I'm frequently asked by persons who don't know much about Mormons, Are Mormons Christians? With a smile I always give the same answer, "Yes we are, very much so."

Mormons quite often are referred to as Latter-Day Saint Christians due to the official name of the church which is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. But it's more than just a name, Latter-Day Saints strive daily to live the life of Christ and study his teachings and those of his apostles to become more like him.

The Bible tells us the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. (Acts 11:26) The word Christian means “a follower of Christ" but the word disciple means “student” or “pupil.” Hence a true Christian is not someone who simply says they believe in Christ but rather someone who ardently follows and studies the Savior their entire lives. Mormons do exactly that, therefore we are very much Christian in the truest sense of the word.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Items found in Florida sinkhole challenge story of the Americas

(by Neal Colgrass foxnews.com 5-16-16)

What divers found in a Florida sinkhole may help overturn a long-held theory—that people first colonized the Americas thousands of years ago by crossing the Bering Strait, the Guardian reports.

Scientists say that fossilized dung, mastodon bones, and a stone knife discovered at the site near Tallahassee suggest people lived there roughly 14,500 years ago. That's about 500 years before the ice-free corridor—land sandwiched between ice sheets in the US and Canada—appeared, allowing those who crossed the Bering Strait land bridge to travel throughout the continent, Smithsonian notes.

"So the ice-free corridor is not our answer for how the Americas were initially colonized," says Jessi Halligan, an anthropologist whose team went searching in the Aucilla river sinkhole between 2012 and 2014.

They pulled out a few stone tools, including one known as a "biface" that Halligan says was "absolutely" made by people. They also re-analyzed a mastodon tusk retrieved earlier at the site and say deep marks in its surface were cut by humans.

Other animal bones found at the sinkhole include dire wolf, mammoth, horse, camel, giant armadillo, sloth, and even dogs, who may have accompanied or trailed the hunters, Discovery reports.

So if these people didn't come by Bering Strait, how did they? "The only logical way people could have come to Florida [from Asia] 14,600 years ago is if their ancestors entered the Americas by boat along the Pacific Coast," says anthropologist Michael Waters, who worked with Halligan.

"They could have traveled by boat to central Mexico, crossed and come along the Gulf Coast." Published in Science Advances, this is one of a few finds challenging the notion that people first came to the Americas about 13,000 years ago.



Saturday, May 14, 2016

Living in a world with many different religious views

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 5-12-16)

One of the most interesting magazines in America, First Things (online at firstthings.com), focuses on religion and public affairs, taking a broadly Christian (often Catholic) stance but also regularly featuring Orthodox, Jewish and other writers.

(The April 2016 issue includes an article, translated by Brigham Young University’s redoubtable Ralph Hancock, by the noted Paris intellectual Pierre Manent. May’s issue includes a piece about Mormonism by the friendly critic Richard J. Mouw, former president of California’s Fuller Theological Seminary, online at firstthings.com/article/2016/05/mormons-approaching-orthodoxy. June’s features a response to Mouw by Terryl Givens, online at firstthings.com/article/2016/06/mormons-at-the-forefront.)

Among the most interesting contemporary thinkers on religion and society is the Austrian-American sociologist Peter Berger, who published a valuable essay in First Things for April 2016 titled “The Good of Religious Pluralism” (online at firstthings.com/article/2016/04/the-good-of-religious-pluralism, subscription required).

As we’re all acutely aware, we moderns live in a religiously varied world. It’s not merely that there are Christians of various denominations, as well as Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and others. That’s been true for centuries. More than ever before, however, thanks to modern means of communication and travel and because of immigration to and emigration from different countries, the fact of alternative religious beliefs constantly confronts us. The largest Buddhist temple in the Western Hemisphere stands near my parents’ former home in Southern California. There’s a mosque in Pocatello, Idaho. A temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is under construction near Rome.

When he started his career as a sociologist, Berger says, “Like just about everyone in the field, I operated within so-called secularization theory. We thought that modernity invariably means a decline of religion. It took me more than 20 years to conclude that the theory is empirically untenable.” The evidence, he says, is “overwhelming”: “The world today is as religious as it ever was, in places more so than ever. (There are exceptions, notably Western Europe and an international so-called intelligentsia. These have to be, and can be, explained.)”

So what to make of the still-religious and religiously complex world in which we live?

Berger describes four “benefits,” as he sees them, of living on a planet where competing religious (and nonreligious) viewpoints reside in close proximity to one another. I’ll mention them, and briefly comment on them, in his order:

“First benefit: It becomes more difficult to take a religious tradition for granted. Acts of decision become necessary,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

We tend to follow the culture in which we were raised, and that includes religion (and irreligion). In the past, this was almost invariably so. A child raised by Catholics in a Catholic society was extremely likely to die a Catholic. So, too, with the child of Hindu parents raised in a Hindu culture. Today, though, alternatives are everywhere, within easy distance, and no longer unthinkable. People change churches and faiths more than ever before.

“Second benefit: Freedom is a great gift, and pluralism opens up new areas of freedom,” according to Berger.

As Lehi understood (see 2 Nephi), real freedom is only possible — and “choices” only meaningful — where options exist to make choices possible. And a vigorously competitive market, in religion as in other goods, confers many benefits.

"To each of you,” says Quran 5:48, God has “appointed a law and a way. If God had willed, he would have made you one people. However, he wanted to test you in what he has given to you. So vie with one another in doing good. All of you will return to God, and then he will inform you about the matters in which you differed.”

“Third benefit: If pluralism is combined with religious freedom, all religious institutions become in fact voluntary associations,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

Religious movements cannot compel obedience or membership under such conditions, and this is very much in the spirit of Doctrine and Covenants 134:10: “We do not believe that any religious society has authority to try men on the right of property or life, to take from them this world’s goods, or to put them in jeopardy of either life or limb, or to inflict any physical punishment upon them. They can only excommunicate them from their society, and withdraw from them their fellowship.”

“Fourth benefit: Pluralism influences individual believers and religious communities to distinguish between the core of their faith and less central elements,” according to “The Good of Religious Pluralism.”

The late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia believed that the worst court decisions were the unanimous ones. Why? Because nobody on an opposing side was pointing out errors, flaws, poor assumptions, silly irrelevancies and other shortcomings (see "Concurring Opinion Writing on the U.S. Supreme Court," by Pamela C. Corley).

We become better by interacting with people different from ourselves.



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Finding Self-Worth in a Selfie World

(by Henry Unga lds.ord 5-9-16)

I was 11 years old when I realized I had no friends. It was the beginning of 5th grade in a new school, and, besides, everybody probably feels similar when they’re that young anyway. But even if that’s true, it didn’t soften the blow when the Val-O-Grams—those special valentines students purchased and had sent to their best friends—were delivered to all the classrooms and everyone seemed to get ten and I only got one—and it was from my mom.

I was 17 years old when I experimented with the harshest of hair products because the statement I was making with my ripped jeans and worn boots wasn’t getting enough of the attention I wanted from my high school peers. If they weren’t looking at or talking about me, it was as if I didn’t exist.

I was 21 years old when I knew I was the worst missionary in the history of the Church. I wasn’t baptizing as much as others, I wasn’t called to leadership positions when younger missionaries were, and I simply didn’t feel the persistent, all-encompassing glow I once associated with missionary work and righteousness and following the rules.

I was 26 years old when I finally graduated from college and was offered a job I felt I had to accept to feel like a contributing adult. And soon after I took the job, I silently wished that I could go back and start over again. Because, at the time, I wasn’t brave enough to say no to a job I knew wouldn’t fulfill me even though it would pay my bills. Because I wasn’t traveling the world or interning at Universal Studios or playing in the NFL or publishing bestsellers or making the kind of money that would ensure an early and prosperous retirement. I was at a desk. And it appeared everyone else was living their dream.

And I was 28 years old when my wife was diagnosed with a terminal lung disease. And beyond how many friends I had, how good-looking I felt I was, how respected I was by my peers, how glamorous or rich I was or wasn’t, my understanding of self-worth became how I used my new pain and past experiences to acquire the compassion necessary to truly love someone other than myself. And what if that’s the secret? What if pouring yourself—the good and the hidden—into those around and beyond you afforded you the kind of self-worth you can’t get from social media or one of the thousands of self-help books crowding our shelves? What if outward compassion rather than inward reflection is the barometer with which God measures our intended purpose and value? Well, I think it might be. Or at least it’s a strong component. Because I’ve never felt more worthy as a son of God than when I first started washing my wife’s hair because lifting her own arms to shampoo her hair became too much for her lungs to handle. I’ve never felt so purposeful and satisfied than when I made the obvious choice of disappearing into the full-time care and round-the-clock concern of a most precious and delicate daughter of God.

Maybe not having friends in 5th grade meant I wasn’t being a friend to my classmates. Maybe not feeling attractive in high school meant I needed to step away from my mirror and look out my window. Maybe not receiving the leadership roles I felt I needed in order to really make a difference as a missionary meant that I wasn’t fully serving those closest to me—my missionary companions and the families who were looking to us for gospel understanding. Maybe feeling enslaved to a job that wasn’t the coolest or most lucrative meant that I didn’t yet understand that it would be outside the hours of 9 to 5 where my happiest, hardest, and most sacred work would be done. And maybe feeling cheated by 78 “likes” on a posted picture that I thought deserved a million means I’ve swung too far from what I once understood about self-worth and have parlayed my divine identity into an idea of someone I’m not quite and perhaps never will be.

I’m now 29 years old. And maybe that’s too young to know exactly who or what I am. But being 29 is probably old enough to know what I’m not. I know I’m not merely a resume or a cultural demographic or a body type or a tax bracket or a profile picture. And I know I’m not reduced to those arbitrary things because I know I am more than simply myself.

I am what I am to my wife and to my friends and family and to my neighbors and coworkers and fellow freeway drivers. I am what I am to the 54-year-old server who cleans up after me and thanks me for coming in even though I under-tipped. I am what I am to the person who doesn’t like me and especially to the person I’m not too fond of either. I am what I am to those I should be serving more, to those I should be reaching out to more, to those I should be writing to instead of writing this. I am how I love others because that’s one of the few things I can actually control in this life, and it’s possibly the only way I can tangibly measure my true self-worth. But mostly, I am how I love others because that’s all God asks of me—and because that’s all I can give Him. And maybe that’s good enough.



Monday, May 9, 2016

When Jesus purged the temple at Jerusalem

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 5-5-16)

All three of the synoptic gospels (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17 and Luke 19:45-46) tell of the Savior’s “cleansing” of the temple at Jerusalem — the Latin term for the event (“purgatio templi”) is much more expressive — as does the gospel of John (John 2:13-17). Some scholars think there were two different cleansings, but, for this column, I’ll set that issue aside.

According to the gospel narratives, the temple court was filled with tables where the Greek and Roman coinage used for ordinary daily transactions had to be exchanged for Jewish coins or, alternatively, coins from Tyre, northward on the Mediterranean coast in what is today Lebanon. (Gentile coins were unacceptable within the temple precincts because, rather like many modern coins, they featured graven images.)

It’s easy to imagine there was a considerable markup in the exchange because the money-changers enjoyed a wonderful monopoly: There was only one temple in Judaism. The newly acquired “temple coins” were then used to purchase animals — the Gospels mention pigeons, sheep and oxen — for sacrifice on the altars of the sanctuary. And, once again, the merchants in the temple courtyard had, and presumably took, every opportunity to ring up a handsome profit at the expense of devout pilgrims who might have made a very arduous journey from distant parts of Palestine (and well beyond it) to worship their God.

We can, I think, learn a great deal from the story of how Jesus reacted to this situation. I will mention three points:

First of all, we plainly see that the Jesus who some have imagined, a man so tolerant and accepting that he would never presume to judge, reject or exclude anybody, is non-biblical. The New Testament Jesus was indeed gentle, kind and loving, and his love is our only hope of salvation. Still, on this occasion, he took the time to calmly make a whip out of cords and then waded in among the money-changers and drove them out, explaining while he did so that whereas the temple had been erected as “a house of prayer” (“for all nations,” adds the account given by the Greek physician Luke), the greedy and exploitative money-changers had turned it into “a den of robbers.” Afterward, recalls John, the disciples who had witnessed the Savior’s action saw in it a fulfillment of Psalm 69:9: “Zeal for thy house will consume me.”

The Jesus of this story can be righteously angry. “A false balance,” says Proverbs 11:1, “is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is his delight.” And although we have no reason to believe Jesus seriously injured — let alone killed — anyone, it’s plain he was willing to take vigorous action to defend what, according to John 2:16, he called “my Father’s house.”

Which brings us to a second point that we can take away from at least John’s recollection: By calling the temple of Jerusalem “my Father’s house,” the Jesus of the fourth Gospel seems quite plainly to be identifying himself as the Son of God. Notice that he doesn’t say “our Father’s house.” He is claiming a unique relationship with the Father.

A third and final point: His zeal for the temple and his description of it as “my Father’s house” — some Greek manuscripts of Matthew 21:12 identify it simply as “the temple,” but others call it “the temple of God” — show that Jesus considers it a holy place that should be treated as sacred. Some Christians have argued that Jesus rejected the temple and that his followers should therefore do the same. But there is no evidence for such rejection during Jesus’ lifetime, and the story of his purging of the temple argues powerfully to the contrary.

Of course, some have asserted that Jesus’ death on the cross eventually did render the temple irrelevant and that, accordingly, Christians should reject it. Once again, though, the biblical evidence contradicts this view. After Christ’s crucifixion, after his resurrection, and even after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (which some mainstream Christians like to view as the real “birth” of the Christian church), the book of Acts tells us where the Savior’s apostles spent their time — very possibly at considerable risk of arrest and certainly of harassment by hostile authorities: They were “continuing daily with one accord in the temple … praising God” (Acts 2:46-47).
Both Jesus and his disciples reverenced the temple, and so should we.