Archive for the ‘Holy Ghost as Teacher of Truth’ Category

The Salt Lake Tribune published an article Friday with bullet point suggestions to involve women more fully in the operations of the Church. Currently, only men hold the priesthood. Some women, such as many of the authors of the blog Feminist Mormon Housewives,  insist that women should be ordained to the priesthood just as men. They cite a great deal of historical evidence where women early in the Church administered ordinances and operated the Relief Society women’s organization as a completely independent entity. It was only in the 1950s  with the implementation of “correlation” that the Relief Society was moved as a subordinate to the First Presidency of the Church. Before correlation, the general Relief Society presidency made final decisions for leading the women of the Church. Now, they need approval from the First Presidency. Many Mormon feminists mourn this day.

I shared the article because I think it addresses some cultural changes that can happen in the Church right now without addressing the controversial demands to ordain women to the priesthood.

Mormons believe in modern revelation to living prophets. For a large portion of the Church population, this means they wait until they get direction from the top and then they “follow the prophet.” Mormons believe in receiving a prophet’s message and then seeking personal confirmation for themselves about the message by the Holy Ghost. However, many in the Church don’t seek this individual inspiration. That takes work and thought. Emeritus general authority Clayton Christensen changed my spiritual life in a 2009 conference I attended in Boston where he taught that we need to take more responsibility. Joseph Smith didn’t teach that top-down-obey model, he said. Joseph taught we should question and prepare ourselves to receive revelation and then be “anxiously engaged” and “do many good things of our own free will and choice and bring to pass much righteousness” (Doc & Cov 58:27).

Elder Christensen then cited examples where members did this and it led to Church programs that many today assume came by top-down revelation: singles wards, primary, and Sunday School.

My point is that as Church members, we should be looking around at ways to improve the Church rather than waiting for top-down directives before we use our agency to bring about good. I believe the kinds  of suggestions in the article can change Church culture in a way that ought to be changed. Many members chafe at any kind of criticism of the Church and believe the structure to be perfect. I believe we have many practices that we assume are affiliated with priesthood administration, but are really cultural norms that ought to change.

Many of the annoying attitudes in the Church about men and women grow out of generational assumptions of the 1950s about gender. I serve in a singles ward in a city with amazing women ages 18-31. I date men who don’t think twice about having a woman as a boss.  I don’t see the gender divide the article tries to correct  as much in my current ward as I’ve felt in others.  Many of those leading the Church lived in the world when women were either absent or their subordinate outside the home. Sometimes I feel patronized by current Church leadership for the well-meaning way they talk about tenderly treating women. This leadership training is an example.  I understand they want to involve women more fully and some women are hesitant to speak up.  I appreciate their effort to help women feel appreciated.  I view Prophets and Apostles as bringing their own experience to their teaching and God uses them as an instrument to teach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. But, when we emphasize the differences between men and women, they need to be eternally true and not culturally formed. The opposite of motherhood is fatherhood, not the priesthood. Both motherhood and fatherhood are nurturing roles.

Lastly, many hankering for supposed women’s rights in the LDS Church emphasize the Bishop as a power position. Really, a ward is a cooperative community where we’re trying to help each other out. Bishops’ personalities and leadership styles vary, but my Bishop relies heavily on his Relief Society presidents (we have 3 of which I am one) and Elders Quorum presidents (leaders for the men and there are 2) to administer the ward. It’s a lot of work, but the kind of work that emphasizes others rather than exalting self. If people want a power trip, they should run for Congress. I lead the  administration and ministration of my Relief Society. This means I conduct Sunday meetings and pray about who should staff particular positions. I make visits to individual sisters and try to invite them to deepen their trust in God. It’s a nurturing calling. Callings rotate every so often. We switch roles. I won’t always be this sort of leader, but every disciple of Jesus Christ leads. That is constant. The Bishop’s responsibilities parallel my responsibility as a Relief Society president in many ways. The emphasis on power misses the whole point of the ward to help others to come unto Christ and receive the restored gospel.  The Mormon emphasis on free will and personal revelation doesn’t jive with power grabs by leaders. HOWEVER, leaders do and will COUNSEL with someone when they are not living commandments and invite them to change. If they don’t change and it’s serious, they lose blessings such as full participation in the Sacrament (Lord’s supper ) and other sacred experiences. The intention is always to help someone realign themselves with God and His commandments.

With that, your eyes are probably blurring from all this text, but you’re only half way!

Here’s the discussion of the article.

Eric: ! Good share, [Rayleen]

Yesterday at 10:00am · Like

Forrest: some are inappropriate, such as the first one.

also…i never got a blessing from my bishop when advancing in the priesthood, is this some Utah thing?

23 hours ago · Like

Spencer: And what are women lacking that the Lord’s kingdom and structure are missing? It looks like a watered down church version of ERA from the 80′s.I’ve noticed the more people (women in this case) understand who and whose they truly are, the less they need a worldly profile and praise. They have plenty of god-esteeme they don’t need what the world offers, they already know their work is eternal and invaluable. There is a reason we don’t know more about heavenly mother…

23 hours ago · Like · 1

[Rayleen] I have several thoughts on this and will share them when I can.

22 hours ago · Like

Adam: disagree on a doctrinal level with most of these suggestions. Spencer, you are spot on.

22 hours ago via mobile · Like

Forrest: I still feel cheated on the whole blessing thing, i want my fair share dangit!

22 hours ago · Like

Adam: Once I get internet I can address these point by point. Difficult to do on a phone though.

22 hours ago via mobile · Like

[Rayleen] I look forward to it, Adam. Then I’ll respond to your points by point ;)

22 hours ago · Like

Matt: Forrest – it’s talking about ordinations.

22 hours ago · Like

Forrest: really? mine weren’t from the bishop…how odd

22 hours ago · Like

Forrest: Call women as Sunday School presidents, ward mission leaders and ward and stake clerks.”

the latter portion of this section indicates a lack of understanding as to the duties of ward and stake clerks. Much as the first suggestion is inappropriate (having a non-ecclesiastic leader in any kind of bishop’s interview) the duties of stake and ward level clerks, especially in regards to church discipline and related proceedings, are inappropriate for those without the authority to take part. That said I have known women to be called to positions of responsibility as far as ward clerical duties are concerned. I don’t know if that’s what they were getting at

22 hours ago · Like

Matt: I don’t think it’s suggesting that ordinations are from the bishops, indeed, it says that they mostly come from fathers. It’s just saying that the bishop would be a candidate to give such blessings to young women:
“Have bishops give girls a special blessing when they turn 12, 14 and 16. Their brothers get these from priesthood leaders, often their fathers, when they advance in the priesthood.”

22 hours ago · Like

Forrest: Ah I misread. Still an odd request since anyone can request a blessing from their Bishop at any time…I’m not sure I understand the need to codify or officially support (or mandate) such a thing for the sake of appearances

22 hours ago · Like · 2

Forrest: also “Lower the age for female missionaries to 19, same as young Mormon men, while letting them serve two years and as zone and district leaders.”

I’m not sure what the benefit of lowering women’s age would be. I always figured it was more of a protective measure of sorts. Women do serve as zone and district leaders in the absence of priesthood authority to do the same, though admittedly those situations in the mission field are rare exceptions

22 hours ago · Like · 1

Adam: Matt, aren’t fathers able to give blessings anytime? If the father isn’t available, aren’t there other priesthood leaders available? Why does it need to be a “special blessing” based on age?

Just a quick note on my first impressions of the article. Yes, some of the suggestions sound nice and fair, but its a distraction and a trap. It pulls our focus on the eternities into the here and now. From my experiences, this is a tool of the adversary to pull is off the path we should be on. (Big red flag!!) Those who understand the doctrines of the gospel know that our focus/goal is not the now, but the eternity. Those who understand the part women play in God’s plan (there is so much more to it than have babies) do not need the earthly spotlight.

It also creates an assumption that men aspire to these duties/opportunities/positions because of the prestige/power. That should not be the case and those doing so WILL be held accountable. So to say it unfair that women don’t share equal opportunity is to presume that there are women who would like to aspire to such things.

Additionally it assumes that every boy/man gets these opportunities women don’t. There’s no discussion of the necessity for the man to be worthy for such positions.

From a literary standpoint the article is biased. It doesn’t mention areas where women are evidenced to be equal or even superior, but only focuses on parts that, given a myopic perspective, display women as lesser.

Just a few quick thoughts. They are rough and unpolished, but its what I can give right now whilst waiting for my apartment move out inspection.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like · 2

Stephen: If the here and now doesn’t matter but eternity is whats important, then why would it matter if a woman were involved in anything mentioned in the article? If its not big deal that they’re not, it should be no big deal if they were, right?

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Emma: I think these are good ideas. And Adam, I have always aspired to be a ward clerk, so I guess the presumption is not too far off :)

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Adam: Except the doctrines behind them…. no.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Paul: Women already perform priesthood ordinances in the temple, and everyone who has been to the temple wear the garments of the holy priesthood, in exactly those words. “Priest” and “priestess” are obviously priesthood titles, as is evident by the words themselves, and those titles are one of the end states to which Mormons aspire. The Bible references priestesses (though their exact role is not entirely known).

In other words, I’m in the camp that believes that women have already had the priesthood in the LDS church for a long time, and have been given certain priesthood keys (e.g. in temple ceremonies) despite not being allowed to hold offices yet. I have no idea if the male church leaders are ever going to build upon the priesthood that women already have by allowing them to hold offices, but if they ever do make that transition, it will be somewhat of a formality, and not particularly revolutionary.

If you take a step back and detach the word “priesthood” from the social construct of male roles, you end up with the idea that a priest (or priestess) is someone who ministers in matters of faith and church procedures. The fact that no one in the top leadership of the church’s hierarchy has yet seen fit to formalize priesthood offices for women is on some levels irrelevant, because women already minister in many matters of faith and local day-to-day church procedures, but women are, for all intents and purposes, needlessly shut out from important matters that they really should be involved in, such as disciplinary councils, worthiness interviews, regional decision-making, and the declaration of doctrine. There is absolutely no reason for women to be excluded from any of these roles, other than existing conventions and traditions, and there are many, many reasons why including women at these levels can be good for everyone. Is it absolutely necessary for women to be given priesthood offices for this to happen? Although I’m tempted to say no, it’s not absolutely necessary, the truth is that I believe it is. Until women are able to hold priesthood offices, there will always be an inherent imbalance, and that imbalance is completely unnecessary. It could be undone quickly and easily, without changing any doctrine, and people will always wonder afterwards why it took so long to make such an easy change.

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Matt: Adam – of course they are. The point is to make a young women’s transition into adulthood as meaningful as priesthood ordinations make a young man’s.

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Adam: Matt, I’m just saying a fathers blessing would carry much more meaning than a hey, you just turned 14… time for a blessing.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Matt: Heh. As opposed to, hey you just turned 14, time to become a teacher? Fathers, of course, ordain young men, so perhaps we can agree that it should be church policy that young women be given special blessings by their fathers in the bishop’s office soon after their 12th, 14th, and 16th birthdays?

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Adam:  not supposed to be that way for young men either. The birthday means you are eligible for the office, not that you automatically get it. You must still be worthy, you must still be interviewed. Its also up to the bishops discretion if the young man is ready for such an office. Admittedly, that’s not always the way its run, but it should be.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Paul: I also believe that every “calling” at every level of the church is a priesthood calling, and not just in the sense that it was issued by a man with a priesthood title. I mean it in the sense that these are people who are ministering within the church, with authority to do so. Ministering with authority is the essence of what it means to be a priest/priestess, and every calling is exactly that.

21 hours ago · Like

Adam: Paul, I’ll agree with you to the point that women already hold the priesthood (in a different way than men). But how they operate in that is very different. As to the rest of it, we differ.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Matt: Indeed, Adam. And I think all of that would be usefully applied to young women as well: such a moment would be a valuable rite of passage and a renewed signal that the church takes the growth of young women as seriously as it does of young men.

21 hours ago · Like

Adam: They do though. They progress through the young women’s program. Keep in mind too that an ordination to an office isn’t a “blessing,” its an ordination. Typically a blessing will follow, but not always.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Paul: Ijust really think we need to dislodge the word “priesthood” from the calcified assumptions within the church that only men minister with authority. Women have already been ministering with authority pretty much since the beginning of the church, even though the men in charge haven’t seen fit to give them offices yet.

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Forrest: so why second guess current doctrine with what the Church should do? If your thoughts were true it would be what the Church *is* doing. Assuming of course that revelation is actually a thing. Don’t mix temporal social politics with divine revelation. The time when it is appropriate for such changes to occur will be the time it occurs. You need only look at the formal extension of Priesthood office to all worthy men as an example of that.

Obviously at the moment, for whatever reason, things are as they are for a purpose. And it is entirely inappropriate for anyone other than a bishop to be present in an interview except in very rare circumstances.

Now I would suggest we take a long look at what things might be doctrine and others might merely be custom, as I feel custom is sometimes (often) damaging to our interpretation of true doctrine.

21 hours ago · Like

Adam: I will have to return to the discussion later… my apartment management finally showed up.

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Matt: Believe me, I know what an ‘ordination’ is, and I think it’s notable that the writers of the Trib piece are specifically not calling for that sort of thing. Currently in every ward budget the Young Men’s program has several times the amount of cash as the Young Women’s program; though the two things exist, the point is that there’s a lot of signals in the church today that YM are what’s really important.

Forrest - I think you’re the one confusing present social politics and procedural custom with doctrine. Can you point me, say, to any canonical statement which indicates that women can’t be a Sunday school president, for instance?

21 hours ago · Like

Adam: Matt- 1) have you seen “every ward budget” as proof of your statement? 2) can you find any canonical statement referring to a Sunday school president (excluding possibly Doctrine and Covenants)?

21 hours ago via mobile · Like

Paul: If your thoughts were true it would be what the Church *is* doing. ”

While this statement is admirable in its expression of faith in the leaders of the church, the idea behind it has never been true. All meaningful changes in all eras of the church came only after the leaders were ready as human beings to make the changes. Extending priesthood authority to all races is a case in point, really. There never was a revelation barring blacks from the priesthood. The practice grew out of the prejudices of the time, mixed with scriptural interpretations that are today outdated, not because doctrines changed, but because the original interpretations were flat out wrong, and extremely harmful. No one is immune from misinterpretation. Not me, not you, and not the leaders at the top. Changes at the top can only occur when the leaders, as fallible human beings, are ready to make the changes, and that often takes a lot of time and re-learning, when it comes to undoing long-held assumptions.

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Matt: ‎2) Nope; and the Sunday school’s not in the D&C; it was founded in 1849. Which is why it doesn’t seem like it would be much of a big deal to set apart a woman as president, no? 1) Nope, but I don’t need to. Check the GHI. Most of the money comes as a result of the YM”s association with Scouting: fundraisers, the specific financial requirements that Scouting places on organizations that sponsor troops, and the like. The GHI specifically forbids YW from hosting similar fundraisers.

21 hours ago · Like

Matt: And I’m out myself. Been fun, all.

21 hours ago · Like

Forrest: Paul that is conjecture and personal opinion, not hard fact. The reality is we have no idea where the practice came from, stop trying to just lay it on racism.

you still support my point that when membership as a whole and the leadership are ready for such a change, if it be the will of the Lord, then that change will occur. Not before. The change in practice still came about as revelation even if the practice didn’t. With current social trends it could potentially become legal for people to marry more than one person of various sexual inclinations in the coming decades, do you think that will mean a return to plural marriage? I doubt it. Social progress is not, necessarily, the mode of the Lords operation, even if it might coincide as such.

My point is why should it matter whether they can or can’t be? Honestly I’d never even noticed until the article pointed it out. I would wager that it lies within the desire or need to have priesthood authority at the head of the educational portion of the local ward, much like a Bishop is the priesthood authority of the ward itself, a Stake president of the Stake and so on. Relief Society, Young Women’s, and Primary are notable exceptions to the common doctrine of priesthood authority guiding the church, and even those organizations still operate under priesthood guidance rather than independently.

In regards to your ward budget, how would you know? That’s wild conjecture and the reality is that depending on the needs of wards, the sizes of their programs, and ancillary programs such as BSA the clerk and bishop together will draft and approve a fair and reasonable ward budget covering the needs of all programs. Fair != Equal.

to further expound upon the doctrine behind worthiness interviews and disciplinary councils. It is the purview and authority of the priesthood (yet again) and one set apart as a Common Judge in Israel to not only deal with sin and transgression but to accurately and with inspiration guide the member back to living their covenants and full-faith and fellowship within the church. A young women’s president, though certainly concerned for the care and well being of her girls, has no place in those proceedings except, potentially, as a witness in some situations.

21 hours ago · Like

Spencer: The only imbalance is people not understanding and accepting the perfect structure of the church (people of course not perfect). Anyone attempting to frame the church’s structure and division of duties between male and female from the worlds irrelevant and irreverent perspective will always be off base and in danger of much worse. it’s much like a church trying to claim authority from Peter or governments trying to force equal outcome instead of equal opportunity. Women do not hold the priesthood. It is not the structure of the Kingdom or order of God. They were not ordained on top of other key characteristics required for “office.” so don’t be confused by titles – this in no way diminishes the gender, purpose or power to perform miracles and such through faith. May I recommend drinking from the source instead of going downstream and the often quoted line from GA’s “behind every good man is an even better woman.”

21 hours ago · Like · 1

Forrest: thank you Spencer, well put. I too often get mired in administrative minutiae.

Also i mistakenly mixed certain things said by paul and matt in my last response, i apologize for the mistake, but my comments still stand as they are

21 hours ago · Like

Paul: The church’s structure has always been fluid. There has never been one perfect structure. The church in Joseph’s day started with the offices of first and second Elder. Those offices no longer exist. Later, apostles were added. There was a somewhat secretive Council of 50, which no longer exists. The office of seventy was a local office in every ward until it changed to a regional office and granted more of a General Authority status. My dad is a seventy, but was never a general authority. Stake missionaries no longer exist, and we have ward missionaries.

And that’s just in the latter-day church. The organization during the life of Christ was not as alike to our church as many like to think. And what about the organization during Moses’s life? Not really the same at all. So which of these organizational structures is the perfect or true structure? If you’re a believing Mormon, you have to say: all of them. And yet, they have at least as many dissimilarities as similarities.

21 hours ago · Like

Forrest: You would look beyond the mark and lobby for change though, whereas change must come from the top down at the appropriate time. The children of Israel did not tell Moses to go back up the hill and get a ‘better law’ they had less issue with, the Lord sent them the law they had to deal with.

Shifts in Church policy and structure occur as the Lord decrees, not as the people demand. You can be happy for eventual change, should it come. My testimony would not be shaken in the least if any of these things came to pass and were declared by a Prophet of the Lord. But until that day I will oppose this as what it is, a distraction from what is important: the salvation and spiritual nurturing of God’s children. Which none of this seems to really help.

20 hours ago · Like · 1

Paul: I’ll forever be grateful to Lester Bush for his groundbreaking research on the non-doctrinal history of the racial priesthood ban. President Kimball read and re-read it, highlighting key passages. Would the ban reversal have occurred without Lester Bush’s work? Impossible to say. But Lester Bush did the right thing, and so did President Kimball, eventually, after he was ready to accept the change himself.

20 hours ago via mobile · Like

Forrest: you’re oversimplifying the entire situation surrounding President Kimball’s revelation and would do well to investigate the situation further.

http://en.fairmormon.org/Mormonism_and_racial_issues/Blacks_and_the_priesthood

Mormonism and racial issues/Blacks and the priesthood – FAIRMormon

en.fairmormon.org

Sometimes God withholds certain blessings from certain people without explaining…See More

20 hours ago · Like ·

Paul: I’m very familiar with the writings about the circumstances, actually. Yes, of course I simplified things for the sake of a Facebook comment.

20 hours ago via mobile · Like

Forrest: Then you should realize that it almost didn’t matter the origin of the ban, the people required commandment, and the Lord supplied on the Lords time. Unless it was all the work of men which would invalidate the revelatory process.

This is the same, if the people require commandment to change then it will occur, if the change is of the Lord. Books written by men will not sway divine will, nor would they be required as proof as He knows the hearts of men. We as a people would do better to worry more for our own spiritual well being than every detail of church practice and doctrine that we can reasonably, in our own minds, rationalize away as “not really how it should be done”

20 hours ago · Like

Elena: Wow, look at how easily we have become distracted and divisive. I know how Heavenly Father feels about women and I know in turn how He has taught me to feel about myself and that is all that matters to me. Women, there are so many ways you can find to make your life fulfilling, special and impactive. We don’t need to get hung up on things like this.

19 hours ago · Like · 2

Matt: Forrest: this:

Shifts in Church policy and structure occur as the Lord decrees, not as the people demand.

Is not actually true. Primary, Sunday School, and the Relief Society, off the top of my head, began at the local level and were eventually adopted by the leadership of the church. Change happens both top down and bottom up.

15 hours ago · Like

Paul:  Greg Prince also has described the way the leaders in Salt Lake co-opted the youth program from his stake (in California I think?) many years ago and implemented it church-wide. Greg Prince has given whole presentations on this phenomenon in the church, which he has labeled “trickle-up revelation.”

14 hours ago via mobile · Like

Paul:  From Greg Prince:
“Trickle-up revelation is arguably the most important force of revelation shaping the day-to-day church in which we live. If you doubt that statement, consider the Relief Society, Mutual Improvement, Sunday School, Primary, Welfare, Genealogy (Family History), and Young Adult programs all began as grass-roots initiatives on the part of Church members, and were then embraced by the central Church. This means that phrases such as “magnifying one’s calling”, “Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness”, and “be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a good work. And out of small things proceedeth forth that which is great”, are not platitudes, but a real call to action. I have been a first-hand witness and participant in the birth of the Young Adult program in Southern California in the mid-1970’s and a first-hand witness of Lester Bush’s landmark on blacks and the priesthood in the mid-1970s. A Church that not only allows, but expects its members to assist in continual transformation by placing their unique gifts at the altar has my vote.”

Source: http://www.wheatandtares.org/2011/10/17/why-they-stay/

Why They Stay

www.wheatandtares.org

Sunstone has had a recurring theme over the past 25 years or so titled Why I Sta…See More

13 hours ago via mobile · Like ·

Matthew: Wow, more comments here than on the original SLT post! I’ll throw in my two cents, something I rarely do on facebook–but don’t worry, I wont be back to debate or respond. My thoughts generally on the article are that the author(s) are trying to address what they consider tradition and practice, and not doctrine, and so can with greater ease be changed by the church. And I love the suggestions–I think that each of them are fair, don’t diminish the role of the priesthood or the church while recognizing the contribution and status of our women in the church. I would love to see any of these enacted, and actually might go suggest to my bishop in bishopric meeting (I am the ward clerk, although my wife wishes she was!) on Sunday number 4, blessing the young women as they progress. In our ward, we have a surplus of young women without fathers or fathers in the church, and wanting for support and encouragement. What would be wrong with, when they change from beehive to mia maid, for example, the bishop recognizing this achievement of activity and giving them a blessing of support and encouragement?

And I both support and sustain the prophet as the vehicle for the revelation for almost all of these points and recognize that people can suggest and point out the benefits of such things to him and his counselors. Why shouldn’t the brethren investigate avenues of equality that are not inconsistent with church doctrine?

8 hours ago · Like

Michelle: To add to my husband’s thoughts (which I agree with): I think one of the nice things about the first suggestion is that it will avoid a potentially awkward situation, namely, a young teenage girl alone in a room with an older man asking her questions about the law of chastity. I think that the bishop, as a judge in Israel, would be able to invite a young women’s leader, relief society leader, or a parent to be present during the interview (if the girl is okay with it). Then if counsel is needed on issues sensitive in nature, the girl can work with someone her own gender, not just an older guy.

Also, my understanding is that revelation comes from a combination of two factors: asking and listening. I’m sure that if there is a sizable group in the church interested in such changes to policy (not doctrine), then the brethren would be more likely to even be aware enough to ask about it and receive the revelations of policy changes.

 

I’ve been corresponding with a man who came across this blog and found it beneficial, especially the posts about doubting.  I just emailed him a talk I gave in my singles’ ward about six months ago. Now I’m thinking, I’ll just share it more broadly. It’s mega long as far as posts go, but you can take a bathroom break midway.

It’s extremely personal, but faith is personal and I prefer to provide an example of someone working through the development of faith.

Welcome into my head and examples of my dating life.:) (As if you weren’t already there.)

Here are links to previous posts about doubting

Doubting and Wrestling

Doubt: Religion’s 4 Letter Word

Why I’m Not Disillusioned by Sketchy Scriptures

My Current Explanation of Life’s Purpose

I’m just copying and pasting what I wrote for myself to deliver it. I’ll go back and edit it soon. Well, maybe not soon. Maybe sometime.

Talk starts here:

My topic is “A Nation Where the Gospel Can Flourish”

The fullest blessings of the Atonement are only possible through priesthood power. The greatest potential God has in store for us lies in a covenant relationship with Him, which comes through priesthood.   I could speak about how the creation of the US Constitution fostered an environment that made possible the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and priesthood. If this was my direction, I’d be sure to note that America was only the cradle for this work. God’s purpose was to bring all the world access to the full blessings of the Atonement of His Son.

However, I’m going a different direction.  I wanted to share some ideas that you could put into practice when you leave Church today. We’re in this nation where the gospel is flourishing, now what? Mormons are starring in politics and on Broadway these days, so people want to know what they believe.

How do you talk about your faith with others who do not share your conviction in the Restoration?

You have GOT to figure out what you will say and how you’ll say it. How do you explain why some Christians don’t accept Latter-day Saints as Christians? How do you explain the garment? These are recurring questions and there are many more. You need to prepare and prepare well. I’m not going to talk about this either, but I invite you to take the approach of simply educating others about what Latter-day Saints actually believe. For ideas, you can go to my blog about LDS beliefs, mormoninsider.com. As you take this educating approach, you’ll help others overcome stereotypes and misconceptions and you’ll have more opportunity to share with those who are sincerely searching to know God.

So what AM I going to talk about? I’m going to talk about how I personally cultivate my faith, including how I respond to doubt. I believe as you think more deeply about why it is you believe, you will be better equipped to talk about it with others. I’ll also talk about how I seek to recognize the Spirit.  Because I think it may be a topic of interest to some of you, I’ve chosen dating examples to illustrate what I mean by these two topics.

When I saw the Tony performance of “Just Believe” from the Book of Mormon the Musical I was conflicted. It made me laugh and cringe at the same time.

In a June 27 CNN interview, Richard Bushman who is a Mormon Studies scholar at Claremont and the media’s go-to faithful Latter-day Saint spokesman said the musical is like “looking in a fun house mirror; the reflection is hilarious, but not really you.” I agree with him. What I found most disconcerting was how Elder Price resolves his crisis of faith. He rejects his concerns by repeatedly telling himself to “just believe.” From the song:

I allowed my faith to be shaken. What’s the matter with me? …I must be completely devout, I can’t have even one shred of doubt…I am a Mormon! And a Mormon just believes.

From the Bushman interview:

Specific doctrines aside, the lines that will most distress Mormons in the Price lyrics are the repeated phrase “just believe.”

Poor Elder Price has had his confidence shaken and doesn’t know how to react to his dawning disbelief.  All he can do is repeat over and over “just believe.”  To prove himself valiant, he must turn off the lights and shut the door on his doubts.

For me “just believing” meant turning the light on, not turning it off. (end of quote)

This was Elder Price’s style of responding to doubts. How do you? Do you have doubts? I do. When I hear people say they don’t have any doubts, I wonder if they’re thinking deeply about their faith.  I suspect they’re either not digging deeply enough or they’re at a Brother of Jared level of faith. Maybe there are other options.

Yet, God commanded us not to doubt, “Look unto me in every thought, doubt not, fear not” (Doc & Cov 6:36), so what’s a girl to do?

Doubt and questioning are different.

Doubt means distrust. Questioning with faith means you trust God or have confidence in Him.

In doubting you reject God until He gives you an answer. By questioning with faith, you trust He will provide , according to His perfect judgment.

Moroni 9:21 “…whoso believeth in Christ, doubting nothing, whatsoever he shall ask the father in the name of Christ it shall be granted him, and this promise is unto all…”

The most oft repeated invitation in the scriptures is “ask” and is almost always coupled with the promise “and ye shall receive.”

A faithful Latter-day Saint believes in personal revelation. Instead of not thinking of concerns by putting them out of your mind, I invite you to ask God about them, expecting He will help you understand.

One of the leading purposes of the Restoration was to restore an accurate knowledge of the nature of God, namely He is not an essence everywhere and nowhere without parts or passions, but He is a well involved Father who grieves over His children, as Moses chapter 7 shows us. When we better understand who God is, we can begin to trust Him or have faith in Him.

From the third Lecture on Faith speaking of God’s character:

“…unless [we understand the goodness of His character] the faith    necessary for salvation could not exist; for doubt would take the place of faith.”

So here’s the first dating example.

After conference, with its emphasis on marriage, I was frustrated.  I think this is part of Church culture and not necessarily how Heavenly Father wants us approach it, but there’s this sense that if you’re not married in the Church, it’s because you’re doing something wrong.  Once you fix it, then you’ll be able to fulfill the commandment of marriage. There’s another sense that if you’re not married it’s because you don’t value it or you are playing around or too focused on your career or whatever. (As if a promotion at work could kiss you goodnight.)

It turns out, in order for a marriage to happen there has to be two people where both are willing to develop a relationship and make this sacred commitment together. It’s a matter of agency.

After conference, I was reviewing my past dating experiences and wondering if I should have done something differently at one time or another. Because I had this agency focus and because I believe God wants us to gain experience, which often comes through struggles, I felt alone in the process. I began to be resentful toward the Lord that He left me alone when I’ve always done my best to stay close to Him.

During this time, I was praying to know what I should do with this message of marriage from conference.

Then my brother visited with his 3 yr old daughter.  As we were hanging out on the Mall after the Natural History museum, she was all over the place spinning around in circles and pulling up grass, hiding behind trees and my brother was letting her play.  When she went too far, he’d chase after her and bring her back close to him. She was then free to choose which activity she wanted to do.

I had the thought, which I believe was from the Spirit, that this how God cares for us.  He’s not far removed, leaving us alone in our struggles. He lets us choose what we want to do. We can play with the grass or spin around in circles. There are lots of options. But He’s always close by, watching attentively, as any good father would. When He sees we are heading in a direction that could be harmful for us, He comes after us.

It is part of the Restoration that God is our Father and is deeply involved in the lives of His children.  When Heavenly Father revealed Himself with Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, He in part was opening the dispensation to restore the knowledge about Him.

As this thought came to me and I made this connection, I realized my worry and frustration came from doubting God’s character. I did not trust that He was involved in my life and that He would have stopped me from making a poor choice, even though I have always sought the Spirit.

So I changed my mind to align with what the Spirit brought to my attention.  He’s well involved and watches attentively over me.

So how I deal with doubt, when I have them?

  1. I remember past witnesses of the Spirit. Such as the times I have felt and understood by the Spirit that my sins are forgiven through Jesus Christ’s Atonement. And the times I’ve felt that same Spirit through the pages of the Book of Mormon. I remember that Joseph Smith translated that Book of Mormon, which is evidence he was a prophet. And I remember times when the Spirit has witness to me the reality of God as my Father.
  2. I take this knowledge and put it into practice with faith. In other words I make the decision to trust God.
  3.  I ask for more knowledge by the Spirit with faith.

I invite you to address your doubts with this process.

I must add that after I had this change of mind, which is also known as repentance, I remembered an LDS friend of mine who I greatly admire once told me about a revelation she received. This was when she was single, she’s eternally married now. It was after she diligently questioned with faith to receive a time frame of when she would marry. Would it be sooner or more like when she was 40 or 50 or even in the next life? She’s fantastic, and I’d say, a hard woman to match. I think she intimidated a lot of men. As she told me about it, I recognized that this personal revelation was how she could have such peace and confidence about marriage and dating, even in a culture that seems hyper occupied with it.  She could even have this peace when she didn’t have any prospects.

I believed that God would do for me what He had done for her. He’s no respecter of persons. I started questioning with faith for myself on the same topic.

My question was different than hers and I received my own answer.

I testify, as I changed my mind from doubting the Lord, to trusting Him asking Him with faith, I received my own revelation on the topic, personalized for me. Responding to doubt with this approach will give you confidence to move forward with faith. God wants to provide this kind of communication to you, so your faith could increase. And this way, you can break up without going to pieces.  In addition to being our well involved Heavenly Father, He is able to arrange introductions between people who will use their agency to choose each other.

I invite you to respond to doubt by directing your mind to the true nature of God and asking Him in faith what you should do to receive the desires of your heart.

Further, you have to be willing to act. You can’t expect this kind of revelation and help if you want God to do your work for you. As Elder Bednar said in his morningside to us:

Do not pray as objects,

Last night I was frustrated.

It all started on my metro ride home when I was thinking about the things I needed to do for the evening. Before I could get to them, I thought, I need to address unresolved tasks for my Church calling (responsibility) that I had worked on tying up on Sunday, but couldn’t connect with the people I needed. I’d called them several times since. I also emailed them. I hadn’t heard back.

As I walked home, calling one back and again reaching only a voicemail, I was getting more miffed.

They had approached me at Church for something they needed my help with so they could fulfill their calling.  I went through the work of doing just what they asked for and now they weren’t returning my calls? I know you love your smart phone, show it some love and use it to call me.  It feels like such a waste to keep trying and not getting results for the same issue. Everyone’s busy, I know, but couldn’t they take 30 seconds and compose a text, at least? Go ahead, I have unlimited texting. If it was more of a priority for them, they’d respond to me. These thoughts all ran through my head.

Then this morning I was listening to this talk as I was getting ready for the day (there’s nothing like listening to a modern prophet’s voice while doing your make-up). This talk was directed to priesthood holders and their responsibility for service, but like most of the time, the content of the talk sometimes isn’t what does it, but it’s seeking to learn more of God through that scripture puts my mind in the state to receive messages from Him through the Holy Ghost.

“You don’t always call me back, either, you know,” was the thought that came into my mind (I might have been putting on eye-liner at the time).

I stopped.

What?

Then I made the connection.

I had felt sorry for myself for too much of the previous evening because people wouldn’t call me back. But there are lots of times I get promptings from God through the Holy Ghost and I don’t respond to Him.

For example, almost nightly recently, I’ve had the idea I should improve my prayers, specifically through not kneeling on my bed and doing a face plant into my pillow. There have been times when my prayers are so filled with the Spirit that I feel in communion with Him, times I cherish. In my mind and heart, I feel like He’s very close by and I know something of His will.

Recently, not so much.

Because of this, I may even sometimes mix up requests and ask my family to be blessed before I eat them. I excuse myself because of my fatigue, but I know I’d be much more attentive if I wasn’t snuggled up in bed where I’ve trained myself like one of Pavlov’s dog to soon slip into slumber.

The constant recurrent thought to stop doing this before I pray is the kind of pressing thought that I know it’s from the Spirit. I’m not sure how long it’s been, a few weeks? A month? That’s a long time not to respond to Heavenly Father’s calls. It’d only been a few days for my complaint and they probably had a good reason. Me, I was just being lame and lazy.

I decided to change my frustration with my lack of immediate gratification in call-backs. After feeling remorseful for my poor attitude, I spoke with Heavenly Father in prayer about it. I thanked Him for the perspective, and asked for forgiveness and the chance to be a little more like Him in how I fulfilled my calling. And oh yeah, about that face-plant-prayer-thing, I’ll get on that, too.

Claim I Wish Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling Addressed in the Intelligence Squared Debate

This isn’t a rare occasion. I get corrected like this all the time. As I seek the Holy Spirit more diligently and I’m willing to respond to its pressings, it happens more frequently. I consider it part of my lifetime transformation to become more holy through using Christ’s Atonement by repentance. The beginning of this transformation was a one time event. Evangelical Christians call this “being saved” when you “let Jesus into your heart.”   I believe that beginning experience, which I wrote about in the post “I’m Mormon: Enlightened or Brainwashed,” began a life long process of sanctification for me. I was relieved of the guilt of my sins (forgiven), but now I need to be changed from its effects. I have to choose to yield indivdiual shortcomings and missteps to God (repentance).  The more I seek Christ’s forgiveness as I recognize my missteps, I receive a greater portion of His grace.

This process makes me a better person. As a result, I’m slow to be angry in traffic. I’m slow to think others are incompetent when their customer service isn’t what I expect. I’m slow to be rude. I’m motivated to serve my community. I am more thoughtful in my relationships with my family and friends. I attribute all these polishing aspirations to this process of conversion I’m living. It’s gradual and subtle. I could have missed it this morning, but I was putting myself in a state of mind to hear God’s gentle nudging and I chose to respond.

This brings me to the claim I wish Matthew Chapman and A.C. Grayling addressed in the recent debate hosted by Intelligence Squared. Intelligence Squared poses a motion and invites renowned representatives to debate it. Their most recent motion was “The World Would Be Better Without Religion.” The evening begins with the audience casting a vote for or against the motion and the winner is determined by influencing the greatest amount of change in the audience’s opinions. I was surprised that the audience chose the side for the motion, not just because I’m pro-religion in society. Those advocating for it, meaning arguing the world would be better without religion, frequently cherry picked random scriptures to demonstrate religion’s silliness. These scriptures hardly applied to the religious experience of anyone.  The opponents used rational facts and statistics to justify their claims that religion makes the world a better place.

I wish those wanting to eliminate religion from the world discussed not whether religious belief was delusional, but that it’s possible to participate in an ennobling process equivalent or better to what I’ve described (and is a common narrative among religious people) without these alleged delusions about God. In my mind, when discussing God in the public forum, it doesn’t matter if there’s really a God. What matters is how those who claim belief in a God behave as a result of it. I wish they were able to come up with some explanation that there is a substitute for the drive for spirituality that would move me to change my attitude in the way I’ve described. It was such a slight error, but because what I believe was the Holy Ghost corrected me, I became remorseful and redirected. I changed and I changed for the better. This influence of the Holy Ghost diminishes the likelihood of repeating the error. Though I likely will repeat the error in different forms, I believe these errors will come  less often.  Because of these small course corrections, the possibility of being uncivil to others in my community is increasingly unlikely.

I’m convinced I wouldn’t be so teachable without what I believe is influencing me, the Holy Ghost. If I didn’t believe I was receiving messages from God to make daily decisions to change and if I didn’t believe God was giving me grace to change my heart and make me more like Him, I see no other source in my life to direct me to become ennobled. The messages I receive from media outlets seek to persuade me to consume more and more because I deserve it.  Chapman and Grayling had scoffing tones. Should I model this behavior?

In Rabbi David Wolpe’s closing remarks, he spoke of his grandfather as a boy in Auschwitz who questioned his grandfather about using butter to light a menorah. When the boy questioned him for using the scarce ration for this purpose, the grandfather told him that they have learned they could go three weeks without eating, but they could not go one day without hope.  Through my spiritual changing process I have hope, not just hope for heaven. (Those critical of religion often focus on what they see as a self-interested pursuit of  a post-mortal reward. So let’s just focus on this life for now.) As I enjoy and respond to what I believe is God’s calling, I’m more teachable, I’m more patient, I’m more loving, I’m slow to overreact, my mind is sharper and I remember things more quickly. My joys are deeper and my life is a more fulfilling experience. I see the wonder of the world around me and value the individual worth of every person. Is there any secular substitute for my pursuit to respond to God’s call and change into who I believe He wants me to be?  That is the hope that is within me, which I cannot live one day without.

I wish they’d addressed that claim. It is after all, a common claim among most religious people. Yeah, there are those crazies who use God to justify murder and other outlier business, but what would the world be like if the millions of people who are living a process like I am lost their directing system? Would the world be a better place? What would replace it to compensate for this loss? That would have made for a much more sound debate (rather than quoting Old Testament scripture about women grabbing at men who are in conflict with their husbands).

Interested in the debate? Here  it ’tis:

Debate: The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion from Intelligence Squared U.S. Debates on FORA.tv

The best video yet on the MormonMessages Youtube channel released this week.

The video features young Jamaican born Latter-day Saint Chris Cook who serves as his congregation’s bishop (volunteer pastor) in London, England. In it he talks about his experience with the Book of Mormon. The animation, camera work, his dashing smile, and sincere witness of Christ make it the best video yet!

Mormons (Latter-day Saints) believe the Bible to be a compilations of revelations written down by ancient apostles and prophets at or around Jerusalem. We cherish it as scripture to teach about Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and His commandments. As this video’s animation beautifully illustrates, Latter-day Saints also believe that God led a prophet during Jeremiah’s Old Testament ministry to what we now call the American continent ..  His family carried with them the Law of Moses, which looked forward to the coming of Christ.  (At this time the Law of Moses was in a more pure form than what the Saduccees and Pharisees were practicing at the time of Christ’s mortal ministry. It was practiced as a means to instruct about Christ’s future Atonement)

The  descendants of this prophet , named Lehi, who first came to America built a civilization. Many believed in the future coming of Christ and many did not. God called prophets among this people to teach them about the coming of His Son and His gospel which includes faith in Christ, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and continuing in faithfulness. When this civilization ended in war, a prophet abridged the many revelations received and recorded over the years into one book.  This book is now called the Book of Mormon because Mormon authored the digest of the  abundant scriptures.  The record climaxes with the physical visit of Jesus Christ in America after His resurrection near Calvary’s Hill  (3 Nephi 11).

Latter-day Saints hold that the Book of Mormon is evidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet and the first in a modern line of called prophets by God. This bishop is referring to this belief when he says, “It makes sense that God will continue to speak to us.”

Some of my favorite highlights from Chris Cook’s witness of Christ and the Book of Mormon are:

When describing why he believes the book is of God, he explains his experience in these ways:

“A feeling of peace, my mind was enlightened.”

“I came to a knowledge that the book is true gradually. It was by little experiences on that page and little experiences on that page, always accompanied by the Holy Ghost.”

In response to a scripture describing the afterlife (Alma 40-11-12):

“Where I’m from in Jamaica, it is a very superstitious place. It was a very unpleasant thing to contemplate death. This scripture points out to me that it is a part of God’s plan. There is a place prepared for people that die. I’m grateful I was able to come to that knowledge and I have the Book of Mormon to thank for that experience.”

He describes the results of reading the Book of Mormon in his life:

“It left me with the feeling that I never want to do another bad thing for the rest of my life.”

“The way the Book of Mormon has changed me the most, it has filled me with the desire to be more like Jesus Christ.”

The Book of Mormon has done the same for me.

As I carefully study from its pages in companionship with other scriptures such as the Bible, the Doctrine and Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price, my desire for sin dissipates. That desire is replaced with the want to be more like Jesus Christ. Through the pages of the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, I’m living a wonderful, glorious process of coming to know Christ and through knowing Him, becoming more like Him.

 

With two Mormons running for president in 2012 the Mormons-aren’t-Christian claims are back in circulation. These trigger in me a condition I frequently suffered as a teenager where my eyes roll backwards uncontrollably into my head. I thought I was long since cured of these symptoms, but nope. I guess not.

What’s the latest dish on this hashed and rehashed topic?

Pastor Robert Jeffress, Dallas megachurch pastor of 10,000+, recently introduced presidential hopeful Rick Perry at a political event with his “emphatic” endorsement. He explained his preference for Perry, “ a competent Christian,” to Mitt Romney, “a competent non-Christian” because the Southern Baptist Convention has labeled The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-day Saints as a “cult.”

Here’s the video of the CNN Anderson Cooper interview with Jeffress.

That Anderson Cooper, he’s not just a pretty face.  He presses Jeffress to justify his reasoning. Theological vs sociological cult? Maybe I should have called that “reasoning.”

I get why Evangelical theologians don’t consider Mormons Christian, but cult? Really?

There are some doctrinal differences between Latter-day Saints and Evangelical Christians, which are the catalyst for the “non-Christian” label. I’ll get to those differences in a minute. (If there weren’t differences, they’d be the same belief system!)

But first, cult? Really?  In the interview Jeffress says, “I know that’s a loaded term.” Loaded? Yeah. When I think of cult, and most Americans likely think similarly in this instance, I think of that scene in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. You know the one. The creepy wide-eyed horns-wearing guy chants kalima and rips out the heart of the scared-stiff human sacrifice-ee while worshippers sway back and forth. (Even though its hokey, it still affronts my delicate sensibilities.)

When I think of cult, I also think of the cult suicide  groups of Heaven’s Gate, Solar Temple and People’s Temple. These are fringe groups small in number.

Turns out, the Romans considered early Christians a cult too. Maybe any newly formed small religious group with which mainstream society is not familiar is a cult. But with a worldwide membership in the double-digit millions, the Latter-day Saints have outgrown its “sociological cult” possibilities, so the Southern Baptist Convention has to search for other definitions.

Theological cult? It seems to me what Pastor Jeffress means by “theological cult” is anyone that is not Evangelical Christian. He responds “absolutely” in response to Anderson’s question if Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims are all cults. Oh, and Catholics get a backhanded pass.

If I were the Southern Baptist Convention’s English teacher reviewing the position paper arguing that these religions were “cults,” I’d circle their chosen word with a red pen and write “w.c.” out in the margin, meaning word choice. It’s a pejorative word, Pastor Jeffress admits to this, which doesn’t correctly describe their intentions. It seems “false religion” or “faulty belief system” or even the biblical word “heathen” would better fit the definition he offered in the interview.

In my opinion, the best synonym for the word “cult” as described by Pastor Jeffress would be “non-evangelical.”

‘Mor-own-knee’? You obviously haven’t talked to any Mormons

Pastor Jeffress mispronounces the name of the ancient prophet who delivers the Book of Mormon record to Joseph Smith for its translation. Latter-day Saints pronounce this name, Moroni, as More-own-eye. He calls him More-own-knee.  When I was a missionary in the Dallas area we could always tell when there was a recent sermon on Mormons in megachurches in the predominantly Baptist area. One hundred percent of these people with whom we talked who knew of the name Moroni pronounced it like Pastor Jeffress.  This tells me they’re not personally acquainted with any believing Mormons.  They’ve formed these opinions, labeling religious groups as “other” in a monolithic environment of mostly Baptists where they’ve likely never talked to a Latter-day Saint about their views of Christ, let alone a Hindu or Buddhists about their spirituality.

When I was in high school, a Baptist friend of mine was telling me what she’d learned about my faith while attending her church. When I got frustrated, she asked, “What do you learn about my faith?” I remember responding with naivete that would now take effort not to be sarcasm, “We don’t learn about other people’s faith. We just study the gospel,” I told her.

Anyone in my Dallas faith community want to invite P. Jeff over for dinner? He needs to be personally acquainted with some Mormons. He ought to hear how Latter-day Saints live their lives seeking to be disciples of Jesus Christ.

“It has never been considered as part of historic Christianity” It’s True, Mormons Aren’t Evangelical Christians.

Okay this is getting long. I have lots to say, but will pare it down. Latter-day Saints believe that Christ’s Church, with pure doctrine and the permission to officiate in ordinances of the gospel, like baptism, was lost from the earth with the death of the Apostles after Christ’s resurrection and ascension. It was restored again when God called Joseph Smith as a prophet just like Moses to reorganize it. “Historic Christianity” as Pastor Jeffress calls it includes the creeds that followed this New Testament era. It was in this period that truth about the nature of God diverged from the New Testament teachings of the Savior, namely about the Godhead. It morphed into belief of the Trinity. Because Latter-day Saints believe that Christ is the Son of God and united with Him, along with the Holy Ghost in perfect purpose, but not in physical form, Evangelicals do not consider them Christians.

Mormons are unabashed in distinguishing themselves apart from mainstream Christianity in the ways  which we believe God has corrected misconceptions. This is one of them. It’s annoying that Evangelicals don’t consider Mormons Christians for this reason, but for the most part, Mormons don’t care.

Here is an address from a modern Apostle describing the divergence of the creeds of historical Christianity from New Testament teachings. This includes an explanation of the Latter-day Saint belief in the Godhead and not the Trinity.

 

Pastor-in-Chief?

It’s interesting to me that the Evangelical community seems to be interviewing for the wrong position. The commander-in-chief is not the pastor-in-chief. Historically, the president does not lead the country in religious observances. But we do need someone who can direct the most powerful military in the world, who can build consensus in a bitterly divided political environment and who can set policies that won’t send the economy spiraling further down the tank.

Why require a president to have the same theology as you?  I know a good many wonderful Mormons who faithfully seek Christ that I definitely wouldn’t trust to lead the country. Their worldview is important, but it’s only important to me how that worldview would affect the country’s direction. I’d not only want a good person as president who is temperate, loves this country and its people, but someone who has the skills and experience to lead it to prosperity. It’s of nominal importance to me if they believe in the same afterlife as I do. Choosing a president is an earthly decision for our earthly existence. It’s strange to me to make the most important consideration in the question a theological one.

God’s opinion of my worship is what’s on my mind, not Evangelical Christians’ opinions

I’m okay with Evangelical Christians not considering me a Christian. I want to respect their doctrine and belief in that doctrine. If they believe you can only be Christian if you believe God, Jesus and the Holy Ghost to be one in the same entity and the acceptance of revealed word beyond the currently canonized Bible  excludes you, then that’s fine by me. I’m not petitioning membership in their congregations. It’s just annoying because those who don’t know much about Mormons get these snippets of  Mormon-aren’t-Christians conversations without knowing the reasoning behind it. The truth is, my whole life is a worshipful walk to know Christ.

I pray in His name morning and night and in my heart throughout the day.

I feel the burden of my sins lift as I offer them to Him in humility.

I daily study the scriptures in an effort to align myself with His teachings. This includes the Bible and books that I believe are equivalent revelations to the Bible.

Every page of the Book of Mormon is a testimony of Christ as the Savior of the World. Its climax is His physical visit to the American continent after His resurrection near Calvary. (3 Nephi 11)

Weekly I take the Sacrament (aka the Lord’s supper) where I believe the blessed bread and water turns my mind and heart to God in a ceremony of recommitment to live His commandments.

Once a month I serve in the Washington, D.C. Temple to respect the covenant I’ve made with Him to always remember His Son and keep His commandments. (see my post Mormon Temple Wedding: Ceremony Centered in Christ)

I wear the garment as a reminder to be a disciple of Jesus Christ (see my post Mormon Underwear: A Constant Personal Reminder to Always Remember Christ and Keep His Commandments)

As a young woman living in a modern world, I purposefully live biblical sexual standards (see my post Mormons and Sex: Living the Law of Chastity)

Coming to know Christ in my daily life is the most fulfilling pursuit of my life. The more I know of Him, the more I crave. The more I request the application of His Atonement in my heart, the more I am changed and purified.

It’s unfortunate for Mitt Romney who wants to be president to have to break through the Evangelical community’s barricade to the Republican nomination, however, it is of little consequence to most Latter-day Saints who thinks what of them and their Christianity. They just go on living their lives of faith.

If a Christian is someone who seeks Christ and His gospel for their personal salvation and lives in a way aligned with His commandments, then I am a Christian. If a Christian is someone who believes that God will no longer reveal His word to prophets in my time as He has in times passed. Then I’m not a Christian.

Either way, I’ll let God call me by whatever name He chooses. I gave my heart to Him a long time ago.

 

Further reading:

Slate:Mormon Moment: Pastor Robert Jeffress may be doing Mitt Romney a favor by bashing Mormonism.

The Economist:  Mormons are Christians 

Fox News: Yes, a Mormon Can Win Support from Evangelicals and Other Christians In a Run for High Political Office-Written by an LDS Bishop in the singles scene in my area.

Washington Post: No sex on campus-This is a great article about student Muslims and Christians uniting to resist the casual sex/hook up culture predominant on their college campuses. This is the approach Evangelicals should take when considering community involvement. Theological differences shouldn’t stop groups from forming partnerships to create a better world.  The Evangelical current tactic is less effective.

Ensign: “The Symbol of Our Faith,” Gordon B. Hinckley, 2005– “…the cross is the symbol of the dying Christ, while our message is a declaration of the Living Christ…the lives of our people must become the most meaningful expression of our faith and, in fact, therefore, the symbol of [Latter-day Saint] worship.”

 

 

 

 

The post “What would a MormonInsider Say About…“  responded in part to Leah’s questions. This post continues with some more parts.

I met him when I was in his city on business and later attended a meeting with several Latter-day Saint young single adults. He had a boy-next-door-grown-into-a-studly-man charm about him. He was spiritual, kindly, thoughtful, and brilliantly innovative. Did I mention he was also easy on the eyes? We’d been in touch a few times before my flight was laying over in his city and he picked me up from the airport.

I had called him about meeting during my 4 hr long layover. He didn’t know I was flying stand-by on my brother’s flight benefits, which meant I hadn’t booked my flight before I talked to him. He didn’t know if he wasn’t able to meet me, I would have taken the earlier flight, leaving enough of an evening to enjoy the company of friends in my ward back in Washington, D.C..  It was my idea to hang out in the terminal. He had a better one. We hiked to a point that overlooked the city.

I was totally digging him. It would have been the beginning of a beautiful story if only he was interested in me, but he was not responsive to my shameless flirting. (I’m not of the camp who think men are stupid.)

While descending the hike, he was going on about being thirty-something and still unmarried. He said he must be doing something wrong because he’s been sincerely praying about it for years and it escaped him. “Can’t you see that I’M the answer to your prayers?” was the thought that crossed my mind. I looked away to broadly grin at my private joke.

I could have been an answer to his prayers, if he wanted me to be.

Leah asks about recognizing answers to prayers. How do you know they’re not just coincidences? What about unanswered prayers and why does God seem to answer yes to frivolous occasions and fail to come through when it really counts?

All good questions.

The truth is, if handsome/charming guy ended up liking me, I probably would have attributed it to being the answer to his prayers and him to mine. I never would have considered it a result of my self-interest and/or biological factors; I really would have enjoyed kissing him. (I’d have to be his girlfriend, of course. I’m not the non-committal make-out type. But, you guessed that already.)

Usually when things happen in our favor, it’s really easy to attribute it to God. For example, after a tornado, when one house is standing and the one next to it is demolished, someone could say God protected it. So how do you know it was really Him and not just chance, luck or nature’s course simply unfolding?

Leah posed her questions on my claim of receiving answers to prayers on this post where I was describing the truth discovery process by the Holy Spirit. To be honest, I don’t know if it’s an answer to prayer unless the Spirit confirms it. And the Spirit doesn’t confirm things to me as often as I’d like because it requires effort to take the mental action otherwise known as exercise of faith.  It requires diligent pondering, remembering past witnesses and deciding to trust that God will continue His pattern of communication that I’ve already experienced. By the phrase confirmation of the Spirit, I mean that my mind his enlightened with a simultaneous impression on my heart that I am able to conclude in the moment with certainty that it’s not my imagination, but the Holy Ghost. Don’t get me wrong, I’m quite diligent in seeking the Spirit, but only the most important things get the required attention.

In the post “My Current Explanation of Life’s Purpose,” I described how sometimes I feel like God leaves me alone, even when I remain diligent in seeking Him. I believe that the times of greatest growth in faith, for me at least, have come when I feel I’m not being heard. In those times, I look back, remembering past witnesses and decide to remain faithful to what has already been made known to me when I could very easily walk away. So, perhaps those unanswered prayers are purposeful in how God shapes me into who He knows I can become.

 

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I don’t know for sure that it was God. I just infer it.

Without the Spirit’s confirmation, I can’t say that I know it was God and not chance. Usually, if something happens for which I have been praying, I simply infer it was God; I don’t know for sure.

Here’s an example.

With the recent downturn in the economy, the leadership of the nonprofit I’m with decided to focus all resources on the core mission. My position applies to the core mission’s expansion. They cut me back from full time to part time, which does not cover my living expenses (gone are the days of BYU housing rent at less than $300 monthly). The break was nice for a while so I could breathe and sleep because working full time and going to school at night is very difficult. To cover my expenses, I started using more student loans than I originally planned when I began my master’s program.

Several things weighed on my mind. I’m committed to “provident living” as it’s known the Church, meaning that I should live within my means and only go into debt for education, a modest home and I can’t remember the other one right now. Though my debt was to further my education, not all of it was necessary and therefore contrary to this principle. Also, I purposefully decided not to pursue a law degree and pursue a liberal studies degree.  I won’t be qualified to work in a particular trade when I finish my program.  I chose enriching coursework with an end that requires me to forge my own way to form the unique career path that I envision. This was a relatively safe decision when I was employed in a job I loved.  It wasn’t looking so hot once my circumstances changed. Lastly, the unemployment rate is over 10% nationwide. I often considered how if I continued living in part off the student loans in addition to the tuition loans, I could finish my program and have to start waiting tables to meet the demands of paying them back. Sheesh. Being an adult is the pits sometimes.

I wanted a new job in my field, but it is really small and specified and I prepared myself to have to take a detour job to pay the bills, if I could even find that. I started praying that I could find a new job in my field and began networking with the organizations whose work I admire.  Many of them operate partially off government grants and with the current tenor of Congress and its deficit decreasing efforts, the story was the same at all those I approached. They’d love to have me, but they have no funding for me and I could volunteer.  I did do some volunteer projects here and there while I continued networking. Unfortunately, I can’t eat off goodwill. For the summer, I picked up a full time temp job in addition to the part time job with the nonprofit while taking summer school and I continued networking. It was going to be tight for a while, but hey, girl’s gotta do what she can.

Then BAM!  The Bishop of my ward called me into his office and asked me to take on an ongoing time consuming “calling” or responsibility.

What should I do?

I decided I didn’t have time to continue looking for a job and take on the responsibility of my new calling. In prayer, I told that Lord that I’m unsure how the job thing was going to work out, but I would trust that if I prioritized serving Him first, it would be fine. I didn’t know what would happen; it could be one of those painful growing experiences, but I viewed it as a chance to put God first in my heart and my life.  If not at this moment, then when?  My life could turn into a long series of special circumstances that put my own needs first before the Lord and I don’t want to live that way.

I accepted the calling and quit thinking about finding a new job and put my mind and heart to pondering how I could seek the Spirit to better help those over which I now I had stewardship to access Christ’s power more fully by faith.

A few weeks later, a friend of mine forwarded a job posting to me she saw while on a website she rarely visits. She knew that I was part time with my nonprofit, but didn’t know I was officially looking and then officially quit looking for the time being (hey, she’s recently married, so we don’t keep up like we used to, you know how it goes). Her find sounded promising. Bleary eyed at midnight, I composed a specified cover letter, updated my resume and emailed it in. The very next morning the executive director emailed me wanting to schedule an interview. He was clear that they would not extend beyond the posted salary range because they’d already budgeted for the year, but assured me the benefits were good and that the next year they could readjust the salary.  I was pleased to hear that the position had a steady revenue stream, so it wasn’t from a temporary grant.

I came into the interview well prepared to make a case for myself.  He opened by telling me that since the job has been posted in the last month, 212 people applied. He was interviewing 12 and I was first because I wrote the best cover letter. “You told me what I couldn’t surmise from your resume,” he told me. He also liked that I said I look forward to a conversation where we could see if we were “a good professional match.”  He said most people assured him in their cover letters they were a perfect fit for the job. He made clear that he would solely determine who was the best fit for the position.

Ends up, this is a position he’s been wanting to expand for several years, but he’s very particular on who should fill it. Though his board has been pressing him on it, he’s been exploring it at his own pace.

After the interview, I used the weekend to draft some recommendations I thought they could do within the next year, based on my experience. I also mailed him a thank you card referring to some specifics from our conversation.

We corresponded for a week over my recommendations while he completed the other 11 interviews. I was preparing to negotiate for the highest end of his salary range, since I knew what it was. The day the interviews closed, he emailed me asking me to accept a director position, rather than the advertised manager position.  Along with the increased position, he offered an increase salary beyond the advertised range that reflected the responsibility of a director.

It was like getting a promotion without asking for one and before I even started.

I was grateful a thousand times over. It’s work that I would do for free if I didn’t have to make a living. I’m specialized in a very small niche and this position seems tailor made to my greatest strengths. Of course I accepted (like I’d be blogging about it if I didn’t). I later came in to discuss some specifics and he was beaming that I was just the person he has had in mind to realize the vision he has for this new expansion.

 

Was it God, me or just a coincidence?

So, was this an answer to my prayers?  After all, I must say I rocked the interview.  I wrote a cover letter according to what my quick Google search taught me at midnight since I couldn’t remember exactly how to write one. I used my brain to conjure up some recommendations and I cordially sent a thank you note. That was all me. Oh, and my friend by chance could have been on a job database when she didn’t have a reason to look for a job  and decided to pass along a possibility to me. But when I have been specifically praying for help about something beyond my control and it falls into my lap better than if I planned it myself, I’m highly suspicious Providence had a hand in it. I have found that God is really good at arranging introductions between people who should meet if the required faith is offered to work such a miracle.  I’m just what my new boss has had in mind for the last few years for the position and what they want to do is exactly what my very unique job at the nonprofit prepared me to do for them. Coincidence? Of course I don’t think so, but it’s only an inference. The Spirit hasn’t confirmed it to me, but I’m connecting the dots on this one.

The Lord told Joseph Smith, “I, the Lord,…delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end” (Doc & Cov 76:5).  I’m choosing to live my life in a way that puts God first, trusting that as I do, He delights to help me out. This isn’t the first instance in my life where I seem to get a beautiful break, but I don’t do it for what I can get. I do it because of what I want to give.

I can’t really prove it was God, but I don’t require proof to continue this path of experimentation.

 

Next up, I’ll respond to why bad things happen to good people, which is what I think Leah means when prayers are not answered before a child is murdered. Then I’ll write up my long time promised Black Mormons part 2 post because my response to Chris’s post will make more sense in light of understanding some views I have, explained well through relaying the history of race in the Church. It might rock a few socks, but hey, let’s keep things authentic here at the MormonInside.

Stay tuned.

To my delight, Michael Shermer was Stephen Colbert’s guest this last week. It was interesting to see Stephen’s tone at the following point in the interview. He’s a practicing Catholic, so I wonder how much of this was portraying his conservative-pundit-caricature and how much was the real Stephen being playful with a nonbeliever.

Colbert: “You used to be a Christian, right?

Shermer: “That’s right.

Colbert: “Jesus misses you…He told me.

Shermer: “He did? Well why didn’t he talk to me?

Colbert: “Because you don’t believe.”

Shermer: “If being talked to depends on whether I believe or not, then that means it doesn’t really exist, it’s all up here in my head, which is the point of my book, that it’s all up here.

I sympathize with the criticism of prerequisite belief for a confirmation of God’s existence. On its face, first believing before you can believe smacks of the very kind of self-deception Shermer tags onto believers.

However, God works according to the faith we exercise.  If we thought of God as a painter, our offered faith is the medium with which He paints. The more we offer to Him to use, the more He does on the canvas. If someone doesn’t outreach to God, they’re not offering the faith that will produce miracles.

Compare Shermer’s I-won’t-believe-until-I-have-evidence  approach to this ancient American soon-to-be christian convert’s prayer:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee…”

(Alma 22:18).

This man wasn’t sure if what he was learning from Aaron was true, but he was willing to ask with the hope he’d receive an answer. He also was willing to sacrifice to gain the desire of his heart, which is also a prerequisite to recognizing the Holy Ghost or in other words, receiving answers to prayers.

This  prayer was the catalyst of a spiritual experience that led him to be faithful to Jesus Christ.

From what I know about Jesus, Stephen Colbert was right, Christ does miss Michael Shermer. He’d like to offer Shermer the kind of communication that affirms His existence, but it would likely take Shermer’s initiation and humility.

Speaking of doubts, I doubt that’s going to happen any time soon. It would hurt his book sales.

(Surely, God can initiate with whomever He wishes, but the usual pattern is we outreach to Him in trust and He confirms. I must say the Apostle Paul doesn’t seem to fit this pattern of ask in faith first, then communication comes, but we don’t know the backstory of what’s absent from the record. As an observant Jew, he very well could have been seeking God’s will and received an unexpected answer on the road to Damascus.)

Here’s the video

The post “Magic Mormon Underwear Gets a Mention at the Believing Brain Discussion” and the post “My Response to the Shermer Lecture“ relate to my interaction with Michael Shermer.

This post responds to Leah’s comment on this post.

Hi there – I have found your last two posts interesting. I’m a woman who was raised mormon and now consider myself a secular humanist/naturalist/whatever non-religious term you want to use. I was at the Shermer lecture and before you said you were Mormon – I leaned to my husband and said “she’s Mormon”. Mormon-dar? It’s a thing I guess. :) I can see a lot of the old me in your thinking in your posts, so it’s very interesting. I wondered about your comments above, you say that you have had answers to your prayers. You have probably had this question before, and I present it to you as I once presented it to myself – you have had answers to your prayers, you have had spiritual experiences, but what about those prayers that were not answered? Or just coincidences? Why does God answer YOUR prayer about finding your driver’s license but doesn’t answer the prayer about finding the missing child before she is murdered? Ok, I went extreme there, but I think you get my point. What about people who pray and get answers that a different church is true? What about Mother Theresa?! These were questions that hurt my brain and I’d be interested to hear your response. I’m not a great writer, so I apologize for the choppiness of my thoughts here. I also thought of this blog recently when I was watching this:   I think Chris puts a lot of my own thoughts into words and if you ever feel like giving it a watch and response I’d be really interested in that as well – particularly about his “water” example about 10 min. in. Oh, one more thought – how do you explain people like myself, or Chris in the video, who are happier and feel more “ourselves” and love this world and planet and human beings and  life more than ever AFTER leaving what is supposed to be the one true church and greatest happiness? Are you ever curious about that? Do you not think it’s genuine? That is one thing I never considered when I was Mormon (that people actually cared MORE about families and life and this earth AFTER leaving) so I don’t know what a “Mormon Insider” would say to that. :) Thanks!

 

Dear Leah,

I’m so glad you dropped in. I was amused by you pegging me as a Latter-day Saint at the lecture before I announced it. It could have been the soft glint of my gold CTR ring, but it was likely the impish grin I shot back to my friend when Shermer started razzing on polygamists and called them Mormons.

Your questions are sending me in several different directions. I need to be brief tonight and will respond more fully another time about Chris’ video. I’ve watched it in full and read most of the comments.

Your questions about my view of prayer would make this post very long, so I’ll save it for another day. Stay tuned.

What about Mother Theresa?

From this question, it seems to me you’re asking how I make sense of religious people outside of what I claim to be Christ’s restored Church. I think there are lots of people who were placed in circumstances to influence God’s purpose for mankind, but their life situation did not include access to the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (meaning seeking to fully receive the Atonement of Jesus Christ by living in a priesthood covenant relationship with God). Martin Luther King comes to mind.  He wouldn’t have been effective if he was LDS. People don’t really care for Mormons, much. As a Protestant preacher, he was able to appeal to a broad audience and was powerfully able to draw on legitimacy higher than the state for rights claims. His leadership eventually influenced the potential  ordination of every faithful man in the Church. The great reformer, Martin Luther, also comes to mind as a man of God who fulfilled a great purpose in God’s plan of salvation, but did not have the fullness of the gospel in mortality.

The 138th section of the Doctrine and Covenants describes how those who did not have the opportunity to hear and live the fullness of the gospel will get the chance to accept it in the Spirit World. The Spirit World is the place where all departed spirits go before resurrection and judgment.  God holds us accountable to knowledge we have; if He did otherwise, it would not be just.

As a tremendous woman of God, I’d expect Mother Theresa will continue to seek to do God’s will, even while she awaits resurrection in the Spirit World.  I’d say for people like her, accepting the fullness of the gospel there will be seamless.

 

- how do you explain people like myself, or Chris in the video, who are happier and feel more “ourselves” and love this world and planet and human beings and  life more than ever AFTER leaving what is supposed to be the one true church and greatest happiness? Are you ever curious about that? Do you not think it’s genuine?

As a strong advocate of religious freedom, I’m committed to respecting others’ free exercise of conscience, especially if the decision is not to believe. I read a book recently by a Georgetown professor who worked for the  State Department in the International Religious Freedom commission. While making the case that religious liberty is an inherent right, he wrote the following:

An undersecretary of state once told me that his most powerful existential questions had to do with his tennis swing, not the existence of God. This was a cordial but pointed jest, designed to refute my argument that the search for transcendence is universal. It reflected a point of view that should not be trivialized, much less ignored

(Thomas F. Farr World of Faith and Freedom p. 22).

I don’t trivialize or ignore your decision to walk away from belief in God. I’m happy that you have found happiness and contentment in your life. For me, I enjoy lots of things that are seemingly apart from a faith experience. I enjoy my work, I like to exercise, I enjoy my friends and family and other things. However, I have experienced the greatest amount of joy through accessing God. I want Him to mentor me. I want to  know Him better and discover His will and pursue it. It’s what is most important to me. The more I understand about Him, the more insatiable my motivation to seek after Him becomes. But as Dr. Farr invites his readers to recognize, not everyone views life as a search for transcendence. Some are happy thinking about the beauty of their tennis swing.

Because there are these different shades to which people are interested in God, it makes sense to me that heaven has multiple levels, as described in the  76th section of the Doctrine and Covenants. Heaven is organized to accommodate the level to which people were interested in internalizing the gospel of Jesus Christ. For those insatiably seeking to know God, their level of heaven would be living with Him and continuing to know Him throughout eternity. For those who weren’t interested in such a venture, they ultimately settle in a comfortable place that reflects the degree of God’s glory they pursued.

Have you ever wondered if there is a God, why would He put mankind through a mortal experience where He cryptically remains hidden from proof of His existence?  I’ve wondered that and since I saw Harry Potter this weekend, can describe it best in this way. [spoiler alert!]

After Voldemort kills Harry, he ends up at the railroad station King’s Cross where he speaks with Dumbledore.

 

Harry: “I’ve got to go back, haven’t I?”

Dumbledore: “That’s up to you.”

Harry: “I’ve got a choice?

Dumbledore: “Oh yes,” Dumbledore smiled at him. “We are in King’s Cross, you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to. . .let’s say. . .board a train.

Harry: “And where would it take me?

Dumbledore: “On,” said Dumbledore simply.”

(Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows p.722)

For those who choose to live life according to the gospel of Jesus Christ, including God’s commandments, they always go “on.”  This is why God created the earth- life experience and gave His Son. It is by the development of faith in Jesus Christ that we increase in spiritual power and we go “on.”  Going “on” includes changing to gain holiness more like God’s. We become more holy through the exercise of faith in Christ. If God wasn’t so cryptic, we would miss out on the development of faith and trust in this power greater than ourselves. God wanted to provide all His children the opportunity to go “on.” Good people who are disinterested in the gospel ultimately live in a place like Harry’s King’s Cross.  Harry’s at peace (p. 712) and it’s a pleasant place, but that’s the end. No trains will be coming to take these residents “on.” They don’t change beyond what the were like when they arrived.

The joy we receive in this life and in the next is directly proportional to the degree we choose to receive the Atonement of Jesus Christ.   We access the power of the Atonement through trusting in it, or exercising faith.

I absolutely consider your claims to happiness as genuine, but your happiness would not be my happiness.

I hope that wasn’t incredibly dissatisfying for you.  And I hope it won’t be interpreted as self righteous. It’s really more of an attitude of may we all receive the desires of our hearts, in this life and into life’s later phases.

Thanks again for your questions. My life is a little crazy right now, so I will respond to prayer questions and Chris’ video another time.  Thanks for giving me writing prompts!

 

 

This post relates to this post.

“I know it’s not my brain,” I told my friend on our way home from the Michael Shermer discussion at sixth&i. I was trying to explain that my spiritual experiences weren’t imaginary.  He responded simply, “How do you know it’s not your brain?” He wasn’t trying to make me feel foolish for my claim. If he was willing to treat me that way, I wouldn’t choose to spend any discretionary time with him. He just wanted to hear how I could be so sure. He’s not sure there’s a God and he’s not sure there’s not. Whatever the truth is, he just wants to know it. I like that about him. I’m increasingly more appreciative of self-honest people these days.

“Let me think about it and I’ll get back to you,” I told him.

This is the part where I’d refer to the profile I wrote for this blog, but I see now that it’s deleted. Shoot. Anyway, I would have used it to demonstrate that the ongoing questioning process is key to my walk of faith. Some people feel like their faith is shaky when they start to question things they previously accepted. One of the most often repeated invitations in scripture is to “ask.” It is usually coupled with the promise and “ye shall receive.” I’ve lived that promise, more than I can count. As I have had innumerable experiences with the Divine (one described in the post “Why I Believe“), it increases my confidence to deepen in my questions and seek more.

Through this process, I have a few personal beliefs that others in the Church accept as true, but I personally think are more products of our culture. Some of Latter-day Saint belief (and other faith tradition beliefs, too) is based on logical inferences drawn from writings accepted as revelations. We have the words of prophets, living and dead, and we have the Holy Ghost whose role is to “teach us all things” (John 14:26). Then, God invites us to make sense of it and ask along the way to fill in the gaps and gain a personal understanding of truth.

I’m finding it’s a lifelong process to really take this venture seriously. As I am open and willing to reexamine what I’ve previously accepted, I come to better know God. It’s highly motivating to continue forward.

Though as a general practice I like to think myself special, I’m not alone in this approach.  I have lots of Latter-day Saint friends who approach their faith similarly.

The stereotype that people of faith are close-minded likely comes when people attack them, which seems to be the style of the atheist/non-theist community (you can see the comments in the previous post for an example of this). If my friend had treated me this way, first we wouldn’t be friends much longer, and second, I likely would have appeared close-minded because I would end the conversation.

 

After that Background, Here’s my Response

This brings me back to Michael Shermer’s The Believing Brain: From Gods to Ghost and Politics and Conspiracies and my own brain activity. His thesis is that the brain naturally looks for patterns as it processes its environment.   The brain then forms these patterns into belief that people confirm with self-selected proof, ignoring evidence to the contrary.  Further, through these beliefs, the brain can even produce experiences perceived as supernatural, especially when someone is alone or sleep deprived.  These perceptions are fired by neurons in the brain, self produced by these formed beliefs.

I think he’s right, to a point. It’s a usable thesis to generally explain some instances of why people believe as they do. It especially applies to prejudices and stereotypes. I’m hoping that in his book he has something stronger with regards to experiencing the “supernatural” beyond the examples he provided in his lecture. He personally stayed up for 72+ while driving and hallucinated human forms on the side of the road. Once he slept, it ended.  He also used an example of prisoners in solitary confinement. These hardly match similar circumstances of those who claim to have been visited by heavenly messengers or other comparable reports.

The skeptic’s approach is to think critically, meaning you look for evidence and draw conclusions based on it, which I appreciate and practice. Some people find me intolerable because I sometimes ask questions that require them to show what evidence led them to their conclusion.  The skeptic’s model of truth discovery declares that if there’s no substance to an assertion, it should be rejected. Because of the critical thinking approach, they view faith in God claims as comparable to belief in Santa Claus and fairies.

This is the part that atheists/nontheists will find terribly dissatisfying. My faith operates in a model that shares similar aspects to this evidence-based approach, but relies on the Holy Ghost to confirm what is substantial.

 

My truth discovery model with regards to faith

Alma, an ancient American prophet, in a discourse on faith invites readers to “experiment on the word” and to “exercise even a particle of faith.”   Are you a skeptic and don’t have any faith to exercise? Alma says simply the desire to believe is enough (Alma 32:27).

The process in which I engage to explore truth claims is the following:

  1. I have an idea.
  2. I pursue that idea. Alma describes this as giving “ place, that a seed (the word) may be planted in your heart.” (Alma 32:28).
  3. I discern by the Holy Ghost if the results are worthy of keeping or tossing out. Alma says you can identify it as a good seed if it enlarges the soul, enlightens the understanding, and/or begins to be delicious (Alma 32:28). Further, he says that if it is light, it is good. (Alma 32:35).
  4. I cultivate the good idea by rinsing, repeating and pursuing more good ideas.

What I anticipate is incredibly preposterous to an atheist/nontheist is that this experiment can’t be physically measured; it is only spiritually experienced. And yes, it happens in the mind and some could clearly apply Michael’s model and self-deception claims to it.  I’m not trying to disprove him because I don’t think it’s possible to prove either way. I’m just trying to explain my worldview. There have been times when I completely wanted something so badly that I would have willed it so, if possible. I’ve received answers to prayers that were completely different directions than my mind was petitioning for.  If it was my self-deception, I anticipate I would always get or believe exactly as I was seeking. This isn’t the case.

I’ve also tested and pursued ideas that turned out to be a flop. They didn’t grow and enlighten as other ideas I’ve tested.

Being tutored by the Holy Ghost requires humility and a willingness to act on any enlightenment received. I’m currently living and experiencing this process and at times have had my mind and heart enlightened and filled with light as I’ve considered the things of God. I have a certainty that not only there is a God, but that He cares about me.  I’m not certain of a great many other things in the Church. I simply believe them. I’m still working on the certainty. It takes a lot of work.

The enlightenment by the Holy Ghost is a different experience than other pursuits of the mind. I wish I could explain this, but am currently not able to. This is likely what is so frustrating to an atheist/nontheist. Since spirituality is experienced, individually, it’s difficult to put into a box for display and evaluation.

During the post-lecture book signing, Michael asked me if I was raised Mormon. When I replied yes, he said, “of course,” as if I wouldn’t believe in gods, ghosts, politics or conspiracies any other way. I must say that I feel it was to my advantage to be raised within a framework to test ideas through the spiritual process I’ve explained.  I was able to amass lots of communication from God by the Holy Ghost before my secular world taught a different framework of discovering truth. I have three very smart friends who are currently trying to step into new areas of faith, but I believe they are operating from the perspective of show-me-proof-then-I’ll-believe.  This is the scientific model. I’m this way too because of my smarty-pants education. But I have the advantage of countless answers to prayers through the medium of the Holy Ghost under my belt that motivates me to continue believing and expanding spiritually.

Because this process requires humility, it only works if someone “becomes as a little child” as the Savior taught (Matthew 18:4). It’s a lot harder for adults. I can feel that in myself, which is why I feel so advantaged to have had many passed experiences in spirituality with the Holy Ghost  before I arrived to my less-trusting phase of life.

This process is rational in that it is a series of decisions made in my brain. Michael described neurons in the brain producing experiences. I suspect he may be right.

Now, I actually do think it’s coming from my brain.

I think that God perfectly navigates nature as its best scientist and as the creator. It’s a new idea to me that perhaps as the Holy Ghost is instructing me and enlightening my mind, He’s actually firing neurons in my brain to do it.  It’s a little unromantic-sounding, but if it’s the truth, I’d accept it. :)