Friday, December 23, 2016

Birthday of the Prophet Joseph Smith 12/23/16

In my bedroom among other pieces - such as a statue of the Savior, statues of the Mayan representation of the Savior Kulkulkan, and a  beautiful painting of Joseph and Mary - I have this small bust of Joseph Smith (beside a replica of a Sunstone from Nauvoo). Although this is the Christmas season today the Prophet Joseph Smith was also born 211 years ago, on the winter solstice when light is coming in to the world (and dying on the summer solstice when light is going out of the world). This earliest ever discovered painting of him was done by my fourth-great grandfather David White Rogers, who saw Joseph in vision while living in NYC before he had ever met him and became very well acquainted with him in Nauvoo.

 On this his birthday I would like to honor his incredible legacy with a short testimony of him. I know that Joseph Smith was indeed a true prophet of God and of the Savior. I know that they appeared to him in vision and called to be a modern-day prophet. And I know that he was chosen by them to restore Jesus Christ's original church to the earth to prepare the earth and mankind for the Second Coming of the Savior of the World, an appointment that was given from before the foundation of the world.

In fact, as Truman G. Madsen says in his incomparable work "Joseph Smith the Prophet", there are biblical and apocryphal prophecies of the Prophet Joseph -

"Lorenzo Snow reported a day when someone came and asked Joseph (it had happened hundred of times), "Who are you?" He replied, "Noah came before the flood. I have come before the fire." That leads to a probing question: How much did Joseph Smith know about himself and his own calling?

In a Nauvoo discourse Joseph refers to the first chapter of John wherein John the Baptist was asked, "Who art thou?" He replied that he was not the Christ. "What then? Art thou Elias? Art thou that prophet [who is to come]?" Joseph's critics would have thought it a stretch for him to say, "You see, there is a reference to a great prophet to come. I am he." With the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls and embellished traditions, sometimes fanciful, in later Judaism, it becomes apparent that two centuries before Christ a tradition taught that there were two messianic figures to come. The Messiah ben Judah, the Son of Judah, the Son of David, the Stem of Jesse, would indeed redeem. But alongside that set of prophecies and all they entailed was another set about a son of Joseph who would be a restorer of all things.

I said to a Harvard scholar who was famous for his New Testament skill, "What possibly could be restored?" He said, "Well, you know the phrase in the Lord's Prayer that says 'Thy kingdom come.' This was to be offered by Christians who had just received the kingdom in Jesus. But clearly the prayer presupposes that something more is to come." Then he said, "There's also that language in the Book of Acts about the 'restitution of all things.'" This man is an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls. He knows nothing of Joseph Smith (or didn't before we had our conversation). If the restorer wasn't a Joseph named Smith, the world must wait for "that prophet who is to come," who is to restore all things."

I testify that Joseph Smith is the fulfillment of this prophecy, and I, for one, am grateful for his courage and endurance to the end that has given me and so many others such an amazing legacy of faith.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

LDS policy change regarding SSM families in November 2015

Originally posted on Facebook on November 15, 2016 -

LDS friends - I was struggling on whether to post anything about this, but I feel as though I should as I haven't really heard anyone post, in any detail, thoughts along the lines that I am about to share. Additionally, while pondering how to frame my thoughts the past few days, I actually had a dream where Elder Cook made an unexpected appearance. You can imagine my surprise when, upon awakening, finding that some friends had posted a link to an article which recounts his experiences with ministering to homosexuals as a stake president in San Francisco (where I also served my mission and actually got to know Elder Cook and his wife while serving in his ward before he was called to the Quorum of the Twelve). I likewise had some similar heartwrenching experiences ministering to struggling saints while serving there. Additionally I have had the privilege to meet and perform for most of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve and cannot endorse this sentiment about them in this article strongly enough.

I must admit, when I first heard the news I had an initial moment of shock. I wasn't sure if it was true and wasn't quite sure how to feel at first. I have extended family members who are gay (but who have never been LDS or really even exposed to the LDS culture) and many gay LDS friends who used to be dear friends who I haven't spoken to in awhile because of geographical distance. I don't want anything I say to be interpreted as being unsympathetic or insensitive to the pain that I know many of them feel. I would, however, offer an alternative possible explanation that I think helps to explain the change in policy, along with the clarifications offered by the church and some of its members so far. I must offer a disclaimer, though - this is only my opinion and, although I am a lawyer, I am not a legal scholar nor do I have any knowledge about the accuracy of it:

I submit that the church is reacting to the recent SCOTUS opinion by bringing this policy in line with one other legal conundrum for the church - that of polygamy - and for almost the exact same reason - preventing the taking of rights by the government. With polygamy the church had to show complete disavowal to retain its rights and property (including the temples) by categorizing polygamous families as apostate and not eligible for any official recognition or fellowship within the church. In the instance of SSM, the church is, I believe, preemptively proving and establishing policy to resist an encroachment of government on its religious liberty rights. There would be no logical reason for the church to announce such a policy change - in fact doing so could be interpreted as judgmental and mean spirited - but simply making the change is legally sufficient to prove concrete policy in the face of legal assaults on the church's position on marriage and what it takes to be a member in full fellowship in the church.

Same sex parents of a child have full legal rights under the law of the land of guardianship over that child and have the right, in many instances, to stand in the place of that minor child until the child turns 18. To allow that minor child to receive any official recognition in a Church that doesn't recognize the legitimacy of that minor's parents' marriage could open the way for a back door legal approach to make the church afford recognition to the family unit and therefore SSM -i.e. the argument could be made that "this minor child is a member of the LDS church and thereby is entitled to all the rights an privileges accordant with that membership but the child cannot exercise all of its rights (such as receiving father's blessings, parent chaperoning, having its parent serve in youth leadership, being sealed to their parents in the temple, etc.) without their parents, and therefore the parents (and therefore SSM) must be accepted into the church to reconcile that injustice. The parents are keeping the other rules of the church and their marriage is recognized by the law of the land."

Categorizing SSM as apostasy and completely cutting off (if only temporarily) that family unit from any official recognition in the church prevents a muddying of those legal arguments in my opinion. For the church to admit this publicly would be both unnecessary and unwise from a legal standpoint and otherwise completely unnecessary - nothing will placate certain enemies of the church (and churches in general) except cowering and bowing the church's policies to their agenda. The church is merely preparing for potential legal challenges as any smart church would with a fourth of its Quorum of 12 apostles having trained legal minds. This article in Time magazine was printed just DAYS after the SCOTUS opinion was announced proposing one avenue of attacking the church in an attempt to change policy by ending tax exemptions for religious institutions.

There is no hatred or bigotry behind this policy change. To those who say the church is bigoted - I would ask why the church didn't implement this policy sooner? SSM has been a hot topic for over 10 years, yet the church waited until after the SCOTUS opinion to institute this change - this cannot be viewed as a coincidence. Every effort the church has made against SSM, including the Prop 8 battle in California, was made with this religious liberty issue in mind, as also evidenced by the press conference the church held in January. The policy change likewise cannot be viewed independently of Elder Oaks' remarks of not even three weeks ago wherein he criticized Kim Davis's approach of denying marriage licenses to same sex couples (which remarks many of my "conservative" LDS friends bewilderingly enough have derided).

The job of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles is a difficult one, to say the least. Their job is not to make sure nobody ever gets offended, but to protect the church until Christ returns and to invite the entire world to become a part of God's kingdom. This is a brand new legal minefield that has to be traversed with care. The church is not proclaiming open warfare on the LGBT community by any stretch of the imagination. I believe most LGBT's are good loving people who don't hate the church, but there are some powerful elements in that movement who are motivated by extreme religious hate and are keenly focused on destroying churches that don't jive with their brand of morality. Some have even expressed desires to use SSM to completely eliminate the institution of marriage. Viewed with this perspective it is easy to see that the very existence of the church, and of religion as a whole, is at stake.

Heavenly Father's plan holds ample provision for the salvation of all of His children, and they will not be prejudiced in His eternal scheme because of when they lived or who their parents were. Every soul who desires salvation through Christ's atoning sacrifice will be given the opportunity to claim such, and none will be handicapped by a policy change that is necessary to protect the present interests and operations of the church. In this new legal landscape, in a pluralistic society operating in an imperfect governmental system such as ours, there must be room for both "ecosystems of thought" to coexist. But until that day, the church must operate within the legal reality in which it finds itself.

I pray that my attempt at sharing what came to me as I sought understanding on this issue may present an alternate lens in which to view things and maybe even help some to reexamine the potential loss of their testimony. I know I'm not speaking just for myself when I say please don't leave. I love you. The church loves you. It needs you to stay. I need you to stay. You need to stay. Just give it time and prayerful thought before you consider turning away from your faith. I promise that peace will come to your heart, and understanding will eventually come to your mind and soul. You are right where you need to be. Perilous times lay ahead and none of us can risk losing the promising guidance and safety that the restored gospel and Church of Jesus Christ affords as we face the long-prophesied dangers the future inevitably holds.