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.

Response to Ordain Women

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently published a letter they sent to the leaders of a  group calling themselves Ordain Women.

I’ll reprint the text of the letter here since it has been released to the public. Copyright belongs to the LDS Church. Here is the link to the press release: http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/church-asks-activist-group-to-reconsider-general-conference-protest-plans

Dear Sisters,
Thank you for your letter and email.

Some wonderful conversations have been held over recent years, and are continuing to be held, relative to women in the Church and the invaluable contributions we make. The recent changes you have seen, most notably the lowering of the missionary age for sisters, serve as examples and were facilitated by the input of many extraordinary LDS women around the world.

Women in the Church, by a very large majority, do not share your advocacy for priesthood ordination for women and consider that position to be extreme. Declaring such an objective to be non-negotiable, as you have done, actually detracts from the helpful discussions that Church leaders have held as they seek to listen to the thoughts, concerns, and hopes of women inside and outside of Church leadership. Ordination of women to the priesthood is a matter of doctrine that is contrary to the Lord’s revealed organization for His Church.

The priesthood session of General Conference is designed to strengthen men and boys as they receive specific instruction about their roles and responsibilities; therefore we are unable to fulfill your request for tickets. You are certainly welcome to view the live broadcast of the priesthood session on lds.org, the Mormon Channel or BYUtv. We invite you, as our sisters, to participate with women everywhere in the parallel meeting for women and girls on March 29, and hope you will join us in a spirit of love and harmony. The women’s meeting is a remarkable gathering of worldwide sisterhood, and was proposed and planned by the presidencies and boards of the Primary, Young Women and Relief Society as a time to focus on ennobling and eternal doctrines relating to women.

Your organization has again publicized its intention to demonstrate on Temple Square during the April 5 priesthood session. Activist events like this detract from the sacred environment of Temple Square and the spirit of harmony sought at General Conference. Please reconsider.

If you feel you must come and demonstrate, we ask that you do so in free speech zones adjacent to Temple Square, which have long been established for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints. They can be found on the attached map.

As fellow Latter-day Saints and friends of the Church, we invite you to help us maintain the peaceful environment of Temple Square and ask that you please follow these details in your continued planning. In addition, consistent with long-standing policy, news media cameras will not be allowed on Temple Square during General Conference.

Again, we hope you will join us for the General Women’s Meeting on March 29 and contribute to the strength of sisterhood in our communities.

Kindest regards,

Jessica Moody
Public Affairs,
On behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

There does not seem like there is more to say after that kind letter from Jessica Moody (a woman releasing an official statement from the Church) but as there is still some discussion concerning the matter I will add a few of my opinions. My discussion is by no means complete but I hope it is respectful. I will likely update this post over time but will make any changes clear.

Ordain Women

Ordain Women is making clear their motives regarding the issue of women and the Priesthood. I do not like to make assumptions about people’s motives. Most of the time we do not know why people do what they do (I’m saying this as a psychologist by training) unless they explicitly tell us. Even then, what is told as a motive is not necessarily true because people do not always understand their own motives for doing things. Looking at actions, even repeated actions, does not always elucidate motives because motivation is psychologically complex and changeable. So let’s look at what the group Ordain Women says about their motives:

The fundamental tenets of Mormonism support gender equality: God is male and female, father and mother, and all of us can progress to be like them someday. Priesthood, we are taught, is essential to this process.  Ordain Women believes women must be ordained in order for our faith to reflect the equity and expansiveness of these teachings.

Last year the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints reaffirmed its commitment to equality: “The Book of Mormon states, ‘black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God’ (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.” Ordain Women embraces this statement. We are committed to work for equality and the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood.

Based on the principle of thoughtful, faith-affirming strategic action, Ordain Women aspires to create a space for Mormon women to articulate issues of gender inequality they may be hesitant to raise alone. As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.

Equality

Two thirds of this statement are about “gender equality.” One of the major problems in pressing for equality is that equality is an opinion – it’s relative. What some people view as equal will be shocking to others as grossly unequal. This is clear in politics and in much of life. One of the few places where equality is clear is in mathematics (even then, there might be room for discussion on the matter). The word equal comes from words meaning anything from uniform, identical, level, even, to just. Is Ordain Women wanting identical equality, level equality, or equality that is just?

Equality outside mathematics is complex and relative. As one example, let’s turn to statistics. There is an area within statistics called equivalence testing. Part of the use of equivalence testing is determine if groups/drugs/treatments/etc. showing no statistical difference are equivalent. In other words, just because there are no differences does not mean the things being compared are equivalent. There is considerable discussion on this matter by researchers and statisticians. So in statistics the concept of equivalence is neither clear nor straightforward. In life it is a much more nebulous concept. Does this make discussions of equality pointless? No, but without complete, ‘equal’ agreement to the definition and expression/implementation of equality there will never be satisfactory answers for the parties in discussion.

Now, add in the layers of hierarchy and authority (not just priesthood) and equality becomes even more complex. Hierarchy itself can be viewed as inherently unequal, so do we need to abolish all hierarchy (that’s essentially anarchy)? If not, then it stands to reason that someone at the top of a hierarchy gets to make a final decision. Turning back to the issue of women and the priesthood – who gets to decide what is equal? Who has the final word? Ordain Women? Is the matter closed only when they say it is? These are all difficulties with basing a platform on equality. We can’t decide what equal is so how are we going to decide what constitutes gender equality? I’m all for civil discussion but dialogue is different from policy and doctrine.

Motivation

The final paragraph of the Ordain Women statement starts to get at the motives of the group: “As a group we intend to put ourselves in the public eye and call attention to the need for the ordination of Mormon women to the priesthood. We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.”

The motivation is to “put [themselves] in the public eye [to] call attention”. That means that unless the LDS Church tells Ordain Women that the full authority of the priesthood (meaning ordination to priesthood offices) will be extended to women just as it is to men, the group will continue to seek public attention. Hence, even though Church leaders have answered their questions respectfully and definitively, Ordain Women continues their call for protests (they might be respectful and peaceful protests but that’s what they are) at the priesthood session of General Conference because they are not satisfied with the answers given. Now I’m not saying that individuals who are part of Ordain Women protest and petition as a means of receiving personal attention, they say it is about the issue of women and the priesthood and until evidence points otherwise we should take Ordain Women at their word, but they at least do it for public attention; thus, public attention is a motivation nonetheless. Public attention is not inherently good or bad but what can be good or bad is the motivation behind the seeking of public attention and the reasons for the advocacy.

Priesthood

From the LDS Church Handbook:

“The priesthood is the power and authority of God. It has always existed and will continue to exist without end (see Alma 13:7–8D&C 84:17–18). Through the priesthood, God created and governs the heavens and the earth. Through this power, He exalts His obedient children, bringing to pass “the immortality and eternal life of man” (Moses 1:39; see also D&C 84:35–38).

In mortality, the priesthood is the power and authority that God gives to man to act in all things necessary for the salvation of God’s children. The blessings of the priesthood are available to all who receive the gospel.”

As is clear from this quote, there are two components of the priesthood – 1) power and authority of God and 2) power and authority of God given to man here on earth to act in His name.

I’ll address the second part first.

There is priesthood power and priesthood authority. On earth boys and men are given priesthood offices and act under direction of someone holding priesthood keys (ultimately the President of the Church, who is the presiding authority). Priesthood power [and authority] comes from faithfulness to covenants and righteous living. Priesthood power is available to all who are worthy. What does that mean? Does that mean that women can have the power of the priesthood? Yes, it means exactly that. Priesthood is not men (that’s why it’s not accurate to say something like, “I’d like to thank the Priesthood for their service…”); priesthood is God’s power and authority. On earth God has given men the authority of the priesthood through priesthood offices and both men and women access to the power of the priesthood [and the authority to act in priesthood callings and appendages]. Both men and women partake in the blessings of the priesthood. Men who are given the priesthood can never bless themselves. Priesthood authority is a call to service, a call with responsibility. Women on this earth have been given alternate but complementary responsibilities, responsibilities that might just be weightier than what men have been given. A man needs a wife in order to have access to the full blessings of the priesthood. A woman needs a husband for the same reason. That blessing of a spouse might not occur in this life but it will occur in order for full priesthood blessings to be granted. What this tells us is that full blessings of the priesthood are not realized in this life, they are only realized in the life to come as we remain worthy of what we have received from the Lord.

There is much that we do not know about the organization of authority in the life to come (other than it’s largely around families) but priesthood authority here on earth is given to worthy males as they are ordained to priesthood offices. Women and girls have complementary and certainly no less important roles. To argue that such an arrangement represents inequality is opinion and frankly, short-sighted. If people search for inequalities they will find them or create them.

Now for the first part – priesthood as the power and authority of God. God’s power comes in part from His priesthood and His faith. He uses the Priesthood to create and administer. His Priesthood is power and authority much greater than priesthood delegated to those in this life. [There are keys to priesthood ordinances not yet given to men here on earth.] This complete power and authority only comes to those who are like God and then only as He grants this power unto them. Little has been revealed about this so any further discussion would be speculation. What we do know is that this full power and authority is not given [and I’d argue cannot be given] to individuals on earth for it requires someone to have overcome the world through the efficacy of the Savior’s Atonement.

What has been revealed about the priesthood is not complete but seeking to change doctrine by protest is not the method God endorses.

Questions

There is a parable told by Christ of an unjust judge (and a very persistent widow).

“And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me. And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8).

We should weary the Lord in prayer. But that does not mean we will be granted what we ask. It also does not mean that what we ask for is right. Wisdom is knowing what we should not ask for. However, sometimes persistence pays off, although not always in a positive manner.

Martin Harris was spending a lot of time and money supporting Joseph Smith through the translation of the Book of Mormon. Martin Harris’s wife complained and Martin felt that he should be able to show her the fruits of his labors and money. He asked Joseph if he could take the manuscript and show his wife – after all, wasn’t that the purpose of the Book of Mormon – to share it with the world? Joseph said he would ask God. The answer was “No.” Again Martin begged and again the answer was “No.” Finally, after much wearying of Joseph, Joseph agreed to ask the Lord again. This time the answer was “Yes, but if anything happens to the manuscript, both of you will be under condemnation until you repent.” On those conditions, the manuscript pages left the possession of Joseph Smith and traveled home with Martin Harris. He showed his wife. Then, unscrupulous hands acquired the manuscript, stealing it away from Joseph Smith. Work on the Book of Mormon halted until Joseph had repented sufficiently. The lost pages of the Book of Mormon were not re-translated and are lost to us for now.

In this case, persistence paid off for Martin but the consequence was not what expected. Things might have turned out well with no pages lost but because of the wickedness of men, precious pages of the Book of Mormon were lost to us. The take home message is that yes, we can be persistent in asking the Lord, but we should be ready to accept the consequences should things not turn out as we desire. The Lord allowed Martin to take the manuscript pages but it would have been better for him, Joseph Smith, and for us had the first and second “No” answers been heeded.

Ordain Women asks “We sincerely ask our leaders to take this matter to the Lord in prayer.” Our leaders have done so and will continue to do so. There is no significant or insignificant issue facing the Church that our leaders do not pray about.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a liberal religion. I do not mean liberal in the modern political usage in the United States. There is room for and encouragement of differing viewpoints and beliefs. The tent of our church is blessed to have members from all over the world with different backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. What keeps the Church strong though is not our diversity but the centrality of the Savior. He guides and directs us through His chosen prophets and apostles, who encourage us to remain rooted when we extend ourselves by thinking our knowledge is greater than that of the Lord.

Questions are encouraged. After all, it is through the questions of a 14 year old boy that we received this great restoration of the gospel. Keep questioning but hold on to the truth you know. Questions are great but if they diminish our faith or if they diminish the faith of others, the questions need to be set aside until the firm foundation is restored. This does not mean do not question, it just means that our questioning should be in the context of faith. [It also means that questioning should be kept within the bounds of the sustaining of church leaders].

That comes down to my final point. What is the result of Ordain Women’s protesting? Does it strengthen the faith of others? I don’t believe it does so if not, maybe the actions need to be reconsidered. We are not responsible for the actions of others but whatever we do should be edifying and helping us remain firmly clasped to the Iron Rod and in the arms of Jesus.

Hastening the Work of Salvation: High Council

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Members of the High Council have the responsibility to help strengthen and train leaders and members of the Elders quorum and High Priest group in the ward or branch in which they are assigned. Part of this responsibility lies in helping hasten the work of salvation by encouraging those who bear the priesthood to strengthen their brethren, particularly those who have left the gospel fold or become casual in their attendance and testimonies. The Church has a series of videos focused on how various church leaders play a role in hastening the work of salvation. Here is a brief video about the role that high councilors play.

Here’s the link to the video (I’d embed it but it kept auto-playing and until that is fixed, I’ll just link to the video).

The Church also has a short document describing the responsibilities high councilors over missionary work in a stake have regarding hastening the work of salvation. This is found here (as a PDF): http://www.lds.org/bc/content/shared/english/wwlt/hasten/hastening-the-work-high-councilor-eng.pdf?lang=eng

New! Watch Priesthood Session Live Online

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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that for the first time ever, the priesthood session of General Conference will be available to watch live online. Read the press release about General Conference. Specifically of interest:

“As part of a continued effort to make general conference proceedings more accessible to members around the globe, the priesthood session will be shown live for the first time through expanded channels, including LDS.org, the Mormon Channel and BYUtv.”

This is welcome news to those who live some distance from church buildings.

Path to the Temple

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At the start of His ministry, Jesus went out to the desert to fast. He spent 40 days fasting. After He finished His fast “he…hungered” (Luke 4:2). I would have been hungry before the end of the 40 day fasting period, but that’s just me. After His fast, the Savior had an interesting experience with Satan. It’s interesting not so much because of Satan’s intrusions but rather because of what Jesus experienced in spite of Satan.

At the end of His fast, while Jesus was still in the desert, Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread. He who created the earth, turned water to wine, and walked upon water could have turned stone to bread. Doing so would not have been a sin. What He did not do – what would have been a sin – is follow Satan’s command. After the desert, Jesus went up to a high mountain. There He was again assailed by Satan, who this time wanted Jesus to worship him. Lastly, Jesus went to the temple in Jerusalem. There Satan tried again to tempt Him, this time quoting scripture. Jesus again cast Satan aside.

The progression of these three experiences and locations is interesting. In the first, Jesus wandered in the desert, much like the children of Israel being led by Moses out of Egypt. They searched for the promised land, a land where they could grow and prosper and build a temple. The children of Israel wandered for 40 years in similitude of the Savior’s 40 days.

In the second experience, Jesus went on top of a high mountain, as Moses did to speak with the Lord. There, like the Savior, Moses was confronted by Satan (see Moses 1:12-16) who commanded him to worship him. Moses cast Satan away, just as Jesus did.

Then in the third experience, Jesus traveled to the pinnacle of the temple, an elevated place upon that elevating building. After His visit to the temple Jesus “returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region roundabout.” (Luke 4:14). Jesus was endowed from on high and began His ministry in earnest and with great power that others now saw and recognized (see Luke 4:15). It is not coincidence that the Savior visited the temple before He started His ministry.

This progression of wandering in the desert, communing with God on the mountain, and gaining great power at the temple is the path we must all take – it is the path from natural man or woman to sanctified man or woman. This path also can be viewed as a priesthood path (I’m not saying this is what Jesus experienced it just mirrors the progression of and through the priesthood). Prior to these experiences, Christ was baptized (Luke 3); then He wandered in the desert like the children of Israel (Aaronic/Levitical priesthood); next He went to the mountain top like many of the prophets of old (Melchizedek priesthood); and lastly, He went to the temple (endowment). Satan, of course, tried to stop Him in this process, but was unsuccessful. Do we respond like the Savior and cast Satan aside when he tries to tempt us to leave to path of salvation? Do we get turned aside by baubles or false idols, or do we follow the Savior to the temple?

Reflections on Churches

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The other day I was driving through town (I live in the southern United States where churches are particularly abundant). I paid attention to the names of different churches I passed. There were “Living Water” churches, “Missionary” churches, “Blessings” churches, “Miracles” churches, “Community” churches, “Family” churches, “Covenant” churches, and “Grace” churches (in addition to Catholic, Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, and more). The three that really stuck out to me were a “Temple” church, a “Church of the Apostle”, and a “Church of Prophecy”.

I thought that it was interesting that the churches would reference temples, apostles, and prophets (implied from “prophecy”) in their names yet have none of those in their churches. I know the Catholic Church claims apostolic authority (papal lineage through Peter) but this particular “Apostle” church was not Catholic. The churches might have been founded in recognition of the significance of the temple and apostles (I’ll combine prophets and apostles) but they were founded without either apostles or temples (see also Ezek. 37:26), which are vital parts of Christ’s Church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a restoration of Christ’s church with both apostles and temples. We claim authority from Jesus Christ, given to Joseph Smith and passed on to subsequent prophets and apostles (just as Elijah’s authority passed on to Elisha). We make much of covenants as well in the LDS Church. We believe in grace, family, miracles, blessings, missionary work, and Christ as the source of living water. The LDS Church encompasses all truth; we accept all good and all truth, regardless the source (“We are after the truth. We commenced searching for it, and we are constantly in search of it, and so fast as we find any true principle revealed by any man, by God, or by holy angels, we embrace it and make it part of our religious creed.” Pres. John Taylor). However, necessary covenants and ordinances are only performed through proper authority (see also: Priesthood).

The Churches are most likely doing good (I qualify that statement because there are some churches that spread hate and evil) but they are lacking the authority that was restored to Joseph Smith. It is through this authority that we have apostles, prophets, and temples in the LDS Church.

Keys to the Ministering of Angels

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Today in Priest Quorum we discussed the responsibilities and duties of Priests. Compared to Deacons and Teachers, Priests have three main additional responsibilities:

  1. Blessing the Sacrament
  2. Baptizing
  3. Helping ordain other Priests, Teachers, and Deacons

When I was Priest age, I stood in on ordinations of fellow Priests. It was always a wonderful experience; something that helped prepare me better for the responsibilities of the Melchizedek Priesthood, namely, the laying on of hands. While ordinations are not a primary role of Priests, they are able to help from time to time.

Another part of our lesson focused on one of the blessings that Priests (and all Aaronic Priesthood holders) have – the keys to the ministering of angels (see D&C 13; D&C 107:20). We had a discussion about what this phrase means. Ministering angels can be seen or unseen; they can be not yet born, deceased, or mortal individuals.

One of my favorite stories from the life of Wilford Woodruff (that my father used to tell to my brother and me) was included in the lesson manual (although it’s a little different from the version I learned from Wilford Woodruff’s Leaves From My Journal):

President Wilford Woodruff experienced the ministering of angels when he was doing missionary work as a priest and was impressed to warn a formerly active Church member named Father Hakeman to repent and become active again.

“I was once moved upon to go and warn old Father Hakeman. … He had been in Jackson County during the persecution period. … We went a good deal out of our way for the purpose of visiting Father Hakeman. I had a vision the night previous, in which was manifested to me the trouble that lay before us, but that the Lord would deliver us. We arrived at his house on Sunday morning. He was taking breakfast. We had had breakfast at the place where we stayed overnight. I saw a Book of Mormon on his shelf. He did not seem to pay any attention to us, or to take any interest in us. I took up the Book of Mormon, and said, ‘You have a very good book here.’

“‘Yes,’ said he, ‘but it is a book that came from the devil.’

“That opened my eyes. He had been an elder; he had been in Zion; had been persecuted there and driven out; but I found that he had apostatized, and he was our enemy. I saw he would do anything he could against us.

“We left him and went to Brother Hubbard’s and stayed with him three weeks, during which we took our axes and cleared some land for him. I was strongly impressed three times to go up and warn Father Hakeman. At last I did so, according to the commandment of God to me. The third time I met with him, his house seemed to be full of evil spirits, and I was troubled in spirit at the manifestation. When I finished my warning, I left him. He followed me from his house with the intention of killing me. I have no doubt about his intention, for it was shown to me in vision. When he came to where I was, he fell dead at my feet, as if he had been struck with a thunderbolt from heaven. I was then a priest, but God defended me and preserved my life. I speak of this because it is a principle that has been manifest in the church of God in this generation as well as in others. I had the administration of angels while holding the office of a priest. I had visions and revelations. I traveled thousand of miles. I baptized men, though I could not confirm them because I had not the authority to do it.

“I speak of these things to show that a man should not be ashamed of any portion of the priesthood. Our young men, if they are deacons, should labor to fulfil that office. If they do that, they may then be called to the office of a teacher, whose duty it is to teach the people, visit the Saints and see that there is no evil or iniquity carried on. God has no respect for persons in this priesthood any further than as they magnify their callings and do their duty” (Discourses of Wilford Woodruff, sel. G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1946], pp. 297–98). (Source).

Wilford Woodruff, a Priest in the Aaronic Priesthood, was protected by God, by ministering angels. As a missionary I had similar, although much less dramatic experiences. I’ve felt ministering angels at other times in my life as well.

Heavenly Father loves each of us, His children. One of the strongest manifestations of this love is through the Priesthood. We are given access to some of God’s power. This power is given so that those who hold it can bless the lives of other people. But I want to return to what it means to hold the keys to the ministering of angels.

Keys lock and unlock objects. They allow the key holder to control access to things. Holding the keys to the ministering of angels means that those with the Aaronic Priesthood do not just receive the ministering of angels, they are able to call upon angels when needed. So instead of being passive recipients of the comfort and protection of angels, those with the Aaronic Priesthood can actively call for the blessings and comfort of angels. All of this, of course, if dependent upon worthiness and God’s will but God gives His priesthood to men so that they have opportunities to use His power, not independently from God but inter-dependently with Him. It’s a remarkable power that God gives to men.

Cloven Tongues of Fire

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There is a phrase in the book of Acts – “cloven tongues of fire” – that describes an experience of great power. The context of the phrase is day of Pentecost. During this great outpouring of the Spirit of the Lord, many great sights were seen, many great sounds were heard, and many great feelings were felt. We read, “And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:2-4).

I started thinking about the term “cloven tongues of fire”. What does that phrase mean? How it is phrased in Acts makes it seem like those present saw flames around them. This might be the case but we get clarification of what this phrase means in the Doctrine and Covenants, part of the canon of scripture for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We read: “Let it be fulfilled upon them, as upon those on the day of Pentecost; let the gift of tongues be poured out upon thy people, even cloven tongues as of fire, and the interpretation thereof.” (D&C 109:36).

Cloven means split. Cloven tongues are like the tongues of snakes. But in this instance, the cloven tongues refer to speaking in tongues. This is a gift from the Holy Ghost. There are at least two ways of looking at these cloven tongues of fire.

  1. On the day of Pentecost, some people spoke in tongues – plural. They said something in one language but other people heard it in another. We know this is the case: “The multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled, saying one to another, Behold, are not all these which speak Galilæans? And how hear we every man in our own tongue, wherein we were born?” (Acts 2:6-8). Thus, these cloven tongues are really just that – speaking in tongues (multiple) at the same time.
  2. Another interpretation (pun intended) is that tongues are cloven because there is the message of the spoken words and the message of the Holy Ghost. These two things are not always the same thing. What is said and what the Spirit teaches us can be different. Both interpretations are correct.

What’s important to keep in mind is that speaking in tongues is only effective if there is someone who can understand it or interpret it. Generally, it is not the case that the Holy Ghost will bless someone with the gift of tongues in order for them to speak some unknown language without an interpreter. That’s why people speaking gibberish purportedly under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost are not really given the gift of tongues. This is not to say that people cannot speak in an unknown language – such as Adam’s “pure and undefiled” language (see Moses 6:5-6:46) – but again, when this occurs there will almost always be someone who is able to understand and/or translate it by the same power of the Holy Ghost.

The gift of tongues – even cloven tongues of fire – is evident in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today as are the other miraculous events of the day of Pentecost. We have missionaries who learn languages quickly, who teach the gospel filled with the fire of God. There have been cases where missionaries or  apostles have said things they didn’t know how to say in another language or that those listening understood what was being said even though they did not understand the words.

What about someone like myself who served as a missionary in the United States, speaking my native English? The cloven tongues of fire is only one gift of many from the Holy Ghost. Still, there were many times when I spoke and the tongue of the Spirit spoke too – it was a fire that burned brightly within others and myself. Additionally, because of the blessings of the Holy Ghost, my command of English improved. This is not usually how we think of the gift of tongues but it can, and often is, the case that your own language skills will improve so that you can improve teaching the gospel.

“Cloven tongues of fire” is a phrase that provides powerful imagery. The most important implication of it is that it is a gift of the Holy Ghost. When the power of God rests upon us we can know, feel, and do great things. This is a power that touches many but was largely lost from the earth until the Priesthood and ordinances of God were restored to Joseph Smith. The gift (not just influence) of the Holy Ghost is one of the greatest and most important components of the Restoration.

In closing, Pres. Packer gave a great talk on this topic in the April 2000 General Conference. Pres. Packer said:

“In every language, the Spirit of God—the Holy Ghost—guides, or can guide, every member of the Church. Everyone is invited to come and repent and be baptized and receive of this sacred gift. Despite opposition, the Church will flourish; and despite persecution, it will grow. Joseph Smith was asked, ‘How does your religion differ from other religions?’ He replied, ‘All other considerations were contained in the gift of the Holy Ghost.'”

The power of the Holy Ghost is real. When with us, we can receive great blessings so that we are better able to share the gospel with others and bless the lives of others. The flaming fire of the Spirit is a call to responsibility; it is a call to be lights on hills to others who are lost in the darkness of disbelief. It is a call to speak with the power of God so that others might bask in His light and love.

Anyone For Tennis?

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Image from and available for use under the CC license: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tennis_Racket_and_Balls.jpg

One time I went with a friend to play tennis. While we were playing the tennis balls we brought with us all either went flat or broke or were lost. So we were stuck with a conundrum, do we stick around and try to find another ball or do we just go home, or do we stay there and try to play tennis without a ball? Being the creative people we were, we decided to try and play tennis without a ball. My friend and I grabbed out racquets and started playing the game. We just imagined we had a ball. It was great fun and we’ve never played better tennis since – aces every serve. It did get boring after a while though.

Anyone think that that our game of “tennis” probably was not very effective? Maybe we could have been more creative and made up a new game that didn’t need a ball. The problem is that that wouldn’t quite be tennis any more. Maybe we could have tried to make a ball out of something else; but again, it wouldn’t quite be correct. Or, maybe we could do like we did and just pretend that we had a ball. There are a number of possibilities. Maybe we could have borrowed a ball or gone and purchased some new balls. Well, since I’m being hypothetical, what if all tennis balls (and anything like a tennis ball, such as a racquetball ball) in the world and all ways of manufacturing them were destroyed? There would be no way to play the game of tennis (other than virtually, but that’s not the same). None of these scenarios for playing tennis make a lot of sense and none of them are quite tennis anymore.

OK, I admit that my story was made up, it didn’t happen (but it could have). It is an allegory for something that happened a long time ago.

Following the death of Christ’s original Apostles, there was a loss of God’s authority on the earth (at least to those in Israel and that part of the world; His authority lasted for a few hundred years in the Americas). This was like losing the ball in a game of tennis. So what happened then? What did members of the church and church leaders do? Well, the “players” started improvising. Some of them made up a new but similar game. Others tried to make their own ball. It wasn’t the original, only a copy of it. Still others just carried on and pretended they had a ball. What else could they do?

The trouble is that this loss of the proverbial tennis balls happened a long time ago. Now most people have forgotten how tennis is supposed to be played. Most don’t realize that there should even be a ball. Others know that there should be a ball but believe that they can make it themselves – that it really doesn’t matter where the ball comes from. A crumpled up paper one is just fine. Others deny there ever was a ball. Still others state that the balls were only necessary a long time ago and that they are unnecessary now.

But the fact still remains that tennis ceased being tennis a long time ago (again, referring to the allegorical tennis here). Then one day a young man was visited by someone really old who had been around when tennis was still tennis. This young man received a new tennis ball and was told how tennis really was supposed to be played because by then a lot of the rules had changed. He was ridiculed because everyone knew that tennis really didn’t need to be played with a ball, or you could make your own ball if you really wanted one. You certainly didn’t need a fuzzy green ball to play. A lot of people told him and those who accepted that version of tennis that their tennis was not the real tennis.

This does not mean that the other games that were created once all the tennis balls were lost were bad games, they just were not quite right and thus not tennis. Just as it is pretty ridiculous to try and play tennis without a ball, so is it to try and maintain Christ’s church without the priesthood authority to do so. Thankfully, God has restored His priesthood to the earth so we can once again play “tennis”.

New Duty to God

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The new Duty to God program is an example of the Lord “raising the bar” for our youth. With this renovation of the program young men are provided opportunities to act more as agents for themselves unto the Lord rather than be acted upon as passive participants in and partakers of the gospel. What do I mean by this?

When I was a young man the Duty to God program was this: go to church, go to seminary, give talks on occasion, be involved in your quorums, and be a worthy bearer of the priesthood. Those are all wonderful duties but there was little choice in the program – either you did it or you didn’t. In an interview just after I turned 18 my Bishop said, “You did everything for Duty to God” and I received the award. I really didn’t have to go out of my way to earn it. Because there was little choice in the program, it was what I call a GPS Duty to God program – do this, turn here, drive 6 years, merge right, and arrive at your destination. You didn’t really have to think or act for yourself; you in some ways were acted upon. Then the Duty to God program changed. There were checklists and projects and “choose 8 of the following 13” activities to do. The program was very involved and, frankly, sometimes overwhelming – manageable, but overwhelming. It was inspired and taught the young men a lot of good skills and traits but it was still basically a GPS Duty to God program – you drive along and turn when the pleasant voice tells you to turn. There were a few more choices but the program was largely set and scripted.

Now we have the new program. The new Duty to God program takes away the step-by-step directions and leaves much of the decision-making to the young men as they follow the Spirit and seek input from parents and leaders. The destination is known and there are guideposts but the GPS is turned off; it is up to the young men to create their own paths. With the new program the preparing, planning, and travelling of the journey are as important as arriving at the destination. It doesn’t matter if you drive a Porsche or a Pinto or if you take a freeway or a scenic byway as long as you drive the Lord’s way. The goal is to build righteous men who are independent agents and who know and serve the Lord.

The new Duty to God program is founded upon the Lord’s principles of learn, (plan and) act, and share. You learn something, do something about what you learned, and then return and report.  That’s like life – I don’t just mean our mortal life. In the pre-earth life we learned, in this life we are doing, and in the next life all of us will return and report on our activities of mortal life. That is the Lord’s pattern of growth.

Now that we’ve learned, let’s move on to action, or at least plans for action. Quorum meetings and mutual activities are a great time to help young men learn and fulfill their duties to God. Ideally, what we talk about in quorum meeting on Sunday will be reinforced in some way during mutual. This is not always possible but with planning ahead the young men should be able to fulfill a Duty to God activity: learning, acting, or reporting about their actions. We need not make the Duty to God program the entire focus of mutual but we can easily devote at least one activity per month to it.

How can we accomplish this? First, I’d like to borrow a question from Elder Bednar about planning mutual activities. When planning we should ask: “What are the things that should happen to the [young men] as a result of this activity?”1 In other words, what is our goal – our desired outcome – for the activity? Even more than that – what is our goal for the young men? This is where the Duty to God program enters in – it provides such goals as: serve others, live the Word of Wisdom, learn about careers, learn about missionary work, and so forth. But in order to answer Elder Bednar’s question we phrase the goals differently. For example, if we want to have an activity focused on the Word of Wisdom, the goal for the activity could be to have the young men make a strong commitment to live the Word of Wisdom. Now we have our desired outcome. With the destination in mind, it should be easier to think of ideas for activities. Here’s one quick idea: the young men could play basketball or some other game but with modifications. The “smokers” can only play on their knees; the “drinkers” have one arm tied behind their backs; the “fruits and vegetables” get an extra point for every basket they make; and so on. This might be slightly cheesy but my point is that with a goal in mind a fun activity can also be memorable, educational, and even converting if it invites the Spirit. Leaders need to be “clear about the ultimate objective and the target and the mission”1 so that the young men can better plan and plan better mutual activities.

Elder Hales said, “Church leaders regularly plan priesthood activities and Scouting pow wows and encampments—but do those activities always accomplish their most important purpose? I have learned that what makes a priesthood or Scout activity most meaningful to a boy is not just getting a merit badge but having the opportunity to sit and talk with a leader who is interested in him and his life.”2 Are we focusing on what’s important?

The Duty to God program is about effecting change in the lives of the young men. After all, nothing in the Church is about the programs – it is about the people. A stake priesthood meeting, for example, is not done so the stake presidency can check an item off their to-do list; that meeting is held so all can learn their duties as priesthood holders. People, not programs, are the Church. The Duty to God program was made for the young men; they were not made for it.

The Lord said, “Wherefore, now let every man learn his duty, and to act in the office in which he is appointed, in all diligence. He that is slothful shall not be counted worthy to stand, and he that learns not his duty and shows himself not approved shall not be counted worthy to stand” (D&C 107:99-100). So we must all learn and act and I will add, share in order to be found worthy to stand.

The Aaronic Priesthood holders here in this room will be among the future leaders of the Church. How can they lead if no one teaches them? Elder Ballard recently said this to church leaders: “We try to teach every leader that one of your primary responsibilities is to raise up those that’ll be…better leaders than you ever were”3. This is where the Aaronic Priesthood and the new Duty to God program come in. Just as 40 years in the wilderness prepared the Israelites for the fruits of Canaan, just as the Mosaic Law prepared the Lord’s people for the coming of the Messiah, just as John the Baptist cried as a lone voice in the wilderness proclaiming the coming of the Savior, the Aaronic Priesthood prepares young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood. It is the forerunner – the schoolmaster – that helps train young men to be faithful followers of Christ. The Duty to God program is designed to help prepare young men for the Melchizedek Priesthood and the blessings of the temple because these things lead them to Christ. I pray that we take the things we learn in this meeting and from the Spirit and share them with others in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

1)   http://feeds.lds.org/~r/EnrichmentSeries/~3/2vvN-EZMJlQ/hr-2010-02-leadership-elder-david-a-bednar-conversation-eng.pdf

2)   http://beta.lds.org/liahona/2010/05/our-duty-to-god-the-mission-of-parents-and-leaders-to-the-rising-generation?lang=eng&format=conference&view=speakers

3)   http://www.lds.org/gospellibrary/leadership/2010-06-003-leadership-workplace-counseling-conversation-eng.pdf