The Lord’s Pattern of Leadership

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In 2010 in a forum intended for individuals who work for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder Bednar spoke on leadership: “Just think about any responsibility you’ve ever had as a leader in the Church. Were you well prepared before you were called? No. Did you know what you were doing when you were called? No. So the Lord, by inspiration through those who are in authority, calls us to do things that we’ve never done, that we’re not prepared to do, and that we struggle with on the front end especially, learning what we’re to do.

“Well, my phrasing for that is what happens as soon as you begin to have any idea of what you’re doing and gain any measure of confidence, you’re released and you’re clueless again in some new responsibility.

“And there’s a reason for that. As long as we’re clueless we’re dependent upon heaven. As soon as we think we know what we’re doing then we tend to rely more on the arm of the flesh. In the Church every single one of us has been in the position where heaven took a chance on us. We didn’t know what to do, we certainly were not experienced, we were worthy and willing, but heaven took a chance.

“Truthfully, when we then are the one in the chair to receive inspiration for someone else, aren’t we less willing to take a chance on other people? We want folks who have the requisite skill and capacity, and we want everything to run smooth and so we use the same 10 people who at some point in time were given an opportunity, developed the skill and the capacity and the confidence, and we want to look good so we just keep moving them around in the different auxiliaries. The great enjoyment comes when someone who’s really clueless gains confidence in capacity. Thats fun….

“Not too long ago I was visiting with President Packer, and he made just a very interesting observation. He said, ‘David, serving in this responsibility, the longer you serve, the less able you feel.’ If you think about a person who would serve as a stake president, for example, nine years, the first three years you’re pretty much totally clueless, so you’re safe because you’re dependent on heaven.

“The second three years you might begin to see repeating kinds of challenges and cases and you’re still clueless, but you’re not totally clueless so you feel reasonably comfortable. The danger comes in the last three years that you might ever begin to think ‘I know what I’m doing.’ I would suggest ‘Yeah, I know what I’m doing’ is an absence of humility. Because even though this is the 93rd time you’ve seen a case like this, you have no idea what you’re gonna do. As long as that’s your approach. New person, new circumstance, and yes you benefited from the previous 93, but this is a soul where they deserve your very best, and you can’t just apply everything from the past to this particular one.

“So the great danger comes after we have gained experience that we might begin to think we really know what we’re doing.” (A Conversation on Leadership¹; emphasis added).

So if you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and feel like you’re in over your head, that’s exactly where you need to be!

Notes

1. While the document is hosted and accessible freely online by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, its use is “intended for use only by the Church workforce”, which is why I did not provide a direct link. Interested parties can perform a web search for the document and find a PDF of it. I’ve seen the PDF go on and off line over the years so it might be removed from general accessibility at some point

LDS Church Policy on Same-Sex Marriage

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Note: I originally had an extensive post here but I decided to remove it. While my post was not written to be controversial, my policy is to not post on controversial issues relating to the LDS Church, particularly when many people have strong emotions about the issues. In order to be true to my policy, I’ve removed the article.

I will keep only Elder Christofferson’s thoughtful interview on this matter.

Children of the Apostles – Updated Analysis

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About five years ago I wrote a post looking at how many children the apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have. With the recent deaths of three apostles and the calling of three more in the past week, it’s time to update my analyses.

Before I start I want to clarify that the number of children people have is not necessarily the number of children they want to have. I don’t want to downplay the heartache many feel at not being able to have (more) children due to health issues or other life circumstances. I pass no judgements on the number of children anyone has and ask that any who read this follow likewise. I’ll never forget a comment Truman Madsen made that when he was younger he and his wife would sometimes hear people ask behind their backs, “I wonder why the Madsens only have three children.” His poignant comment was, “We wonder too.” With this post I’m simply providing an analysis of things as they are.

Here are the numbers (Apostles are sorted according to seniority with number of children, current ages (as of 10/04/2015) and their ages when called as apostles):

Apostle Children Current Age Age When Called
Monson 3 88 36
Nelson 10 91 59
Oaks 6 83 52
Ballard 7 86 56
Hales 2 83 61
Holland 3 74 53
Eyring 6 82 61
Uchtdorf 2 74 63
Bednar 3 63 52
Cook 3 75 67
Christofferson 5 70 63
Andersen 4 64 57
Rasband 5 64 64
Stevenson 4 60 60
Renlund 1 62 62
For those whose eyes glaze over at tables of numbers, here is a column graph of the apostles and the number of their children.
children_of_apostle_bar_graph
The data are roughly normally distributed (skewness = 1.02, kurtosis = 1.34) so assumptions of normality are not violated and we can use parametric analyses. There is a moderate correlation between number of children and current age (Pearson r = 0.50, p = 0.057) but no correlation between number of children and age when called (r = 0.008). What does this mean? The older men tend to have more children than younger ones but the relationship is not associated with their calling as an apostle (it’s just an age association and not an age*apostle association). However, the correlation is largely driven by Pres. Nelson (10 children) – the oldest apostle – and Elder Renlund (1 child) – one of the youngest apostles. If they are removed from the analysis, there is no age/children relationship (r = 0.18). We cannot really exclude those two as outliers because I’ve sampled the entire population of apostles and such an exclusion would be misleading even if Pres. Nelson and Elder Renlund have a large influence on the relationship.
How much of the number of children does age explains? Age explains 25% of the variance in number of children (R = 0.501, F = 4.363, p = 0.057), which is a moderate amount but it is obvious that age alone cannot account for the difference in number of children. There are other potentially testable factors (e.g., number of children in the apostles’ nuclear families, age at marriage, income, etc.) and untestable factors (e.g., personal choice or how many they physically could have) that might explain the difference but those are not addressed here.
What about seniority, which is correlated with age, but is a different matter? I created two groups within the Apostles based on seniority (those called before 2000 and those after 2000); the 7 most senior (through Pres. Eyring) were one group and the 8 left were the other group (beginning with Pres. Uchtdorf). This group split is essentially a median split of seniority. A t-test revealed that there was not a significant difference in the number of children between groups (mean for group 1 = 5.29 (median = 6), mean for group 2 = 3.38 (median = 3.5), t = 1.70, p = 0.11, but the difference was a fairly large effect). This shows that the more senior apostles do, on average, have more children than the less senior ones but this difference is primarily driven by Pres. Nelson and Elder Renlund (this group difference is not significant with them removed from the analysis: p = 0.40).

pre_post_2000_apostles_children

Now for something tangentially related. How old were the apostles when called? The figure below shows current age (blue) and age when called (red).

age_apostles

What is interesting is that there is a trend towards a difference in age when called between the two groups (p = 0.07) with the more senior group called at slightly younger ages (mean = 54) than the less senior group (mean = 61). Pres. Monson, of course, is a strong driver of this difference (with him removed, p = 0.116) because he was ordained an apostle at age 36, which is incredibly young (he’s the outlier in the box plot below).

age_at_calling_apostles

Does any of this really mean anything? No. The Lord calls those He foreordained to the scared apostleship and who are ready to accept the calling, regardless of the number of children they have. However, it is interesting that younger apostles tend to have fewer children, which parallels but does not match the general trends in the world.

Power of an Apostle – Elder Richard G. Scott

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With the passing of Elder Richard G. Scott this past week, I had an opportunity to reflect on how his teachings inspired me over the years. One experience in particular had a profound impact on me and many others.

While I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Seattle, Washington area, Elder Scott visited our mission. I’ll share the experience as written in my missionary journal with additional commentary as necessary.

Friday, Oct. 15

Elder Richard G. Scott: With him are Elder Hammond of the area presidency and Elder Hammond’s second councilor. I got to shake [Elder Scott’s] hand and tell him my name and where I am from. [Elder Scott did this for every missionary there in the meeting. He wanted to shake everyone’s hands, look in their eyes, and then base his remarks on the impressions he received. It was a remarkable experience; I felt him understand who I was through the Spirit. There was such great power in his gaze that I knew he knew my soul.]

[He taught – these are summaries and not necessarily exact quotes]: “Set aside concerns and be led by the Lord. When there is an interchange of teaching, those teaching and those listening better can feel the Spirit. You hear and write down [i.e., take notes of the promptings from the Spirit]. You learn by what you feel and what you see.”

How you can learn by what you can observe [i.e., we can learn from people by watching them]:

  • Elder Kimball was teaching and set a handkerchief down and then the cup, so not to damage the finish – [Elder Scott learned] the power (value) of tithing and respect for the Lord’s property.
  • Pres. Packer holds his scriptures to his heart [when carrying them].

It is vitally important that we know the Bible, it is filled with truth. D&C 50:21-22. We do not all learn the same thing [the Holy Ghost teaches us what we need to learn]. A missionary has two parts – spiritual [power] and technical [knowledge and skills]. They are interrelated and cannot be separated. You can have a powerful testimony of truth but if you don’t know how to share it, the Lord cannot do His work.

[Other observations and encouragements]

  • You need to always keep growing.
  • Make the decision once, then use your energy to keep doing it.
  • Set goals.
  • Study doctrine.
  • Study the Savior and His life. He is the greatest motivator. The greatest motivation for enduring growth and most certain avenue for true happiness results when Father in Heaven and the Savior are at the head [center of our lives] and their teachings are the guide for our decisions.

[At this point in the meeting, Elder Scott took a break from teaching and had my mission president and his wife teach as well as those in the area presidency. Then Elder Scott taught again.]

9:30 yesterday – in temple during their meeting, he called Elder Hammond. There was a change in plans and Elder Hammond instantly accepted [i.e., attending and speaking at this meeting was a last minute change for Elder Hammond]. Be willingly obedient to the Lord.

Make sure you have a companionship inventory weekly.

Who I am [as a full time missionary]:

  • I have been called of Christ through His prophet by revelation to be a missionary to teach and testify of Christ.
  • I have been commissioned to bring souls to Christ through baptism and place them on the path to Celestial glory.
  • I have the right to be inspired what to do and have power to do it.
  • I am an authorized servant of Jesus Christ.

[About my mission president]: Pres. Larson is growing to fill his mantle. [We can ask ourselves] “Am I filling my mantle?”

  • People see the mantle [of a missionary]. Do not worry about the limits of the mantle. The Lord called you, He will prepare a way.
  • Must be clean and willing.
  • You can’t do it by yourself or all at once.
  • Remember who you are and never go back to where you were.
  • Keep growing.
  • How to gain confidence as a missionary: Nobody knows how much confidence you have, take all you want.
  • Know that there is a God in Heaven and your call is inspired.
  • Believe that the Lord will guide you and will build you.
  • Just decide to do it.
  • You cannot walk with one foot in the kingdom and one in the world.
  • Satan tries to get us on a path that is close to the Lord’s, then we justify a bit more and then we are way off [over time].
  • Do not let things come into your ears, mind, or eyes that will desensitize you [to the Spirit].
  • Draw your boundaries.

How to be led by the Spirit:

  • D&C 8:2-3, Enos 1:3 – starts with feeling or impression
  • Enos 1:4 – ponder, read, think, and pray
  • Enos 1:5 – your life changes

In order to be led more powerfully by the Spirit I must:

  • Exercise faith in Christ
  • Be diligent in keeping the commandments
  • Helamen 10:3 – ponder the things of the Lord
  • Serve and work
  • Without wearying, declare the word of God
  • Seek the Lord’s will
  • Do not fear
  • Prepare

I was touched greatly by the meeting. The thing that impressed me the most was having Elder Scott look into my eyes and know that he knew me as the Savior does. Then, Elder Scott took the impressions he received about my needs and the needs of all there to guide his remarks. It was a special experience.

Must-read: Joseph the Seer

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published an article (will appear in the October 2015 Ensign) on Joseph Smith, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, and the role of seers and seer stones: https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/10/joseph-the-seer?lang=eng

I believe that this article is a must-read for members of the church or for those interested in Mormon history. I’m grateful for the continued work the church does into releasing copies of primary historical sources, doing so according to high historical standards for preservation and research. While none of the information in the above article is new, having current scholarship presented in a straightforward and concise manner is helpful.

Also of note in the article is a photograph of one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones (not the ones included with the gold plates), which the church has in its possession. It’s a rock and has no power beyond the power and inspiration given to the seer using it.

Patriarchs: Conduits of Revelation

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One of my favorite parts of my patriarchal blessing is where the patriarch slips from addressing me directly (“You have…” or “I bless you…”) to referring to me in the third person (“Jared…and his…”). It’s just a half sentence that is third person instead of first but it’s one of the highlights of my blessing.

Why?

It’s an instance when I can see the direct revelation from the Lord to the patriarch. Instead of hearing the words of the conduit of revelation that half sentence of third person narrative is a glimpse at the Source of all light and knowledge. It serves as a witness to me that the Lord knows and loves me. It serves as a witness that the patriarch spoke for God. This small narrative ‘mistake’ was a steady hand on the tiller of the ship Adolescence during a turbulent storm. It still provides comfort.

Patriarchal blessings are beautiful expressions of God’s love for us. If you have not received one, work towards receiving that special blessing. If you have received one, take to to re-read it so that you might be more mindful of God’s love for you and of His hand in your life.

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).

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.

Excommunication and Ordain Women

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I wrote on the topic previously but now that formal action has been taken, I wanted to share more thoughts.

The group Ordain Women posted the letter sent to Kate Kelly (the founder of Ordain Women) by her previous bishop in Virginia. This came from her previous bishop and not her bishop in Provo, UT where she currently resides because it is church policy in formal disciplinary cases to hold those councils in the area where the offense occurred and where people know the individual (although, this is left up to the former and current bishops to discuss). To use a TV cliché, it’s similar to a “Don’t leave town” statement in criminal investigations. Of course, that is not at all accurate but the policy is that those who know the individual the best should be the ones (most of the time) involved in the disciplinary council, in this case it was her bishopric in Virginia and not her new one in Utah.

I am only addressing Kate Kelly’s excommunication because all this information is public; she quickly approached the media and sat for interviews [wearing a modest, but sleeveless dress, which is an intentional statement] after she was notified of her excommunication. Ordain Women has been continuing their goal “to put [themselves] in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.” (Mission Statement, ordain women.org). Because they are making things public, these matters that should be private are open to public discussion – for better or for worse.

As a result of my current calling, I am involved in some local cases of church discipline. Disciplinary councils are the one thing I like least (and most) about my responsibilities. I love being there to watch the Atonement in action but I do not like seeing the effects of significant transgression. The councils can be tragic events, yet they are also hopeful, loving, and cleansing. The Spirit of the Lord flows unrestrained at such councils and the room, for a time, becomes hallowed ground. Depending on the person and circumstance, they can truly be beautiful, uplifting experiences. These formal disciplinary councils must be convened for specific cases of transgression but most of the time, church discipline is informal. According to the letter from Kate Kelly’s (former) bishop, she met with local church leaders at least two times in person and had communication (it’s not clear if it was in-person or not) two other times regarding her continued actions with Ordain Women. She was counseled to cease her leadership of Ordain Women. This does not mean she had to cease her beliefs regarding women and the priesthood but she had to stop her public defiance of church leaders.

That is the issue at heart – it is not beliefs or questioning, it is willful disregard of council from church leaders – local and general. Further, with the website, protests, “6 discussions”, vigils, and other actions, Kate was and still is actively encouraging others to disobey church leaders. Her actions went beyond that of discussing with others the questions they have, she encouraged others to protest against Church leadership. That is why the charge of apostasy was given.The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defines apostasy worthy of church discipline (pertinent to the current discussion) as 1) acting repeatedly in open opposition to the Church or its leaders; or 2) persistence in teaching information as doctrine when an individual has been corrected by local or general church leaders and asked to stop. Both of those occurred. This is why Kate’s “defense against the charge of ‘apostasy’” that she posted on the Ordain Women website is wrong; her definition of apostasy is not in accord with the Church’s and the Lord’s.

In lieu of attending the disciplinary council in person, by phone, or by secure video chat, she submitted a letter on her behalf (along with some other supporting information – most of it not directly relevant to the case including “over 1,000” letters of support from various individuals. This is a case of volume over validity, which is sometimes the practice of lawyers – if the judge and jury won’t be swayed by the facts, maybe they’ll be overwhelmed by sheer volume). In this letter, Kate covers her life as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She states that from an early age she’s asked difficult questions: “Asking questions is one of my most core parts. I couldn’t stop asking them then, and I can’t stop asking them now.” Asking questions is great – that’s not the reason for the disciplinary council. It is not the questioning but the public defiance of church leaders that led, unfortunately, to her excommunication.

She goes on to point out perceived instances of “gender inequality” in the church that she observed from a young age (read my previous post that delineates some of the issues with seeking for equality). While these might or might not be valid, they also are not central to the issue at hand – that of her repeated, public opposition to church leaders. She states she loves BYU, went on a mission, and married in the temple. Those are all wonderful but again, tangential to the issue. What Kate demonstrates repeatedly in her letter is her love of red herrings (not the fish kind). Yes, her background in the Church is relevant but not the core issue. She repeatedly throws things out there to distract from the issue of her opposition to church leaders.

Kate states, “Please keep in mind that if you choose to punish me today, you are not only punishing me. You are punishing hundreds of women and men who have questions about female ordination, and have publicly stated them. You are punishing thousands of Mormons who have questions and concerns with gender inequality in the church and want a place to voice those concerns in safety. You are punishing anyone with a question in their heart who wants to ask that question vocally, openly and publicly.”

This is an externalization of fault; in fact, her whole letter is an example of externalization of actions, particularly regarding fault, and lack of remorse. Of course she was devastated by the excommunication – most people who experience it are – but her whole defense of her actions revolves around saying, in essence, “I’m not at fault and if you say I am and punish me, you are hurting so many other people just like me.” No, that is not what’s happening. There is no punishment for asking questions, punishment (to use her word) can come from openly opposing council from church leaders, but to suggest that her excommunication damages others is self-aggrandizement (it does potentially harm her family though). The only “damage” done to others was in convincing them that protesting against the leadership of the Church was a valid path. There is a strait and narrow path but inviting others to wander on another path is not the way. Elder Oaks even responded indirectly to Kate Kelly with his most recent General Conference address; church public affairs has made repeated comments regarding Ordain Women (and there are a number of other statements available online). The excommunication of Kate Kelly is not the suppression of questioning, regardless of what some people inside and outside the Church might state, it is the natural consequence of her apostasy.

So here is the crux of Kate Kelly’s position and why her bishop, through direct revelation from the Lord, excommunicated her: “I want to communicate with perfect candor, as I have always done. As I made clear to President Wheatley [her stake president] when we met on May 5th, I will continue to lead Ordain Women, the group I founded. I will not take down the website ordainwomen.org. I will not stop speaking out publicly on the issue of gender inequality in the church. These things President Wheatley instructed me to do, I cannot do in good conscience. I cannot repent of telling the truth, speaking what is in my heart and asking questions that burn in my soul.”

In that statement there is no hint of conciliatory posturing; there is no apparent contrition and certainly no sorrow for sin. Kate Kelly, in the face of formal discipline (and already under informal discipline) stood in proud opposition to church leaders. Some will certainly cheer her courage – and it does take courage to stand up for what you believe in opposition to prevailing beliefs and practices – but her actions put her squarely in defiance to the Church and church leaders. Further, she states she “cannot repent of telling the truth”. If she is espousing truth but it contradicts the truth taught by the prophet and apostles, I’d suggest a re-examination of her truth is in order. Even if women will be ordained to priesthood offices some day, it is not proper church protocol to publicly protest and lobby for such changes to be made. We are a top-down church with Christ at the head. Changes do happen in the Church; we believe in ongoing revelation but general church-wide revelation goes to the prophet and not to individual church members. Individuals can ask the questions and meet with church leaders but to publicly oppose the prophet is not the Lord’s way. The Lord’s house is a house of order. Kate Kelly has been bringing disorder to the house.

Kate Kelly stands up for her beliefs so as not to believe herself a hypocrite. She believes something strongly and acts according to those beliefs. That is usually commendable but not always. What is not commendable and what is hypocritical on her part is her disregard for the order of the Church. She desires to remain a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in full fellowship, yet is is not willing to sustain her church leaders. She is not willing to be true to the covenants she made at baptism, in the temple, and during the sacrament. It does not appear that she is following the counsel of the Savior: “And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.” (3 Nephi 12:19). I too walk imperfectly and am not seeking to judge my neighbor, for Kate is my neighbor (not physically but in the sense of the Good Samaritan). I too act with hypocrisy for any time I sin, I am a hypocrite. But what is so beautiful about the gospel is that Christ is willing to forgive us; he even forgives hypocrites. We can be cleansed of our sins, whether they be small or great.

I’m saddened by the outcome of this because Kate Kelly sounds like an intelligent woman who has strong beliefs and is not afraid to stand up for her beliefs. That tenacity is much needed in the church. However, such strength of will is deleterious when used in opposition of church leaders. It’s not opposition to the leaders that is ultimately the problem. Church leaders represent the Savior. They are not perfect but they are given keys to act officially for the Savior, who has chosen not to act in propria persona at this time. That time will come. When anyone chooses to oppose church leaders, he or she oppose the Savior. That sounds harsh; it is. Firm lines are drawn on specific matters – the support of the prophet, apostles, and the Church is one of those firm lines. The Lord is the Final Judge but He has given authority through priesthood keys for individuals to act as judges in the kingdom here on earth.

I really hope Kate returns to the Church. Sometimes fierce antagonists can become strong protagonists. I find the closing statement from her bishop to be touching: “Above all else, please know of my love and respect for you and my earnest desire that you return to good standing in the Church. I urge you to continue to attend church, read the scriptures and pray daily. I invite you to strive to come back to fulI fellowship. This is an opportunity for you to begin anew, to take full advantage of the great gift of the Atonement, to again qualify for the blessings of the temple, and to enjoy again all of the blessings of the restored gospel. It is my sincere prayer and desire that you will do so.”

The Lord wants all to return to Him. It is tragic that Kate removed herself from the Church by her past actions. I hope that her future actions return her to the Church.

Contentions in the Church

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After signs and wonders of Christ’s birth were seen in the Americas, a great work of conversion occurred. Nephi kept busy teaching and baptizing. This inevitably resulted in increased peace in the land. Peace, unfortunately, rarely lasts long. In 3 Nephi 1:24-25 we read:

“24 And there were no contentions, save it were a few that began to preach, endeavoring to prove by the scriptures that it was no more expedient to observe the law of Moses. Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures.

“25 But it came to pass that they soon became converted, and were convinced of the error which they were in, for it was made known unto them that the law was not yet fulfilled, and that it must be fulfilled in every whit; yea, the word came unto them that it must be fulfilled; yea, that one jot or tittle should not pass away till it should all be fulfilled; therefore in this same year were they brought to a knowledge of their error and did confess their faults.”

These verses remind me of the movement pressing for the ordination of women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve written of this movement previously: Response to Ordain Women.

There are some within the Church who are following the pattern of contention described in the scriptures. They are at best premature and at worst completely off the mark. “Now in this thing they did err, having not understood the scriptures [and the teachings of the prophets].” We would all be wise to follow the prophet and avoid contention.