, and the Church’s actions must always be consistent with what it says.  In every decision that we make, and every recommendation we take forward, we try to keep that in mind. What would the Savior do?  Those associated with FairMormon, in particular, have an obligation to engage with the kind of language with which the Savior would identify, and avoid polemical, confrontational tactics. We have identified six simple principles that, rather than defend, assert what we stand for. They are these:

  1. We have faith in God, strive to live the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ and embrace God’s plan for his children, bringing joy into our lives and the lives of others.
  2. We are strong supporters of the family, defenders of strong, enduring marriages and child bearing, and of raising well-educated children with high moral values.
  3. We value and defend freedom, including freedom of religion, respect individual agency and moral choices, freedom to worship and freedom to share our faith.
  4. We hold and try to live by strong moral values, including personal honesty and trustworthiness, and other Christ-like attributes.
  5. We serve others, including those in our own faith and those not of our faith. Charity, or love of our fellow men and women, is a source of joy.
  6. We strive to demonstrate through the redemptive power of the gospel that lives can change for the better. We think of this in terms of faith, repentance and the Atonement.

Such are the issues and challenges that face us today. Thank you for listening. In the name of Jesus Christ.

I’ll now be happy to take a few of your questions for the next 10 minutes, so let’s look at the cards.

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RiseUp Podcast – The Choice of Discipleship

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Last_supperSome of the greatest questions that we have in life don’t arise from an unknown piece of information, rather the choices we make in the direction of our lives. There is one choice that is so fundamental that it requires both ernest study, and a lifetime of reappraisal and recommitment to that choice. I speak of the choice of discipleship.

A disciple is a title given to followers of Jesus Christ. President James E. Faust defined discipleship this way in the October 2006 General Conference:

“The word for disciple and the word for discipline both come from the same Latin root—discipulus, which means pupil. It emphasizes practice or exercise. Self-discipline and self-control are consistent and permanent characteristics of the followers of Jesus, as exemplified by Peter, James, and John, who indeed “forsook all, and followed him.” The disciples of Christ receive a call to not only forsake the pursuit of worldly things but to carry the cross daily. To carry the cross means to follow His commandments and to build up His Church on the earth. It also means self-mastery.”

In D&C 41:5 God defines further what He considers to be a disciple, “He that receiveth my law and doeth it, the same is my disciple; and he that saith he receiveth it and doeth it not, the same is not my disciple, and shall be cast out from among you.”

In other scriptures are additional ways to describe the acts and therefore the character of a disciple. Sometimes this is further emphasized by stating behaviors that distinguish an individual as lacking the characteristics of a disciple. D&C 45:32 addresses the disciples choice to be steadfast and to be found doing the right things, in the right place, at the right time, “But my disciples shall stand in holy places, and shall not be moved; but among the wicked, men shall lift up their voices and curse God and die.”

D&C 52:40 addresses the need to love and care for our neighbors, “And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”

D&C 103:27-28 speaks to the level of commitment that a disciple must have to the commandments and principles of Jesus Christ and His gospel, “Let no man be afraid to lay down his life for my sake; for whoso layeth down his life for my sake shall find it again. And whoso is not willing to lay down his life for my sake is not my disciple.”

President James E. Faust also taught this the same October 2006 General Conference talk:

What is discipleship? It is primarily obedience to the Savior. Discipleship includes many things. It is chastity. It is tithing. It is family home evening. It is keeping all the commandments. It is forsaking anything that is not good for us. Everything in life has a price. Considering the Savior’s great promise for peace in this life and eternal life in the life to come, discipleship is a price worth paying. It is a price we cannot afford not to pay. By measure, the requirements of discipleship are much, much less than the promised blessings.”

As stated before, the choice of discipleship is a two part choice. First one must study and come to know the life of a disciple. The second is to remain true to that commitment and to that lifestyle unceasingly. The best source for studying the life of a disciple is to study the life of Jesus Christ. He is the example of who a disciple can and should become, and it is in His teachings that we learn how to act as he would act. A disciple must choose to follow the Savior’s example and teachings.

When a person is baptized into the church, this acts as a formal declaration of discipleship. Elder Daniel L. Johnson of the Seventy said this in the October 2012 General Conference:

“Those of us who have entered into the waters of baptism and received the gift of the Holy Ghost have covenanted that we are willing to take upon ourselves the name of Jesus Christ, or in other words, we declare ourselves to be disciples of the Lord. We renew that covenant each week as we partake of the sacrament, and we demonstrate that discipleship by the way that we live.”

Those of who have been baptized have made the choice of discipleship, but we have also promised to always keep true to that commitment. This choice does not come with an exist strategy, vacation days, or an expiration date. President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said this in the April 2014 General Conference, “Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not an effort of once a week or once a day. It is an effort of once and for all.”

When placed up against physical or spiritual trials, maybe even those where we question our faith, or waver in our commitments due to feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, the choice to continue in discipleship can seem especially difficult.

When a person comes across a troubling piece of history, or social pressures to accept a lifestyle or practice that is contrary to gospel standards, one may begin to question that choice of discipleship. Other times we observe challenges in our life that are more situational, such as a loss of job, the death of a loved one, or pressing issues like experiencing same sex attraction, gender confusion, or mental health issues like depression or anxiety, and wonder if God is real, or even ask “for what evil am I being punished?” Another question that is commonly asked is, “Why should I be so committed to something that is hard to understand, or seems to conflict with what I now know?” I too, have had moments where I questioned my commitments in light of certain trials of faith, or due to the choices others have made that have had an adverse impact on my dedication.

In those times I try to remind myself that I am not alone in these feelings. Even the Savior’s chosen Apostles in the old world, often called disciples in the scriptures, had periods of wavering commitment.

Jeffrey R. Holland gave a powerful lesson in the October 2012 General Conference entitled The First Great Commandment. I encourage a weekly study of that talk as part of our sacrament preparation. In that talk Elder Holland recounts the story of Peter and the other disciples being called, ministering for three years with the Savior, then going back to fishing-back to their previous life. I offer this story because within its text is the key to self-appraising our level of commitment, but also the methods to finding the desire to re-ignite that commitment time and time again.

“There is almost no group in history for whom I have more sympathy than I have for the eleven remaining Apostles immediately following the death of the Savior of the world. I think we sometimes forget just how inexperienced they still were and how totally dependent upon Jesus they had of necessity been. To them He had said, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me … ?”

But, of course, to them He hadn’t been with them nearly long enough. Three years isn’t long to call an entire Quorum of Twelve Apostles from a handful of new converts, purge from them the error of old ways, teach them the wonders of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then leave them to carry on the work until they too were killed. Quite a staggering prospect for a group of newly ordained elders.

Especially the part about being left alone. Repeatedly Jesus had tried to tell them He was not going to remain physically present with them, but they either could not or would not comprehend such a wrenching thought. Mark writes:

“He taught his disciples, and said unto them, The Son of man is delivered into the hands of men, and they shall kill him; and after that he is killed, he shall rise the third day. “But they understood not that saying, and were afraid to ask him.”

Then, after such a short time to learn and even less time to prepare, the unthinkable happened, the unbelievable was true. Their Lord and Master, their Counselor and King, was crucified. His mortal ministry was over, and the struggling little Church He had established seemed doomed to scorn and destined for extinction. His Apostles did witness Him in His resurrected state, but that only added to their bewilderment. As they surely must have wondered, “What do we do now?” they turned for an answer to Peter, the senior Apostle.

Here I ask your indulgence as I take some nonscriptural liberty in my portrayal of this exchange. In effect, Peter said to his associates: “Brethren, it has been a glorious three years. None of us could have imagined such a few short months ago the miracles we have seen and the divinity we have enjoyed. We have talked with, prayed with, and labored with the very Son of God Himself. We have walked with Him and wept with Him, and on the night of that horrible ending, no one wept more bitterly than I. But that is over. He has finished His work, and He has risen from the tomb. He has worked out His salvation and ours. So you ask, ‘What do we do now?’ I don’t know more to tell you than to return to your former life, rejoicing. I intend to ‘go a fishing.’” And at least six of the ten other remaining Apostles said in agreement, “We also go with thee.” John, who was one of them, writes, “They went forth, and entered into a ship immediately.”

But, alas, the fishing wasn’t very good. Their first night back on the lake, they caught nothing—not a single fish. With the first rays of dawn, they disappointedly turned toward the shore, where they saw in the distance a figure who called out to them, “Children, have you caught anything?” Glumly these Apostles-turned-again-fishermen gave the answer no fisherman wants to give. “We have caught nothing,” they muttered, and to add insult to injury, they were being called “children.”

“Cast the net on the right side of the ship, and ye shall find,” the stranger calls out—and with those simple words, recognition begins to flood over them. Just three years earlier these very men had been fishing on this very sea. On that occasion too they had “toiled all the night, and [had] taken nothing,” the scripture says. But a fellow Galilean on the shore had called out to them to let down their nets, and they drew “a great multitude of fishes,” enough that their nets broke, the catch filling two boats so heavily they had begun to sink.

Now it was happening again. These “children,” as they were rightly called, eagerly lowered their net, and “they were not able to draw it for the multitude of fishes.” John said the obvious: “It is the Lord.” And over the edge of the boat, the irrepressible Peter leaped.

After a joyful reunion with the resurrected Jesus, Peter had an exchange with the Savior that I consider the crucial turning point of the apostolic ministry generally and certainly for Peter personally, moving this great rock of a man to a majestic life of devoted service and leadership. Looking at their battered little boats, their frayed nets, and a stunning pile of 153 fish, Jesus said to His senior Apostle, “Peter, do you love me more than you love all this?” Peter said, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

The Savior responds to that reply but continues to look into the eyes of His disciple and says again, “Peter, do you love me?” Undoubtedly confused a bit by the repetition of the question, the great fisherman answers a second time, “Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love thee.”

The Savior again gives a brief response, but with relentless scrutiny He asks for the third time, “Peter, do you love me?” By now surely Peter is feeling truly uncomfortable. Perhaps there is in his heart the memory of only a few days earlier when he had been asked another question three times and he had answered equally emphatically—but in the negative. Or perhaps he began to wonder if he misunderstood the Master Teacher’s question. Or perhaps he was searching his heart, seeking honest confirmation of the answer he had given so readily, almost automatically. Whatever his feelings, Peter said for the third time, “Lord, … thou knowest that I love thee.”

To which Jesus responded (and here again I acknowledge my nonscriptural elaboration), perhaps saying something like: “Then Peter, why are you here? Why are we back on this same shore, by these same nets, having this same conversation? Wasn’t it obvious then and isn’t it obvious now that if I want fish, I can get fish? What I need, Peter, are disciples—and I need them forever. I need someone to feed my sheep and save my lambs. I need someone to preach my gospel and defend my faith. I need someone who loves me, truly, truly loves me, and loves what our Father in Heaven has commissioned me to do. Ours is not a feeble message. It is not a fleeting task. It is not hapless; it is not hopeless; it is not to be consigned to the ash heap of history. It is the work of Almighty God, and it is to change the world. So, Peter, for the second and presumably the last time, I am asking you to leave all this and to go teach and testify, labor and serve loyally until the day in which they will do to you exactly what they did to me.”

Then, turning to all the Apostles, He might well have said something like: “Were you as foolhardy as the scribes and Pharisees? As Herod and Pilate? Did you, like they, think that this work could be killed simply by killing me? Did you, like they, think the cross and the nails and the tomb were the end of it all and each could blissfully go back to being whatever you were before? Children, did not my life and my love touch your hearts more deeply than this?”

My beloved brothers and sisters, I am not certain just what our experience will be on Judgment Day, but I will be very surprised if at some point in that conversation, God does not ask us exactly what Christ asked Peter: “Did you love me?” I think He will want to know if in our very mortal, very inadequate, and sometimes childish grasp of things, did we at least understand one commandment, the first and greatest commandment of them all—“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind.” And if at such a moment we can stammer out, “Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee,” then He may remind us that the crowning characteristic of love is always loyalty.

“If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said. So we have neighbors to bless, children to protect, the poor to lift up, and the truth to defend. We have wrongs to make right, truths to share, and good to do. In short, we have a life of devoted discipleship to give in demonstrating our love of the Lord. We can’t quit and we can’t go back.”

If you want answers to questions about historical events, if you want answers on who to marry, if you want answers on wether or not to go or even stay on a mission, remembering and recommitting to your choice of discipleship will put you back in a mindset to feel and recognize the spirit. It is that spirit that will guide you into truth and will guide you to an exalted life. If we can answer that now famous question, “Do you love me?” with a “yes, I do love thee Lord,” we can feel of His love, we can be open to the promptings of the spirit, and we can find answers to difficult questions we may face. In essence we can feel peace. I have felt that peace in my own life and I can testify that this is true. I do love the Lord, and that choice to love the Lord is the choice of discipleship.

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4th Watch: My Testimony

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4thWatch SmallBrother Nick Galieti, the podcast manager for FairMormon, asked for our personal testimony as a special gift this Easter. I responded that it would be an honor. Testimonies are often given in LDS sacrament meetings on a local level to a few hundred; but as a podcaster I get the privilege to share my testimony to many thousands. It is indeed a true honor that I take seriously. There are places in the world today where any public expression of religious belief is met with ridicule and government suppression. With such a privilege comes responsibility and I would like to start my testimony with the words of Elder Holland. In the October 2014 conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints he said this in reference to the forth mission of the Church: To care for the poor and needy.

In what would be the most startling moment of His early ministry, Jesus stood up in His home synagogue in Nazareth and read these words prophesied by Isaiah and recorded in the Gospel of Luke: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and … set at liberty them that are bruised.”

Thus, the Savior made the first public announcement of His messianic ministry. But this verse also made clear that on the way to His ultimate atoning sacrifice and Resurrection, Jesus’ first and foremost messianic duty would be to bless the poor, including the poor in spirit.

From the beginning of His ministry, Jesus loved the impoverished and the disadvantaged in an extraordinary way. He was born into the home of two of them and grew up among many more of them. We don’t know all the details of His temporal life, but He once said, “Foxes have holes, and … birds … have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” Apparently the Creator of heaven and earth “and all things that in them are” was, at least in His adult life, homeless.

Down through history, poverty has been one of humankind’s greatest and most widespread challenges. Its obvious toll is usually physical, but the spiritual and emotional damage it can bring may be even more debilitating. In any case, the great Redeemer has issued no more persistent call than for us to join Him in lifting this burden from the people. As Jehovah, He said He would judge the house of Israel harshly because “the spoil of the [needy] is in your houses.”

“What mean ye,” He cried, “that ye beat my people to pieces, and grind the faces of the poor?”

The writer of Proverbs would make the matter piercingly clear: “He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker,” and “whoso stoppeth his ears at the cry of the poor … shall [also] cry himself, but shall not be heard.”

In our day, the restored Church of Jesus Christ had not yet seen its first anniversary when the Lord commanded the members to “look to the poor and … needy, and administer to their relief that they shall not suffer.” Note the imperative tone of that passage—“they shall not suffer.” That is language God uses when He means business.

I agree with Elder Holland. When the Lord uses this type of language, He means business. In the book of James chapter 1 verse 27, pure religion is defined: “Pure religion and undefiled before God the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.” As members of the Lord’s Church we have a sacred responsibility to succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees as recorded in the 81st section of the Doctrine and Covenants. It is my testimony the Lord stands ready to receive all those who come until Him. He is the great healer. The perfect physician and His Church is committed to performing this great commission. In Jeremiah 29:11 we read. “For I know the plans1 I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper2 you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” This hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ and I for one stand ready at all times and in all places to give an answer to everyone who asks me a reason for the hope that is in me with kindness and patience for those with whom I witness and respect and reverence for almighty God. (1 Peter 3:15.)

Personally, I honor the 56 men who signed the Declaration of Independence concerning these penned words: “[W]ith a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.” I can say with full purpose of heart that I pledge my life, whatever fortune I may have and my sacred honor to the Father of Heaven and Earth and His Son the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for Their purpose and glory. We read in Romans 8:16 that “the Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God.” It is to him that we need look for our purpose and hope in this life and the life to come. I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

4th Watch 19: Why are Mormons prejudiced?

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4thWatch SmallLike all human begins we have our own personal preferences about everything in life.  There are things, people, ideas and places that we may like and prefer that others dislike that have nothing to do with being prejudiced.  When it comes to real prejudice we need to define what we are talking about.

In this podcast Brother Scarisbrick relates how our understanding of different times and cultural norms can change as we gain further light and knowledge.

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

Keeping the Faith 14: Leaving and Returning–Lessons Learned pt. 2

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This is part 2 of a two-part episode called Keeping the Faith 14: Leaving and Returning–Lessons Learned.

Mormon Fair-cast 330: #9 Is the Bible an authentic source of truth?

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i-believe-podcast-karen-239x300In the concluding podcast of this series Karen talks about the prophecies of Jesus. The scriptures consist of 66 books, with over 40 authors, [and] were recorded over a span of 1500 years; they contain heavy prophetic threads. If we just think about a few books—take Daniel, written 500 years before Christ, and the meticulous descriptions of the rise and fall of the empire of Alexander the Great. This just makes us marvel at the consistencies of those prophecies. How about Zachariah, who in advance truly describes the crucifixion of Christ; and Isaiah, of course, writes of how Christ would suffer. Through these miraculous and historical writings, we really come to see the perfect person of Jesus Christ. Dave, welcome. Let’s set the stage for reviewing and sorting through some of these prophecies.

You can find the complete transcript at ibelievepodcast.com.

This series of podcasts were produced by the “I Believe” podcast group. They are used by permission of Karen Trifiletti the author of this work.

As always the view and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint or that of FairMormon

 

Mormon Fair-cast 319: #8, Is the Bible an authentic source of truth?

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i-believe-podcast-karen-239x300D.M. Johnson and I are back in this second-to-last podcast on the authenticity of the Bible. Today, we discuss undersigned coincidences. Undersigned coincidences are events or things in the Bible that could be coincidental, but there are just so many that they add up to real, compelling evidence.

As D.M. explains, “It becomes a little bit ridiculous to insist that all of these things are just purely happening by luck or some kind of random circumstance.”

We’ve got plenty of examples of such undersigned coincidences, from both inside and outside the Bible, including:

  • Jesus healing the sick;

  • The apostles keeping silent after the events on the Mount of Transfiguration;

  • And Jesus feeding the 500.

Jesus heals a woman.

We invite you to join us on this podcast, and again, to read and study the Bible for yourself. It truly is God’s word.

You can find the complete transcript at ibelievepodcast.com.

Read more: http://ibelievepodcast.com/1825/8-points-authenticity-bible-undesigned-coincidences-8-9#ixzz3JdTQNCy4

This series of podcasts were produced by the “I Believe” podcast group. They are used by permission of Karen Trifiletti the author of this work.

As always the view and opinions expressed in this podcast may not represent those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint or that of FairMormon