Is the Book of Mormon really the keystone of Mormonism?

At the start of the year, one of our Gospel Doctrine lessons touched on the Book of Mormon introduction. Of course, significant discussion revolved around the following quote from the introduction:

Concerning this record the Prophet Joseph Smith said: “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”

Specifically, we discussed the idea of what a keystone is. If you haven’t seen a keystone before, here’s what one looks like (it’s at the centre of the arch):

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The usual discourse involves something like removing the keystone will make the entire arch fall. But that’s not quite accurate. After all, if you remove any stone, the arch will likely fall.

What the keystone actually does is turn the arch into a load-bearing structure. Because the keystone and each voussoir (the stones of the arch) are all wedge shaped, they each transfer the thrust of the stone above it until the thrust finally transfers to the vertical supports.

When Joseph Smith said the Book of Mormon is the keystone of Mormonism, he wasn’t suggesting that the church would fall apart without it; he was suggesting that the Book of Mormon allows all the components of Mormonism to work together to support and sustain the religion.

Gender neutral bathrooms: a legal requirement, or will your church be exempt?

This is a guest post written by Holly Whitman and is American-centric. Holly is a freelance writer and journalist, originally from the UK but now based in Washington DC. You can find her on Twitter at @hollykwhitman and more of her writing on her blog, Only Slightly BiasedTo submit a guest post, email ourthoughts@gmail.com.

For the longest time, the most pressing issue about public restrooms was the mere fact that there often weren’t enough of them. This is especially true at concert and stadium venues, where the lines can stretch several hundred feet. Now, with the emergence of people identifying as transgender, the issue of restroom accommodation is taking on a whole new spin.

Will it become a legal requirement for a public building to require a men’s bathroom, a women’s bathroom and a non-gender-specific bathroom? And what about churches? Will they be required to expand their restroom facilities even if there is little chance of transgender members becoming a part of their community? Could this all be a case of political correctness run amuck? Clearly, there are a lot of factors to sort through when it comes to the bathroom question. Continue reading Gender neutral bathrooms: a legal requirement, or will your church be exempt?

Joseph Smith and the democratization of religious worship

In our elders quorum class today, we were discussing chapter 5 in the Howard W. Hunter Manual: Joseph Smith, Prophet of the Restoration.

Typically, this topic tends to amount to running through a list of Joseph Smith’s accomplishments and how great of a prophet he was. (That’s how it went down in the Relief Society class today.) When I was preparing my lesson, I knew I wanted to approach it in a unique way because I knew it would garner better discussion, which ultimately results in better introspection.

When I came across this quote, I had a good idea how I wanted to approach the lesson:

When Joseph announced that he had seen a vision and had seen the Father and the Son, the query came to the minds and lips of the neighbors, the ministers, and the townspeople: “Is not this the farmer’s son?”

The following quote just a few paragraphs later closed the deal for me:

within God’s hands and under the direction of the Savior of the world, weak and simple things should come forth and break down the mighty and strong ones.

As a communist, I was intrigued by the idea that Joseph Smith—despite his flaws and regardless of how authentic he was in his actions—was a revolutionary in his day. That was something I hadn’t consider in much depth before.

The bulk of our conversation on the topic revolved around 2 ideas found in another quote in that chapter:

the claim that God had spoken, that Christ’s Church was again organized and its doctrines reaffirmed by divine revelation, was the most outstanding declaration made to the world since the days of the Savior himself when he walked the paths of Judea and the hills of Galilee.

There were 2 main ideas that Joseph Smith’s First Vision changed: God was a nebulous, formless entity distant from us and revelation had been closed off with the death of the 12 apostles. These principles solidified the position of religious leaders of the day to be the gatekeepers of biblical interpretation and gospel explication.

The First Vision shows us that God looks like us: he’s a glorified, perfect human who is intimately familiar with the mortal experience, which makes him highly approachable, the opposite of how he was treated by Christian sects of the time.

In addition, the First Vision showed us that God can speak to us. We don’t need religious leaders to counsel us on our individual beliefs and aspirations; we can skip the intermediaries and petition God directly.

This revolutionized religious worship. It empowered the people with autonomy over their own religious beliefs. In fact, this idea is encapsulated in one our Articles of Faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

This leaves me with one question, however: if God could use Joseph Smith as a weak and simple thing to come forth and break down the control the religious establishment had over the people, how might we, too, be weak and simple things and what mighty and strong things might God have us break down?

Following the prophet is easy when all you need to do is agree

A sacrament speaker brought up the November policy change today.

That marks yet another consecutive week of someone mentioning the policy change at least once during sacrament meeting, Sunday school, and elders quorum class.

I’ve beaten to death my feelings on the wordings and implications of the policy change, but as I was stewing on pondering the words of the speaker, a thought came to me that I hadn’t considered before, particularly connected with something the following speaker mentioned.

Why are Mormons so quick to stand firm behind the prophet when what he says requires no sacrifice?

In this case, I am definitely in the minority in my ward and stake regarding my feelings regarding this policy change. Most ward and stake members I know (and for that matter, Mormons I know outside of my stake) support the brethren on this change.

But it’s easy to support it. You don’t have to invest anything into supporting them. In fact, all you need to do is agree with them.

Let’s contrast this with home teaching.

Our high council speaker today reported that home teaching in our stake sits at 27%. That means that 3 out of every 4 families in our stake don’t receive visits from their home teachers. While anecdotal, friends of mine have shared similar statistics where they live.

So, back to my question: why are Mormons so quick to stand firm behind the prophet when what he says requires no sacrifice but so slow when what he says requires sacrifice?

Conversely, why am I labelled an apostate or a heretic when I disagree with the brethren on a policy (like the recent decision to prohibit children of gay parents from being baptized) but follow their counsel in other ways (like home teaching every month)?

Why are others not labelled apostate or heretics when they agree with the brethren on a policy (like the recent decision to prohibit children of gay parents from being baptized) but don’t follow their counsel in other ways (like home teaching every month)?

To be abundantly clear, I’m not judging those who don’t visit their home teaching families. I’m simply using that as an example. And it’s certainly not the only example we could use.

Finally, you know what the irony is in all this? Thomas S. Monson sat on the committee that established the current home teaching programme.

Mourning with those who mourn is not a baptismal covenant

Yesterday, I attended the baptism of a friend.

During the talk on baptism, the speaker quoted Mosiah 18:9

Yea, and are willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be redeemed of God, and be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may have eternal life—

She used it to indicate that one of the things we covenant to do when we are baptized is to mourn and comfort those who need it. Except, we don’t actually make that covenant at baptism.

Consider the next verse:

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will serve him and keep his commandments, that he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you?

Notice the difference in wording?

In verse 10, we see the actual covenant: serve the Lord and keep his commandment. In verse 9 (and verse 8 for that matter), what read is what led the people to the waters of Mormon.

What the speaker taught is—at least in my experience—a common teaching. I have seen and heard many people teach that comforting others is something we covenant to do, but the text doesn’t support that teaching.

That being said, I’m not advocating that we have an excuse to ignore people who have burdens, mourn, and need comfort. If I’m reading the text right, it seems that these desires sound like prerequisites for baptism. And that is not something commonly taught in the church.

 

 

Why are there no safe spaces to question our faith?

I’ve had two faith crises.

One thing that having two faith crises has done for me is allowing me to compare them. In most ways, they were different. Different triggers, different durations, different reactions, and different emotions.

One specific way the two faith crises differed was the level of openness I took with each. Continue reading Why are there no safe spaces to question our faith?

Fine. I’ll stay. But I’m really pissed off.

I broke two of my rules with that headline: I used the word “really” and I swore. But there it is.

Despite the implied message in that charged, clickbait headline, I’m not staying because I feel pressured to.

I’ve been busy over the last week or so. I’ve been reading dozens of blog posts, listening to dozens of podcasts, watching dozens of videos, responding to dozens of private messages, and reviewing hundreds of Facebook comments. I’ve been ruminating on it all.

So why am I staying?

For years, I’ve been exercising autonomy in my religious beliefs, believing what I wanted regardless of whether it was conventional or traditional. I’ve refused letting anyone else dictate what I could believe.

A few days ago, Mary said something that reminded me of this. She determined that she’s staying because she won’t let some men decide whether she stays or goes. I’m staying because I’m exercising my autonomy.

I’m not staying because I was told to, because I was told I was needed, or because I was told that I couldn’t be Mormon while not attending. I’m staying because I chose to.

As someone else said this week, if I leave, my voice diminishes. If I stay, my voice remains. Although, I haven’t been in a leadership position for nearly 7 years, I’ve still had opportunities to speak my mind. I’ve been a teacher for over 4 years now, which allows me to control the rhetoric. Even though I often feel alone, I still have hope that I can change dialogue, and new dialogue leads to new values, priorities, and paradigms. And when I’m no longer teaching, I can still share my thoughts and opinions. If I leave, all I have left for a voice is online (here, social media, etc), and the only ones who’ll listen are those who already agree.

I’m not just any Mormon. Despite not being born in the church, I consider myself Mormon culturally, not just spiritually. The Mormon sacraments are an important part of my life. The ability I have to participate in them as not just a recipient but a bestower allows me to participate in the sacraments of my children not as a bystander, but as a conduit. Something my Catholic ancestors couldn’t do.

If I left, I miss out on baptizing half of my children. I miss out on remaining my son’s hometeaching companion. I miss out on escorting my sons through the temple and seeing my daughters go through. I miss out on serving a mission with Mary. These are all milestones I find value in as a cultural Mormon.

I’m also staying because what became apparent to me this week is that there exists in the church many people who understand and fulfill their baptismal covenants to mourn with and comfort those who grieve, free of judgement and bias. I want to be one with them. While it’s a challenge to be unified in building true Zion in a church that’s so pharisaical, knowing that there are loving, compassionate people in the church makes me want to be part of it. Certainly, I can do that outside of the church, but I believe opportunities exist within the church for me. And the church certainly needs more communists.

Another reason I’m staying is because the esoteric aspects of Mormonism appeal to my heart. Deeply. And while I lament that much of the esoteric that was common in the early church of nearly 200 years ago has disappeared or been minimized, I recognize that the temple still contains it. While some might find it odd, I find it satisfying, and it serves as my connection to a time when angels visited the earth, people saw visions with stones, and spiritual fire engulfed entire buildings. By staying, I still have access to the temple.

It’s an odd circumstance. The Mormon church is one of the few Christian churches that puts restrictions on who can enter religious facilities, which forces me to follow their rules if I want to use those facilities. I stay, completely aware of this.

So why am I upset?

I’m upset because the new policy is abhorrent.

Let’s just set aside the fact that the policy was written by the church’s law firm and not the prophets, seers, and revelators. (That’s a blog topic on its own.) It’s ridiculous that the church now says that anyone in a same-sex marriage is apostate. It makes no sense. Gay Mormons can be supportive of the church in every other way (paying tithing, keeping the commandments, serving in a calling, home teaching, living the Word of Wisdom, and so forth), yet if they marry someone of the same sex, somehow that’s considered a turning away. If you’re going to list marriage as a sign of apostasy, why not list living common law as a sign of apostasy?

In addition, it’s hypocritical to mandate church discipline for marriage when there are far worse things (rape and child abuse for example) for which church discipline is optional.

Finally, limiting the children of gay parents from fully participating in the church’s sacraments is wholly unfair. The church is not actually concerned with protecting children; it’s using that as an excuse to punish its gay members who are parents. If the welfare of children was truly important, then things that actually damage children would be addressed. For example, making church discipline mandatory for those who abuse children or labelling child abuse as a sign of apostasy would be a start. By not taking action on things that actually harm children, the church shows us that its stance on protecting children is empty and meaningless.

The so-called clarification letter issued by the church certainly improves the lives of children in straight families with gay parents or children in gay families who have already received ordinances. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this policy still targets a group of children in the church: those of gay parents.

And the policy clarification changes nothing for our situation. Our bisexual daughter, should she choose to marry a woman and have children raised in the church, would still be a target of the policy. I would still never be able to to bless or baptize those grandchildren.

And that hurts. My church has hurt me.

Last Thursday, it felt like my church sucker punched me in the gut. Today, those bruises are not gone. I don’t feel less angry. My decision to stay is not an admission that the policy was right. No, I categorically reject the policy. It is entirely wrong. I’m staying despite the policy.

Speaking of my daughter, some have suggested that I need to take steps to protect my daughter. That just stinks of patriarchal sexism. My 17-year-old daughter is an independent, strong young adult getting ready to go out into the world on her own. She needs no protection from her father. She can take care of herself, and she has done so.

So where does this leave me?

Well, I’m staying in the church with some conditions. I will not be silent. I’ve been a supporter of LGBT rights in the church for at least 12 years, but it has mostly been silent support. This summer, when our daughter publicly came out, I used it as an opportunity to publicly declare my support for marriage equality, that people should have the right to be in a monogamous, loving relationship raising children in a stable, nurturing home regardless of the sex of their spouse.

I will remain a strong supporter of LGBT rights in the church. LGBT Mormons need safe places to practise their religion. LGBT youth need support and encouragement, not rejection and being told by their leaders and parents that they disgust them and there’s no place for them in heaven. It’s bad enough that our society rejects LGBT people. Followers of Jesus shouldn’t reject them, too.

I’m not sure how sticking up for LGBT members will work in practice with my social anxiety, but I’ll try my best.

For the last six months, since my grandmother died, I have not been sharing anything on Facebook other than status updates. That’s changing as of today. I will return to sharing articles on my feed, especially ones that are critical of the church, that challenge conventional Mormon views. People need to regularly take inventory of how they view the world around them; they need to check the tint of their glasses. I no longer care how that affects the way people view me. I’ve made Mormonism work for me and I’m at peace with my relationship with God. What others think of me changes neither of those two things.

I worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience.