An Evening with a General Authority

Last night, in a devotional directed at Church Educational System (CES) employees, Elder Ballard spoke of challenges that many youth face, including questions asked on social media.

(Kids these days and their FaceSpace, amirite?)

From a Deseret news article about Elder Ballard’s talk:

“Drawing on the scriptures and the words of the prophets, [students] will learn how to act with faith in Christ to acquire spiritual knowledge and understanding of His gospel,” he said. “And they will have opportunities to learn how to apply the doctrine of Christ and gospel principles to the questions and challenges they hear and see every day among their peers and on social media.”

Applying the doctrine of Christ to questions of church doctrine makes sense. Is it true and is it helpful? Does it follow the golden rule?

Elder Ballard continued, comparing faithful interpretations of history to vaccinating the youth against topics that are “sometimes misunderstood” — a polite way of saying, negative toward the church.

You know, we give medical inoculations to our precious missionaries before sending them into the mission field, so they will be protected against disease that can harm and even kill them. In a similar fashion, please, before you send them into the world, inoculate your students by providing faithful, thoughtful and accurate interpretations of gospel doctrine, the scriptures and our history, and those topics that are sometimes misunderstood.

And in a praiseworthy show of transparency, Elder Ballard listed a few topics which in some circles (or at least in the not so distant past) would have been considered anti-mormon.

To name a few of such topics that are less-known or controversial, I’m talking about polygamy, and seer stones, different accounts of the first vision, the process of translation of the Book of Mormon [and] of the Book of Abraham, gender issues, race and the priesthood, or a Heavenly Mother. The efforts to inoculate our young people will often fall to you CES teachers.

Perhaps if I’d been further inoculated as a youth, I wouldn’t have found these topics so difficult to digest when I finally found them too hard to swallow. So roll up your sleeves while I share with you what I remember being taught about this list while at the same time you’re going to get inoculated.

Before you run off searching high and low looking for how far the rabbit hole goes, Elder Ballard warned of the dangers of access to too much information:

It was only a generation ago that our young people’s access to information about our history, doctrine and practices was basically limited to materials printed by the church. Few students came in contact with alternative interpretations. Mostly, our young people lived a sheltered life. Our curriculum at that time, though well-meaning, did not prepare students for today — a day when students have instant access to virtually everything about the church from every possible point of view. Today, what they see on their mobile devices is likely to be faith-challenging as much as faith-promoting. Many of our young people are more familiar with Google than they are with the gospel, more attuned to the Internet than to inspiration, and more involved with Facebook than with faith.

For the sake of Elder Ballard’s concern about Google, I’ll only use church approved sources for the inoculation and I’ll stay far away from Facebook.

Continue reading An Evening with a General Authority

Why I’m struggling (and it’s not what you think)

This weekend has been trying for me.

Since the church’s policy change regarding same-sex marriages was leaked on Thursday, my Facebook feed has been like a firehose regarding reactions to the changes. I tried to read so many thoughts, article, and blog posts in an effort to help me figure things out.

It didn’t work that well.

Instead of direction and guidance, I received anxiety and depression. There were times on Friday and Saturday when trying to respond to claims or viewpoints that I found myself shaking and had to stop.

Even going to the temple Friday night didn’t help. In fact, my endowment session felt like a two-hour stupor of thought. I drove away from the temple as lost and depressed as ever—a far cry from the guidance and inspiration I had received the week before.

A lot of emotions have run through my heart and mind. I’ve been upset, confused, hopeless, lost, abandoned, hurt, sad, lonely, disgusted, sick, and so many more.

As a parent of an LGBT child, I’ve struggled to know what to do. My daughter left the church earlier this year, but the changes still hit me hard, and I’ve been seriously considering throwing in the towel.

Before this weekend, I never fully understood what people go through when they wrestle with the decision to leave the church. Something I’ve learned is that it’s a complex decision with no easy answer.

In fact, two years ago, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf addressed this very topic in general conference:

Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations.

Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church.

I can say with frankness that the last paragraph describes me. As the church as grown more evangelical and my understanding of the actual Gospel has become more Christ-centred, this growing divide has become problematic for me.

But there are aspects of Mormonism I love and that I can find in few other places: an anthropomorphic God, a feminine divine, the masonic temple rites, seer stones, visiting angels, continuing revelation, and the list goes on. Scriptures like D&C 18:10, D&C 93, Mosiah 4, and 4 Nephi 1 resonate with me.

So I continued on, focusing on what is right.

But this policy change and how it could affect my future grandchildren feels like the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back.

And I find myself once again contemplating leaving. This time, however, it feels so intense. I find parallels even to the faith crisis story I shared 8 years ago.

But here it is three days later, and I haven’t found it any easier to decide what I’m going to do.

There are so many factors at play in me head. As I’ve commented several times, the church is like a cherry pie: it tastes so good, but it has pits.

Here are some of the things that make it taste so good to me:

  • The symbolism in the church found in baptism, the endowment, the Sacrament, and various other places.
  • The temple
  • God being a resurrected, glorified man who is our father
  • Having a mother in heaven
  • The example and teachings of Jesus (arguably this could easily be found elsewhere)
  • The unique teachings in Mormon scripture, specifically how we should treat others
  • The brotherhood of a quorum
  • Continuing revelation
  • A personal relationship with God

I’m not going to list out all the pits, but I will say there are many, and some of them are big. Despite the common rhetoric found among its members, the Mormon church is not perfect.

So I find myself in the middle of various forces pulling me in these two directions: all the positive trying to keep me in and all the negative trying to push me out.

But there are some other things that are making it difficult to make a decision:

  • I worry about not being able to baptize my three younger children
  • I worry about not being able to be an escort when my two boys go through the temple
  • I worry about Mary and the children following me
  • I worry about leaving Mary to take the role of a single mother at church on Sundays
  • I worry about never being able to go to the temple again, the one thing remaining that ties us to the esoteric church of 200 years ago
  • I worry about not completing temple ordinances for my ancestors, something I have been working on for 25 years.
  • I worry about others having to come to my home to give Mary and our children blessings
  • I worry about being the last person in my family to go on a mission despite being the first
  • I worry about what it would mean to my parents, who were my pioneers
  • I worry about what it would mean to those I taught and baptized on my mission
  • I worry about not being able to give my boys the Melchizedek Priesthood, something my dad was never able to do for me.
  • Related to that, I worry about not being able to be ordained a high priest by my dad, the last chance I have to get my priesthood lineage from him
  • I worry about satisfying those who already expect me to leave

So, for anyone wondering what I’m struggling with, it isn’t about trying to reconcile my beliefs with the new policy to rationalize it. I think it’s wrong. Period.

No, I’m struggling with so much more and with something far more complex.

And I don’t know how long it will take before I have my answer, nor what will happen when something like this happens again.

What I do know is that it’s not an easy decision for those who decided to leave the church, and we should be careful about judging them when they do.

Changing the Sacred Word of Brother McConkie

Big news this week for critics of the church in that the church has made a change in the introduction of the 2006 Doubleday edition of the Book of Mormon. (The introduction was added in 1981 by the then apostle Bruce R. McConkie)

What it used to say:

?¢‚Ǩ?ìAfter thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

and what it says now:

“After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are among the ancestors of the American Indians.?¢‚Ǩ¬ù

(emphasis mine)

So, is this a manifestation of the church?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s efforts to bring its teachings in line with the scientific realm—as if the doctrine was held in the hands of men and arbitrarily changed to fit the tides of secular progress? Or something else? Or is the introduction not technically scripture, and therefore, not a big deal to change?

Honestly, I’m glad they aren’t in denial about the science and see the change as a positive indication that the First Presidency is admitting the evidence has merit.

“We all know the story of…”

I cringe when I hear those words at church.

?Ǭ†Usually, they are spoken by a Gospel Doctrine teacher when introducing a topic .?Ǭ† I’m sure on any given Sunday, those words are mentioned a couple dozen times in any average ward.

The reason why I cringe is mostly because of my dear wife.?Ǭ† She joined the church after her 18th birthday.?Ǭ† She had very little exposure to the gospel before that.?Ǭ† Her knowlege of things taught in primary could probably fit in a large thimble (ok, well, she?Ǭ†probably knows more than she lets on, but it’s nowhere near what us BIC’ers have encountered).?Ǭ† Usually after a lesson in which those words are mentioned, she asks me about the story that the teacher was referring to.?Ǭ† I do my best to explain it.?Ǭ† She usually mentiones something like “well, knowing that would have helped to make sense of the lesson”.

?Ǭ†Another variant is the phrase “We all know…”.?Ǭ† This one is even worse.?Ǭ† It’s not just a story, but usually some cultural church practice or perhaps some meaty chunk of doctrine.?Ǭ† The instructor usually glosses over the important parts and dives right into his / her analysis, leaving my poor wife in the dust.

?Ǭ†I’ve noticed it’s lessons or discussions / talks like this that make church services so unplesant for my wife.?Ǭ† After a consecutive string of Sunday’s like this, she usually?Ǭ†wants?Ǭ†a break and we all take a rest from going to church.

I guess what really baffles me is the fact that we are suppose to be a missionary minded church.?Ǭ† We are suppose to be ‘inviting others to Christ’, but when they get here, we treat them as if they’ve been here all along and end up frustraing the heck out of them.

Gratitude

“Expressing gratitude brings us humility. In a world where we have been given so much and might be severely tempted to pride, gratitude stands as a barrier, for one cannot fill pride and gratitude at the same time.”

–S. Michael Wilcox, “Gratitude”, January 2005 Ensign pg. 47

I saw this in an email I received this morning (LDSNuggets) and it really struck me as a truth. I can’t add much to it, except I believe gratitude is something our world is sadly lacking in, and something we are in dire need of.

Several years ago my Institute class was challenge (as I know many others have been before that and since) to offer a “gratitude prayer” in our personal prayers. I took up the challenge and it turned out, spent a lot of time on my knees, in tears of humility and thankfulness, unable to end it. The reason was, everything I gave thanks for brought new blessings to my mind. More and more, the reality of how blessed I have been in my life overwhelmed me.

Anyway, gratitude and pride. They cannot co-exist. And what is more valuable to our personal growth? Gratitude.