Carried Away Captives: Making the Best of a Bad Situation

"Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg
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A prominently displayed phrase around the campus of Brigham Young University (BYU) is “Enter to learn, go forth to serve.” I’ve always loved this phrase as a reminder of the goal of a BYU education – to serve others and spread light, truth, and knowledge.

Four verses in Jeremiah reminded me of that phrase: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon; Build ye houses, and dwell in them; and plant gardens, and eat the fruit of them; Take ye wives, and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons, and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; that ye may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city whither I have caused you to be carried away captives, and pray unto the Lord for it: for in the peace thereof shall ye have peace.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Now what exactly do those verses have to do with that phrase seen often at BYU?

The prophet Jeremiah wrote a letter (an epistle in the terminology of the New Testament) to “the residue of the elders which were carried away captives, and to the priests, and to the prophets, and to all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had carried away captive from Jerusalem to Babylon” (Jeremiah 29:1). This letter was sent to the diaspora Jews and other descendants of Israel. Jeremiah counseled those who were taken away captive to build houses, plant gardens, get married, have children, and so forth. They were to live their lives, just as the Israelites did in Egypt. Further, they were to “seek the peace of the city…and pray unto the Lord for it.”

So they were to put down roots. Captive Israelites were to prepare for their return but plant symbolic and real fruit trees. They were to strive to be good citizens and even pray for their captors – their enemies – for if their captors were at peace, they would have peace.

Now for our modern application. We should bloom where we are planted. We should build Zion wherever we are – good, bad, or mediocre. A BYU education is a call to service. Graduates have an opportunity, a responsibility, to go out and strengthen the stakes and enlarge the tent of Zion wherever they (we) are. If we are in a land of wickedness, if we are in a city full of oppressors, we should pray for them and pray and work for peace. This reminds me of a quote ascribed to Joseph Smith: “If we [the Saints] go to hell, we will turn the devils out of doors and make a heaven of it. Where this people are, there is good society.” (Teachings of Joseph Smith, chapter 45).

Wherever we are, we should have sons and daughters or risk being “diminished.” Wherever we are called to be in life, we can strive for peace around us and improve the shining moments. We might not be able to bid Babylon farewell to dwell in the mountains of Ephraim but it we merely wait for a Moses, we might be waiting a long time. Instead, we should build our houses upon the rock of our Redeemer and find peace in Babylon without becoming of Babylon. We can dwell in Babylon without it dwelling in us. That is the essence of a consecrated life – a life a holiness, dedicated to God, and separated (set apart) from the things of the world with Zion in our hearts and homes. We can build our own personal gardens and eat of their fruit rather than live on the fruit of the Assyrian gardens, impressive though they may appear, that do not produce the fruit of the Tree of Life.

"Hanging Gardens of Babylon". Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg

“Hanging Gardens of Babylon”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Hanging_Gardens_of_Babylon.jpg

News Coverage of the Plural Marriages of Joseph Smith

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The New York Times released an article about the recent article The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted to provide an authoritative but brief history of plural marriage (usually referred to as polygamy) in Kirtland, Ohio and Nauvoo, Illinois. The NY Times article, while largely correct, misrepresents some of the issues (in contrast, CNN has a more balanced article). First, while it has not been taught openly during church (church services and teachings are largely focused and supposed to be focused on the core doctrines of the gospel of Jesus Christ), many church members were already familiar with Joseph Smith’s plural marriages (I first learned about them while a young teenager). The information was available for those who took the effort to look or study church history. The information was not hidden or suppressed. Oh, it has been ignored by people (including church leaders) who found the topic uncomfortable, but ignoring is not suppression. The posting by the Church of the article of plural marriage is, however, a welcome and concise source of information regarding historical matters that many view as controversial.

Here’s the start of the NY Times article: “Mormon leaders have acknowledged for the first time that the church’s founder and prophet, Joseph Smith, portrayed in church materials as a loyal partner to his loving spouse Emma, took as many as 40 wives, some already married and one only 14 years old.”

As I discuss later, this is not the first time church leaders have acknowledged the fact that Joseph Smith had multiple wives. Also, the author implies that Joseph was not loyal to “his loving spouse Emma” – he was, fiercely so. She was also fiercely loyal to him. So right away the NY Times article is 0 for 2. I’ll address the rest of the paragraph later.

One of the biggest misrepresentations is that the author of the NY Times article never mentioned how much Joseph Smith resisted the command from God to receive plural wives. From the article: “Smith probably did not have sexual relations with all of his wives, because some were ‘sealed’ to him only for the next life, according to the essays posted by the church. But for his first wife, Emma, polygamy was ‘an excruciating ordeal.'” Yes, it was excruciating for Emma but what the NY Times article doesn’t mention is that it was also a significant challenge for Joseph Smith, going against much of what he believed: “When God commands a difficult task, He sometimes sends additional messengers to encourage His people to obey. Consistent with this pattern, Joseph told associates that an angel appeared to him three times between 1834 and 1842 and commanded him to proceed with plural marriage when he hesitated to move forward. During the third and final appearance, the angel came with a drawn sword, threatening Joseph with destruction unless he went forward and obeyed the commandment fully.” Joseph Smith had halfheartedly followed the command by marrying Fanny Alger (she, her parents, and presumably Emma had given consent, although Emma might not have know about some of the later sealings to Joseph) but was later rebuked and threatened by that angel because of his reluctance. Most church members had a hard time accepting plural marriages. It was hard for some of the parties involved, particularly some of the women (this isn’t the time or place to cover that topic; The whole topic of polygamy/plural marriage is difficult with our cultural biases. Many people throughout history and currently in the world would see little controversy regarding polygamy. There is a good post on Keepapitchinin.org about why it might be difficult to post and write about polygamy/plural marriage).

Like many news articles, the author of the NY Times article made a big point of one of Joseph’s wives being 14 (she was nearly 15, not that that is much of a difference) but failed to mention that “Marriage at such an age, inappropriate by today’s standards, was legal in that era, and some women married in their mid-teens.” Actually, depending on what part of the United States someone lived in, marriages at age 14 or 15 occurred with some regularity (refer to Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s seed: Four British folkways in America. Oxford University Press; visit this website for short selections from the book – look under Backcountry Marriage Ways {there is no quotation about youngest age of marriages but with females getting married on average at 19, marriages at younger ages are in the distribution of ages}). Further, this marriage was a sealing “for eternity alone” meaning that they did not “[engage in] sexual relations.” Yes, that sealing occurred but Joseph and the girl (Helen Mar Kimball) were not married as most in the world would understand – it was a relationship in name (ordinance) only.

This issue of “marriage” versus “sealing” can be confusing to those who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and even to church members). All sealings are marriages but not all marriages are sealings. A sealing is performed by priesthood authority (in today’s church these take place in LDS temples). Sealings performed in LDS temples will last – through faithfulness – beyond this life (wife and husband are married for “time and eternity”). A number of the marriages of Joseph Smith were simply sealings “for eternity”, which means that there was not a married life or marriage relationship “in time” (during this life), in effect making a number of the marriages procedural. I am not downplaying the significance of the sealing ordinance – it is a vital ordinance for eternity: “And in order to obtain the highest [heaven – the Celestial kingdom], a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.” (Doctrine & Covenants 131:2-3); however, ordinances can be performed without much ceremony (and usually are not), making them utilitarian but sacred events.

I’m going to quote at length from the Doctrine and Covenants so I’ll provide a summary (tl;dr) of the verses below: Marriage (sealing) performed through authorized priesthood authority (in the temple) will remain in effect (no “until death do you part”) after this life should both husband and wife remain faithful in the gospel of Christ.

“Therefore, if a man marry him a wife in the world, and he marry her not by me nor by my word, and he covenant with her so long as he is in the world and she with him, their covenant and marriage are not of force when they are dead, and when they are out of the world; therefore, they are not bound by any law when they are out of the world. Therefore, when they are out of the world they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but are appointed angels in heaven, which angels are ministering servants, to minister for those who are worthy of a far more, and an exceeding, and an eternal weight of glory. For these angels did not abide my law; therefore, they cannot be enlarged, but remain separately and singly, without exaltation, in their saved condition, to all eternity; and from henceforth are not gods, but are angels of God forever and ever. And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife, and make a covenant with her for time and for all eternity, if that covenant is not by me or by my word, which is my law, and is not sealed by the Holy Spirit of promise, through him whom I have anointed and appointed unto this power, then it is not valid neither of force when they are out of the world, because they are not joined by me, saith the Lord, neither by my word; when they are out of the world it cannot be received there, because the angels and the gods are appointed there, by whom they cannot pass; they cannot, therefore, inherit my glory; for my house is a house of order, saith the Lord God. And again, verily I say unto you, if a man marry a wife by my word, which is my law, and by the new and everlasting covenant, and it is sealed unto them by the Holy Spirit of promise, by him who is anointed, unto whom I have appointed this power and the keys of this priesthood; and it shall be said unto them—Ye shall come forth in the first resurrection; and if it be after the first resurrection, in the next resurrection; and shall inherit thrones, kingdoms, principalities, and powers, dominions, all heights and depths—then shall it be written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, that he shall commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, and if ye abide in my covenant, and commit no murder whereby to shed innocent blood, it shall be done unto them in all things whatsoever my servant hath put upon them, in time, and through all eternity; and shall be of full force when they are out of the world; and they shall pass by the angels, and the gods, which are set there, to their exaltation and glory in all things, as hath been sealed upon their heads, which glory shall be a fulness and a continuation of the seeds forever and ever.” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:15-19).

These types of marriages hold in the next life because of the sealing power and authority restored to Joseph Smith (and passed to each subsequent church president): “And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you [Joseph] seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens.” (Doctrine & Covenants 132:46).

That is some of the context that the NY Times article did not and could not provide in a limited article space. Now for some context regarding the statement in the NY Times article stating that “some [of Joseph Smith’s plural wives] were already married.” We as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that in order for woman and man to return to live with God again and be exalted with Him, they must be sealed to one another through God’s priesthood by someone authorized to do so. This is why Mormons don’t just “baptize dead people”; in addition to performing vicarious baptism ordinances for deceased individuals, we also perform other necessary ordinances including sealing of husband and wife together (if they were married when alive). There have been instances, particularly in the early days of the restored church, when a woman who was either unmarried in life or even married to a man who was not a member of the LDS Church (or who became disaffected with the Church) was sealed (while living, in the case of a few of the “wives” of Joseph Smith, or vicariously after the death of the man or woman) to someone other than her spouse. That was quite rare and is not a sanctioned practice today. The belief (in my opinion) behind such actions was that the ordinance (the sealing) was of maybe greater importance than the relationship between a particular man and woman. In fact, sealings are performed vicariously without regard to the relationship between husband and wife during life; we believe that only God should judge so the ordinance is performed so the individuals might have the opportunity to accept it, should they choose.

Further, “Consistent with Joseph Smith’s teachings, the Church permits a man whose wife has died to be sealed to another woman when he remarries. Moreover, members are permitted to perform ordinances on behalf of deceased men and women who married more than once on earth, sealing them to all of the spouses to whom they were legally married. The precise nature of these relationships in the next life is not known, and many family relationships will be sorted out in the life to come.” (Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo).

In other words, there is a lot we do not yet understand. That’s the nature of faith. That’s the nature of science (as I scientist something I get to say a lot is, “I don’t know.” Sometimes that’s followed by “That’s what we’re trying to figure out” or “That’s a great question, I’d love to study it more.”). Not understanding a lot is part of life. I’ll not pretend that this isn’t a difficult topic. It can be challenging to understand why the Lord required plural marriages. We can come up with hypotheses that sound reasonable, we can study it for years but I don’t think we’ll really understand it until the next life. That’s one of the great things – we get to live forever (our spirits don’t die and someday all will be bodily resurrected) so we have a lot of time to learn things.

The Mormon Newsroom (offers press releases for the LDS Church) posted a brief article covering these recent news responses to the plural marriage article (and others). In this article is the following helpful clarification: “Much of what you’ll find in the essays on polygamy has been published in diverse sources and known among long-term and well-read members, historians and Church leaders for many years. The Church has now gathered this information into a single location as a convenient means of placing these resources in the hands of all members. The fact that Joseph Smith had plural marriage relationships is not new, of course. Indeed, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints publicly asserted Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy—over a century and a half ago, especially in debate with other faith groups who traced their origin to Joseph Smith and who asserted that he did not practice plural marriage. But although polygamy was practiced among early Church leaders and members, its practice was officially discontinued more than 100 years ago.” (emphasis added)

This is why the headline of the NY Times article: “It’s Official…” is also misleading (but headlines are often written to be catchy or inflammatory, if not always correct). That Joseph Smith had plural wives has been “official” for more than 150 years. It was never a secret. Abraham, Jacob (Israel), Moses (likely, although there is a lot that is unknown about Moses’s married life), and other Old Testament patriarchs/prophets had multiple wives. A number of my ancestors even participated in plural marriages because they were commanded to by prophets of God. My point is that if we accept them as God’s chosen prophets, we accept their plural marriages as God’s will. The same is true for Joseph Smith.

The article posted by the Church is excellent. Take time to read the footnotes – there is good information in them. If you are interested in learning more about plural marriages in early LDS Church history, the Church has two other posts regarding its practice in Utah and its later ban. There are also a number of other books and articles on the topic (check the footnotes to the posted article).

Broken Cisterns That Can Hold No Water

Figure 3. Lamenting Jeremiah. Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
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Israel during the Iron Age (started before 1000 B.C. and ended around 700 A.D.¹) is believed to have had a climate similar to today’s. It can be very hot and dry, particularly during the summer months. Jerusalem typically receives less than 22 inches (554 mm), which is significant rain for a semi-arid region, but Jerusalem receives no to trace amounts of rain on average during the months of May through September. This makes the storage of potable water vital for sustaining life. In ancient times (and modern) cisterns were cut into rock and, if necessary, lined with waterproof plaster. Cisterns could be small or large, even large enough to be classified as reservoirs. Cisterns could collect rain water directly or receive run-off water that was filtered through layers of sand, silt, and rocks. Methods of construction varied by location throughout Israel and as technology advanced. One example of a cistern found in Israel is depicted below (Figure 1). Other cisterns were open and many were small. Open cisterns, such as those that were common throughout ancient Israel, were constructed in the following manner: “Only the conduits and the upper opening of the cistern can be seen on the surface. The opening is marked by a large stone in which a hole was cut, to which a wooden or an iron door was often attached. Below the opening a bottleneck was cut, lined with well-cut and dressed stones. This neck went down to the bedrock, usually the soft chalk. Below the bottleneck the cistern widened, typically in a rounded shape achieved by cutting into bedrock.” (Rubin, 1988). Many homes had cisterns built into the foundation in order to collect rain and drainage from the roof (Figure 2).

cistern

Figure 1. From Rubin, Rehav. “Water conservation methods in Israel’s Negev desert in late antiquity.” Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Figure 2. Small house cistern. Rubin, Rehav. "Water conservation methods in Israel's Negev desert in late antiquity." Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Figure 2. Small house cistern. Rubin, Rehav. “Water conservation methods in Israel’s Negev desert in late antiquity.” Journal of Historical Geography 14, no. 3 (1988): 229-244.

Water was and is important. Cisterns had to be constructed correctly otherwise they could leak water or the water could become contaminated. Cisterns had to be lined precisely and often needed plastering for waterproofing. If this was not done or was done incorrectly, the cistern was broken and could not hold water.

The prophet Jeremiah was from a village called Anathoth, which was 3 miles (4.83 km) north of Jerusalem. He lived around 600 B.C. The Lord called Jeremiah as a prophet and Jeremiah began his ministry around 626 B.C. and continued at least until the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.

Jeremiah showed great courage in the face of many trials. He prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem and called the people to repentance. The prophet Lehi, who plays a prominent role early in the Book of Mormon, was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Whereas Jeremiah’s mission was to remain as a warning voice to Israel, Lehi was commanded to flee Jerusalem, running over the wall, and head to a new, promised land. How lush and bountiful the Americas were compared to the land of Israel!

Jeremiah has been referred to as the “Weeping Prophet” because of his lamentations over the destruction of Israel and the wickedness of the people: “How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.” (Lamentations 1:1-2). The great artist Rembrandt painted lamenting Jeremiah (Figure 3).

Figure 3. Lamenting Jeremiah. Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Figure 3. Lamenting Jeremiah. Rembrandt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the book of Jeremiah we read of the two great evils of the people of Israel: “For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” (Jeremiah 2:13). The people of Israel turned away from God. They rejected the Living Fountain. The people of Israel had forgotten the miracle of Moses – the great salvation provided by God – when their mothers and fathers wandered in the wilderness: “And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (Exodus 17:3-6).

The Israelites forsook the Lord. They also “hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Broken cisterns were life-threatening, particularly during the summer months. Wells and other sources of water were available but cisterns could be built close to homes and could be more easily defended. The Lord, through Jeremiah, lamented over the poor eternal craftsmanship of the Israelites. They were more focused on the things of the world than they were on the things of God. Many Israelites made choices to worship the golden calves created by their hands rather than turn to the Lord in remembrance of His great power and salvation. The people of Israel longed for the things of Babylon while not believing that destructive Babylon was on their doorstep, about to demolish their homes and lead them away into captivity. Rather than partaking of the living waters of the Lord and remaining free, their cisterns were broken and many perished. It’s no wonder that Jeremiah lamented!

                                                                                                                                     

¹Side note on the subject of iron and carbonized iron (steel). Steel was likely first produced before 3000 B.C. There is evidence of manufactured steel dating to about 1800 B.C. found in an archaeological site in Turkey (Akanuma, H. (2005). “The significance of the composition of excavated iron fragments taken from Stratum III at the site of Kaman-Kalehöyük, Turkey”. Anatolian Archaeological Studies 14: 147–158.). Steel dating from 667 B.C. has also been found in archaeological excavations in Thebes  (Williams, Alan R., and K. R. Maxwell-Hyslop. “Ancient steel from Egypt.”Journal of Archaeological Science 3, no. 4 (1976): 283-305.). This steel was thought to be brought by an invading Assyrian army. While bronze, copper, and iron were used broadly, steel was manufactured for tools and weapons all around the Mediterranean region, particularly the near/middle east. Steel was thus produced and used during the time of Jeremiah (which was also the time of Lehi, Nephi, and Laban [who, according to the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi, owned a steel sword]).

Weak and Simple

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The gospel is spread by the weak and simple of the earth but we are not to remain such. We are to improve and grow, becoming powerful and strong. We are to become educated, knowledgable, and faithful. What is undeniably frustrating to the Lord and to church leaders are individuals who do not live up to their potential. How pathetic are the simple minded who revel in their simple-mindedness and never seek to improve themselves! How pathetic are those who are highly intelligent and knowledgable who do not improve themselves or who waste what they have been given on things of no or little worth. The parable of the talents is of great relevance to us today. There are also those who have immense abilities, talents, and potential who are slothful or even antipathetic towards the work of the Lord. What a tragic waste! The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is for the perfecting of the saints, not for perfect saints. But what of those who will not be perfected? Many refuse great blessings because of short-sightedness, selfishness, or sin. Perfection doesn’t come in a day, perfection doesn’t come in a lifetime, but to the faithful through the grace of Christ, perfection will come. Working on improving some weakness each day goes a very long way.

Effort Without Eloquence

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Today a man participated in blessing the sacrament. He struggled to read the words of the prayer and his enunciation was not flawless but the sheer effort it was for him to say the prayer made it more meaningful for me. I’ve heard many bright young men fly through the sacrament prayer as if they are participating in a verbal sprint. That always comes across as disrespectful, even if it’s unintentionally so. Contrast that with the effort it took this man to say the prayer, with the struggle he had to say the words, and I’ll take his prayer any day over a flawless brisk reading.

This reminds me of a testimony shared recently by an older brother who had difficulty standing and whose primary language was not English. His effortful and simple testimony was powerful, one of the most powerful I’ve heard in a while. This experience reminds me of Brigham Young’s conversion. He said, “If all the talent, tact, wisdom, and refinement of the world had been sent to me with the Book of Mormon, and had declared, in the most exalted of earthly eloquence, the truth of it, undertaking to prove it by learning and worldly wisdom, they would have been to me like the smoke which arises only to vanish away. But when I saw a man without eloquence, or talents for public speaking, who could only say, ‘I know, by the power of the Holy Ghost, that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is a Prophet of the Lord,’ the Holy Ghost proceeding from that individual illuminated my understanding, and light, glory, and immortality were before me. I was encircled by them, filled with them, and I knew for myself that the testimony of the man was true.” (Brigham Young discourse, June 13, 1852, JD 1:90; as cited by Larry Porter).

The Spirit, not eloquence, makes a powerful talk or testimony. Sometimes those who struggle the most teach the best.

A Voice in the Wilderness, A Voice from the Dust

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Three hundred years before the death of Adam, the people of God lived in a land of righteousness, separated from those who chose to worship Mammon rather than God. Among this people a baby was born who would later cause mountains to flee and rivers to change course (Moses 6:34). This baby was to be a teacher and great prophet. He would save his people. This baby was Enoch, whose name means “teacher”; he bacame a powerful teacher. Enoch was a descendant of the righteous patriarch Seth, the son of Adam, and the great-grandfather of Noah, who was protected from the floods in his ark of covenant, in his tabernacle of wood. Noah weathered the elements within his sanctuary of faith; his great-grandfather Enoch also had great faith, commanding the elements to protect his people. As an approaching army threatened to destroy the people of God, Enoch turned in faith and humility to God, supplicating for rescue.

“And so great was the faith of Enoch that he led the people of God…; he spake the word of the Lord, and the earth trembled, and the mountains fled, even according to his command; and the rivers of water were turned out of their course…and all nations feared greatly, so powerful was the word of Enoch, and so great was the power of the language which God had given him.” (Moses 7:13).

Awed by such power, the enemies of his people fled. Enoch saved his people physically, he would save them spiritually.

The Lord, troubled by the wickedness of the people on the earth, came to Enoch, commanding him to call the people to repentance (Moses 6:26-30). Enoch, like so many who would follow, felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of his call. He felt inadequate, stating that he was “just a lad” and “slow of speech” (Moses 6:31). In reply, the Lord commanded him to be faithful, open his mouth, and be filled with the words of God (Moses 6:32). Faith overcame fear as Enoch fulfilled the commands of the Lord. He told the people that they must “choose…this day, to serve the Lord God who made [them]” (Moses 6:33).

Enoch made the choice to serve God. When callings come to us, whether they appear great or small, whether they be as relief society president, family history consultant, bishop, or nursery worker, we can follow the faithful example of Enoch and choose to serve the Lord our God. God will prepare a way for us to fulfill our callings.

At age 25 Enoch received the Priesthood from Adam (D&C 107:48). Enoch became a great prophet and seer, wandering in the wilderness, calling to the people to repent. He fearlessly taught and fearlessly prophesied.

“And it came to pass that Enoch went forth in the land, among the people, standing upon the hills and the high places, and cried with a loud voice, testifying against their works; and all men were offended because of him. And they came forth to hear him, upon the high places, saying…we go yonder to behold the seer, for he prophesieth, and there is a strange thing in the land; a wild man hath come among us.” (Moses 6:37-38). Enoch was seen as a wild man, a voice in the wilderness who prophesied hard things unto the people. The wicked were offended and became defensive. We see this happen repeatedly in our day – some protest against what the prophets teach, finding it offensive or parochial, words for an uninformed people, a distant past. There will always be many who mock in derision from their great and spacious false temple.

In Isaiah we read of the wicked complaining against the truth. Isaiah prophesied: “this is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the Lord: Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the [Lord] to cease from before us.” (Isaiah 30:9-11)

Truly the wicked take the truth to be hard! Prophets do not always speak smooth things. Yes, the doctrine they teach can be comforting but much is sharp to the wicked or hard-hearted. Enoch taught with such great power that although the people were offended, they were enthralled by the power of his words. As Enoch spoke “the words of God, the people trembled, and could not stand in his presence” (Moses 6:47). There is great power in the word of faith.

What did Enoch teach the people? Enoch taught of the fall of Adam, death, sin, repentance, baptism, the Holy Ghost, redemption through Christ, and resurrection. Enoch taught the words of Christ spoken to Adam on behalf of the Father: “By reason of transgression cometh the fall, which fall bringeth death, and inasmuch as ye were born into the world by water, and blood, and the spirit, which I have made, and so became of dust a living soul, even so ye must be born again into the kingdom of heaven, of water, and of the Spirit, and be cleansed by blood, even the blood of mine Only Begotten; that ye might be sanctified from all sin, and enjoy the words of eternal life in this world, and eternal life in the world to come, even immortal glory; For by the water ye keep the commandment; by the Spirit ye are justified, and by the blood ye are sanctified; Therefore it is given to abide in you” (Moses 6:59-61).

We are born of water, spirit, and blood and must be obedient, repentant, and reborn through the water of baptism; we must be justified and cleansed from sin by the Holy Spirit; and we must be sanctified, becoming holy, though the atoning blood of Christ. All those symbols are part of the sacrament – bread to represent the body and burial of Christ, the Spirit to witness unto us and cleanse our sins, and the water to represent the sanctifying and covenant blood of Christ. Enoch taught the people the manner by which they could return to the presence of God.

Many people believed Enoch and repented. Because of their righteousness, the Lord blessed them with His glory. He also “blessed [their] land, and they were blessed upon the mountains, and upon the high places, and did flourish. And the Lord called his people Zion, because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness; and there was no poor among them.” (Moses 7:17-18). That same promise and blessing is available to us as we follow the Lord. Elsewhere great wickedness and apostasy flourished. Eventually the city of Zion and its people were taken from the earth: “And Enoch and all his people walked with God, and he dwelt in the midst of Zion; and it came to pass that Zion was not, for God received it up into his own bosom; and from thence went forth the saying, Zion is Fled.” (Moses 7:69).

After that apostasy reigned – the missionary efforts of Noah and others having little success. The heavens wept and a flood cleansed the earth. This weeping and cleansing foreshadowed the tears and blood of the weeping Christ as He atoned for the sins and sorrows of us all. After Christ’s resurrection, the early Christian church flourished, led by the apostles. Many rejected them and their teachings, eventually killing them. After the deaths of the apostles, the priesthood keys and priesthood authority were removed from the earth. Hundreds of years passed in global apostasy. Degrees of light and truth remained but God’s authority was not on the earth. Then in 1820, God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared to Joseph Smith, a 14 year old boy. The Lord called Joseph as a prophet. In May 1829 John the Baptist visited Joseph Smith and bestowed upon him the Aaronic Priesthood, preparatory to him receiving the Melchizedek priesthood and eventually all priesthood keys – all authorization to perform the work of the Lord, the work of salvation, which teaches the way and opens the doors for our return home to our Father in Heaven.

Throughout the ages and in our day, all prophets have testified of Christ and taught His doctrine. The prophets call as voices of clarity amid the wilderness of sin. They call unto us with the “voice of [Him] who dwells on high, whose eyes are upon all men [and women]” (D&C 1:1). The voice of the Lord is unto all; it is a voice of warning unto all men and women. This voice comes through the prophets, who are “given [power] to seal both on earth and in heaven” (D&C 1:8).

All are invited to hear the word of the Lord through His spokesmen, the prophets. Do we heed the call? Do we invite our friends and neighbors to hear the word? There is nothing more important in life than hearing and heeding the voice of the Lord and hearing and heeding the voice of His servants, the prophets. At times the prophets share the Lord’s voice of warning – warning against wickedness and warning against calamities to come.

“The anger of the Lord is kindled, and his sword is bathed in heaven, and it shall fall upon the inhabitants of the earth. And the arm of the Lord shall be revealed; and the day cometh that they who will not hear the voice of the Lord, neither the voice of his servants, neither give heed to the words of the prophets and apostles, shall be cut off from among the people; For they have strayed from mine ordinances, and have broken mine everlasting covenant; They seek not the Lord to establish his righteousness, but every man walketh in his own way, and after the image of his own god, whose image is in the likeness of the world, and whose substance is that of an idol, which waxeth old and shall perish in Babylon, even Babylon the great, which shall fall.” (D&C 1:13-16).

We live in a time when people stray from the ordinances of the Lord, when they break the everlasting covenant. There are many who create their own gods and then seek to follow them. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland stated in this past April General Conference:

“Sadly enough…it is a characteristic of our age that if people want any gods at all, they want them to be gods who do not demand much, comfortable gods, smooth gods who not only don’t rock the boat but don’t even row it, gods who pat us on the head, make us giggle, then tell us to run along and pick marigolds. Talk about man creating God in his own image! Sometimes—and this seems the greatest irony of all—these folks invoke the name of Jesus as one who was this kind of ‘comfortable’ God. Really? He who said not only should we not break commandments, but we should not even think about breaking them. And if we do think about breaking them, we have already broken them in our heart. Does that sound like ‘comfortable’ doctrine, easy on the ear and popular down at the village love-in?” (Holland, April 2014 General Conference).

Prophets serve as a voice of warning. They do so in order to protect us. God gives us prophets so that we might be prepared and might know the path that returns home, in which home we might have a fulness of joy and a fullness of love.

Jesus said: “I the Lord, knowing the calamity which should come upon the inhabitants of the earth, called upon my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., and spake unto him from heaven, and gave him commandments; And also gave commandments to others, that they should proclaim these things unto the world; and all [the words of the prophets] might be fulfilled, which was written by the prophets…that every man might speak in the name of God the Lord, even the Savior of the world; That faith also might increase in the earth; That mine everlasting covenant might be established; That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world.” (D&C 1:17-23)

Joseph Smith was prepared and called by God so that faith might increase, that the everlasting covenant – that which binds families together and to God eternally – might be restored, and that the fulness of the gospel might reach the ends of the earth. One of the most important things Joseph accomplished was in bringing forth the Book of Mormon, a voice from the dust whispering words from voices in wildernesses that call unto all to repent and return to God.

The prophet Moroni pleaded with those who would read the Book of Mormon: “And I exhort you to remember these things; for…the Lord God will say unto you: Did I not declare my words unto you, which were written by this man [Moroni], like as one crying from the dead, yea, even as one speaking out of the dust? I declare these things unto the fulfilling of the prophecies. And behold, they shall proceed forth out of the mouth of the everlasting God; and his word shall hiss forth from generation to generation. And God shall show unto you, that that which I have written is true.” (Moroni 10:27-29)

It is true, brothers and sisters. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. It has changed my life, it has changed many of yours and will continue to change all our lives as we accept it. It was written for us so that we might come to know Christ, the Holy Messiah. The Book of Mormon is one of the greatest gifts given to us. Do we reject it, ignore it, or embrace it? Do we hide it under a bushel or do we proclaim its truth from the housetops? The Book of Mormon contains the words of those who spoke in the wilderness as voices of warning. It is imperative that we know and believe the truths contained within.

While much of what the Lord proclaims is a voice of warning, not always the “smooth things” people want to hear, there is also great comfort in the doctrines of Christ. Isaiah prophesied of the Atonement of Christ, of the comfort and pardoning it would bring: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her…that her iniquity is pardoned” (Isaiah 40:1-2). The prophets in our day also teach of this comfort.

Elder Holland taught: “It is crucial to remember that we are living—and chose to live—in a fallen world where for divine purposes our pursuit of godliness will be tested and tried again and again. Of greatest assurance in God’s plan is that a Savior was promised, a Redeemer, who through our faith in Him would lift us triumphantly over those tests and trials, even though the cost to do so would be unfathomable for both the Father who sent Him and the Son who came. It is only an appreciation of this divine love that will make our own lesser suffering first bearable, then understandable, and finally redemptive.” (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2013/10/like-a-broken-vessel?lang=eng)

One of the messages of the restored gospel is that of hope. We can have hope through the calamities foretold; we can have hope through our suffering. Christ showed us how to bear suffering – with poise amid provocation, with fearlessness and faith, with gratitude and grace. We will not be free from suffering – the blameless Christ suffered more than all – but we can have strength through our trials. There are many here who have suffered and do suffer greatly. There are some who feel the encroaching darkness of despair. There are some who suffer because of sin, illness, or heartache. Hold on! Strive on! Trust in God and be believing. At times all feel lost, alone, and afraid. We might feel like we are left in darkness – wandering in a wilderness – but if we stop to look up, we will see the majesty and mercies of the Lord as the stars in the sky. In our darkest moments the light of Christ will appear brightest. God is near if we have ears to hear and eyes to see. Christ suffered for our sins, He suffered for our infirmities; He suffered for our sorrows, our sickness, and our shortcomings. We are enabled and exalted in Him.

Though we walk through the valley of deepest darkness, though we traverse along a crooked trail of tears, though we stumble and fear like Peter a sinking, Jesus Christ takes our hands, lifts us up, dries our tears, and lights our way. He is our song in the night, our pillar of fire, and our shadow by day. He binds our wounds and repairs the breeches in our hearts.

What the Lord told the prophet Joseph, applies to us: “All [our trials] shall give [us] experience, and shall be for [our] good.” (D&C 122:7). Hope on! Trust on!

Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet for us, just like Enoch was for his people. The words of the prophets – words of warning and consolation – are unto all as voices from the wilderness. One such voice pleaded: “Awake, and arise from the dust…and put on thy beautiful garments, O [sons and daughters] of Zion;…strengthen thy stakes and enlarge thy borders forever, that thou mayest no more be confounded, that the covenants of the Eternal Father which he hath made unto thee, O house of Israel, may be fulfilled.” (Moroni 10:31). May we so heed the words of the prophets and strengthen the stakes of Zion. May we remember the covenants of God and be true to them.

The Book of Mormon Provides Clarity

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There is minor disagreement among scholars as to the identity of the “beloved” disciple of Christ. Read this Wikipedia entry for a summary: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disciple_whom_Jesus_loved. It is postulated that the beloved disciple is John, Lazarus, Mary Magdelene, or someone else. While there is weak to no evidence for the beloved disciple to be anyone other than John, discussion still continues (even though it should never have started).

In the Book of Mormon we have a record of Jesus speaking to three of His Nephite disciples who desired to remain and preach the gospel until Christ’s return: “And he [Jesus] said unto them: Behold, I know your thoughts, and ye have desired the thing which John, my beloved, who was with me in my ministry, before that I was lifted up by the Jews, desired of me.” (3 Ne. 28:6).

Instant clarity. End of discussion.

I use this as an example of the role of the Book of Mormon. It clarifies much of what appears controversial or unclear in the Bible. The Book of Mormon serves as another witness of Jesus Christ and of the Bible. It establishes the truth of the Bible so that we may more fully believe it and believe Christ.

Improving Gospel Teaching

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When I was young my parents would ask after church something like this: “What was your Sunday School lesson on today?” or “What did you learn about in primary/priesthood?” Many times my response was non-existent (if I wasn’t feeling particularly chatty) or as insightful as “I don’t know [remember].” There were numerous times I honestly could not remember what my lessons were about.

Fast forward many years. Just over a year ago I was teaching Nursery (one of my favorite callings ever). The Nursery manual is built around repetition, which is the only way we really learn anything. Key concepts from the lessons are reinforced over and over in the brief span of lesson time and 1 – 3 year old attentions. There is a lesson, there are songs, and there are coloring activities. I’d also try to show video clips whenever relevant. This is a form of multi-modal teaching – different ways to teach the same point with each child hopefully responding to one or more of the methods. If a child doesn’t like singing, maybe she will like the video clip or coloring. What this type of teaching does is improve the possibility that learning will occur. To supplement this, I would also ask at random throughout the time after the lesson what the lesson was about. This allows the children to try to recall the information at random times and variable spans of time, which increases learning. This is a type of variable interval reinforcement.

Yesterday I substituted teaching my daughter’s primary class. We had a nice Sacrament Meeting with the mission president and his wife speaking along with our stake president. The topic was – no surprise – missionary work. When I asked the children in class (right after Sacrament Meeting) what the talks were about, the children could not remember. This was expected because one of the children had slept through part of Sacrament Meeting and others were busy doing what little children do – coloring or playing with small toys. I wanted them to remember or learn something from Sacrament Meeting so we took 10-15 minutes to do a reinforcement activity – the ever popular (and not politically correct) Hang Man. It took a while for the kids to guess the words because of their ages but the activity was worth it because after that they remembered that Sacrament Meeting was about missionary work. I asked them a few more times after that in order to boost their memory (because they would have to retrieve the memory after a variable interval). We also sang a couple songs (or at least I did), watched a couple video clips, looked at pictures, colored pictures, and talked. Again, this is multi-modal learning and really benefits learning as long as all activities are directly related in theme. Stories also help a lot, particularly if they come from class members.

As for our lesson in class, I had them boil the lesson down to one word – love. Pulling out a key concept is important to help memory. For little children it needs to be short – love or missionary work or happiness or family. Older children, teenagers, and adults might be able to remember more but consolidation of lesson material into 3-7 words as a summary benefits memory. This means that if you have a lesson on kings of Israel or Abraham or Alma, whatever you as teacher want the class to remember about the lesson should be able to be stated in 3-7 words (and probably less than 5 realistically). So, for example: “Abrahamic Covenant” or “Wickedness never was unhappiness” or “The righteous still suffer” and so forth. This could be written on the board or on a handout and stated repeatedly (but at random intervals). Teachers can also ask the class members to summarize what the lesson is about in their own words with the encouragement that it be under 7 words. This requires thought and consolidation.

I’ll have more to write about gospel teaching and learning, particularly as the church moves forward in redoing more lesson manuals (to follow the pattern of the relatively new pattern of instructing the youth, “Come, Follow Me.”). For now, I think we could boost retention of lesson materials (particularly with children) by making sure we consolidate what our lessons are about into no more than a few words.

Evidence of Truth

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There is a quote from the prolific author Isaac Asimov that reads: “I believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers. I’ll believe anything, no matter how wild and ridiculous, if there is evidence for it. The wilder and more ridiculous something is, however, the firmer and more solid the evidence will have to be.” (Asimov, The Roving Mind, 1983, p. 43; as cited by http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Isaac_Asimov)

Asimov was an atheist and obviously skeptical of things that fall outside scientific observation and explanation. While this is not the forum for a discussion of the potential problems of the scientific method as that branches into the philosophy of science (start here for an introduction of dualism, which is the foundational philosophy of our scientific method), there are many people (here’s one example) who question the assumptions at the philosophical foundation of modern science. I bring this up because Asimov stated, “I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, confirmed by independent observers.” That is precisely the scientific method but that method has its limitations.

So why write about this on a website devoted to basic doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I’ve written previously on belief and evidence. I will summarize that post and apply it to this current one. There is plenty of evidence for the existence of God, we just have to be willing to accept that evidence and the methods by which we acquire it. This means that we have to be willing to try a different method of knowledge other than the scientific method. In other words, when one states that the only way to know something is through “observation, measurement, and reasoning, [with] confirmation by independent observers” (in other words, the scientific method), then that individual is making the assumption that the scientific method is the only way to understand truth. That’s a big assumption. This is not an attack on the scientific method but rather a recognition that it just might not be the only way to discover truth (and I argue that it isn’t).

Even with this, I agree broadly with what Isaac Asimov said. I too believe in evidence. I believe in observation, measurement, and reasoning, with the confirmation of independent observers. I believe in God and in His Son Jesus Christ because I’ve made observations and measurements of the effects of following the teachings of Jesus in my life and in the lives of others around me. I have had many experiences with the Spirit of God, the Holy Ghost, that confirm the truths of the gospel. These experiences have been verified by independent observers – others who have similar experiences, thoughts, and feelings at the same time as me or in different circumstances. I believe the Bible in part because the teachings in it are testified and clarified by the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants, which both serve as additional, independent “observers” (witnesses) of truth. I have the teachings and experiences of prophets, teachers, leaders, parents, siblings, and friends who all confirm my own experiences.

Now, I know that many people do not accept those experiences, they do not accept such evidence as valid. However, this is because they make assumptions that because they cannot use the scientific method to gather these evidences (although you can use methods similar to the scientific method), then such evidence is invalid. Many people are unwilling to even try to find out for themselves if God exists, if Jesus is the Christ, if The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ’s true church, and then act surprised when they don’t have any evidence – as if evidence comes without searching. We have to be willing to discover the truth using God’s method rather than the scientific method. Doing this yields real results, real evidence. What’s beautiful is that anyone can know for themselves, in fact you have to know for yourself, you just have to be willing to accept evidence that might fall outside the scientific method.

Religious Liberty, Personal Liberty

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A group of individuals from England believed that the Church of England and the Catholic Church had strayed from the truth delivered by Christ. Facing intolerance and persecution from government and church leaders in England because of their beliefs, many fled to Holland where they experienced greater religious freedom. After struggling to earn livings in Holland they sought a new place where they could worship according to the dictates of their conscience. What looked most promising was America, as yet a largely unknown land with only a few permanent settlements. After delays, they started a journey filled with peril and a trans-Atlantic voyage on the ship Mayflower lasting 66 days. The Pilgrims celebrated their arrival with prayer and thanksgiving to God. On the crowded ship off the coast of what is now Massachusetts, the Pilgrims wrote and signed an important document. That document was the Mayflower Compact.

Part of that document stated: “Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a Voyage to plant the first Colony in the northern Parts of Virginia; Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid.”

The Mayflower Compact was signed by the adult males on the ship as a testament that they established a new colony for the glory of God and to spread Christianity. Through the Compact, the Pilgrims recognized the great blessings that God gives to His children. Two of my ancestors, Francis Cooke and Richard Warren, signed the Compact. The weary travelers had a harsh winter full of sickness and starvation ahead. Many died but many survived, spreading out and serving as a lasting foundation for what would eventually become a new nation founded upon God-given rights and freedoms; a nation where the Restoration of the gospel could occur.

When the Puritans came to America they brought with them and further developed their ideas of liberty. They typically viewed liberty in four different ways. The main form of liberty of which they spoke and wrote was a collective or “publick liberty” (p.200; Fischer, D. H. (1989). Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press, Oxford.). This was a liberty of the community and colony and not necessarily individual liberty. It “was thought to be consistent with close restraints upon individuals” (Fischer, p.200). It was through individual restraints that the entire community had liberty. This may seem counter-intuitive but it is not possible to have liberty for the collective without restraining the individual, which is one reason why anarchy does not work. Without restraint, entropy takes over, leaving only chaos.

The second idea of liberty that the Puritans talked of was liberty for individuals, although they usually referred to these as liberties (i.e., a plurality of liberty). In this case, “these plural liberties were understood as specific exemptions from a condition of prior restraint” (Fischer, p.201), which liberties they found in a new land.

The third Puritan view of liberty was the sense of “soul” or “Christian” liberty – the “freedom to serve God in the world. It was freedom to order one’s own acts in a godly way – but not in any other. It made Christian freedom into a form of obligation” (Fischer, p.202). This type of liberty was also referred to as liberty of conscience. While this idea of liberty was restrictive in practice because they only accepted belief in their Puritan faith, the idea that people should be free to serve God was an important founding philosophy for the future United States.

The fourth view of liberty for the Puritans was an individual liberty, a liberty or freedom from tyranny. This freedom included “freedom from want in the most fundamental sense” and “freedom from fear” (Fischer, p.205). This was similar to how many Americans view liberty today. This Puritan belief was another important belief that would influence many of the future Founding Fathers.

The Puritans believed in the freedom in order and not the freedom from order (i.e., collective liberty was more important than personal liberty). They believed that individual restraints were vital to the welfare of society – an idea that sometimes seems largely lost in our world today. This does not mean that more laws or more restrictions increase freedom but it also does not mean that fewer laws and fewer restrictions necessarily increase liberty.

Liberty and freedom are God’s desires for us. He endowed us with “certain unalienable Rights,” which rights include life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Liberty is a gift from God! We should always remember and serve Him, who gives us our freedom. May we be like the great Book of Mormon military leader Moroni who “did joy in the liberty and the freedom of his country, and his brethren from bondage and slavery” (Alma 48:11). Satan seeks “to overthrow the freedom of all lands, nations, and countries” (Ether 8:25), whereas God desires freedom and joy for us.

God told His people: “I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free. Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. Wherefore, honest men and wise men should be sought for diligently, and good men and wise men ye should observe to uphold; otherwise whatsoever is less than these cometh of evil” (D&C 98:8-10). As we remember and return to that God who gives us life and liberty, we will be blessed individually, as a nation, and as a world.

The early years of America were a struggle for individual and religious liberties. There were extremes in beliefs and actions; there were allowances for diversity of religious beliefs and there were severe constraints on free expression of belief. It took years for a national identity to form. In the end, the identity that formed allowed for the separation of church from state and state from church. Our identity recognized the great value of religion – the necessity of it for a civil society – but also recognized that belief and faith should not be coerced. People should be free to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience.

Near the end of 1776, the American colonies were entrenched in a war against Great Britain. This was part of the war for independence. The war at that time was not going well for the Americans who were seeking freedom. They had lost a number of battles, forts, and cities, including Fort Washington and New York City. While he watched the battle of Fort Washington, General George Washington was dismayed at the loss of life. At the end of the battle he wept openly. It was a hard loss. The entire Revolutionary war was a series of defeats for the Americans. That year of so much adversity might have seemed bleak and hopeless. Indeed it was for a number of people but many Americans found new resolve in their adversity. They strengthened their desires for freedom from what they saw as an oppressive government. In the midst of this adversity Dr. Benjamin Rush said, “Our republics cannot exist long in prosperity. We require adversity and appear to posses most of the republican spirit when most depressed.” (Source: David Hackett Fischer. Washington’s crossing. (2006). Oxford University Press, USA). “It was a time when many Americans resolved to act in a way that made a difference in the world.” (ibid.). The revival in the resolve and hearts of those fighting the war of independence came from their defeats, not their victories. It was in the Americans’ responses to calamity and tragedy that their greatness grew. We don’t show our strength and character in times of ease, we demonstrate it by how we respond when all the world seems to be falling down around us. This struggle for liberty was not easy. In our lives today it might appear that we are losing battles, we might lose battles, but if we remain faithful, God will turn all things to our benefit.

How do you cope with severe opposition? Do you give in to despair? Do you end up shattered upon the jagged rocks of adversity? Or do you fight? Do you face the adversity and move forward? Fighting is not always the solution – there are some fights that are beyond us – but when faced with adversity we should strive to address it as best as we can. Sometimes that might be by running away, like Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. For Joseph, his running from adversity led him into greater adversity – being cast into prison. How did he deal with this potential tragedy? He remained true to who he was and became the most powerful and respected prisoner. Through his righteousness and faith he faced adversity and overcame it, eventually rising to the second most powerful man in Egypt. We can say that Joseph was successful because of his adversity, not in spite of it. His liberty only came through his adversity.

I’ll share an example from the Revolutionary War that is representative of the challenges faced by the Americans who struggled through severe adversity to establish a new nation of freedom.

On a bitter cold Christmas night the Continental Army, led by George Washington, made a bold maneuver against the superior forces of the British army. General Washington led his troops over the Delaware in what would prove to be a defining moment of the Revolutionary War and American history. The crossing of the Delaware took all night; it was a significant adversity. Severe winter weather blew and froze the troops all during the crossing and the following day. Even so, the poor weather was a mixed blessing – it made the crossing treacherous but it also masked the movements of the Americans. Even after crossing the icy river, surviving the danger of that maneuver, it was so frigid that there are reports of at least two soldiers freezing to death that night. John Greenwood was a member of the army; he served as a fifer but because of the circumstances, John the fifer became John the soldier when he was called to carry a musket during the upcoming assault. As the army marched on its way after crossing the Delaware, John Greenwood was exhausted like many others. During one break he sat down with the intention of going to sleep. The voice of the bitter cold enticed John, lulling him into a false sense of security. He was so fatigued that he didn’t care if he never awoke from his slumber. As he drifted off to sleep, a passing sergeant noticed John, roused him, and got him up and moving. (Fischer, David H. 2004. Washington’s crossing. Oxford University Press, New York, NY, p. 228). This act saved his life. John Greenwood later became a dentist, serving as Pres. Washington’s dentist and significantly contributing to advances in dental treatment.

The American colonists struggled and eventually overcame, giving birth to a new nation founded on principles of individual liberty. The general sentiments of early citizens of the United States regarding the government and the interplay of religion and religious beliefs are echoed in Doctrine and Covenants 134.

“We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society. We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life. We believe that all governments necessarily require civil officers and magistrates to enforce the laws of the same; and that such as will administer the law in equity and justice should be sought for and upheld by the voice of the people if a republic, or the will of the sovereign. We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.” (D&C 134:1-4)

“Belief in God is central to the country’s experience, yet…faith is a matter of choice, not coercion” (Meacham, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation, location 73 of 6656 Kindle eBook). This was a novel, revolutionary principle upon which to establish a nation. Tying church and state together as had been done for much of history allowed for the distortion of doctrine and gross abuses of ecclesiastical and political power. Roger Williams, an early advocate of religious liberty, observed that “the gardens of Christ’s churches turned into the wilderness of national religion, and the world (under Constantine’s dominion) to the most un-Christian Christendom.” (Meacham, location 677 of 6656 Kindle eBook). The Great Apostasy held sway over the hearts, religions, and governments of humankind. The Founding Fathers in their wisdom, shattered the bonds between religion and government so that true liberty might exist and true religion flourish as they unknowingly laid the foundation for the restoration of Christ’s church.

Removing the bonds between organized churches and government does not mean religion and politics should remain separate. Pres. Washington stated in his farewell address: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens…. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.” (Washington, Farewell Address: http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/milestones/farewell_address_read3.html)

In the early days of the Revolutionary War one of the American generals, Nathanael Greene, wrote of the necessity of religious belief for the nation. He said: “America must raise an empire of permanent duration, supported upon the grand pillars of Truth, Freedom, and Religion, encouraged by the smiles of Justice and defended by her own patriotic sons…. Permit me then to recommend from the sincerity of my heart, ready at all times to bleed in my country’s cause, a Declaration of Independence, and call upon the world and the great God who governs it to witness the necessity, propriety and rectitude thereof.” (as cited by D. McCullough in 1776, Simon & Schuster, 2005; emphasis added).

Those who attack religion attack the foundation of morality and the foundation of liberty. Leaders who seek to oppress and gain tyrannical power seek to constrain religious liberty. Liberty triumphed because the Founding Fathers believed that God granted unto His children inherent rights that governments should have no power to limit. One of these rights was that of freedom of religious worship. By infusing our nation with the idea of God-given rights rather than government-given rights, America became a place of inclusion rather than exclusion; America became a place of freedom and liberties rather than oppression, although oppression and bondage remained for many. Early leaders of the United States and of the restored church rejoiced in this liberty.

Brigham Young stated: “How can a republican [freely elected] government stand? There is only one way for it to stand. It can endure; but how? It can endure, as the government of heaven endures, upon the eternal rock of truth and virtue; and that is the only basis upon which any government can endure” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

Our government was founded under the inspiration of God. It will only endure, as Brigham Young said, when those who govern and those who are governed enact and support truthful and virtuous laws with truthfulness and virtue in their personal lives. The Book of Mormon prophet and king Mosiah taught that nations only prosper and endure when righteousness prevails:

“Therefore, choose you by the voice of this people, judges, that ye may be judged according to the laws which have been given you by our fathers, which are correct, and which were given them by the hand of the Lord. Now it is not common that the voice of the people desireth anything contrary to that which is right; but it is common for the lesser part of the people to desire that which is not right; therefore this shall ye observe and make it your law—to do your business by the voice of the people. And if the time comes that the voice of the people doth choose iniquity, then is the time that the judgments of God will come upon you; yea, then is the time he will visit you with great destruction even as he has hitherto visited this land” (Mosiah 29:25-27).

Pres. Young said: “If a nation transgresses wholesome laws and oppresses any of its citizens or another nation, until the cup of iniquity is full, through acts that are perfectly under its own control, God will hurl those who are in authority from their power, and they will be forgotten; and he will take another people, though poor and despised, a hiss and a by-word among the popular nations, and instill into them power and wisdom; and they will increase and prosper, until they in turn become a great nation on the earth.” Brigham Young also said, “No matter how good a government is, unless it is administered by righteous men, an evil government will be made of it.” He taught that the influence of righteous citizens can save a nation: “Government in the hands of a wicked people must terminate in woe to that people, but in the hands of the righteous it is everlasting, while its power reaches to heaven.” Lastly, Brigham Young taught about the type of leaders we should seek: “We want men to rule the nation who care more for and love better the nation’s welfare than gold and silver, fame, or popularity” (https://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-brigham-young/chapter-36?lang=eng).

I am grateful for the great nation The United States of America and for the freedoms we enjoy. I am grateful to live in a land where we can choose to live in righteousness. We must strive to elect good men and women. It is never too late to choose righteousness and to encourage righteousness in others!

This foundation of righteousness was built by the first leaders of the nation who acted in accord with the will of God.

Pres. Wilford Woodruff stated in general conference: “I am going to bear my testimony to this assembly, if I never do it again in my life, that those men who laid the foundation of this American government and signed the Declaration of Independence were the best spirits the God of heaven could find on the face of the earth. They were choice spirits, not wicked men. General Washington and all the men that labored for the purpose were inspired of the Lord.” (April 1898, Conference Report). He further said that they “laid the foundation of the government [we] now enjoy, and…never apostatized from it, but…remained true to it and were faithful to God.” (Read for more: http://www.josephsmithacademy.org/wiki/eminent-spirits-appear-to-wilford-woodruff/)

The Founding Fathers were true to their cause and by and large expressed great faith in God. An example of this faith comes from Thomas Jefferson.

As Thomas Jefferson was dying he began “moving in his mind between past and present, [and] gave his grandson instructions about his funeral arrangements. Struggling to be reassuring, a member of the family said that everyone hoped it would be a long time before those orders would have to be executed. With a smile, Jefferson replied, ‘Do you imagine I fear to die?’ He had long contemplated what he was to face on the other side of the grave, and he found the prospect bright. Once we left ‘our sorrows and suffering bodies,’ Jefferson had once told John Adams, then they would ‘ascend in essence to an ecstatic meeting with the friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.'” (Meacham, American Gospel, location 134 of 6656 Kindle eBook).

It was such faith that sustained Jefferson and others through their struggles. It was such faith that they hoped without coercion that all Americans would have. It was for freedom of expression, for freedom of faith and religion, and for individual liberty that the Founding Fathers sacrificed.

George Washington stated in a famous letter to a Jewish congregation: “We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart.” (From George Washington to the Members of the New Jerusalem Church of Baltimore, 27 January 1793: http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-12-02-0027).

That reminds of the language found in Doctrine and Covenants 134 that I mentioned previously and the 11th Article of Faith. The 11th Article of Faith reads: “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.”

Thus, one of the core tenets of our religion matches closely to the ideas that inspired the founding of our great nation [the United States]. It was through their faithfulness to the idea of liberty that America became a land where the root of religious liberty could take hold and spread, resulting in the great flowering tree of life of the restored gospel and Church of Jesus Christ. Without the blessing of religious liberty, the Restoration would not have taken place. Even so, the Church barely survived its first 80 years, its members having to flee the United States and go to Mexico in order to survive persecution; but survive and thrive it did and does.

In the 11th Article of Faith we express our conviction that we should be allowed to worship God according to the dictates of our conscience and will allow all people to worship “how, where, or what they may.” The Articles of Faith do not only prescribe belief and doctrine, they also encourage behavior and action. They are more than professions of belief – they describe how we interact individually, with others, and in society. This is clear in the 12th Article of Faith, which goes hand in hand with the 11th: “We believe in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” By obedience to laws are we free; true liberty comes from obedience to God’s laws and to the just laws of men.

Pres. Joseph F. Smith stated: “There is no liberty like the liberty of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For I can tell you no man is free when he is under bondage of sin and of transgression, neither is any man free when he is under the bondage of ignorance in relation to the plan of life and salvation.” (Chapter 32: Liberty through Obedience: http://www.lds.org/manual/teachings-joseph-f-smith/chapter-32?lang=eng)

Liberty is inextricably tied with agency. We are well aware of the importance of agency in our lives. Our Father declared it so important that a war was fought in heaven when individuals wanted to limit agency and coerce righteousness. Forcing righteousness, however, cannot result in exaltation. In order for us to become more like our Father we must have agency. This liberty of choice, if you will, is constrained only by unrighteousness. Sinful behavior – acting in opposition to God’s laws – brings constraints on agency. We give up liberty when we sin; we shackle ourselves in chains that can only be broken through the Atonement of Christ. Jesus sets the captives free, He releases us from the bondage of our sins and assuages our pain. We must be mindful of sins and temptations that would bind us, limiting our liberty and happiness.

As we should seek liberty in our personal lives by striving to remain free from sin, we should uphold liberty in our country and encourage liberty in others. God loves us. He wants us to be free and happy, both in this life and in the life to come.