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

Exonerating Joseph Smith

A couple of years ago, while travelling through Salt Lake City, my parents and I took a brief tour of the Church History Museum. One thing that struck me as odd was the exhibit “Joseph Smith: Prophet of the Restoration1, specifically the details about Joseph Smith’s death and the lack of information regarding the circumstances which put him in jail.

It has always been my understanding that when Joseph Smith was murdered, he was in Carthage Jail waiting trial for his order to destroy the printing presses of the Nauvoo Expositor (wikipedia, original text), but according to one of the couple missionaries at the museum, he was there under the charge of treason.

It turns out, both charges are related. Smith had originally been charged and exonerated of “inciting a riot” with regard to the printing press situation but due to public outcry the Illinois governor, Thomas Ford, ordered that he be arrested and tried again—violating the United States constitution by putting Smith in double jeopardy.

Several days before his death, the charges were changed from “inciting a riot” to “treason” for his declaration of martial law in Nauvoo. Was this change of charges legal? Whether legal or not was Joseph Smith posthumously exonerated for the charge of treason?

In my mind, if he has been exonerated of all wrongdoing, the church should put up a statement saying so in the Church History Museum and on their website. If he hasn’t, is there some reason?

1 The exhibit details can be found at josephsmith.net.

Misquoting Jesus

In 1707, a biblical theologian named John Mill was the first to collect and combine the text of some 100 extant New Testament manuscripts. After 30 years of study he noted over 30,000 various major to mostly slight errors in the different versions of the New Testament manuscripts. His discovery brought to light the fact that so many different versions of the New Testament exist and that the book many people think of as the immutable word of God has an uncomfortably long history of changes.

The following video lecture (linked at the bottom) is a tremendously interesting look at some of the discrepancies by world renowned bible scholar and author Dr. Bart D. Ehrman.

“There are places where we don’t know what the authors of the New Testament wrote. […]

The problem of not having the originals of the New Testament, though, is a problem for everyone—not simply for those that believe that the bible was inspired by God.

For all of us, I think, the bible is the most important book in Western Civilization. It continues to be cited in public debates over gay rights, abortion, over whether to go to war with foreign countries, over how to organize and run our society. But how do we interpret the New Testament? It’s hard to know what the words of the New Testament mean, if we don’t know what the words were.

And so in this lecture I’ll be talking about not knowing what the words were and what we might know about the originals of the New Testament, how they got lost and how possibly they might be reconstructed.”

See the talk at Google Video.

First Vision: Different Accounts, Different Audiences

Anyone who has been around the Bloggernacle for a substantial amount of time is probably aware that there are multiple accounts of the First Vision. In these different accounts, there is often discrepancy between which personages Joseph Smith claimed to have visited him. For example, the 1831 account states that Jesus was the personage while the 1834 account states the personage was Moroni.

A common explanation for this difference in details is that Joseph smith was speaking to different audiences, so he needed to explain the story differently. While I have heard this explanation on several occasions, I have never thought about it much until now.

What purpose would be served by telling one person he saw Jesus, another he saw Moroni, and another he saw God and Jesus? In what ways would these three audiences be different enough to warrant these differences?