Presentation on Belonging

Why do we sometimes feel like we don’t belong?

Who is responsible for belonging?

What are things that individuals and institutions do that decrease people’s sense of belonging?

What are reasonable expectations for ourselves and others?

These are discussion points in our presentation on belonging, based on Ben Pacini’s briefing to BYU-I faculty. Slides, discussion, and resources below.

Read more

On Informed Consent

I consented to be baptized a Latter-day Saint at the age of 8, and my basic understanding was that everyone was doing it, so I may as well too. Plus, a girl I had a crush on was baptized, so I didn’t want to feel left out of that club.

There are a lot of things I was not informed about when I gave my consent at the age of 8, and I’ll offer a list of some of them here.

Read more

A God of Order in a World of Chaos

Why are we here?

There are many answers to that question, even among groups of people who hold the same religious beliefs.

But a good representative statement from Evangelical Christianity is found in pastor Rick Warren’s best-selling book The Purpose-Driven Life:

The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your happiness. It’s far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.

…You exist only because God wills that you exist. You were made by God and for God—

Read more

Absolute Truth

As I have continued to study the words of President Nelson, I’ve been struck by his firm belief and conviction in the existence of absolute truth.

Perhaps no talk from President Nelson exemplifies this more powerfully than his introductory remarks from the most recent general conference.

“In that spirit, I invite you to listen for three things during this conference: pure truth, the pure doctrine of Christ, and pure revelation. Contrary to the doubts of some, there really is such a thing as right and wrong. There really is absolute truth—eternal truth. One of the plagues of our day is that too few people know where to turn for truth. I can assure you that what you will hear today and tomorrow constitutes pure truth.”

I love the simplicity of this promise. There is truth. Prophets are called to teach it. We can rely on it and treasure it. There isn’t a different truth for me and for you. There is just the truth.

I grew up in a Jewish home. When I was a kid, I developed a lot of questions about what happens after we die. Around me I had family members sick or dying and so these questions had a fierce urgency. As I got older and talked about this topic with my parents and religious leaders, I was surprised to find that there wasn’t a uniform answer. Everyone had their own views. Some believed in heaven and some believed in reincarnation and some believed there was nothing at all after this life. This confusion was deeply unsatisfying for me. While I appreciated the intellectual vibrancy of Jewish debate, I found that I could not find answers to the questions that I had, only more questions. I did not think that God could be the author of so much confusion and uncertainty.

One of the things that attracted me to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was the belief that there is absolute truth and that there are Prophets and Apostles on the earth who reveal that truth from God. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to listen to conference and hear servants of God declare his truth with power and authority.

As we get ready for General Conference next weekend, I hope that we will all look forward to learning pure truth. More than that, I hope that we will be grateful for the knowledge that there is absolute truth and that we know where to look to find it.

Three Writing Samples

When scholars talk about authorship of scripture, sometimes they look at changes in tone, genre, setting, or perspective as evidence of multiple authorship.

Below are three samples of my own writing that inform my thinking about this. The total time span of these samples is roughly 25-30 years. If you didn’t know it was me, is there any way you would guess that these are the same author?

Scholars often describe a big problem in the field of Biblical Studies, a lack of external controls. In other words, they make judgment calls about shifts in genre, tone, perspective, setting, etc. indicating multiple authorship, without looking at known examples of these things in other places. Well, here’s a personal example. We could also do this exercise with restoration scripture, or with artistic materials like poetry and music. For example, U2’s October sounds nothing like Zooropa, but it’s exactly the same band, just 12 years apart. As people evolve, their communications evolve.

Read more

How to be a Man

This post is part of the General Conference Odyssey. This is the 300th week, and we’re covering the Priesthood session of the April 1994 General Conference.

“We must be there with the lambs when we are needed.” That’s what Elder Lindsay learned in relating one of the most poignant stories I’ve read in General Conference. One morning his 6-year old son called Elder Lindsay at work to excitedly say that the ewe he was in charge of caring for had had her lambs. “Please come home and help me take care of them,” his little boy said, but Elder Lindsay was busy. He stayed at work, telling his son everything would be fine.

Two hours later his son called back. “Daddy, these lambs aren’t doing very well. They haven’t been able to get milk from the mother, and they are very cold. Please come home.” Again, Elder Lindsay refused. 

Then a third phone call. ““Daddy, you’ve got to come home now. Those lambs are lying down, and one of them looks very cold.” Elder Lindsay gave his son advice on how to take care of the lambs, but he stayed at work, not getting home until two hours later.

I drove into the driveway of our home and was met by a boy with tear-stained eyes, carrying a dead lamb in his arms. His grief was overwhelming. Now I tried to make amends by quickly milking the mother sheep and trying to force the milk from a bottle down the throat of the now weak, surviving lamb. At this point, Gordon walked out of the room and came back with a hopeful look in his eyes. He said, “Daddy, I’ve prayed that we will be able to save this lamb, and I feel it will be all right.”

The sad note to this story, brethren, is that within a few minutes the second lamb was dead. Then with a look that I will remember forever, this little six-year-old boy who had lost both of his lambs looked up into his father’s face and with tears running down his cheeks said, “Daddy, if you had come home when I first called you, we could have saved them both.”

The name of Elder Lindsays’ talks is “Feed My Sheep,” and as you can see he does not pull any punches with his own poor decisions.

“Dear brethren of the priesthood,” he concludes: 

Those who are entrusted as keepers of the Lord’s precious flock—we must be there with the lambs when we are needed. We must teach with love, principles of faith, and goodness and be righteous examples to the lambs of our Heavenly Father.

This sacred duty is a defining attribute of what it means to be a Latter-day Saint man and especially a Latter-day Saint father. We are to feed the sheep, and we are to do so with love.

Elder Wirthlin, in his talk Live in Obedience, described how young horses were taught to be obedient and related:

When I asked how the gauchos taught the horses to be so obedient, I was informed that their training started when the horses were colts. Each one learned from its caring mother and from other mature horses. The gauchos began training the colts when they were young, with kindness, never using force of a lasso or a whip.

Elder Didier taught in Remember Your Covenants that:

As a husband and father and later as a grandfather, I was and still am responsible for the development, temporal support, protection, and salvation of my family.

And:

The husband and wife serve as partners in governing their family, and both act in joint leadership and depend on each other. They are united in the vision of their eternal salvation, one holding the priesthood, the other honoring and enjoying the blessings of it. One is not superior or inferior to the other. Each one carries his or her respective responsibilities and acts in his or her respective role.

The were some stern aspects of the talk but–like Elder Lindsay’s self-effacing story–they were directed towards the audience of men. Elder Monson, in The Priesthood – A Sacred Trust, cited President John Taylor: “If you do not magnify your callings, God will hold you responsible for those whom you might have saved had you done your duty.” As Elder Lindsay’s little boy said, “if you had come home… we could have saved them both.”

Even on the topic of brethren who are falling short in their duty, however, the sternness is tempered with love:

Brethren, there are tens of thousands of priesthood holders scattered among you who, through indifference, hurt feelings, shyness, or weakness, cannot bless to the fullest extent their wives and children—without considering the lives of others they could lift and bless. Ours is the solemn duty to bring about a change, to take such an individual by the hand and help him arise and be well spiritually. As we do so, sweet wives will call our names blessed, and grateful children will marvel at the change in Daddy as lives are altered and souls are saved.

I am so grateful for what I was taught growing up in the Restored Church of Jesus Christ. I learned from an early age what being a good man looked like. I learned that it meant the strength to be gentle, the humility to ask the Lord’s assistance to provide for my children, the compassion to recognize need, and the selflessness to give of myself.

I am far from perfect, but I thank God that at least I got the instructions, and I’ve had the chance to work to bend my stubborn, prideful, selfish nature to the beautiful, fulfilling work of service. The mistakes have all been mine–and so many remain–but for what good I’ve been able to offer my sweet children and my wife, the love of my life, I offer thanks to God for showing me the way.

We Love Best by Telling the WHOLE Truth

My friend and co-blogger Dan Ellsworth’s article in Public Square Magazine was prescient, given that just a few hours later Elder Holland’s address to BYU faculty and staff was published. Dan’s description of our tendency to hear what we want to hear as a form of idolatry is bracing but needed. “Ironically, one of our most persistent idolatries is the refashioning of the divinely revealed Christ into a sentimentally-appealing false Christ named ‘Jesus,’ who exists to make us all feel loved and happy,” he writes. I thought I would provide three examples of this trend I have noticed that buttress his point.

Read more

Come, Listen to a Prophet’s Voice

This week, the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement regarding facemasks and vaccines, that reads as follows:

 Dear Brothers and Sisters:

We find ourselves fighting a war against the ravages of COVID-19 and its variants, an unrelenting pandemic. We want to do all we can to limit the spread of these viruses. We know that protection from the diseases they cause can only be achieved by immunizing a very high percentage of the population.

To limit exposure to these viruses, we urge the use of face masks in public meetings whenever social distancing is not possible. To provide personal protection from such severe infections, we urge individuals to be vaccinated. Available vaccines have proven to be both safe and effective.

We can win this war if everyone will follow the wise and thoughtful recommendations of medical experts and government leaders. Please know of our sincere love and great concern for all of God’s children.

The First Presidency

Russell M. Nelson

Dallin H. Oaks

Henry B. Eyring

I’m writing for two reasons today.

The first is to congratulate the number of my friends who have strong reasons for opposing the vaccine, and have changed their tack in view of the prophet’s call. This letter is making a difference for folks, and I appreciate them for it. It takes faith and humility, and they will be better for it.

When I went to church today, I saw a great number wearing masks. The bishop addressed the issue directly, and kindly. He said “the overriding two concerns of the ward council are to follow the prophet, and to ensure that every member of this ward is treated like a member of our family.” There was kindness, there was following the prophet, and there was a special sort of camaraderie. I’m grateful to all who listen when the time comes to listen.

But that’s not the only reason I write.

Tithing is a Covenant Responsibility Even When we Disagree With How the Church Uses it

I have seen quite a lot of discussion recently about tithing and heard a few people say that they do not feel that they can pay a tithe to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There appear to be three broad areas of concern. 1. The argument that the Church is not using it’s sacred funds wisely by investing and saving rather than using for immediate charitable works, 2. That the lack of transparency is troubling, and 3. That tithing funds may go to support causes that the individual strongly disagrees with. I’ve seen this criticism from liberal friends who see Church donations as homophobic and also from more conservative friends who disagree with partnerships with groups like the NAACP that they see as racist or pro-aborrion.

Others have written very articulately about the first two points and so I am not going to write about them at length. I would however briefly note that it is legitimate to question how tithing is used and to seek more information or transparency. But I don’t think that desire for greater transparency can justify withholding from God when he has instructed us to bring our tithes to his Church.

I want to mostly address the third concern head on because it goes to a point I feel strongly about.

In our Church we are led by individuals that we sustain as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. These men have never hesitated to use the pulpit to speak out on matters of policy that they felt were of vital moral importance.

As members we are allowed to disagree with the Church on these matters. We are not required to give up own own political opinions or blindly agree with the Church on any matter.

And as President Oaks talked about powerfully in the most recent General Conference, when it comes to my vote or how I donate politically or otherwise participate in politics, I am free to exercise my agency, to weigh competing issue, and to make my own prayerful choices. The Church does not compel my free choices in this regard with narrow exceptions such as a prohibition on direct financial support for abortions.

But when it comes to tithing, I see it as a matter of offering a sacred sustaining vote for the work of the Lord. Tithing is an act of covenental trust and this trust is particularly vital when I may not see exactly eye to eye with Church leaders on matters of public policy.

Being willing to tithe in such circumstances is an act of humility which is vital for warding off the tendency to think we know better than the Lord and his servants. If we are so disaffected from their decisions that we are not willing to provide the tithing that the Lord has asked, then we are on very shaky ground when it comes to our sustaining vote and our temple covenants regarding consecration.

We get to use our God given agency to vote how we wish and support the parties and platforms that we wish to support. As President Oaks explained, we must do that prayerfully and other members should abstain from harsh judgments on these matters of personal conscience.

But can we put our political convictions and our moral certainty aside to offer or tithing to the Lord and his servants even when the donation may be at cross purposes with our political activity? I feel strongly that being willing to do so is an important and sacred part of the covenant I have made in the temple and each time I raise my hand to sustain the Prophet and the Apostles.

I believe this is at least part of what the Lord is referring to in D&C 64 when he speaks of tithing:

“I, the Lord, require the hearts of the children of men.

Behold, now it is called today until the coming of the Son of Man, and verily it is a day of sacrifice, and a day for the tithing of my people; for he that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming.”

Paying tithing willingly even when we do not perfectly see eye to eye with the leadership of the Church protects us from apostasy and in that sense is a crucial form of fire insurance. It is a way that we can give the Lord our heart even when that can be difficult.