Sunday, March 20, 2016

Memo to Glenn Beck: No "White Horse Prophecy"

Glenn Beck at Cruz Rally in Utah, March 19, 2016

Yesterday in Utah at a political rally for Ted Cruz, Glenn Beck stepped up to the stage with mic in hand and admonished the predominantly Mormon audience to rise up and fulfill the "prophecy" allegedly uttered by Joseph Smith that someday the Constitution would "hang by a tread" and needed to be rescued by the "body of the priesthood." Memo to the people of Utah and to Glenn Beck - the informed priesthood will continue to look to their priesthood leaders for direction, not to you.

Beck fancies himself as a reliable historian, but in this instance he demonstrated his lack of understanding. He certainly didn't do his homework, or he never would have pulled out that card and played it. Or, maybe he knew full well what he was doing in the heat of the presidential campaign and was pulling out all the stops in his strident advocacy for Cruz among Christians whom he had criticized in other places for not rising up in support of Cruz. Whatever his reasons, he got this one dead wrong.

As reported by Breitbart, Beck said the following: “I want to speak to you about something that may be controversial. And it’s not something that I have said when I have been out for Ted [Cruz] and now Mike [Lee]. But it’s something that this crowd needs to hear – that Utah needs to hear. The body of the priesthood is known to stand up when the Constitution hangs by a thread,” Beck said.

“I am a convert to the Church of Jesus Christ Latter Day Saints,” he explained. “What attracted me was not only the truth of the message, but also the people like President [Harold B.] Lee and President [Ezra Taft] Benson who knew exactly who we were – knew who we were as a country,” Beck said, naming prominent past presidents of the LDS Church.

“I joined many times. What held me through was the prophesy that the Constitution will hang by a thread, and this People would remember what our Founders did. It is our responsibility to stand for the Constitution,” Beck said.

At this point, Ted Cruz and the audience gave Beck a standing ovation.

Now, before the hate mail pours in, let me make it clear that standing for the Constitution is something I believe we must do. But I guess this is what I hate most about political speeches. The ones we hear directed at Mormons often seek to blur the distinctive line between the Church and the political arena which the Church assiduously attempts to keep separate. Political speech is often drenched in emotional and often hyperbolic sentiment that crosses the borderline of fact and truth in the name of whipping up an audience into a silly patriotic frenzy that is more often than not misguided. 

I wrote about "The White Horse Prophecy" when Mitt Romney was ramping up his run against Obama in the 2012 election, and nothing has changed since my first post about it in 2010.

Most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have heard about something called "The White Horse Prophecy," but few understand its origins and implications.

Beck forgot to look into the most recent invocation of this specious "prophecy" when an unwise Idaho gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Rex Rammell, the Tea Party's darling, was forming groups encouraging others to study "the White Horse prophecy" in depth. Only priesthood brethren were invited and were instructed to go home and tell their wives.  

In advance of the primary election, on January 6, 2010, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) to which Glenn Beck belongs, was compelled to clarify the matter with this statement:

Two weeks ago The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement regarding the so-called "White Horse prophecy" in response to news inquiries regarding comments made by an Idaho politician. The matter has received additional coverage in the news media of late and so we reiterate that statement here: 

"The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is politically neutral and does not endorse or promote any candidate, party or platform. Accordingly, we hope that the campaign practices of political candidates would not suggest that their candidacy is supported by or connected to the church.
"The so-called 'White Horse Prophecy' is based on accounts that have not been substantiated by historical research and is not embraced as Church doctrine." 
Rammell's candidacy did elicit some support, if not entirely because of the controversy.  In the 2010 Republican gubernatorial primary, he lost, but the veterinarian was successful in beating incumbent, C.L. "Butch" Otter in two counties and tying him in another.
So fast forward to yesterday in Utah. In the topsy-turvy world of national politics this year, Beck continues to fan the flames of rumor that persist that Joseph Smith purportedly said something to the effect in a private conversation with two Church members that the day would come when the Constitution of the United States would "hang by a thread," and the "elders of the Church would be called upon to rescue it."  
Beck needs to read this page, however, and he would learn the veracity and accuracy of the report of that conversation has always been in question because the recollections of the two men, Edwin Rushton and Theodore Turley, were not recorded in a diary by their friend, John J. Roberts, until ten years later when they were old men. Roberts first heard about it in the 1850s. As far as we know, the Prophet Joseph never taught anything like that publicly.
I believe the best in-depth treatment of this topic, if you're interested, is available here.  
It is clear there are numerous historical statements in support of the ideas expressed, but for the most part they are no better than the foundation upon which they rest -- the journal entry of a man who heard what two other men heard Joseph Smith say ten years earlier. Not exactly reliable and sound investigative journalism.
This isn't the first time this has happened. Besides the incidents surrounding Rammel's ill-fated gubernatorial race in Idaho, it surfaced in the presidential campaign of Senator Orrin Hatch, and then when Mitt Romney ran for Governor of Massachusetts, and then again when he ran for the presidency in 2012. Both were also Mormons (yes, Donald J. Trump, Mitt Romney IS a Mormon). However, to their credit, both disavowed the so-called "prophecy" then and so did the Church. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) would do well to immediately disavow what was said in his presence yesterday and put himself on the side of the Church and a more accurate accounting of the history. 

Politically, it's a negatively charged idea that the Church and/or its elders and/or an elder riding on a white horse (there are many possibilities) is somehow going to swoop in and take over a contested national Republican convention in Cleveland, or eventually the federal government that needs rescuing in a time of trouble. Like most faith-promoting rumors, this one is lacking in substance when the facts are examined in depth.  
That we believe as a Church the Savior will return and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords is indisputable (see Revelation 17:14; 19:16 for example), but to say the Church is going to set up a replacement government before that time is irresponsible and unfounded on all fronts.

Once again, Glenn Beck fails to pass the accuracy test and reveals himself for what he is - nothing more than yet another false prophet, however well-intentioned.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Converting Power of The Book of Mormon

As is his custom, my father continues to write his "Heart Lines" message to his former missionaries in the California Arcadia Mission at General Conference time. Dad is now in his 95th year and continues to function well even with his physical limitations. I am happy to publish his latest missive on this page, believing it might be helpful and insightful to a wider audience:

April, 2016

At this season, Dear Friends –

- When all Mormondom is unitedly and simultaneously studying The Book of Mormon, I have some persistent observations. One pearl is that when properly approached, this amazing book has enormous powers of conversion. Without any embellishments or consultant commentary, the book’s powerful truths shine forth and are plainly evident.

Parley P. Pratt
This has always been true. In the earliest days of the restored Church, a young itinerant preacher, Parley P. Pratt, left his home for good to embark on a self-appointed mission to share the light he had received from his own personal search of the Biblical scriptures. It was the beginning of a marvelous ministerial career for him.

Amid his journeyings he paid full passage for his wife and him to travel by boat to Albany, New York. Midway, at Rochester, however, Parley had a spiritual nudge which changed his direction and his life. He wrote:

I informed my wife that, notwithstanding our passage being paid through the whole distance, yet I must leave the boat. . . Why, I did not know; but so it was plainly manifest by the Spirit to me. I said to her: “we part for a season; go and visit our friends in our native place; I will come soon, but how soon I know not; for I have a work to do in this region of country, and what it is, or how long it will take to perform it, I know not, but I will come when it is performed.” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, pp. 18 – 20).

Parley went ashore and walked from village to village successfully imparting his convictions as he understood them from the scriptures. One day in his travels, a Baptist deacon introduced to him a strange and unusual book, The Book of Mormon, which made claims that were stunning and appealing to Parley. He wrote:
I opened it with eagerness, and read its title page. I then read the testimony of several witnesses in relation to the manner of its being found and translated. After this I commenced its contents by course. I read all day; eating was a burden, I had no desire for food; sleep was a burden when the night came, for I preferred reading to sleep.

As I read, the spirit of the Lord was upon me, and I knew and comprehended that the book was true, as plainly and manifestly as a man comprehends and knows that he exists. My joy was now full, as it were, and I rejoiced sufficiently to more than pay me for all the sorrows, sacrifices and toils of my life. I soon determined to see the young man who had been the instrument of its discovery and translation. (Ibid.)

We were assimilated into this fabric-truth during our missionary days in California, 40 years ago. The identical story-theme we found true was represented by the conversion stories we were telling in those days. I repeat it now to demonstrate that the power is still in that awesome book, which when approached with humble sincerity and desire to love and live its truths still has its capacity to convert.

On a Thursday night, far across the world from here and many years ago, another conversion story materialized, as related by Elder J. Thomas Fyans, First Council of the Seventy, at a stake conference of the LaPuente Stake on May 28, 1978.

A chance encounter on a bus between a Mormon elder and a Methodist minister unfolded. The young elder spoke of a strange book, The Book of Mormon, and the minister, a graduate of Northwestern University, went home with the book determined to prove it false. The words, “prove it false, prove it false” were riveted in his mind, challenged to do so by his seat companion on the bus.

At home that night, he said to his wife, Betty, “I’m on a special project. I want complete solitude and no food. I’ll be fasting.” He pleaded with the Lord on Friday, and he listened to the town hall clock peel off hours of the day until it struck 6 p.m. Then he returned to the elder’s apartment and boldly stated: “I want to talk about baptism, and don’t get out your flannel board. I want to be baptized now!”

Amazed, the elders phoned their mission president and said, “He’s back! What shall we do with him?” President J. Thomas Fyans, president of the Uruguay Montevideo Mission, answered, “Baptize him privately, then bring him to the mission home to see me.” Ninety minutes later the font was full and the elder baptized him.

On Saturday night, the minister phoned his wife, Betty, and announced, “I’m a member of the Mormon Church!” She laughed, unbelievingly. “It’s true,” said her husband. “I was baptized last night.” She asked so many questions and cried and cried. It was 3 a.m. before she settled down to seriously listen. It was agreed that he shouldn’t tell anyone until he reported to his superiors. So when he arose the next morning, Rev. Whitlock read in John 3:5 about Nicodemus’s visit with Jesus. He quoted that passage to his church leaders, saying, “Please study this passage, and next week I will come back and I’ll tell you the truth of this verse.”

The troubled couple then came to the mission home. Betty said, “I just can’t face our friends from our church.” They went as husband and wife into the President’s study to talk out their problems. Lunch intervened, and President Fyans opened the door and said, “I’ll not mention anything about the Mormon Church if that will make you feel better. But first, Brother Whitlock, would you like to hear the missionaries teach the gospel in the organized fashion we regularly do?” His wife, Betty, quickly answered, “You bet I would,” with her jaw defiantly set.

So the Whitlocks had one lesson taught to them every day. The plan of salvation brought happy resonance to Brother Whitlock all week. When the elders quoted 1 Corinthians 15:29, Brother Whitlock exclaimed, “Betty, I’ve wondered all my life about baptism for the dead, and they know the explanation!”

At the traditional Saturday night farewell for departing missionaries, this inspired elder tried to testify for the last time in the mission field, but he was overcome by his tears. In the presence of his converts, Brother and Sister Whitlock, he was without words. He couldn’t speak because of his joy. This was the elder, who on the bus had challenged Rev. Whitlock to prove The Book of Mormon false.

And so we say – The Book of Mormon is true! It will stand up to any scrutiny, even from those who are learned and think themselves wise, who want to disprove it.

Powerful witness also comes from Christ, himself, that the book is true (D&C 19:26), and that those who receive, read and believe the book shall receive eternal life (D&C 20:14).

Faithfully, your friend,

President L. Brent Goates

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Who Will Be The Savior of The Republican Party?

Donald J. Trump
Donald J. Trump continues to fill up all the media outlets with what has become familiar behavior:

1. He seems never to have met a Republican that he likes. Name a Republican and he's immediately branded as "low energy," "a stupid idiot," "little boy Marco," "the weakest Republican candidate this party ever had," "a choker," "a liar," "the worst liar I have ever met," "the worst human being I've ever known," "you don't have one single endorsement among your Senate buddies, you should be ashamed of yourself," and the list goes on in endless epithets.

2. Yet he says, "I have so many friends." He cites his many friends in business, those around the world, in show business, in politics. "We're going to start winning, winning, winning, we're going to win so much you won't even believe it!" He truly is bigger than life, or so he would have us believe.

3. "I love you all - everybody in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada," (and he's just getting started on that line. We would suppose what with Super Tuesday coming up he will eventually get around to all of us whom he loves, loves, loves if we vote for him).

4. He hates Megyn Kelly of Fox News who dared to suggest his insults against women might be considered crass, or worse, just downright hateful. He calls her "a horrible person," "with blood coming everywhere out of her," and then boycotts her routinely instead of encountering her again. Is Mr. Macho really afraid of "that bimbo" Megyn Kelly? Or does she just come in for "fair and balanced" treatment he gives to anyone who dares to oppose him?

5. He's going to build a wall, "and now it just got ten feet higher," when the former president of Mexico suggested that Trump could just go pound sound if he thinks Mexico will pay for the wall. And Trump then goes on and on about the balance of trade between us and Mexico as though balancing our balance of trade accounts will somehow magically produce the $10 billion to build the wall. For a Wharton School of Business graduate, he must have been sleeping through Economics 101.

6. Article after article appears daily around the collective political water cooler of the American electorate. "What if Trump actually becomes our nominee," they stutter in disbelief. I know people so offended by Trump that they will vote for anyone else, yes, even a Democrat, rather than Trump.

7. There are other articles now appearing since the endorsement of Governor Chris Christie who suggest that Trump might just be a great choice as a nominee, since he's energized the Republican base like no one else has done since Ronald Reagan. Then they quickly add that Trump will rival Reagan among the greatest presidents. Seriously, I'm not making any of this up, am I?

Marco Rubio

Ted Cruz
Those are just seven observations off the top of my head that I've been following for the past several weeks. He's successfully thumped all of his would-be opponents into submission, and the field has narrowed to three with Trump, Rubio and Cruz. The desperation is now palpable. Like so many others who follow politics, this idea of "a savior" has been rattling around in my head with a hope that someone - ANYONE - might just be the ticket for America's future. But today it came into perfect focus for me.

Along with Patsy, we teach the fourteen and fifteen year-olds in Sunday School in our ward. Today we discussed "the doctrine of Christ," and spent our time together mostly in 2 Nephi 31. We had a good group today of seven delightful young ladies and one young man, as we took turns reading verses in the chapter. The topic heading is appropriate:

The “doctrine of Christ” is that all men everywhere must have faith in Jesus Christ, repent of their sins, be baptized, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. The doctrine of Christ is the only way to be saved in the kingdom of God. It is the foundation of the Church and the central message of its missionaries.

Elder D. Todd Christofferson
I also taught the fourth Sunday lesson in the high priest group today, the one devoted to selected sermons from the most recent General Conferences. Today, our stake leadership asked us to reflect on the talk by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, titled "Why the Church." Punctuation nerd that I am, I initially pondered why that statement didn't have a question mark at the end. However, he made a statement, he wasn't asking a question.

We had a profitable conversation together considering his three main reasons why the Church exists and must exist if we are to be enabled to claim the blessing of eternal life. He offered his three reasons:

1. How does His Church accomplish the Lord’s purposes? It is important to recognize that God’s ultimate purpose is our progress. His desire is that we continue “from grace to grace, until [we receive] a fulness” of all He can give. That requires more than simply being nice or feeling spiritual. It requires faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism of water and of the Spirit, and enduring in faith to the end. One cannot fully achieve this in isolation, so a major reason the Lord has a church is to create a community of Saints that will sustain one another in the “strait and narrow path which leads to eternal life.”

2. There is a second major reason the Savior works through a church, His Church, and that is to achieve needful things that cannot be accomplished by individuals or smaller groups. One clear example is dealing with poverty. It is true that as individuals and families we look after the physical needs of others, “imparting to one another both temporally and spiritually according to their needs and their wants.” But together in the Church, the ability to care for the poor and needy is multiplied to meet the broader need, and hoped-for self-reliance is made a reality for very many. Further, the Church, its Relief Societies, and its priesthood quorums have the capacity to provide relief to many people in many places affected by natural disasters, war, and persecution.

3. The final reason I will mention for the Lord to have established His Church is the most unique — the Church is, after all, the kingdom of God on the earth. . .

Its destiny is to establish Zion in preparation for the return and millennial rule of Jesus Christ. Before that day, it will not be a kingdom in any political sense — as the Savior said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Rather, it is the repository of His authority in the earth, the administrator of His holy covenants, the custodian of His temples, the protector and proclaimer of His truth, the gathering place for scattered Israel, and “a defense, and … a refuge from the storm, and from wrath when it shall be poured out without mixture upon the whole earth.”

Rev. Paul Scalia
When I concluded the lesson, I left about five minutes at the end. The high priest group leader arose and stated, "I was impressed recently by reading the eulogy delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Paul, who is a Catholic priest. I think it might be the finest eulogy I've ever heard." Then he read in part:

We are gathered here because of one man. A man known personally to many of us, known only by reputation to even more. A man loved by many, scorned by others. A man known for great controversy, and for great compassion. That man, of course, is Jesus of Nazareth.

It is He whom we proclaim. Jesus Christ, son of the father, born of the Virgin Mary, crucified, buried, risen, seated at the right hand of the Father. It is because of him. because of his life, death and resurrection that we do not mourn as those who have no hope, but in confidence we commend Antonin Scalia to the mercy of God.

I came home and read the whole eulogy, and I concluded it is truly masterful. You can read it here.

So today, pondering the words of a living Apostle and a Catholic priest in the quietude of Pine Valley on a warm winter day, I have concluded there will be no savior in the offing to rescue the Republican Party, the Democrat Party or any other political entity we may have yet to hear about if a third party emerges out this political gumbo soup we are in today. We know the end result is the Savior's Second Coming, but the details between here and there do not bode well for would-be political anti-Christs who come among us posing as saviors.

May our descent into the moral abyss not be forever irretrievable or permanent, and may it someday be reversed if it is possible. That said (and I don't want to appear too negative here), we will be rescued by THE Savior Jesus Christ if we are attuned to His salvation, His resurrection, and His Church and kingdom on the earth today. And that may happen for Republicans and Democrats alike. In the end, we all have a lot more in common than we may imagine.

And that's not a bad thing. . .

Monday, February 15, 2016

Antonin Scalia, May We Find His Jurisprudence Peer Someday

Justice Antonin Scalia
Like many conservatives (and liberals too!), I was saddened to learn of the sudden and unexpected death of Associate Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend. The accolades and the tributes for him will go on for some time, I suspect. He is being widely lauded as the finest writer, legal mind and staunch defender of the originalist point of view when it comes to interpreting the Constitution that the Court may have ever seen. Finding his peer to replace him will be difficult. He has served longer than anyone else on the current Court.

The news had barely broken before the political wrangling had begun, including the opening moments of silence followed by "thermonuclear war" among the combatants at the latest Republican debate last Saturday night. Even before the ink was dry on the story of Scalia's death, President Obama signaled his determination to move ahead with his nomination "in due time."

In the one corner you have the liberals, who would love nothing more than putting forward yet another progressive judge through the nominating process President Obama will no doubt undertake at his earliest opportunity to cement his legacy in place.

In the opposing corner you have Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who immediately put out a press statement indicating the nomination belongs to the next president of the United States, and not the current lame duck one. McConnell's argument is certainly valid based on history.

Whoever Obama nominates, the smart money says it's dead on arrival. Anything less than a strict constructionist like Scalia will most certainly tilt the Court in favor of judicial activism. We've already witnessed that unlikely phenomenon with Chief Justice John Roberts surprising everyone by steering the Court with his majority opinions when Obamacare was upheld first, then the legalization of gay marriage.

It is not political hyperbole to state the intensity of this election season has shifted into high gear. While mildly entertaining until now, what with an avowed Communist Bernie Sanders challenging Hillary Clinton, who is almost certainly guilty of felonies over her e-mail handling while Secretary of State (but not likely to face any jail time), and billionaire Donald Trump continuing to suck all the oxygen out of the Republican nominating process, the tone of the debate will likely change where all three branches of government - the executive, the judiciary and the legislative - will all be involved.

Of course, few would doubt the ongoing dominance of the Republicans in maintaining control of both houses of the legislative branch (but even that is always an open question). The political divide over what will happen in debates over this POTUS nominating process will be epic, but not unheard of in the past. That said, we will see the Senate's role looming larger than ever in the coming months leading up to the election. Unless the Republicans close ranks and refuse to act on President Obama's nomination, the makeup of a new Court before the election would undoubtedly compromise the historical precedents of waiting to fill the post until after the election.

Let's look at the facts as they exist under the Constitution:

There is ample precedent in our past history on the side of those who advocate waiting until the next president is selected. Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, the so-called "Appointments Clause," allows a president to appoint specified public officials only with the “advice and consent” of the Senate, and the key word here is "consent." Though he may try to make this appointment on his own as a "recess appointment" when the Senate is not in session, he would exceed his authority in attempting it. Only the Senate may ultimately confirm the president's nominee to serve as a Supreme Court Justice.

Historically, it has almost universally been the case that the closer we get to the end of a president's term, the more a delay has been viewed favorably. I read this morning that from President John Tyler forward, we have seen sometimes extended delays in filling vacancies on the Supreme Court. We think the country is deeply divided now, but probably no more than it was in Tyler's time. The same conditions certainly are in place today.

There are a number of practical reasons for delay, not the least of which is giving the American voters one more chance in getting it right. The crux of the Roberts' majority opinion in upholding Obamacare was in essence, "Don't look to the Court to bail you out, America, when you make poor political choices." He was concerned about the Court not being politicized, but his rulings may have done exactly what he did not intend. Perhaps by waiting for the next president to be chosen, American voters will respect the Court more and the new president's choice for the Supreme Court will be more widely embraced by the majority, assuming the Senate majority remains in the same hands as the new president's. At least that is the most optimistic view of the matter.

In my extensive reading this morning, someone even suggested if the new president were a woman (let's hope it isn't THAT woman), by putting forward a nominee now Obama would preempt her preference. If the next president were a strict constructionist like Scalia, then that new president should have the right to put forward a nominee more in the vein of Scalia. All of that in my mind suggests that Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would undoubtedly be more reliable choices certainly than Hillary Clinton. Who knows for sure what a President Donald J. Trump or a President Bernie Sanders would do? If for no other reason, undertaking a deliberative and thorough search for finding the peer of Justice Scalia is worthwhile and should not be rushed. We've had ample precedents for waiting longer than a year.

It would certainly be in keeping with Obama's nature to try to ram through a first-ever recess appointment, but he would likely run head-long into a legal wall of his own making that has held such appointments cannot be upheld without Senate consent.

Supreme Court Building, Washington D.C.
I'm remembering this morning that there was a 2014 decision in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, where the SCOTUS, led by Scalia's brilliant writing in concurrence, ruled against recess appointments. It wasn't even a close vote (9-0), where they struck down three of the president’s recess appointments. In essence the high Court ruled them unconstitutional. Those appointments were attempted by Obama during a "pro forma congressional break" of only three days.

Talk about prescient irony, it was Scalia himself who wrote what some dubbed a “withering” concurrence opinion, when he warned against transgressing against the text of the U.S. Constitution. Scalia vigorously stated: “The Court’s decision transforms the recess-appointment power from a tool carefully designed to fill a narrow and specific need into a weapon to be wielded by future Presidents against future Senates,” and be believed the real intent of the Founders was to limit, not allow recess appointments beyond what they had intended.

Bristling at the sudden and arbitrary "10-day" recess invention attempted by Justice Breyer in the majority decision, Scalia added: “A self-aggrandizing practice adopted by one branch well after the founding, often challenged, and never before blessed by this Court - in other words, the sort of practice on which the majority relies in this case - does not relieve us of our duty to interpret the Constitution in light of its text, structure, and original understanding.” His biting accuracy will be missed.

My hope for our country is that we will find Scalia's peer in Constitutional integrity somewhere in this country. I am not one who is horrified at the thought of losing the Republic over this latest development, however. Scalia's death came out of left field and was surprising, when easily two or three other "expected" deaths might soon occur in the next few years, adding even more slots to fill on the SCOTUS, and raising the presidential sweepstakes to an even higher level. Remember, elections have consequences, as President Obama was so fond of reminding us all.

In sum: There is no precedent for taking this pending nomination out of the hands of the next president after the election of November 2016. Neither is there any legal foundation upon which a recess appointment could be justified.

I've used the word "precedent" a lot in this post. But my final word is that if the election season of 2016 has taught us anything, it is that relying upon historical precedents is shaky ground at best.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Are You a "Thinking Mormon" or a "Go-Along-to-Get-Along-Mormon"?

For many years in the Church there has been a constant battle between what used to be called the "intellectuals" vs. the "conservatives". Each faction had its proponents, and the intellectuals were sometimes characterized as those without a testimony, while the conservatives were considered the purists and the defenders of the faith. I suppose these factions and others will always exist in the Church. The more things change the more they remain the same.

It has seemed to me that in recent years the divisions continue to deepen. To be thought of as someone who doesn't think deeply and critically about one's faith is to be like the polling question among voters, "Do you consider yourself well-informed on the issues"? What right-thinking respondent wouldn't answer as an informed voter? So how many answer that question in the affirmative even if it's not true? In addition, who wants to be thought of as an intellectual laggard who merely goes along to get along in the Church without ever undertaking a rigorous and thoughtful approach to one's discipleship? Much better to be thought of as a stimulating intellectual than one who merely clings rigidly to the past traditions, so the reasoning goes.

President Brigham Young
This morning I read several articles, two of which stood out particularly. Before I go there, however, I was reflecting on a recent General Conference talk by Elder M. Russell Ballard, who urged his listeners to stay in "the Old Ship Zion". He senses, as we all do, there is much unrest within the ranks of the members of the Church for a host of reasons. That much has always been true, but there seems to be an escalation. Elder Ballard quotes President Brigham Young, who used the Old Ship Zion as a metaphor when he said:

“We are in the midst of the ocean. A storm comes on, and, as sailors say, she labors very hard. ‘I am not going to stay here,’ says one; ‘I don’t believe this is the “Ship Zion.”’ ‘But we are in the midst of the ocean.’ ‘I don’t care, I am not going to stay here.’ Off goes the coat, and he jumps overboard. Will he not be drowned? Yes. So with those who leave this Church. It is the ‘Old Ship Zion,’ let us stay in it.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 82–83).

Many bristle at any suggestion that we cling to the past without seeming to give any consideration to more "modern" ideas espoused by the progressives who would take the Church if they could into uncharted waters. In their haste to get ahead of the brethren they often err in their over-zealous certitude.

Natasha Helfer Parker
The first of the two articles that caught my eye came from The author, Natasha Helfer Parker, is a Mormon clinical marriage and family therapist. who wrote "Double Binds Hurt Us". I encourage you to consider her thoughtful response to a recent Deseret News article about what appears to be an alarming increase in suicide deaths among the LGBT youth in the Church. As we all know, the Church's policy statement about the disposition of under-age children in the homes of gay and lesbian parents was meant to clarify the same issues that are involved in the homes of those parents who are engaged in polygamous communities to which the Church is opposed.

The Church believes in letting children who reach majority age of 18 make up their own minds about their religious preferences, rather than becoming the source of conflict between parents who stand in open rebellion to Church dictum over marriage between one man and one woman and their children. It's a reasonable policy position. But it seems in Parker's experience that it may stand in stark contrast to Christ's admonitions to love everyone unconditionally. Sometimes we seem to say, "I love you unconditionally with these conditions." Parker fairly points out it may actually be difficult to quantify the number of suicides attributed to confusion over the Church's policy, but that does not diminish our need to continue to focus on its effects.

Helfer points out that the double bind problem is real, and whether knowingly or unwittingly we often send dual-meaning messages that seem contradictory in our attempts to clarify positions. There is still much for us to do to improve our messaging and our outreach, and she gives a thoughtful treatise on this topic without seeming the least bit untrue to her core Mormon beliefs. She's a "thinking Mormon". I appreciate her contribution here.

We need look no further than our own hearts and souls in understanding the tensions that often arise over these issues. There is a perpetual war in mortality between what is referred to in Holy Writ as "the natural man" (see Mosiah 3:19) and our pure spirit. In the constant bombardment that swirls all around us in today's political climate, we must find peace in our own souls.

Peggy Fletcher Stack
The second article was written by Peggy Fletcher Stack, and appeared recently in The Salt Lake Tribune. Peggy has a gold-plated Mormon heritage as a great-granddaughter of President Heber J. Grant and a granddaughter of former US Senator Wallace F. Bennett. She's always been a bit conflicted, it would seem, with her roots and her intellectual bent, but I always appreciate her point of view, as I did when I read her article titled "Why top Mormon leaders' private writings may never become public".

There has always been a tension between Church leaders and Mormon historians over access to the archival contents involving what is perceived to be the "deep, dark secrets" every good Mormon historian would love to get their hands on. In recent years with the publications of the Joseph Smith Papers, in large part this criticism has been abated, but after reading Stack's article it occurs to me that enough will never be enough.

The article particularly resonated with me on a personal level. She observed:

In the 1980s, assistant church historian Richard E. Turley explains, the Utah-based faith began requiring all Mormon general authorities to sign an agreement, pledging that any "work product" — including their "journals, speeches, photographs and other records of enduring value" — belongs to the church's history department "for long-term preservation."

The Church History Library, he says, "seeks to make as much information as it can publicly available from these records within legal, ethical, and religious boundaries and practical resource constraints."

A week away from his 94th birthday, my father wrote the definitive biography about President Harold B. Lee. As his source documents, he used the hand-written journals of President Lee. Many years ago when he was finished with his book, Dad donated the original journals to the Church. What we didn't know as his family until a few months ago was that he had carefully transcribed and indexed all those journal entries on his typewriter and had intended to preserve them inside the family in perpetuity. He confided in me that he was having misgivings about that decision, and asked me to read thirty-plus years of content and give him my recommendation on their eventual disposition.

I did as he requested and thus became only the second person to have access to the complete record within the family. As I dove deeper into the contents, I felt as though I was treading on sacred ground. The thought continued to grow that this content did not really belong to us as his descendants. He was first and foremost the 11th President of the Church, and secondarily our grandfather.

Elder Steven E. Snow and L. Brent Goates
Obviously, the 1980s agreement to which Stack makes reference was not in force in the days of Harold B. Lee, but my recommendation was to turn over all the transcripts to the Church. The transfer was effected when Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian, made a visit to Dad's home and personally secured the copies. They consisted of hundreds of sheets of single-spaced typing and double-sided papers held together in two large three-ring binders. He estimated the transcriptions had taken hundreds of hours to do.

Did I wrestle with that decision? Of course. Was it the right decision, knowing as I did it would mean giving up the prodigious work product of my father? Of course. As I became familiar with the intimate thoughts and writings and details of President Lee's life and ministry among the members and leaders of the Church, I came to a moment when I knew there was no other course to take. It seemed so contradictory to donate the originals and retain the copies. Donating them was an act of supreme consecration on Dad's part.

The contents were indeed "raw materials" from which my father drew in his compilation. Given the context of the times in which Harold B. Lee lived, as with all historical documents, they could easily be misjudged, misconstrued and misinterpreted. That's the risk of retaining them as a family.

I believe no one but Dad could have done that work, and I now consider what he did to be the crowning achievement of a life well-lived. As I read, I could easily discern each of the torturous decisions he had to make as he held the scales of objectivity in his hands in deciding what to include in the record and what to exclude. Every author has his biases, and Dad certainly had his. It may be an imperfect record, but given what I now know about what he had to work with, it was an honest and forthright work.

I trust the leaders of this Church, and I trust the God of heaven whose servants they are. I know they are mere mortals like me. I know they struggle with all the vicissitudes of mortality like all of us. I know they grapple and wrestle mightily to make decisions in the best interests of the Church's members. But I also know they are trustworthy. I am reminded of this precious verse:

". . . 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. . . I will impart unto you of my Spirit, which shall enlighten your mind, which shall fill your soul with joy; 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." (D&C 11:12-14).