A Look Back at 2009

In the end, these are the stories we remember. The year 2009 is about over, and out of all the e-mails, phone calls, Web searches, visits and interviews, some powerful stories have emerged.

They range from the quirky and improbable to the humbling and heart-warming. They've taught us sorrow, humility, enthusiasm and understanding.

And they've all left an impression.

This week, Mormon Times writers and editors reflect on the subjects and story lines that made 2009 a memorable year.

We look at families who have lost loved ones and how they cling to hope. We reflect on the power of faith and trust, and the moving influence of artistic expression.

And we revisit personalities like the boxing bishop in Texas, the 105-year-old convert in Arkansas and the positive pitcher-turned missionary who still hasn't looked back.

Read the powerful stories on MormonTimes.com.
Are Mormons Christian? Absolutely. There are Christians out there that will argue that Mormons are not, becuase we do not fit into the small box they define as Christian. Since Mormons do not believe in the Trinity, they say we are not Christian. Since we believe in the Book of Mormon, they say we aren't Christian. There are other reasons they list as well, but they all mean nothing. The dictionary defines Christan as: "following the teachings or manifesting the qualities or spirit of Jesus Christ." Is there a church in all the world that so fully meets this description? I would argue no. I define Christan as any person or religion that loves, worships, honors, and obeys the Lord Jesus Christ. Under this definition, Mormons are indeed Christian.

Joseph Smith once said:

"The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it." (TPJS, p. 121).

For more information, check out the talk given by Boyd K. Packer.

Skywalker Genealogy

Citation Needed

Gotta state your authority or it’s just an empty statement…

A Christmas Story from President Harold B. Lee

The first Christmas after I became stake president, our little girls got some dolls and other nice things on Christmas morning, and they immediately dressed and went over to their little friend's home to show her what Santa Claus had brought them. In a few moments they came back, crying. "What in the world is the matter?" we asked. "Donna Mae didn't have any Christmas. Santa Claus didn't come." And then belatedly we realized that the father had been out of work, and there was no money for Christmas. So we brought the little ones of that family in and divided our Christmas with them, but it was too late. We sat down to Christmas dinner with heavy hearts.

I resolved then that before another Christmas came, we would be certain that every family in our stake had the same kind of Christmas and the same kind of Christmas dinner that we would have.

The bishops of our stake, under the direction of the stake presidency, made a survey of the stake membership, and we were startled to discover that 4,800 of our members were either wholly or partially dependent-the heads of families did not have steady employment. There were no government make-work projects in those days. We had only ourselves to whom we could look. We were also told that we couldn't expect much help from the general funds of the Church.

We knew that we had about one thousand children under ten years of age for whom, without someone to help them, there would be no Christmas, so we started to prepare. We found a second floor over an old store on Pierpont Street. We gathered toys, some of which were broken, and for a month or two before Christmas parents came to help us. Many arrived early or stayed late to make something special for their own little ones. That was the spirit of Christmas giving-one had only to step inside the door of that workshop to see and feel it. Our goal was to see that none of the children would be without a Christmas. We would see that there was Christmas dinner in all the homes of the 4,800 who, without help, would otherwise not have Christmas dinner.

At that time I was one of the city commissioners. The night before Christmas Eve, we had had a heavy snowstorm, and I had been out all night with the crews getting the streets cleared, knowing that I would be blamed if any of my men fell down on the job. I had then gone home to change my clothes to go to the office.

As I started back to town, I saw a little boy on the roadside, hitchhiking. He stood in the biting cold with no coat, no gloves, no overshoes. I stopped and asked where he was going.

"I'm going uptown to a free picture show," he said. I told him I was also going uptown and that he could ride with me. "Son," I said, "are you ready for Christmas?"

"Oh, golly, mister," he replied, "we aren't going to have any Christmas at our home. Daddy died three months ago and left Mama and me and a little brother and sister."

Three children, all under twelve! I turned up the heat in my car and said, "Now, son, give me your name and address. Somebody will come to your home, you won't be forgotten. And you have a good time; it's Christmas Eve!"

That night I asked each bishop to go with his delivery men and see that each family was cared for, and to report back to me. While waiting for the last bishop to report, I suddenly, painfully, remembered something. In my haste to see that all my duties at work and my responsibilities in the Church had been taken care of, I had forgotten the little boy and the promise I had made.

When the last bishop reported, I asked, "Bishop, have you enough left to visit one more family?" "Yes, we have," he replied. I told him the story about the little boy and gave him the address. Later he called to say that that family too had received some well- filled baskets. Christmas Eve was over at last, and I went to bed. As I awoke that Christmas morning, I said in my heart, "God grant that I will never let another year pass but that I, as a leader, will truly know my people. I will know their needs. I will be conscious of those who need my leadership most."

My carelessness had meant suffering the first year because I did not know my people, but now I resolved never again to overlook the needs of those around me.

(Ye are the Light of the World, 345-347)

The LDS View on Constitutional Rights of Religions

Editor's Note: Michael Otterson, head of Public Affairs for the LDS Church, blogged in the Washington Post about the Mormon view on constitutional rights of religions. You can read a selection of his blog below:

A Constitutional right

The history and practice of American politics and democracy affirm that churches and their leaders have a constitutional right to speak out in public policy debates.

Local, state and national officials regularly consult with religious leaders as a matter of course. During the 2008 presidential campaign, for example, both then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator John McCain led a number of discussions with religious leaders across America to gather input on challenges facing the nation.

Every individual and group has a stake in the direction of government. When values collide, as they do in every society, a healthy democracy requires active engagement from all who seek its prosperity, including religions. Attempts to deny or suppress participation from religious leaders tread on our nation's constitutionally guaranteed religious freedom. A senior leader of my faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, articulated that concern in an
address last month:

To read the rest of Otterson's blog, go to washingtonpost.com


Good Will Among Nauvoo Faiths

NAUVOO, Ill. -- On the bluff above Historic Nauvoo stand two tall steeples. On one is a statue of the Angel Moroni. On the other is a cross. The first, of course, is the steeple of the Mormon temple; the second, just a couple of hundred yards north, is Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

Some may see irony in this juxtaposition, but in Nauvoo the closeness has become symbolic of a fine friendship between people who love Jesus Christ and seek to follow his teachings. The friendship also extends to members of Christ Lutheran Church, a block to the south, and to the congregation that attends the First Presbyterian Church a few blocks to the east. It extends across town to the United Methodist Church and certainly to the members of the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

On Oct. 22, pastors of these churches met in the LDS Historic Nauvoo Visitors' Center and compared beliefs. The subject of the community meeting was, "Popes, Prophets, Priests, Pastors and People: Where Does the Church Get Its Earthly Authority and Why Does It Matter?" President Robert Ludwig of the Illinois Nauvoo Mission represented the LDS point of view and explained the concept of a restoration through the Prophet Joseph Smith. Father Thomas Szydlik presented the Catholic claim to authority, and Pastor Gayle Pope spoke of Bible-based authority from a Lutheran point of view. Lay Pastor Mark Anderson articulated the Methodist understanding, and Lee Ourth spoke for the Community of Christ. One pastor, Lyren Haney, was unable to attend.

See the full story on ldschurchnews.com.

My question to all is, why can't we have more of this harmony between faiths? We have differences to be sure, but all Christian faiths have one thing in common, Christ. In a time when Christan virtues are so threatened, we need to present a unified front, not a fractured community, easily broken. Ultimately, we need to take a Christ-like perspective towards other Christian faiths, and not accuse, belittle, demean, slander, oppress, or otherwise do harm to each other. Can you imagine Christ acting in such a way?

Strong Argument Against New Atheism

Mormon Times:
PROVO, Utah ­ -- Dinesh D'Souza loves to debate the big names in the new atheism such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Usually he loves to do this on the home turf of the opposition.

Then he came to BYU.

D'Souza, a popular author of political and social commentary, was at Brigham Young University on Oct. 16 for the Wheatley Institute's "Symposium on Responding to the New Atheism." He wasn't in enemy territory, but his trademark take-no-prisoners rhetoric was still sharp as he laid out what he thought was new about the new atheism.

The old atheism focused on separation of church and state and wasn't all that appealing to the masses, D'Souza said. The new atheism is different.

"It's not content with policing the bounds of church and state, it wants to attack belief in God and wants to attack religion in the private sphere also," D'Souza said.

"It wants to make the believer feel like a total idiot for believing in God. So it's more ambitious, it's more aggressive in its agenda."

The new atheists are also a "suave bunch" that strikes a "rebel stance" appealing to young people, D'Souza said.

And young people are the target. The new atheists' goal is to "let the religious parents breed 'em" and then win them over later with their arguments, he said.

D'Souza took on what he called the three strongest arguments of the new atheists.

The first argument against religion is that God is not needed to be good. Hitchens challenged D'Souza in a debate once to name any single virtue that could not be practiced by a non-believer.

D'Souza turned this argument around by listing the most prized virtues of atheists: science, the individual, the right to dissent and to criticize, the equal dignity of women, compassion and the abolition of slavery. "All these virtues came into the West, and arguably into the world, because of Christianity."

Other cultures, such as ancient Greece and Rome, did not have these ideas. "Even the secular values of our culture ... are historically rooted in the soil of Christianity," D'Souza said.The second new atheist argument is that religion stands in the way of science. D'Souza said the new atheists point to such stories as how religion insisted the earth was flat.

But D'Souza said the flat earth idea is a legend and that educated people knew it was spherical even in Christ's time and in ancient Greece. "All you need to do is go observe an eclipse," D'Souza said. "You can see the shadow of the earth on the moon. Hey guys! It's round!"

D'Souza finds it curious that the new atheists hearken back to old controversies in science, but seem to ignore recent discoveries that may support a divine creator -- such as the way the laws of the universe are so precisely tuned as to allow the development of life.

The third argument is that religion isn't just wrong, it is pernicious and dangerous. To prove this, the new atheists point to the Inquisition, the Crusades and the Salem witch trials.

It is a matter of degree, however to D'Souza. The Spanish Inquisition, for example, lasted about 375 years and killed about 2,000 people -- about five a year. The Salem witch trials killed 19 people. He said this was 2,019 too many, but these crimes are pretty much unrepeatable today.

The atheist death toll is not only larger, it is more recent and is ongoing, according to D'Souza. He said that in seven decades the atheist regimes of Stalin, Mao and the Nazis killed 100 million people.

"Atheism has amassed a massive body count. A mountain of bodies. An ocean of blood," D'Souza said. "Atheism, and not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history."

Even most of the modern religious conflicts have at their heart not religion, but other issues such as land or the right to self-rule, D'Souza said.

But the ultimate motive for the current antagonism against religion, according to D'Souza, isn't science or lack of evidence. "I don't believe in unicorns, but you'll notice I haven't written any books called 'The Unicorn Delusion' ... or 'Unicorns are not Great.'"

"The belligerence of the new atheism is an important clue that something deeper is going on here," D'Souza said. It has to do with divine ultimate justice.

"How do you get out from out of the shadow of unceasing accountability, of unremitting moral judgement?" D'Souza said. "Well, abolish the judge. If you can somehow get rid of God, then all his preachments and commandments become optional."

To those who don't want religion to become marginalized, D'Souza recommends that people of faith become prepared and learn about their religion above the "crayon level" of a child. They need to learn of ways to speak that communicate their ideas without religious-based language. Different faith traditions also need to work together."(The new atheists have) taken these issues," D'Souza said, "and put them into the public square, creating an opportunity for the believers to reenter the public square and engage them there."

Even on their home turf.

LDS Wallpapers - Desktops

Here are some nice LDS wallpapers for your computer's desktop. Just click on the image to make it bigger, then right click on the big image, and select "set as wallpaper."

Sources: 1 2 3 4 5

What are the essential similarities and differences between Protestantism and Mormonism?

Since the time of Martin Luther, Protestants are generally considered those Christians who are neither Roman Catholics nor Eastern Orthodox. Although Protestant theology is varied today, it can be characterized by four basic beliefs:

(1) the Bible is the Word of God and all authority resides within its pages;
(2) the Bible should be in the language of the people, who, by the power of the Holy Ghost, can gain their own understanding of God's will;
(3) all church members hold the priesthood, meaning no mediatorial priesthood is necessary; and
(4) people are saved by faith, through the grace of God, and not by any works they may do.

Latter-day Saints share with Protestants a conviction of the importance of the scriptures, an extensive lay priesthood, and the primacy of faith in Jesus Christ. But they differ from Protestants by affirming a centralized authority headed by a latter-day prophet, by performing temple ordinances for the living and dead, and by asserting the eternal nature of the marriage covenant. While they share much in doctrine and heritage with Protestants, Latter-day Saints see themselves as embodying an independent Christian tradition. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a reformation of a previously existing ecclesiastical body but is a restoration through heavenly ministrations of authority, truths, and scriptures that God returned to the earth through the Prophet Joseph Smith and his successors.

Written By:
John Dillenberger - The author has been a Professor Emeritus in the Graduate Theological Union at Berkley.
Roger Keller - Roger Keller has been a professor of religion at Brigham Young University.


How Wide the Divide? A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation

BYU Studies 38, no. 3 (1999): 163–90:

The good news is that Mormons and Evangelicals aren't as far apart in their theology as some had supposed. The bad news is that Mormons and Evangelicals aren't as far apart in their theology as some had supposed.

How Wide the Divide: A Mormon and an Evangelical in Conversation is a unique book and an excellent model for future religious dialogue between Mormons and other faiths and among Mormons themselves. It takes on one of the most notorious divides in Christianity, one fraught with stereotypes, acrimony, misinformation, and in a word, much un-Christian behavior. The book provides clarity, insight, and, I hope, some healing of wounds. The authors are well-trained biblical scholars and experienced, able writers. In this book, they reveal themselves as devout believers in their respective Christian faiths and as thoughtful, gracious men.

The structure of HWD, carefully planned and worked through, is key to the book's success, since it requires genuine listening to each other's positions. The four chapters, each on a crucial, historically divisive issue, begin with a statement by one or the other author on the subject and a review of the usual uninformed "misconceptions" by others of their views. Each author then includes a quite critical section of "misgivings" about what they understand the other group believes and ends with "A More Positive Conclusion" that points toward a "Joint Conclusion" written together after the other has gone through the same process for their half of the chapter. Finally, the authors write a "Conclusion" to the entire book that pleads for mutual avoidance of labels like "cult" and "great and abominable" church, for greater understanding based on correct information from reliable sources, and for a new era of "interreligious conversation and cooperation in social and political action . . . [as] allies in the service of God." The authors list twelve "points of agreement," such as "There is no other name and no other way by which any individual may be saved other than through Jesus Christ" (195) and eleven "important issues [that] continue to divide us," like "Do people have a chance to respond to the gospel after death or not?" (196). The book ends with an invitation for further dialogue "characterized by speaking the truth to one another in love" (196).

All of this is very good news. I found myself authoritatively informed by both authors on some of the intricacies of traditional Christian thought and Evangelical belief, especially in the areas of biblical inerrancy and salvation by grace. The authors careful dialogue reinvigorated my thinking about Mormon concepts of God, the Atonement, and the plan of salvation. I was delighted at the good spirit manifest in the exchanges, even during sharp disagreement about fundamentals. The authors were careful and attentive to each other and willing to rethink, restate, and even change their minds. They clearly respect and admire each other and are not threatened by continuing differences or failure to convert one another. I found myself yearning for similarly respectful, civil discourse among Mormons when they express or debate opposing views of Mormon history or theology.

The bad news is that some Evangelicals' intolerance for Mormons has taken extreme forms, including the claim that Mormons are not Christians and are therefore unworthy to associate in Christian causes, receive awards from Christian associations, or teach at Christian colleges. The persecution has even extended to the making or showing of viciously false and inflammatory films. Though such consequences are renounced by Blomberg, they may be partly a result of basic theological positions that Robinson seems more willing to compromise than Blomberg and that may be taking over popular Mormon thought and reducing tolerance for each other within the Church.

Robinson has already written thoroughly and persuasively on the matter of salvation by grace in works comparable in focus to those of Lowell Bennion and Elder Jeffrey R. Holland. His Believing Christ,1 which contains his famous "parable of the bicycle," and Following Christ2 have become popular antidotes to the common Mormon notion that people are saved solely by works and must "perfect themselves" to enter Christ's kingdom and inherit celestial glory. Perhaps this is the heresy that most offends Evangelicals and makes them think that Mormons aren't Christian.

In Believing Christ, Robinson uses ancient and modern scripture, lively argument, and touching personal experiences like the bicycle story to show that the crucial beginning of the journey of salvation (receiving Christ and being released from the bondage of sin—that is, becoming "justified") is made possible through grace, not merit or works. It is a free gift, something like that of the father in the bicycle parable who stalls his importunate daughter with "You save all your pennies and pretty soon you'll have enough for a bike." Then, when she later comes to him with all she has, sixty-one cents, he makes up the rest.

This is very good news, and I know that for many Mormons it evokes the gratitude and brings the change of heart that Paul felt when he first realized, with awe, the unique, unconditional quality of God's love, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:8). A person I know was pushed near the edge of despair when her son suffered a terrible accident that required years of patient tending. Struggling with questions like "Why my son?" and "How can I possibly do it?" this parent found the answers in Robinson's book and was able to lay her burden on the Lord and find immense relief. Grace does in fact have the power to save, and Latter-day Saints too often cut themselves off from that power or delay its effects by overreacting to the traditional Protestant emphasis on "grace alone," trying instead to do it all by themselves.

The bad news, however, is that reading Robinson's discussion of grace and Atonement in HWD, especially his sympathetic responses to Blomberg's Evangelical formulations, confirmed my feeling that the grace in the bicycle parable is more Protestant than Mormon. Protestant grace, as I understand it, is God freely doing something absolutely crucial for and to us in order to save some of us from hell Mormon grace, on the other hand, involves God freely doing something absolutely crucial to help all of us become new, saved beings. Protestant grace begins in God's omnipotence and absolute sovereignty and thus logically (as Calvin showed) is pre-destinated, irresistible, permanent, and results in an either-or reward—salvation or damnation. Mormon grace begins in God's loving response to our intrinsic moral agency and thus emphasizes our choice, "growing in grace," and trying to change ourselves through repentance and righteousness into "new creatures," all of which results in a huge variety of "degrees" of individual salvation. The crucial difference, as I see it, is that between an absolute God giving us relief from his absolute demands of justice because we have no merit and a loving Father helping us to become Christlike because we can't do it alone.

Recently an Evangelical pollster asked, "Can a good person earn their way to heaven?"3 The good news is that 76 percent of Mormons agreed they could. That's also the bad news, because as Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, "Individuals lack the capacity to develop a Christlike nature by their own effort.4 But Mormons aren't the only inconsistent ones. An even higher number of Catholics, 82 percent, agreed they could "earn" their way to heaven, though, as Monsignor Francis Mannion, rector of the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City, points out, the question as phrased directly denies the central Catholic doctrine that no one can get to heaven without God's grace.5 Even 22 percent of Assembly of God members and 38 percent of Baptists—though these are among the most "Evangelical," "saved by grace" Christians—agreed they could "earn" their way to heaven.

Why the confusion on something so basic? I think it's because the way the question is usually put, "Are we saved by grace or by works?" misdirects the discussion, even to some extent for Robinson and Blomberg. It is also because the same scriptures, as Joseph Smith discovered as a boy seeking truth and as Robinson and Blomberg amply demonstrate, can be interpreted quite oppositely. This, however, is precisely why prophetic interpretation of the Bible and new modern revelations are needed, advantages that Blomberg will not accept and that Robinson, at least in this book, seems too willing to neglect.

Modern revelation opens up a whole new way of seeing salvation that escapes the trap of the traditional Protestant-Catholic argument proceeding from that misleading question about amounts of grace and works. It teaches that salvation is not a quid-pro-quo reward (or punishment) by God but a state of being (or lack thereof) and of spiritual growth toward Godhood achieved through whatever combination of grace and choice and effort best works for each of us.

The Catholic emphasis on salvation through obedience to church law, including submission to prescribed ordinances administered by proper church authority, could very easily lead to hypocrisy. A sinner could go through the motions without inner conviction or change. He could even, in the fifteenth century, buy "indulgences," or means to salvation. Luther, offended by such practices, read Paul on salvation by grace and wrote "alone" in the margin of his Bible, adding his own (unscriptural) emphasis and thus moving most Protestants to the opposite extreme, which holds that actions and authority don't matter, only a personal commitment to Christ that is rewarded with total salvation.

But such apparent opposites both offend common sense, and they lead to the confusion revealed in the poll cited above. Actions and outward ordinances can be what Mormon, condemning infant baptism, called "dead works" (Moroni 8:23). But there is something equally wrong with the notion that what we do and are doesn't really or ultimately matter, that God will "give" salvation to certain people for "believing," whatever their lives look like. The problem with both positions is that they imply that salvation is a thing, an amount, a reward that can be somehow "given" by God.

Modern revelation teaches that salvation is a condition, a soul's state of being (Mosiah 3:12, 19), in fact a variety of conditions. Mosiah 2:38–39 makes it clear that hell itself is a state of internal being rather than an external place. Such states of soul are not simply given or created by God; they are achieved or lost through a combination of our response to God's enabling opportunities, to his potentially transforming love in the Atonement. Salvation requires becoming "new creatures in Christ" through our sincere participation in the saving ordinances and obedience to moral law, including service to others.

It seems to me unfortunate that Robinson's parable is about amounts—a little bit of works (sixty-one cents) and total belief (a child's heart) plus Christ's infinite grace bring a bicycle—rather than being about what it is that makes it possible for a person to become justified through an inner change and then become continually more Christlike. Of course, Robinson knows that all analogies have their limits and that a bicycle is not very much like salvation. He is very clear, both in Following Christ and in some of his most effective responses to Blomberg (145–47), that a process of sanctification through obedience and service must follow the initial justification by faith in Christ or the faith is not really faith. But I still worry that Robinson's formulations about salvation and judgment, as well as other crucial concepts, seem more Evangelical than Mormon.

Obviously, I cannot cover here the theological import of the full constellation of concepts that are found in LDS or Evangelical doctrinal formulations, but as a general matter, theological issues tend to divide themselves over one great rift. The technical terms are "rationalism," which posits a reasonable God and universe that consistently obey sensible and ultimately ascertainable laws, and "voluntarism" (from the Latin for "will"), which posits a sovereign God who creates and directs a universe solely by his own will, which can be irrational and capricious, indeed is essentially unintelligible to humans. Joseph Smith's theology seems to me to be quintessentially in line with the rationalistic. It even suggests that the laws by which our God became a god and by which we can follow him in gaining salvation are eternal and unchangeable even by him—and that they work in rational and understandable ways to produce good in the world and change in us. Evangelical theology is aggressively voluntaristic, insisting on a God totally different from us and indifferent to our reasoning, one to whose inscrutable sovereign will we must simply submit, even in such crucial matters as why we were created, how some of us are to be saved, and why some are to be punished eternally—and I'm afraid Robinson inclines in that direction.

For instance, Robinson accepts, apparently without reservation, the Evangelical formulation of a "substitutionary" atonement—that is, that Christ fully and literally takes our place in suffering for the sins we have committed and thus meets the demands of God's will that there be such suffering. A rationalistic understanding of the Atonement, consistent I believe with insights from modern revelation, sees it not as some strange, impersonal, even metaphysical, contract involving an absolute, judgmental God and vicariously sacrificed Christ, which allows us to avoid a just damnation. Rather, it is as an infinite expression to each of us personally of God and Christ's unconditional love—expressed in Christ's loving life and teachings, his taking upon himself our sins and weaknesses, so completely in the Garden that he bled at every pore, and his willing death on the cross. because the God who taught us the law is willing to do this for us who break the law, the Atonement is reasonably able to "appease the demands of justice" and save us from sin and its natural punishments, if we let it move us to accept the gift and use the power it provides to repent.

The Atonement is not, as many Evangelicals believe, a mysterious "substitute" for our repentance and righteousness but rather a perfectly sensible enabler. It is, as the Book of Mormon teaches, the "means" given us that we might "have faith unto repentance" (Alma 34:17). Under this view, the Atonement is not a legalistic requirement on God to meet his own mysterious demands and thus free us from punishment after we have faith and repent; it is God's effort to move us sinners through our response to his unconditional love extended before we repent, in order to change what we are. We can thus avoid the inherent "demands of justice" Alma speaks of, both the moral majesty of God's righteous nature and our own inner tendency to judge ourselves for going against that nature, and participate in God's "plan of mercy" (Alma 42:15). Traditional substitutionary concepts tend to keep us focused on justice and our own undeserving, which, in my experience, often merely increases guilt and immobility in the face of sin, while the concepts in modern revelations that emphasize the rational ability of grace to move us to repentance are in fact powerful indeed to that end. It would be bad news indeed, in an effort to become more accepted as "Christians" to lose those energizing and redemptive concepts.

It would also be bad news if we lost our enlightened, rationalistic understandings of the nature of God and man and of the nature and authority of scripture, given through modern revelation. Thus, it was surprising to read Robinson's rather complete capitulation to what seems like scriptural literalism ("There isn't a single verse of the Bible that I do not personally accept and believe," 59). It was especially surprising after his accurate summary of the rather liberal Mormon understanding, through modern revelation, that God speaks to his "servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language" (D&C 1:24) and his admission that this means that all scripture is "recorded by men who can and do make mistakes" (57). Though Robinson is very good at critiquing Evangelicals for using mainly nonauthoritative Mormon sources to construct false notions of Mormon beliefs, he seems to want to define the resources for Mormon theology much too narrowly.

What is at stake is nothing short of our concept of God's nature in relation to our own. The worst news, it seems to me, is that Robinson appears willing to give up the unique, rationalistic, concepts of God revealed in the Doctrine and Covenants and developed clearly and fully in the King Follett Discourse. Blomberg rightly points out that the Evangelical concept of an absolute, sovereign God is crucial to the concept of a substitutionary atonement sufficient to save. Both concepts stand or fall together, and Robinson lets both stand. He effectively faults Evangelicals for claiming biblical sufficiency and inerrancy and at the same time basing much of their thought and language on the postbiblical councils, which, according to him, are "wedded to Greek philosophical categories and assumptions (88, 92). Yet Robinson seems to accept quite uncritically the unbiblical concept of God that arose in those councils, that is, as a static, "omnipotent," "omniscient," and "omnipresent" being, entirely different in nature from humans. As Robinson puts it, directly addressing perhaps the major difference between Mormons and other Christians, "Many Evangelicals are convinced, wrongly, that Latter-day Saints believe in a finite, limited, or changeable god, even though that notion is repugnant to us" (88).

"Repugnant" to Mormons? What about President Brigham Young: "The God that I serve is progressing eternally [in knowledge and power], and so are his children"6 Or twentieth-century Apostle John A. Widtsoe: "If the great law of progression is accepted, God must have been engaged, and must now be engaged in progressive development."7

Yes, I know these are what Blomberg and even Robinson would call "noncanonical" sources, and literal interpretations of certain scriptures do support an all-powerful, absolute, and static God. But that shows precisely how dangerously limiting scriptural literalism is. The three "omni"s directly contradict what modern revelation and common sense tell us about God, and there is no need to be bound to literal interpretation of their scriptural use. For instance, the scriptures say God is "all-powerful" and "infinite," but they also say "God is love" and "God is a consuming fire." All these are worshipful metaphors and should not be taken as literal, definitive theology. Modern scripture makes clear that God cannot create intelligence and elements (D&C 93:29–33) and that he cannot break eternal law (D&C 130:20). And modern prophets, from Brigham Young to Joseph Fielding Smith, have recognized that the absolutistic scriptural language concerning one God, who has "all" power and knowledge sufficient to save us, can well apply to our limited sphere of existence, in which God is indeed "unchangeable"; at the same time, other language about many Gods in eternal progression of knowledge and power is equally true and orthodox when applied to spheres beyond our own.8 The problem is not so much that Robinson is "wrong" as that he claims only half the story is orthodox.

The "voluntaristic" Evangelical understanding seems to be that God is an absolute and infinite being, perfect and self-sufficient in every way, existing "before" and therefore unconditioned by time and space and material and law. This would seem to imply that God "decides" for some unaccountable reason (he certainly doesn't need anything, being "absolute" by definition) to create beings to love him, makes them out of nothing—and thus wholly determines what they will be. Then God puts billions of them in a world where the huge majority endure mainly pain and sorrow, comes among them as Christ and rewards those who believe on him with eternal bliss and punishes those who don't (including the huge majority who have never heard of him!) with eternal torment. No wonder that many in our century have decided that such a God is at best irrational and at worst a cruel creator. If he was already perfect, why did he "need" to create this world at all, and if he's all-powerful, why couldn't he just make an Adam and Eve that would have done things right in the first place or (since they were made out of nothing) destroy them and start over—or at least just send sinners back into nothingness rather than eternal torment (or make Christian teaching available to more than 10 percent of his children or prevent the Holocaust, and so forth)?

I can't help preferring the rationalistic, Mormon concept that sees God as an exalted person existing in time and space and with a real environment of matter and energy and law which can be organized and created within but cannot be called into being or destroyed or absolutely controlled—a being whose work and glory it is to help other beings develop in the ways he has developed so they can enjoy his glory, too. This God sacrifices his son in an atonement of infinite love, powerful enough to resurrect us all to immortality and to move those of us who will to repent and improve until we become like him, with the same joy and creative and loving powers. Others he simply lets experience fully the results of what they have become or can still become, in infinite variety, rather than consigning them absolutely and irrevocably to pain or bliss.

We encounter here, of course, the crucial issues of judgment and punishment. In the rationalistic view, there are certainly natural and unavoidable consequences for all violations of natural, universal law, and God's justice will always hold us to strict account for our choices and shortcomings—but his Atonement appeases all need to suffer additional punishment if we will repent, and thus, I believe, all God's punishment is never vindictive. Modern revelation strongly suggests that "eternal" punishment does not mean "endless" (D&C 19:12), though certainly some will choose to become incapable of repentance and suffer the pain that entails. God is indeed the long-suffering, compassionate, reasonable, unconditionally loving Savior who takes no "pleasure at all that the wicked should die" but hopes they will "return from [their] way, and live" (Ezek. 18:23).

The voluntaristic view, on the other hand, is quite willing to accept, perhaps even approve of, God's irrational punishment on his creatures. Thus, despite the intelligence and graciousness of Blomberg, I grew increasingly depressed by the dreary, even mean-spirited implications of Evangelical theology: ("[Though] it is not fair to imagine the Adolf Hitlers of this world experiencing the same punishment as the friendly, hardworking non-Christian homeowner down the street; . . . they will spend an unpleasant eternity apart from God and all his people" [174]). I was even more depressed to find Robinson using "lake of fire" language (151) that is usually associated with vindictive punishment.

"Gospel," of course, means literally "good news," but (mea culpa) I just can't find much good news in such ideas about God's punishment. According to Blomberg (and Robinson seems to some extent to agree), God has controlled the writing, preservation, and canonization of the Bible so miraculously that it can be called essentially inerrant, sufficient, and binding for our salvation—and yet that same all-powerful, meticulous God has been unable to make the Bible and its saving message available to more than a small fraction of his children. Blomberg recognizes this "vexing" problem but can do no better than the old Catholic answer (rewards given according to "divine awareness of how they would have responded had they heard the gospel" [171]). But this only compounds the cruel irrationality by reminding us that humans have a nature that God gave them, but will not change and, worse, punishes them for it.

That all seems to me quite bad news. It certainly fails the marvelous test Joseph Smith suggested for the revelation in the King Follett Discourse of the very rationalistic doctrines of God's finitude and man's potential deification: "This is good doctrine. It tastes good. . . . [W]hen I tell you of these words of eternal life that are given to me by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the revelations of Jesus Christ, you are bound to receive them as sweet. You taste them and I know you believe them."9 But by all means, people should read the book and decide for themselves whether Robinson and Blomberg's doctrinal formulations taste good. It may, after all, in the end be mostly a matter of personal temperament whether individuals tend toward "rationalism" or toward "voluntarism." Some are genuinely attracted to the securities of an absolute, sovereign, justice-oriented God and some to the adventuresomeness of an open, progressive, universe and an infinitely loving God working with us eternal moral agents. I remember how shocked I was when I first read the great Evangelical divine Jonathan Edwards tell how he, after previously being "full of objections" to what seemed "a horrible doctrine," became converted to "God's sovereignty, in choosing whom He would to eternal life, and rejecting whom He pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell." After his conversion, Edwards's "reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it" and "the doctrine . . . appeared exceedingly pleasant, bright, and sweet."10 I was appalled; that doctrine did not, and does not, taste sweet to me at all. But I could see and accept that good, intelligent people could feel that way and that I might have something to learn from them.

The bad news for me is that those (both Evangelicals and Mormons) with the voluntaristic temperament seem so unwilling to tolerate and learn from those with the rationalistic, and, that partly through that influence American and now Mormon cultures seem to be increasingly intolerant of other people, both politically and theologically. There seems to be a tendency for those who believe in an absolute, sovereign, all-determining, and punishing God to have absolute assurance that he has given them (perhaps through an "inerrant" Bible) absolute Truth, which they are justified in using any means, including the law and even illegal force, to impose on others. A few years ago, I confronted some evangelical "Ex-Mormons for Jesus" who, in an effort to embarrass the Church had dishonestly obtained and then circulated a private letter. They claimed they had a perfect right to do anything to destroy Mormonism which god had told them was evil.

The good news is that HWD is designed to bring greater tolerance between Evangelicals and Mormons by showing that much of what we believe, once we get past false stereotypes and different definitions, is the same. The bad news is that the unspoken premise of the book seems to be that we have to believe more alike in order to be more tolerant. Even if Blomberg and Robinson were totally wrong and Evangelicals and Mormons really did have completely different beliefs, we still shouldn't be treating each other the way we do.

The worst news is the spirit of "no compromise" underneath even Blomberg's urbane, well-informed politeness. He and other Evangelicals approve of Robinson's "bicycle parable" for being closer to the truth (their truth) about grace but would have him remove even the sixty-one cents the daughter contributes! Blomberg says that Evangelicals "hope and pray that influential modern LDS authors like Prof. Robinson are indeed shifting the balance back toward grace" (177), and they are already starting in print to call such people part of "Evangelical Mormonism"—apparently the only Mormons acceptable to them as Christians (182).

Robinson and others may indeed be shifting the balance of popular Mormon theology. This is not necessarily bad news. Perhaps it is just a historical shift in temperament or response to our terrible, anxiety-producing century or even a useful "correction" to a popular Mormon overemphasis on salvation by works or God's finitude. But if, as past experience with Evangelicals suggests, "Evangelical Mormons," rather than following the example of this book, become more intolerant of those who differ with them—that would be very bad news indeed.

I don't expect that to happen. I trust that Mormons will cling to doctrines of modern revelation that encourage both grateful acceptance of grace and a serious, continuing, personal effort to grow in grace. Those doctrines reveal a compassionate God who does not ask us to see all we are and do (including being damned!) for his glory, a God whose work and glory, always, is to enable our immortality and eternal life. In the book of Moses, Enoch, given a vision of heaven and earth, sees God weeping over human wickedness. He is astonished because, having a traditional (voluntaristic) concept of God as absolute and all-powerful, he assumes that God should be able to simply prevent—or at least change—what might make him weep. God explains that his children have "agency," cannot be coerced, and thus "the whole heavens shall weep over them . . . seeing these shall suffer" (Moses 7:32, 37). Enoch sees into God's heart, changes his concept of him—and is moved to new compassion himself: he "wept and stretched forth his arms, and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook" (Moses 7:41). This is the good news—for both Mormons and Evangelicals.

The real test of whether genuine efforts for mutual understanding, like HWD, are successful is if those efforts help people to embrace the fullness of the gospel, beyond their own partial emphases—if they help Mormons to better appreciate the good news of grace emphasized by Evangelicals and if they help Evangelicals to better appreciate the good news of God's genuinely related, intelligibly merciful nature and his "means"—providing divine atonement that helps us change our nature, as taught in modern revelation. Finally, what will most determine the success of these efforts is the degree to which both faiths treat one another with respect and compassion, whether they agree more or not.

1. Stephen E. Robinson, Believing Christ: The Parable of the Bicycle and Other Good News (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992).

2. Stephen E. Robinson, Following Christ: The Parable of the Diver and More Good News. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1995).

3. Cited in the Salt Lake Tribune January 3, 1998 C1.

4. Cited in the Salt Lake Tribune January 3, 1998 C1. See Bruce C. Hafen, The Broken Heart (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989), 155–73.

5. Cited in the Salt Lake Tribune January 3, 1998 C1.

6. Brigham Young, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool: F. D. Richards, 1855 86), 11:286, January 13, 1867.

7. John A. Widtsoe, A Rational Theology (Salt Lake City: General Priesthood Committee of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1915), 30–31.

8. For the evidence, see Eugene England, "Perfection and Progression: Two Complementary Ways to Talk about God," BYU Studies 29, no. 3 (1989): 31 47.

9. Stan Larson, "The King Follett Discourse: A Newly Amalgameted Text," BYU Studies 18, no. 2 (1978): 204.

10. Jonathan Edwards, "Personal Narrative," in Harper American Literature, ed. Donald McQuade and others (New York: Harper and Row, 1987), 326.


What are some similarities and differences between Catholicism, orthodoxy, and Mormonism?

While Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy are similar to each other doctrinally, both hold teachings that differ from Mormonism. Both Catholicism and Orthodoxy believe God's being is trinitarian, whereas Latter-day Saints affirm that Jesus Christ has a separate nature and is a separate entity from the Father. Christ's oneness with the Father is spiritual in purpose and mind. In both Catholic traditions, Christ's death and resurrection provides access to saving grace. For Latter-day Saints the Atonement of Jesus Christ was a descending below all things in order to rise above all. The Atonement reunites man with God, and all that Christ received from the Father may be received by man from the Father through Christ. Catholics believe that Jesus bestowed on Peter his pastoral authority, which has been passed on in the institution of the Papacy. Latter-day Saints believe that Peter held the keys of apostolic authority, but that these keys were lost in succeeding generations, requiring a modern restoration of these keys. With this restoration came knowledge and authority lost since the New Testament Church, including organizational patterns, the spirit of prophecy, and the temple and its ordinances. For Catholics the scriptural canon is closed while for Latter-day Saints the canon remains open and revelation is ongoing. Latter-day Saints also do not believe in transubstantiation but understand the sacrament as symbols for the remembrance of the body and blood of Christ. While Catholics view marriage as a grace-giving sacrament, Latter-day Saints teach that the eternal glorification of the family is the highest spiritual possibility. Finally, in addition to other differences, while Latter-day Saints honor Mary, they have no equivalent of the doctrines of the immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, intercession, and the bodily assumption of Mary.

Written By:
Roger Keller - Roger Keller has been a professor of religion at Brigham Young University.


360 Degree Views of Temple Square

This website is really neat. It has several 360 degree views of Temple Square. Really neat, check it out. http://www.utah3d.net/GalleryTempleSquare.html

Mormons and Evangelicals

For the first time in 105 years, non-Mormons mounted the pulpit at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City on Nov. 14. The event, dubbed an "Evening of Friendship," was organized by Standing Together, a network of 100 evangelical churches trying to improve relations with members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historical animosity dating back to the founding of the LDS Church has heightened in recent years between the two groups, particularly in the 1990s, when high-profile evangelical leaders said that Mormons are not Christians and the Southern Baptist Convention held one of its annual meetings in Salt Lake City, partially with the goal of converting Mormons to evangelical Protestantism.

In what the Deseret News referred to as "stunningly candid" comments, Fuller Theological Seminary president and Beliefnet columnist Richard J. Mouw apologized to Mormons for evangelicals' tendency to distort the truth about Latter-day Saints' beliefs. "Let me state it clearly. We evangelicals have sinned against you," Mouw said. The speech is making the rounds among surprised and generally pleased evangelical and Mormon groups. We reprint the remarks below.

It is difficult for me to find adequate words to express how thrilled I am to be here this evening. Here we are, evangelical Protestants and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, gathered together in this Salt Lake Tabernacle, for an event that is described as "An Evening of Friendship."

I am not being melodramatic when I say that this is surely an historic occasion. To be sure, there have long been friendships between some evangelicals and some LDS folks. But they have not appeared on the public radar screen. Our public relations between our two communities have been-to put it mildly-decidedly unfriendly. From the very beginning, when Joseph Smith organized his church in 1830, my evangelical forebears hurled angry accusations and vehement denunciations at the Mormon community-a practice that continues from some evangelical quarters even into this present day. And I think it is fair to say that some Mormons have on occasion responded in kind. Friendship with each other has not come easily for our two communities.

But in recent times things have begun to change. Evangelicals and Mormons have worked together on important matters of public morality. Here in Utah, the Standing Together ministry has been willing to take some considerable risks in countering the more aggressive and disruptive evangelical attacks against the LDS church. And Pastor Greg Johnson's well-attended dialogues with Professor Bob Millet have done much to model a new spirit of frank but friendly exchange about important faith topics. And now this evening we are experiencing the gracious hospitality of the LDS leadership, who have welcomed us all into this meeting place, which has played-and continues to play-such an important role in the life of the Mormon community.

On a personal level, over the past half-dozen years I have been a member of a small group of evangelical scholars who have been engaged in lengthy closed-door discussions about spiritual and theological matters with a small group of our LDS counterparts. We have not been afraid to argue strenuously with each other, but our arguments have been conducted in a sincere desire genuinely to understand each other-and in the process we have formed some deep bonds of friendship.

I know that I have learned much in this continuing dialogue, and I am now convinced that we evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. Indeed, let me state it bluntly to the LDS folks here this evening: we have sinned against you. The God of the Scriptures makes it clear that it is a terrible thing to bear false witness against our neighbors, and we have been guilty of that sort of transgression in things we have said about you. We have told you what you believe without making a sincere effort first of all to ask you what you believe.

We have made much of the need to provide you with a strong defense of traditional Christian convictions, regularly quoting the Apostle Peter's mandate that we present to people like you a reasoned account of the hope that lies with in us-but we have not been careful to follow the same Apostle's counsel that immediately follows that mandate, when he tells us that we must always make our case with "gentleness and reverence" toward those with whom we are speaking. Indeed, we have even on occasion demonized you, weaving conspiracy theories about what the LDS community is "really" trying to accomplish in the world. And even at our best, we have-and this is true of both of our communities-we have talked past each other, setting forth oversimplified and distorted accounts of what the other group believes.
I have formed some wonderful friendships with Mormons in the past few years. These friends have helped me to see the ways in which I have often misinterpreted Mormon thought. To be sure, as a result of those conversations I also remained convinced that there are very real issues of disagreement between us-and that some of these issues are matters of eternal signficiance. But we can now discuss these topics as friends And tonight many more of our friends have come together in this place for a very public and large-scale "Evening of Friendship." God be praised!

In just a month and a half we will greet the year 2005, which marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Smith. During this year there will be many occasions to pay special attention to Joseph's life and teachings, and I hope many in the evangelical community will take part in those events. But this evening we are not here to talk about Joseph Smith, but about the One whose birth we will celebrate again just before the bicentennial year of Joseph's birth makes its appearance. This is the One about whose birth we sing-in words, I should add, that many of us love to hear sung by that great choir that sings these words in this Tabernacle-"the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight."

What a wonderful thing it is that we can meet together to talk about the Lord Jesus and about who he is and what he has done on our behalf. There is much here to talk about. I personally take great encouragement from words that Joseph Smith uttered on the occasion of the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in April of 1830: "we know," Joseph said, "that all men must repent and believe on the name of Jesus Christ, and worship the Father in his name, and endure in faith on his name to the end, or they cannot be saved in the kingdom of God." And then he added: "And we know that justification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, and we know also that sanctification through the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is just and true, to all those who love and serve God with all their mights, minds, and strength."

I greet you this evening in that spirit-as one who wants more than anything else to love and serve God with all my might, mind and strength, in the power made available by the amazing grace that sent the Lord Jesus to Bethlehem's manger, and to the Garden of Gethsemane, and to the Cross of Calvary, where he shed his blood to pay the debt of our sin-a debt that we could never pay on our own.

This is the spirit in which Ravi Zacharias is going to speak to us this evening-the spirit of devotion to the One whose name is above every name, the One who alone is mighty to save, and before whom someday every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord to the glory of the Father. May this wonderful "Evening of Friendship" point us all to that great day. Thank you and God bless you.

Dallin H. Oaks on Freedom of Religion

13 October 2009 Transcript of Elder Dallin H. Oaks speech given at BYU-Idaho on 13 October 2009.

My dear young friends, I am pleased to speak to this BYU-Idaho audience. I am conscious that I am also speaking to many in other places. In this time of the Internet, what we say in one place is instantly put before a wider audience, including many to whom we do not intend to speak. That complicates my task, so I ask your understanding as I speak to a very diverse audience.

In choosing my subject I have relied on an old military maxim that when there is a battle underway, persons who desire to join the fray should “march to the sound of the guns.”[i] So it is that I invite you to march with me as I speak about religious freedom under the United States Constitution. There is a battle over the meaning of that freedom. The contest is of eternal importance, and it is your generation that must understand the issues and make the efforts to prevail.


An 1833 revelation to the Prophet Joseph Smith declared that the Lord established the United States Constitution by wise men whom he raised up for that very purpose (Doctrine and Covenants 101:80). The Lord also declared that this constitution “should be maintained for the rights and protection of all flesh” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:77; emphasis added).

In 1833, when almost all people in the world were still ruled by kings or tyrants, few could see how the infant United States Constitution could be divinely designed “for the rights and protection of all flesh.” Today, 176 years after that revelation, almost every nation in the world has adopted a written constitution, and the United States Constitution profoundly influenced all of them. Truly, this nation’s most important export is its constitution, whose great principles stand as a model “for the rights and protection of all flesh.” On the vital human right of religious freedom, however, many constitutions fall short of the protections that are needed, so we are grateful that the United States government seeks to encourage religious freedom all over the world.[ii]


To illustrate the importance of basic human rights in other countries, I refer to some recent history in Mongolia, which shows that the religious freedom we have taken for granted in the United States must be won by dangerous sacrifice in some other nations.

Following the perestroika movement in the Soviet Union, popular demonstrations in Mongolia forced the Communist government to resign in March 1990. Other political parties were legalized, but the first Mongolian elections gave the Communists a majority in the new parliament, and the old repressive attitudes persisted in all government departments. The full functioning of a democratic process and the full enjoyment of the people’s needed freedoms do not occur without a struggle. In Mongolia, the freedoms of speech, press and religion — a principal feature of the inspired United States Constitution — remained unfulfilled.

In that precarious environment, a 42-year-old married woman, Oyun Altangerel, a department head in the state library, courageously took some actions that would prove historic. Acting against official pressure, she organized a “Democratic Association Branch Council.” This 12-member group, the first of its kind, spoke out for democracy and proposed that state employees have the freedoms of worship, belief and expression, including the right to belong to a political party of their choice.

When Oyun and others were fired from their state employment, Oyun began a hunger strike in the state library. Within three hours she was joined by 20 others, mostly women, and their hunger strike, which continued for five days, became a public demonstration that took their grievances to the people of Mongolia. This demonstration, backed by major democratic movement leaders, encouraged other government employees to organize similar democratic councils. These dangerous actions expanded into a national anti-government movement that voiced powerful support for the basic human freedoms of speech, press and religion. Eventually the government accepted the demands, and in the adoption of a democratic constitution two years later Mongolia took a major step toward a free society.

For Latter-day Saints, this birth of constitutional freedom in Mongolia has special interest. Less than two years after the historic hunger strike, we sent our first missionaries to Mongolia. In 1992 these couples began their meetings in the state library, where Oyun was working. The following year, she showed her courage again by being baptized into this newly arrived Christian church. Her only child, a 22-year-old son, was baptized two years later. Today, the Mongolian members of our Church number 9,000, reportedly the largest group of Christians in the country. A few months ago we organized our first stake in Mongolia. Called as the stake president was Sister Oyun’s son, Odgerel. He had studied for a year at BYU-Hawaii, and his wife, Ariuna, a former missionary in Utah, graduated there.[iii]


One of the great fundamentals of our inspired constitution, relied on by Oyun of Mongolia and countless others struggling for freedom in many countries in the world, is the principle that the people are the source of government power. This principle of popular sovereignty was first written and applied on the American continent over 200 years ago. A group of colonies won independence from a king, and their representatives had the unique opportunity of establishing a new government. They did this by creating the first written constitution that has survived to govern a modern nation. The United States Constitution declared the source of government power, delegated that power to a government, and regulated its exercise.

Along with many other religious people, we affirm that God is the ultimate source of power and that, under Him, it is the people’s inherent right to decide their form of government. Sovereign power is not inherent in a state or nation just because its leaders have the power that comes from force of arms. And sovereign power does not come from the divine right of a king, who grants his subjects such power as he pleases or is forced to concede, as in Magna Carta. As the preamble to our constitution states: “We the People of the United States . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution.”

This principle of sovereignty in the people explains the meaning of God’s revelation that He established the Constitution of the United States “that every man may act . . . according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:78). In other words, the most desirable condition for the effective exercise of God-given moral agency is a condition of maximum freedom and responsibility — the opposite of slavery or political oppression. With freedom we can be accountable for our own actions and cannot blame our conditions on our bondage to another. This is the condition the Lord praised in the Book of Mormon, where the people — not a king — established the laws and were governed by them (see Mosiah 29:23–26). This popular sovereignty necessarily implies popular responsibility. Instead of blaming their troubles on a king or tyrant, all citizens are responsible to share the burdens of governing, “that every man might bear his part” (Mosiah 29:34).


“For the rights and protection of all flesh” the United State Constitution includes in its First Amendment the guarantees of free exercise of religion and free speech and press. Without these great fundamentals of the Constitution, America could not have served as the host nation for the restoration of the gospel, which began just three decades after the Bill of Rights was ratified.

The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” The prohibition against “an establishment of religion” was intended to separate churches and government, to prevent a national church of the kind still found in Europe. In the interest of time I will say no more about the establishment of religion, but only concentrate on the direction that the United States shall have no law “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

The guarantee of the free exercise of religion, which I will call religious freedom, is the first expression in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. As noted by many, this “pre-eminent place” identifies freedom of religion as “a cornerstone of American democracy.”[iv] The American colonies were originally settled by people who, for the most part, had come to this continent to be able to practice their religious faith without persecution, and their successors deliberately placed religious freedom first in the nation’s Bill of Rights. So it is that our national law formally declares: “The right to freedom of religion undergirds the very origin and existence of the United States.”[v]

The free “exercise” of religion obviously involves both the right to choose religious beliefs and affiliations and the right to “exercise” or practice those beliefs. But in a nation with citizens of many different religious beliefs, the right of some to act upon their religious principles must be qualified by the government’s responsibility to protect the health and safety of all. Otherwise, for example, the government could not protect its citizens’ person or property from neighbors whose intentions include taking human life or stealing in circumstances rationalized on the basis of their religious beliefs.

The inherent conflict between the precious religious freedom of the people and the legitimate regulatory responsibilities of the government is the central issue of religious freedom. Here are just a few examples of current controversial public issues that involve this conflict: laws governing marriage and adoption; laws regulating the activities of church-related organizations like BYU-Idaho in furtherance of their religious missions — activities such as who they will serve or employ; and laws prohibiting discrimination in employment or work conditions against persons with unpopular religious beliefs or practices.

The problems are not simple, and over the years the United States Supreme Court, which has the ultimate responsibility of interpreting the meaning of the lofty and general provisions of the Constitution, has struggled to identify principles that can guide its decisions when government action is claimed to violate someone’s free exercise of religion. As would be expected, most of the battles over the extent of religious freedom have involved government efforts to impose upon the practices of small groups like Mormons. Not surprisingly, government officials sometimes seem more tolerant toward the religious practices of large groups of voters.

Unpopular minority religions are especially dependent upon a constitutional guarantee of free exercise of religion. We are fortunate to have such a guarantee in the United States, but many nations do not. The importance of that guarantee in the United States should make us ever diligent to defend it. And it is in need of being defended. During my lifetime I have seen a significant deterioration in the respect accorded to religion in our public life, and I believe that the vitality of religious freedom is in danger of being weakened accordingly.

Religious belief is obviously protected against government action. The practice of that belief must have some limits, as I suggested earlier. But unless the guarantee of free exercise of religion gives a religious actor greater protection against government prohibitions than are already guaranteed to all actors by other provisions of the constitution (like freedom of speech), what is the special value of religious freedom? Surely the First Amendment guarantee of free exercise of religion was intended to grant more freedom to religious action than to other kinds of action. Treating actions based on religious belief the same as actions based on other systems of belief should not be enough to satisfy the special place of religion in the United States Constitution.


Religious freedom has always been at risk. It was repression of religious belief and practice that drove the Pilgrim fathers and other dissenters to the shores of this continent. Even today, leaders in all too many nations use state power to repress religious believers.

The greatest infringements of religious freedom occur when the exercise of religion collides with other powerful forces in society. Among the most threatening collisions in the United States today are (1) the rising strength of those who seek to silence religious voices in public debates, and (2) perceived conflicts between religious freedom and the popular appeal of newly alleged civil rights.

As I address this audience of young adults, I invite your careful attention to what I say on these subjects, because I am describing conditions you will face and challenges you must confront.

Silencing Religious Voices in the Public Square

A writer for The Christian Science Monitor predicts that the coming century will be “very secular and religiously antagonistic,” with intolerance of Christianity “ris[ing] to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes.”[vi] Other wise observers have noted the ever-growing, relentless attack on the Christian religion by forces who reject the existence or authority of God.[vii] The extent and nature of religious devotion in this nation is changing. The tide of public opinion in favor of religion is receding, and this probably portends public pressures for laws that will impinge on religious freedom.

Atheism has always been hostile to religion, such as in its arguments that freedom of or for religion should include freedom from religion. Atheism’s threat rises as its proponents grow in numbers and aggressiveness. “By some counts,” a recent article in The Economist declares, “there are at least 500 [million] declared non-believers in the world — enough to make atheism the fourth-biggest religion.”[viii] And atheism’s spokesmen are aggressive, as recent publications show.[ix] As noted by John A. Howard of the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, these voices “have developed great skills in demonizing those who disagree with them, turning their opponents into objects of fear, hatred and scorn.”[x]

Such forces — atheists and others — would intimidate persons with religious-based points of view from influencing or making the laws of their state or nation. Noted author and legal commentator Hugh Hewitt described the current circumstance this way:

“There is a growing anti-religious bigotry in the United States. . . .

“For three decades people of faith have watched a systematic and very effective effort waged in the courts and the media to drive them from the public square and to delegitimize their participation in politics as somehow threatening.”[xi]

For example, a prominent gay-rights spokesman gave this explanation for his objection to our Church’s position on California’s Proposition 8:

“I’m not intending it to harm the religion. I think they do wonderful things. Nicest people. . . . My single goal is to get them out of the same-sex marriage business and back to helping hurricane victims.”[xii]

Aside from the obvious fact that this objection would deny free speech as well as religious freedom to members of our Church and its coalition partners, there are other reasons why the public square must be open to religious ideas and religious persons. As Richard John Neuhaus said many years ago, “In a democracy that is free and robust, an opinion is no more disqualified for being ‘religious’ than for being atheistic, or psychoanalytic, or Marxist, or just plain dumb.”[xiii]

Religious Freedom Diluted by Other “Civil Rights”

A second threat to religious freedom is from those who perceive it to be in conflict with the newly alleged “civil right” of same-gender couples to enjoy the privileges of marriage.

We have endured a wave of media-reported charges that the Mormons are trying to “deny” people or “strip” people of their “rights.” After a significant majority of California voters (seven million — over 52 percent) approved Proposition 8’s limiting marriage to a man and a woman, some opponents characterized the vote as denying people their civil rights. In fact, the Proposition 8 battle was not about civil rights, but about what equal rights demand and what religious rights protect. At no time did anyone question or jeopardize the civil right of Proposition 8 opponents to vote or speak their views.

The real issue in the Proposition 8 debate — an issue that will not go away in years to come and for whose resolution it is critical that we protect everyone’s freedom of speech and the equally important freedom to stand for religious beliefs — is whether the opponents of Proposition 8 should be allowed to change the vital institution of marriage itself.

The marriage union of a man and a woman has been the teaching of the Judeo-Christian scriptures and the core legal definition and practice of marriage in Western culture for thousands of years. Those who seek to change the foundation of marriage should not be allowed to pretend that those who defend the ancient order are trampling on civil rights. The supporters of Proposition 8 were exercising their constitutional right to defend the institution of marriage — an institution of transcendent importance that they, along with countless others of many persuasions, feel conscientiously obliged to protect.

Religious freedom needs defending against the claims of newly asserted human rights. The so-called “Yogyakarta Principles,” published by an international human rights group, call for governments to assure that all persons have the right to practice their religious beliefs regardless of sexual orientation or identity.[xiv] This apparently proposes that governments require church practices and their doctrines to ignore gender differences. Any such effort to have governments invade religion to override religious doctrines or practices should be resisted by all believers. At the same time, all who conduct such resistance should frame their advocacy and their personal relations so that they are never seen as being doctrinaire opponents of the very real civil rights (such as free speech) of their adversaries or any other disadvantaged group.


And now, in conclusion, I offer five points of counsel on how Latter-day Saints should conduct themselves to enhance religious freedom in this period of turmoil and challenge.

First, we must speak with love, always showing patience, understanding and compassion toward our adversaries. We are under command to love our neighbor (Luke 10:27), to forgive all men (Doctrine and Covenants 64:10), to do good to them who despitefully use us (Matthew 5:44) and to conduct our teaching in mildness and meekness (Doctrine and Covenants 38:41).

Even as we seek to speak with love, we must not be surprised when our positions are ridiculed and we are persecuted and reviled. As the Savior said, “so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:12). And modern revelation commands us not to revile against revilers (Doctrine and Covenants 19:30).

Second, we must not be deterred or coerced into silence by the kinds of intimidation I have described. We must insist on our constitutional right and duty to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and the halls of justice. These are the rights of all citizens and they are also the rights of religious leaders. While our church rarely speaks on public issues, it does so by exception on what the First Presidency defines as significant moral issues, which could surely include laws affecting the fundamental legal/cultural/moral environment of our communities and nations.

We must also insist on this companion condition of democratic government: when churches and their members or any other group act or speak out on public issues, win or lose, they have a right to expect freedom from retaliation.

Along with many others, we were disappointed with what we experienced in the aftermath of California’s adoption of Proposition 8, including vandalism of church facilities and harassment of church members by firings and boycotts of member businesses and by retaliation against donors. Mormons were the targets of most of this, but it also hit other churches in the pro-8 coalition and other persons who could be identified as supporters. Fortunately, some recognized such retaliation for what it was. A full-page ad in the New York Times branded this “violence and intimidation” against religious organizations and individual believers “simply because they supported Proposition 8 [as] an outrage that must stop.” [xv] The fact that this ad was signed by some leaders who had no history of friendship for our faith only added to its force.

It is important to note that while this aggressive intimidation in connection with the Proposition 8 election was primarily directed at religious persons and symbols, it was not anti-religious as such. These incidents were expressions of outrage against those who disagreed with the gay-rights position and had prevailed in a public contest. As such, these incidents of “violence and intimidation” are not so much anti-religious as anti-democratic. In their effect they are like the well-known and widely condemned voter-intimidation of blacks in the South that produced corrective federal civil-rights legislation.

Third, we must insist on our freedom to preach the doctrines of our faith. Why do I make this obvious point? Religious people who share our moral convictions feel some intimidation. Fortunately, our leaders do not refrain from stating and explaining our position that homosexual behavior is sinful. Last summer Elder M. Russell Ballard spoke these words to a BYU audience:

“We follow Jesus Christ by living the law of chastity. God gave this commandment, and He has never revoked or changed it. This law is clear and simple. No one is to engage in sexual relationships outside the bounds the Lord has set. This applies to homosexual behavior of any kind and to heterosexual relationships outside marriage. It is a sin to violate the law of chastity.

“We follow Jesus Christ by adhering to God’s law of marriage, which is marriage between one man and one woman. This commandment has been in place from the very beginning.”[xvi]

We will continue to teach what our Heavenly Father has commanded us to teach, and trust that the precious free exercise of religion remains strong enough to guarantee our right to exercise this most basic freedom.

Fourth, as advocates of the obvious truth that persons with religious positions or motivations have the right to express their religious views in public, we must nevertheless be wise in our political participation. Preachers have been prime movers in the civil rights movement from the earliest advocates of abolition, but even the civil rights of religionists must be exercised legally and wisely.

As Latter-day Saints, we should never be reticent to declare and act upon the sure foundations of our faith. The call of conscience — whether religious or otherwise — requires no secular justification. At the same time, religious persons will often be most persuasive in political discourse by framing arguments and positions in ways that are respectful of those who do not share their religious beliefs and that contribute to the reasoned discussion and compromise that is essential in a pluralistic society.[xvii]

Fifth and finally, Latter-day Saints must be careful never to support or act upon the idea that a person must subscribe to some particular set of religious beliefs in order to qualify for a public office. The framers of our constitution included a provision that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States” (Article VI). That constitutional principle forbids a religious test as a legal requirement, but it of course leaves citizens free to cast their votes on the basis of any preference they choose. But wise religious leaders and members will never advocate religious tests for public office.

Fragile freedoms are best preserved when not employed beyond their intended purpose. If a candidate is seen to be rejected at the ballot box primarily because of religious belief or affiliation, the precious free exercise of religion is weakened at its foundation, especially when this reason for rejection has been advocated by other religionists. Such advocacy suggests that if religionists prevail in electing their preferred candidate this will lead to the use of government power in support of their religious beliefs and practices. The religion of a candidate should not be an issue in a political campaign.


It was the Christian principles of human worth and dignity that made possible the formation of the United States Constitution over 200 years ago, and only those principles in the hearts of a majority of our diverse population can sustain that constitution today. Our constitution’s revolutionary concepts of sovereignty in the people and significant guarantees of personal rights were, as John A. Howard has written,

“generated by a people for whom Christianity had been for a century and a half the compelling feature of their lives. It was Jesus who first stated that all men are created equal [and] that every person . . . is valued and loved by God.”[xviii]

Professor Dinesh D’Souza reminds us:

“The attempt to ground respect for equality on a purely secular basis ignores the vital contribution by Christianity to its spread. It is folly to believe that it could survive without the continuing aid of religious belief.”[xix]

Religious values and political realities are so interlinked in the origin and perpetuation of this nation that we cannot lose the influence of Christianity in the public square without seriously jeopardizing our freedoms. I maintain that this is a political fact, well qualified for argument in the public square by religious people whose freedom to believe and act must always be protected by what is properly called our “First Freedom,” the free exercise of religion.

Video Courtesy of KSL.com

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One of God's Children

From an e-mail I received:

A seminary professor was vacationing with his wife in Gatlinburg, TN. One morning, they were eating breakfast at a little restaurant, hoping to enjoy a quiet, family meal. While they were waiting for their food, they noticed a distinguished looking, white-haired man moving from table to table, visiting with the guests. The professor leaned over and whispered to his wife, "I hope he doesn't come over here." But sure enough, the man did come over to their table.

"Where are you folks from?" he asked in a friendly voice.

"Oklahoma," they answered.

"Great to have you here in Tennessee," the stranger said.

"What do you do for a living?" he asked.

"I teach at a seminary," he replied.

"Oh, so you teach preachers how to preach, do you? Well, I've got a really great story for you." And with that, the gentleman pulled up a chair and sat down at the table with the couple.

The professor groaned and thought to himself, "Great. Just what I need, another preacher story." The man started, "See that mountain over there (pointing out the restaurant window)? Not far from the base of that mountain, there was a boy born to
an unwed mother. He had a hard time growing up, because every place he went, he was always asked the same question, 'Hey boy, who's your daddy?' Whether he was at school, in the grocery store or drug store, people would ask the same question, 'Who's your daddy?' He would hide at recess and lunch time from other
students. He would avoid going in to stores because that question hurt him so bad. When he was about 12 years old, a new preacher came to his church. He would always go in late and slip out early to avoid hearing the question, 'Who's your daddy?' But one day, the new preacher said the benediction so fast that he got caught and had to walk out with the crowd.

"Just about the time he got to the back door, the new preacher, not knowing anything about him, put his hand on his shoulder and asked him, 'Son, who's your daddy?' The whole church got deathly quiet. He could feel every eye in the church looking at him. Now everyone would finally know the answer to the question, 'Who's your daddy?' This new preacher, though, sensed the situation around him and using discernment that only the Holy Spirit could give, said the following to that scared little boy. 'Wait a minute! I know who you are! I see the family resemblance now, you are a child of God.' With that he patted the boy on his shoulder and said, 'Boy, you've got a great inheritance. Go and claim it.' With that, the boy smiled for the first time in a long time and walked out the door a changed person. He was never the same again. Whenever anybody asked him, 'Who's your Daddy?' he'd just tell them, 'I'm a Child of God.'" The distinguished gentleman got up from the table and said, "Isn't that a great story?"

The professor responded that it really was a great story. As the man turned to leave, he said, "You know, if that new preacher hadn't told me that I was one of God's children, I probably never would have amounted to anything." And he walked

The seminary professor and his wife were stunned. He called the waitress over & asked her, "Do you know who that man was? The one who just left that was sitting at our table?" The waitress grinned and said, "Of course. Everybody here knows him. That's Ben Hooper. He's governor of Tennessee."

Never Forget 09/11/01

Never Forget

World Trade Center

The Pentagon

Flight 93