History

I believe that God has acted, acts, and will continue to act in the lives and societies of His children. He is in our history. The true account includes and depends on reference to the divine, for this is things as they really were, are, and will be. Inasmuch as God is our Father, and all that has transpired on this earth is part of His great plan to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man, history is His story. And you cannot tell His story correctly and completely and leave Him out of it.

There are many scholars who set forth an interpretation of history that avoids any reference to or dependency on God. While I have benefitted in many ways from the works of such scholars, and I believe that many of the principles of rigorous investigation and study used by these scholars are inspired and useful, I believe they cannot be 100% correct. If God really was a part of our history, and we try to explain that history some other way, we cannot get it all right.

This predicament is especially poignant in the field of Bible scholarship. This field specifically attempts to understand the events recorded in the Bible from a non-theological standpoint. They use anthropological, archeological, linguistic, and other academically rigorous sources of information to explain what happened. I have really enjoyed and benefited from some of their work. My faith is deeper and stronger because of academic research of the scriptures and other religiously significant accounts. But, the academic histories are wrong. They are not entirely wrong, but we know that somewhere, somehow, they must be incorrect. You cannot tell God’s story correctly and completely and leave Him out of it.

Now, if you don’t believe in the God of Christianity, you probably don’t care about this observation. But you cannot believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and rationally believe 100% of academic scholarship on religious history. The two are not logically compatible.

So, how do you know when a scholar is right, and how do you know when he is wrong?

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Stay in the boat.

How do you know that a cause is inspired of God? How do you know that people are asking the right questions? How do you know that someone is teaching true doctrines?

24 And it came to pass that I beheld others pressing forward, and they came forth and caught hold of the end of the rod of iron; and they did press forward through the mist of darkness, clinging to the rod of iron, even until they did come forth and partake of the fruit of the tree. 25 And after they had partaken of the fruit of the tree they did cast their eyes about as if they were ashamed.

26 And I also cast my eyes round about, and beheld, on the other side of the river of water, a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. 27 And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit.

28 And after they had tasted of the fruit they were ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost. (1 Nephi 8:24-28)

34 And after [Christ] was slain I saw the multitudes of the earth, that they were gathered together to fight against the apostles of the Lamb; for thus were the twelve called by the angel of the Lord.

35 And the multitude of the earth was gathered together; and I beheld that they were in a large and spacious building, like unto the building which my father saw. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Behold the world and the wisdom thereof; yea, behold the house of Israel hath gathered together to fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

36 And it came to pass that I saw and bear record, that the great and spacious building was the pride of the world; and it fell, and the fall thereof was exceedingly great. And the angel of the Lord spake unto me again, saying: Thus shall be the destruction of all nations, kindreds, tongues, and people, that shall fight against the twelve apostles of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 11:34-36)

Behold, verily I say unto you, that there are many spirits which are false spirits, which have gone forth in the earth, deceiving the world. And also Satan hath sought to deceive you, that he might overthrow you.

Behold, I, the Lord, have looked upon you, and have seen abominations in the church that profess my name. But blessed are they who are faithful and endure, whether in life or in death, for they shall inherit eternal life. But wo unto them that are deceivers and hypocrites, for, thus saith the Lord, I will bring them to judgment.

Behold, verily I say unto you, there are hypocrites among you, who have deceived some, which has given the adversary power; but behold such shall be reclaimed; But the hypocrites shall be detected and shall be cut off, either in life or in death, even as I will; and wo unto them who are cut off from my church, for the same are overcome of the world. Wherefore, let every man beware lest he do that which is not in truth and righteousness before me.

10 And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand; 11 Let us reason even as a man reasoneth one with another face to face. 12 Now, when a man reasoneth he is understood of man, because he reasoneth as a man; even so will I, the Lord, reason with you that you may understand.

13 Wherefore, I the Lord ask you this question—unto what were ye ordained? 14 To preach my gospel by the Spirit, even the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth.

15 And then received ye spirits which ye could not understand, and received them to be of God; and in this are ye justified? 16 Behold ye shall answer this question yourselves; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto you; he that is weak among you hereafter shall be made strong.

17 Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? 18 And if it be by some other way it is not of God.

19 And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? 20 If it be some other way it is not of God.

21 Therefore, why is it that ye cannot understand and know, that he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth. 22 Wherefore, he that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together. 23 And that which doth not edify is not of God, and is darkness. 24 That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day. (Doctrine and Covenants 50:2:21)

12 And now, verily, verily, I say unto thee, put your trust in that Spirit which leadeth to do good—yea, to do justly, to walk humbly, to judge righteously; and this is my Spirit.

13 Verily, verily, I say unto you, I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; 14 And then shall ye know, or by this shall you know, all things whatsoever you desire of me, which are pertaining unto things of righteousness, in faith believing in me that you shall receive. (Doctrine and Covenants 11:12-14)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23 Meekness, temperance. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Wherefore, I would speak unto you that are of the church, that are the peaceable followers of Christ, and that have obtained a sufficient hope by which ye can enter into the rest of the Lord, from this time henceforth until ye shall rest with him in heaven.

And now my brethren, I judge these things of you because of your peaceable walk with the children of men. For I remember the word of God which saith by their works ye shall know them; for if their works be good, then they are good also.

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.

For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God. And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. 10 Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift. 11 For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.

12 Wherefore, all things which are good cometh of God; and that which is evil cometh of the devil; for the devil is an enemy unto God, and fighteth against him continually, and inviteth and enticeth to sin, and to do that which is evil continually. 13 But behold, that which is of God inviteth and enticeth to do good continually; wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.

14 Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil. 15 For behold, my brethren, it is given unto you to judge, that ye may know good from evil; and the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

16 For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge; for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. 17 But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil; for after this manner doth the devil work, for he persuadeth no man to do good, no, not one; neither do his angels; neither do they who subject themselves unto him.

18 And now, my brethren, seeing that ye know the light by which ye may judge, which light is the light of Christ, see that ye do not judge wrongfully; for with that same judgment which ye judge ye shall also be judged. 19 Wherefore, I beseech of you, brethren, that ye should search diligently in the light of Christ that ye may know good from evil; and if ye will lay hold upon every good thing, and condemn it not, ye certainly will be a child of Christ. (Moroni 7:3-18)

Business, conscience, and the law

One of the current debates of our time, given recent legislative action in Arizona, is whether an individual or business has the right to refuse service to another individual for religious reasons – or rather, what are the circumstances where I may refuse to serve another for any reason.

First, let’s begin with some case studies to explore the issue.

No shoes. No shirt. No service. You want to come into my sandwich shop. Clearly posted on the front door is a familiar sign reading: “No shoes. No shirt. No service.” You realize you are not wearing a shirt. You go somewhere else to get a sandwich.

Jim Crow. A southern man owns a soup kitchen. You are of African descent and want soup. The man won’t let you come in and won’t sell you soup because you are black.

Kosher Butcher. A Jewish butcher carves dead animals into meat. You want him to cut up your pet pig. He kindly refers you to his gentile competitor because he does not want to contaminate his working space with meat he believes is unclean.

LGBT T-shirts. A lesbian started a small, garage-based t-shirt printing company. She specializes in LGBT themes, as displayed on her website and in her shop, but will typically print anything. You ask her to print t-shirts stating “homosexuality is a sin.” She is offended that you would target her for your business and sends you elsewhere.

Flowers. A florist has been serving the community for 10 years. She’ll make flowers for all kinds of occasions. She just did the flowers for her neighbor’s graduation party (note: the neighbor is gay). A lesbian couple ask her to provide a floral arrangement for their wedding. The florist kindly refers them to a competitor because she believes that God ordained marriage to be between a man and a woman, and she’d rather not be directly involved in an event that contradicts her belief.

Holy space. A Muslim man provides a spare room in his home for rent; however, he believes that only those that share his believe in God should be allowed in his home or his home will become unholy, so he only rents to other Muslims. You, a Christian (Jew, gentile, atheist, whatever), want a place to stay and ask to rent this man’s spare room. He turns you away because you are not Muslim.

Christian coffee. A Christian man owns a coffee shop, and also believes that any sexual relations outside of marriage are sinful. He has decided not to serve coffee to anyone in such relationships. This hasn’t been great for business, but he feels it is his duty to his God. You (male or female) cohabitate with your girlfriend and stop by for coffee, see the sign on his door prohibiting people of your ilk, and decide you’d rather not do business with him anyway thinking crazy fool. The neighbor of the afore-mentioned coffee-selling Christian has same-sex attraction but is in a heterosexual, married relationship. He gets coffee from his neighbor all the time.

Starbucks coffee. A giant coffee chain decided that anyone that doesn’t support same-sex marriage is a fool and should take his or her business elsewhere. They announce this in public, potentially dissuading future customers, but don’t actually enforce it.

I think by-and-large, most would agree that some of these scenarios are acceptable (no shoes…) while others are clearly not (Jim Crow). How do you feel about the rest? What other scenarios do you suggest for consideration?

In the case of homosexuality this gets interesting because some people believe that sexual orientation is a choice, while others believe that living a heterosexual lifestyle with same-sex attraction is not a feasible choice. Things are further complicated because this is an emotionally charged issue, tied to faith and devotion on one side and identity and self-worth on the other. It is interesting to consider how these attitudes would affect your conclusions on whether the florist example is justified. 

I think the Starbucks scenario is also interesting because it highlights one of the realities at play: I may not want to do business with someone that believes some idea or participates in some activity in another setting, but because I do not know these things about you when you walk through the door, I do business with you anyway.

In the scenarios above, does the attitude of the business owner affect your opinion of the legitimacy of the outcome? If the Muslim curses you and throws you from his home, do you arrive at a different conclusion than if he kindly explains his beliefs and gently directs you to another venue? If the attitude matters, then you are probably confusing our need to be nice with our right to do/not do business. Confusing these two concepts only complicates matters.

I would hope that both sides of the business transaction would seek to be considerate of the sincere beliefs of the other. If I were the florist, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing flowers for a same-sex wedding, and I hope that someone requesting this business would recognize my sincerity and lack of ill-will and respectfully take their business elsewhere. At the end of the day, if they continued to insist that I make their flowers, even after I explained why I would rather not, I would probably make their flowers because I am a Christian and believe in doing good to even those that make my life difficult. But I do not think I should be compelled by law to make the flowers. Such a legislative act would expand the problem, not reduce it as intended.

As with most social issues, there are situations in which what is right is more clear than in others. In my opinion, we should all try to be nice – to be considerate of one another’s duty to their own conscience. I think that individuals should generally not be compelled to do things that violate their conscience. Laws regulating the business of individuals governed by conscience (which in some way or another is all of us) should avoid using only emotionally charged case studies to determine policy and should be careful not to confuse civility with rights.

View on the family

I read an opinion piece in the New York Times a few weeks ago entitled “Sex is Not Our Problem,” by Charles M. Blow. This article was very telling as to the view our liberal faction of society has on marriage and sexuality. What is so interesting to me is not so much what is said, but what is not – namely, what is implied and assumed.

Blow opens by identifying the growing statistics of unwed pregnancies in the United States, as well as the growing increase of sexual transmitted infections. However, he spends most of his time arguing that the solution to these problems is to improve our sex education. He essentially argues that we must accept that kids are going to have sex and do our best to help them be as responsible as possible.

As an example of how we are not doing a good job, Blow notes that more abortion restrictions were passed in the last three years than in the previous decade. What is not said: the arbitrary slaughter of our unborn children is a service we must provide.

Then he shares the following:

Conservatives often stress marriage as a panacea for many of these problems, and indeed, marriage has its benefits. The fewer partners one engages sexually, the lower the risk of encountering disease. And, in terms of having a child, two adults in a home can often do twice as much as one. But, we must respect all family structures and encourage all parents to be active and engaged in child rearing regardless of living arrangements.

Note that Blow does not equate marriage with sexual exclusivity. Rather, he implies that marriage means you are likely to engage with fewer sexual partners. And what is the most important advantage to fewer sexual partners? Lower risk of disease (not emotional fulfillment, relationship stability, benefit to children, etc.). The one other benefit he feels should be mentioned is that the number of adults in the home is primary source of advantage to children: more hands make light work. There is no mention of the benefits of a mother and a father, nor is there any mention of the incredible emotional, psychological, and social stability children receive from having both biological parents in the home. 

Simply put, marriage is good for lowering your risk of disease and getting the housework done.

But even with these…advantages, Blow insists that we must respect all family structures (i.e. marriage doesn’t really matter). His final plea to parents to be active and engaged in caring for their children reveals that our society sees children as an afterthought: we make our living arrangements first, and then try to figure out what to do for the kids.

Blow then goes on to state:

Furthermore, much of the discussion about single-parent families and births outside of marriage is focused too heavily on young women and is simply a form of sex shaming that blames them for not being proper guardians of chastity. The shaming itself is a shame, and often inflames the pathology of patriarchy in our culture.

We teach boys, overtly and implicitly, that sexual potency is a marker of masculinity and that empathy and emotional depth are purviews of a lesser sex.

In response, I refer the reader to the recent General Conference address of Elder D. Todd, “The Moral Force of Women.” Consider the following excerpt:

There has long been a cultural double standard that expected women to be sexually circumspect while excusing male immorality. The unfairness of such a double standard is obvious, and it has been justifiably criticized and rejected. In that rejection, one would have hoped that men would rise to the higher, single standard, but just the opposite has occurred—women and girls are now encouraged to be as promiscuous as the double standard expected men to be. Where once women’s higher standards demanded commitment and responsibility from men, we now have sexual relations without conscience, fatherless families, and growing poverty. Equal-opportunity promiscuity simply robs women of their moral influence and degrades all of society. In this hollow bargain, it is men who are “liberated” and women and children who suffer most.

The opinions and viewpoints expressed by Mr. Blow are interesting to me. They are shared by many in our society, and this is not without consequence. As fewer individuals see the family as, first, a father and mother raising their children together, and second, as THE fundamental unit of our society, our ability to promote strong families will be weakened. If others do not see the intrinsic value of the family, they will not feel motivated to support it (see my previous post).

I close with the prophetic words of President Spencer W. Kimball, given in his 1980 General Conference address entitled “Families Can Be Eternal“:

Many of the social restraints which in the past have helped to reinforce and to shore up the family are dissolving and disappearing. The time will come when only those who believe deeply and actively in the family will be able to preserve their families in the midst of the gathering evil around us. …

… There are those who would define the family in such a nontraditional way that they would define it out of existence. …

We of all people, brothers and sisters, should not be taken in by the specious arguments that the family unit is somehow tied to a particular phase of development a moral society is going through. We are free to resist those moves which downplay the significance of the family and which play up the significance of selfish individualism. We know the family to be eternal.

We genuinely welcome help, real help, from churches, schools, colleges, and universities, from thoughtful men and women of every race, creed, and culture who care about the family. But, as indicated earlier, if the supporting network of institutions does not function adequately, then we will do our part anyway. There is no lack of clarity in what the Lord has told us. We cannot shirk. He has placed the responsibility directly where it belongs, and he holds us accountable with regard to the duties of parents to teach their children correct principles and of the need to walk uprightly before the Lord—and there is no substitute for teaching our children by the eloquence of example.

Oh, brothers and sisters, families can be forever! Do not let the lures of the moment draw you away from them! Divinity, eternity, and family—they go together, hand in hand, and so must we!

 

Divine Purposes of the Family

In our Strengthening Marriage class, we discussed the unique opportunity for growth that marriage provides the husband and wife. Marriage provides strong motivation for putting aside selfish pursuits. It provides ample practice for perfecting patience. It helps us refocus our paradigm to become providers and supporters of society.

One of the class participants contrasted this phenomenon with the young, single men in his workplace. These young men are largely self-absorbed, taking little or no thought about others. They do very little to provide to society – their focus is to provide for themselves.

But when such an individual chooses to pursue a healthy marriage, he must begin to see the world differently. He must learn how to give priority to another’s needs and wants. And while the marriage only requires that this attention be given to the wife, it opens the door for this behavior to be extended to all of society.

As I pondered these ideas, I felt clearly impressed that the Lord intends for our marriage relationship to sanctify us. By covenanting to make a marriage work, we receive considerable assistance in overcoming the natural man and becoming saints.

But these social/spiritual benefits are not limited to the husband-wife relationship. When parents raise multiple children together, they provide a similar opportunity for their children. Single children have limited opportunities to grapple with the reality of other’s needs, wants, and decisions. Children with brothers and sisters LIVE with this opportunity. They cannot escape it, and it becomes a fact of life: you are not the only human being that matters. This isn’t to say that single children don’t learn how to be considerate, or that children with siblings aren’t self-absorbed, but the striking contrast in opportunities available to each is significant in my mind.

Thus, the family unit – mother, father, and children – is well adapted to provide its members with important, consistent opportunities to learn how to live in a society – to think about others’ needs, to recognize the consequences of decisions affecting others, to be patient, to sacrifice, to forgive and to repent.

Community

The other day while on a walk with my wife I pondered the relationship between the words community and communication. Clearly, they share the root word common (they have common in common…). A community is a collection of people that share something in common, such as geographic location (neighborhood community), ethnicity (the Jewish community), political views, etc. To communicate is to make knowledge common between the participants.

Besides this triangle relationship between community and communication, I realized that the two are directly related – you cannot have a community without communication. Because community is to have something in common, and communication is to make things common, the more you communicate, the greater a sense of community you will achieve.

Thus, if you want to strengthen your community (of whatever variety), you must increase communication.

On Marriage

If marriage is meaningless, then why do you care who gets married? If marriage is purely a contract that provides social and economic conveniences, then why do you care who makes these contracts? If you view your marriage as something that simply defines your preferred sexual partner, then why do you care who prefers to have sexual relations with who?

Many, many people in our culture today are completely flabbergasted by traditional, conservative opinions that marriage should be defined as a union between a man and a woman. They are appalled that others could make what they see to be a completely arbitrary, bigoted, prejudiced distinction that excludes individuals of the same sex desiring to marry. Why? Because to them, there is no rational, fair, ethical, or reasonable motivation for maintaining the traditional definition of marriage. They believe that marriage is a social contract that provides conveniences such as joint ownership of property, tax benefits, sexual accessibility, and social standing. Or they don’t care about marriage at all.

If marriage is about tying fathers to children, about wielding social, cultural influence to motivate an otherwise transitory male to remain with and maintain a healthy relationship with the mother of his children, providing a secure environment for the children to mature, dedicating additional economic resources to the rearing of these children, and providing balanced parental influence to these children, then extending the definition of marriage to same-sex couples makes no sense. If you believe that marriage is about forming and maintaining fundamental units of society – families – that are naturally inclined to perpetuate society while providing social stability and capital, then calling alternative social arrangements by the same name is counterproductive. And if you believe that God has specifically commanded that we should marry and raise children, subjecting our selfish, carnal selves and appetites in the pursuit of service and sacrifice in a family setting, then why would you be interested in ideas that contradict a loving Father?

Many, many people in our culture are profoundly disturbed by liberal, alternative opinions that marriage should be defined to include same-sex unions. They are grieved that others want to make what they see to be an illogical, irrational, foolhardy, and selfish alteration to marriage that would apply the term and standing to same-sex couples. Why? Because to them, there is no rational, wise, moral, obedient, or sensible motivation for changing the tradition definition of marriage. They believe that marriage is about men, women, and their children, about raising healthy families and perpetuating society, and about being faithful to their heartfelt duty to God.

Now, there are some that want to do away with the traditional definition of marriage because it is inherently religions and they despise anything religious. There are some that actually are homophobic bigots that sneer at the idea that two men or two women could have a meaningful, intimate, loving relationship. There are those that are willing to redefine marriage because it is anti-establishment, “progressive,” and liberal. There are those who oppose changing the definition of marriage simply because they prefer the status quo and do not want to change. The varieties of opinions and experiences are as countless as the human beings having them. Some opinions are noble, some are not.

Inevitably, in all of us, regardless of our opinion on the matter, is a little of the sinner and the saint. Sometimes we succeed in acting only on the noble and dignified; at other times we degrade into stubborn factions with hearts at war.

If you believe that marriage is between a man and women, do you consider and remember the tender endearment that many same-sex couples feel for one another? Do you consider the intense burden of social stigma that has persecuted individuals with same-sex attraction for centuries (or millennia), relegating them to the outcasts of society, devoid of our love and approval, from which these human beings desperately hope to be free? Do you feel for those who are confused by their intimate discovery of their same-sex attraction, who are torn by their desires to conform to their cherished culture or beliefs but feel compelled to adopt an alternative lifestyle?

If you believe that marriage should refer to all forms of committed, adult, amorous relationships (or at least to same-sex couples), do you acknowledge the sincere, devout, humble desires of men and women of faith who believe that society will truly benefit most by obeying the counsels of a loving God? Do you recognize that many supporting traditional marriage do so because they firmly believe our society NEEDS the moral influence that traditional marriage exemplifies and encourages? Do you admit that many of those opposed to your social suggestion express their opinions with a clear conscience, expressing no ill-will or malice? Do you honestly consider the social, emotional, and biological arguments for traditional marriage?

I believe that marriage is about families and children. I believe that in refocussing our society on the true purpose of marriage, not just in terms of the sexes involved, but also in terms of the commitments, exclusivity, selfishness, sacrifice, and stability that traditional marriage is intended to embody, we as a culture and society will benefit. However, my heart still aches for my friends that are in same-sex relationships, who earnestly and sincerely desire to be viewed and treated in a way that, for them, communicates acceptance and love – because I realize that they will not see things they way I see them, and if my opinions become the norm, they will feel persecuted.

But this thing is certain, that if we cannot see one another as legitimate human beings, with real needs, desires, feelings, and motivations, then there will always be oppression and contention.