Throughout my many travels 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 abide by his teachings and those of his apostles.

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.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Mormons to build 32-story tower near Center City



(by Laura McCrystal philly.com 2-14-14)

The Mormon Church plans to build a 32-story apartment tower and a public meetinghouse on a vacant lot next to the Vine Street Expressway, filling in a key piece of the no-man's-land that has long separated Center City and North Philadelphia's rebounding neighborhoods.

The private development by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls for 258 apartments, 13 townhouses, and retail shops at 16th and Vine Streets.

The meetinghouse will have a chapel, courtyard, multipurpose space, and a center to research genealogy, said Michael Marcheschi, senior real estate manager for the church's national special projects department.

The development, announced Wednesday by Mayor Nutter and church officials, will stand next to the Mormon temple under construction on Vine Street and set for completion in 2016.
 
The meetinghouse will be the primary worship space for about 1,000 of the 25,000 Mormons in the Philadelphia area, said Corinne Dougherty, director of public affairs for the church's Philadelphia region.

Tenants need not be Mormons to rent an apartment or townhouse in the development, officials said. They said the units would rent at market prices.

Wednesday's announcement is the next step in the church's commitment to invest in Philadelphia, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke said. Church officials said the development would complete their local building plans.

The total cost of the project is not yet known, church officials said.

The church will not receive city or state money for the project, Nutter said. He said the project would create an estimated 1,500 to 1,800 jobs.

The for-profit residential tower will be subject to city taxes, mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said; the meetinghouse will be tax-exempt because of its religious nature. He said the project was also eligible for the city's 10-year tax abatement for new development.

Plans for the project still need approval from various city agencies, and no date has been set for groundbreaking. Construction is projected to last from 18 months to two years.

Nutter said the new buildings on what is now a parking lot would bring "more residents, worshipers, and retail activity to one of the most architecturally significant sections of our city," and would transform the skyline.

The nearly 360-foot tower - by comparison, the Comcast tower rises 975 feet - will also mark the latest step in the redevelopment of Vine Street, which already is home to the Central Branch of the Free Library and the planned transformation of the Family Court building into a luxury hotel. The new buildings will rise just a block from the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul, across the Vine Street Expressway.

Other signs of change in the Benjamin Franklin Parkway area include the announcement Monday of a deal for the overhaul of John F. Kennedy Plaza, and a proposed casino in the former Inquirer Building on North Broad Street.

In the Mormons' plan, street-level townhouses will line Vine and Wood Streets, said Paul Whalen, a partner at Robert A.M. Stern Architects. The tower will have shops along 16th Street, though tenants have not yet been selected.

Whalen said a new tree-lined street between Wood Street and Vine would connect the meetinghouse and tower and would be open to the public.

The two-story meetinghouse would be at Vine and Franklin Town Boulevard. Sunday worship services will be held there, and there will be weekday activities such as youth meetings and recreation, Marcheschi said.

The meetinghouse will be open to the public, but the temple will be reserved "for members of the church who are living the tenets of the faith," Marcheschi said. One of 140 Mormon temples, it will be open to the public for about a month between its completion and dedication in 2016, Marcheschi said.

The nearest Mormon temples are in New York City and Washington.

A scholar who has studied modern Mormonism characterized the plan as part of the church's effort to expand its presence in inner-city areas.

Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University who has authored three books on contemporary Mormon religion, said, "I think that large buildings like this are intended by the church to make a statement that they want to have a greater presence in the inner city, where they can provide service and help and support to populations that have not heretofore been typical Mormon recruits."
(I had originally saved this spot to write some of my thoughts on the previous article about the United Methodist church struggling with gay marriage and how issues like that can divide a church. However, like always I found something written by someone else that is much better than anything I could ever write.)

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Activism and the LDS Church

(by Luke Hopkin peculiarthought.com 4-9-14)

http://peculiarthought.com/2014/04/09/activism-and-the-lds-church/

Recent events, especially the movement of “Ordain Women”, has caused me to seriously reflect upon the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints and it’s administration.
Let me state a few things before assumptions are made:
  1. I don’t have any fundamental problem with women having the priesthood, in fact it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if someday that revelation was given.
  2. I am well aware of the huge role women play in the church. I have watched all of my leadership efforts absolutely pale in comparison to my counterparts with names like Eva, and Heather, and Mariana.
  3. This post won’t deal with all things “inequality”, but we will get to that in another post.
So what is this post about? What are we talking about here? We are simply talking about activism and the LDS Church.
 
What do I mean when I say “activism in the church”? It’s really quite simple actually. It is the efforts of groups of members of the church to put pressure on church leadership through the tactics usually employed in the political arenas. Protests, social media campaigns, traditional media campaigns, speeches, petitions, “walk ins”, and other such activities all fit into the definition of activism.
 
Activism is a powerful tool, it’s been used to do much good in the world. It’s also been used to do much evil in the world, though we don’t usually call it activism in those cases. Activism definitely has it’s appropriate place in the political arenas of states, and man made organizations. But we aren’t talking about the entities of mankind – we are talking about the Church of God. We are talking about the church whose head is Christ. Christ, the Savior of the world, the creator of all things, the very God of heaven and earth.

I expect the first response to this will be: “But the church of Christ is lead by imperfect men, who are not infallible”. This is a good point. But let us talk about what that means. We know that the leaders of the church are imperfect humans, we know that they are allowed mistakes, but we also know that God will not allow them to lead us astray. So where do we draw the line? Do we get to decide when the brethren are just being imperfect, and when they are leading us astray?

Recent activism in the church has called for the ordination of women to the priesthood. And don’t be mistaken, this is full on activism. It is protests, walks-ins, stand-ins, social media, traditional media, speeches, and websites – it is activism in every sense of the word.

But let us go back to this line that we are drawing. This isn’t a small thing we are talking about. We aren’t talking about where to put a temple, or what to include in the Sunday School manual, or what the age of missionary service is. We aren’t even talking about something more serious, like who the leaders of the church auxiliaries will be, or even what the programs in the temple will be like. We are talking about the very power to act in the name of Christ. The system by which Christ directs His kingdom here on earth. It is hard to imagine something more important to the administration and leadership of the church than this subject. Yet we believe that the leaders are not in tune with the will of God on the matter?

We believe that they know what should be included in the temple ordinances.

We believe that they know what to say at conference.

We believe that they know where to send our child on his or her missionary service.

But we don’t believe that they understand how the priesthood should be administered?
 
We believe in prophets, seers, and revelators, but we don’t believe that they are actually seeing or receiving revelation?

We believe this is the church of Christ, but we don’t believe that it is being administered according to the will of Christ?

We believe that Christ can come to His house to direct the prophet, but we believe that for some reason He hasn’t done so – and thus He needs our help in pushing the cart along?

Christ needs our pickets and protests? Christ needs our Facebook page and websites? I am sorry, but He doesn’t. As He has proven in the past, Christ doesn’t even need the church – the church is for our good.
 
In addition to all of this, we also believe that the already spoken words aren’t enough? We need more?
 
What happens when we get more instruction from the brethren? What happens if we get what we are asking for: If the prophet announces that he has specifically prayed in the temple concerning the matter and has received revelation that the priesthood will not be extended to women? What then?
Do we say “Thank you.” and pack up? Do we shut down our campaign, and delete our websites? Do we admit that our actions have caused division in the church, that we were wrong, that we now accept the word of the Servant of the Lord?
 
Or do we raise our banner higher, and make our voices louder? Do we make our lines at Temple Square longer? Do we do more interviews, and write more website articles? Do we push harder to receive the answer we desire? Do we, in fact, believe that we are dealing with the unjust judge?
What if, on the other hand, the prophet announces that the priesthood will be extended to women? What then? Are we then satisfied?
 
I doubt that the technical change of the priesthood being extended will actually be enough. Technically women have the same rights in the workforce of America. Technically the civil rights movement ended almost 40 years ago. But we still see debates about and problems with inequality in those realms. So do we continue to campaign? And if so, when do we stop? When there are 50% female bishops? When there are 50% female stake presidents? Or how about when we have our first female president of the church – is that the finish line?
 
And do we really expect Christ to call leaders in the church according to the precepts of our activism?
 
When does our social and digital stoning of the prophets end?
 
The church can’t be lead by activism. Bringing awareness of things that should be considered, is a different story (and a future post). But, when the church begins to be led by activism it is no longer the church of God, but instead just another church of man.1 The possibilities of what different interest groups could call for are endless. And when the brethren are constantly tormented by the cries of mortal man, how will they ever have time to hear the revelations of eternity?
 
And let us remember the real significance of our particular cause. We call the church imperfect when it suits us, but then we expect it to perfectly cater to our specific needs and wants. But in all honesty the brethren’s priority list most certainly doesn’t match ours. They lead a worldwide church of 15 million members, over hundreds of countries and countless social, political, and cultural conditions.
What about the needs of the members in the Ukraine, the members in Argentina, the members who have suffered in the Philippines over the last year! What about the millions of members whose annual income does not match the amount of money our families spent on movies and popcorn last year? So while we sit here in the comfort of our American indulgence, let us remember those whose only good thing is the gospel, and let us try to remember that our cause might not actually be at the top of the priority list!
 
I am sorry that your political views, social expectations, or particular cause isn’t exactly matching up with what you see in the church right now. I really am sorry, I wish I could just fix it for you – I really do.
 
However, in reality, the church does not provide perfectly personalized care. Local leaders try to do the best they can – but they are mortal too. The fact is, that the only personal, perfectly customized, care available in this world comes from Christ. Our relationship with Him, our ability and desire to call upon Him and use his atonement. And even then, with the perfect succor of Christ – we don’t always get exactly what we want.
 
When we try to guide the church we very likely miss the mark. And are so likely to ask for something we really shouldn’t have. Despite our best intentions, despite our kind hearts, despite our hopes, we are – and listen carefully – also imperfect. Only one can steer the helm at a time. With too many trying to right the ship, the ship will only sink – dashed upon the rocks. I prefer Christ to be my helmsman.
 
It would be amazing if the church could be everything to everyone. But churches who attempt such feats are fractured and scattered – and still don’t accomplish it. It would be wonderful if everyone always felt perfectly comfortable, it really would be. But the church isn’t salvation. No, it is just a temporal organization placed on earth to help us towards salvation if we will allow it to do so. Remember, there are no “mormons” and “non-mormons” in the Celestial Kingdom – there are only Joint Heirs with Christ.
 
Perfection of the church in this world is not the goal – perfection of ourselves through Christ, in the life to come, is. Whatever the condition of our hearts, Christ is our solution.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

United Methodists in crisis over gay marriage, church law

(deseretnews.com 2-9-14)

The dispute among United Methodists over recognition of same-sex couples has lapsed into a doctrinal donnybrook, pitting clergy who are presiding at gay weddings in defiance of church law against proponents of traditional marriage who are trying to stop them.

Since 2011, Methodist advocates for gay marriage have been recruiting clergy to openly officiate at same-sex ceremonies in protest of church policy. In response, theological conservatives have sought formal complaints against the defiant clergy, which could lead to church trials. One scholar has warned that Methodists are "retreating into our various camps" instead of seeking a resolution over an issue the church has formally debated since the 1970s.

"At this point, we have kind of come to the place where we know what the brute facts are," said Matt Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, which advocates for gay and lesbian Methodists. "Most folks, after 40 years of trying legislative solutions, realize they won't work. The way forward is to claim what we know to be true. And we're going to continue doing it in an aggressive way."

The intensity of the conflict was laid bare over the last several months, when the church tried, convicted and defrocked Frank Schaefer, a Pennsylvania pastor who presided at the wedding of his son to another man. Berryman said the case galvanized Methodists advocating for recognition of gay marriage, increasing donations to the group and traffic on Reconciling Ministries' online sites.

Schaefer has since been traveling the country giving talks and sermons on gay acceptance.

Opponents have also stepped up their organizing. Through statements, videos and conference calls, a theologically conservative Methodist movement called Good News has been pressing church leaders to act when church law, contained in the Methodist Book of Discipline, is violated. "When people choose to break the covenant that holds us together, there has to be some accountability," said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, Good News' president.

Last month, a new Methodist group formed called the Wesleyan Covenant Network to support theologically conservative Methodists and keep them from leaving the denomination. The meeting in Atlanta drew about 130 clergy and others. One speaker choked back tears while telling the group his son is considering entering ministry — but not in the United Methodist Church.

"The present atmosphere is the worst I've ever seen it," said the Rev. Maxie Dunnam, a retired president of Asbury Theological Seminary in Kentucky who helped organize the Wesleyan Covenant Network. "We are a divided church already."

Several other high-profile cases are pending. The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired Yale Divinity School dean and retired elder in the church's New York district, will be tried March 10 for officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son. The Council of Bishops has also called for a formal complaint against retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, who presided at the wedding of two men last October in Alabama over the objections of a local bishop. The Rev. Stephen Heiss of Binghamton, N.Y., is expected to face a church trial for presiding at his daughter's same-sex wedding in 2002 and at other same-sex marriages.

Thomas Frank, a Wake Forest University professor who specializes in Methodist history and governance, wrote an open letter to the church's bishops, urging them to end the trials. He warned that Methodists have been "retreating into our various camps" and were in desperate need of an open conversation.

"The continuation of church trials is a disgrace to our heritage," Frank wrote. "It is divisive, bringing interference from interest groups outside the annual conference and introducing the language of 'prosecution' 'defense team,' 'conviction,' 'judge,' and 'jury' to our church as if we were all players in 'Law and Order.' We are not considering criminal acts; we are deliberating about pastoral judgment."

Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has called same-gender relationships "incompatible with Christian teaching" and has banned clergy from taking actions contrary to that position: No ordinations or clergy appointments are allowed for "self-avowed practicing homosexuals." No "ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions" are permitted in churches. No clergy can preside at the ceremonies no matter where the events are held.

The church has also declared itself "dedicated to a ministry of Christ-like hospitality and compassion to persons of all sexual orientations" and has committed to supporting "certain basic human rights and civil liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation."

Theological conservatives see no inconsistencies among those positions. Advocates for gays and lesbians do. They have debated at every national legislative meeting, or General Conference, for four decades with the same result: the "incompatible" language — and the related prohibitions — have stayed.

Frustration over the lack of change fueled the new movement to openly defy church law, starting in 2011 in Minnesota and New York. Methodist ministers had already been quietly officiating at same-gender ceremonies in some communities for years. A few of the more publicly defiant clergy had faced formal complaints or had been tried by the church. But the public marriage pledges brought new energy to the campaign.

By the spring of 2012, when General Conference had gathered in Florida, more than 1,100 clergy had signed on. But within the legislative meeting, delegates were unmoved. The conference once again voted to keep the status quo.

On the final day of the assembly, at a gathering of Methodists who support gay marriage, Talbert announced, "The time for talking is over."

"I declare to you that the derogatory language and restrictive laws in the Book of Discipline are immoral and unjust and no longer deserve our loyalty and obedience," Talbert told the cheering crowd. "I call on the more than 1,100 clergy who have signed the pledge to stand firm on their resolve to perform marriages among same-sex persons, same-sex couples, and to do so in the normal course of their pastoral duties, thus defying the laws that prohibit them from doing so."

He called the weddings "an act of biblical obedience" to the teaching that all people are created in God's image. Dorothee Benz, of Methodists in New Directions, a New York advocacy group spearheading the gay marriage drive, said, "that language of biblical obedience became a messaging touchstone."

The situation for United Methodists stands out because their fellow mainline Protestants have moved toward accepting gay relationships. The United Church of Christ began ordaining people with same-sex partners in the 1970s, and by 2005, had endorsed gay marriage. In 2003, the Episcopal Church elected the first bishop living openly with a same-sex partner, Bishop Gene Robinson. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) have both struck down barriers to ordaining gays and lesbians. United Methodists are the second-largest U.S. Protestant group and have about 12.5 million members worldwide.

Demographics largely explain why the Methodists have maintained their marriage stance. The church, which once had a presence in nearly every county in the U.S., has become "more red state-y than it ever was," said David Steinmetz, a specialist in Christian history and retired professor at Duke Divinity School. Sandwiched between the liberal-leaning Northeast and Western districts are the more theologically conservative Methodist conferences, which tend to have larger and faster-growing congregations. Reconciling Ministries Network took on the geographic challenge last fall by adopting a new Southern outreach strategy.

Boosting the theologically conservative numbers are the burgeoning Methodist churches overseas, where the predominant views are traditional. At the next General Conference in 2016, the share of delegates from U.S. will drop to about 58 percent, while the contingent from Africa will rise to 30 percent, according to United Methodist News Service. Most U.S. Protestant denominations belong to some kind of international fellowship, but largely set their own policies at home. Methodists are the rare mainline group structured to give overseas members a direct say.

"The church is already partly in schism. You've got bishops not obeying the law of the church. You have pastors not obeying the law of the church," Steinmetz said. "How long can they live with two mindsets? I just don't know."

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/765647372/Methodists-in-crisis-over-gay-marriage-church-law.html?pg=1

Mormon leaders announce effort to unite LDS women across the globe

(by Sarah Jane Weaver deseretnews.com 2-7-14)

LDS Church leaders announced changes this week that will impact the religion's Relief Society, Young Women and Primary organizations.

The changes are part of an effort to unite women across the globe, said the general presidents of the three organizations.

Reflecting the organization’s international growth, women who live outside of Utah and outside the United States have been called to serve on the newly formed Young Women general board.

In addition, training — previously held locally in conjunction with April’s general conference — will now be delivered worldwide through an integrated, global, Web-based effort, that will be provided in key languages.

These changes were announced weeks before Latter-day Saint women, age 8 and older, will gather March 29 for the semiannual general women’s meeting — which will replace the general Relief Society and Young Women meetings that have been held annually for decades.

“We all know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is worldwide,” said Sister Rosemary M. Wixom, Primary general president. “That reason alone provides opportunities for advancement and progression. All of these things — the general women’s meeting, the training that will come online, and also international boards for Young Women — are pointing in that direction, to meet the changing needs of women.”

Sister Linda K. Burton, Relief Society general president, said collectively the changes will have a big impact. “It is something to celebrate,” she said.

Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, said the changes will unify a worldwide membership and help "make the church smaller."

The First Presidency of the church announced Nov. 1 that beginning in April the semiannual general women’s meeting will replace the general Relief Society and general Young Women meetings.

Sister Burton said the Relief Society general presidency has talked about where the idea came from to make the change. “We couldn’t pinpoint where this idea came from, because it has come from so many different sources and the timing and the pieces that have come together have been remarkable,” she said.

Sister Wixom said leaders wanted to be inclusive and invite Primary girls 8-12, in addition to young women and women. “As we counseled together we came to the conclusion that it begins for girls when they turn 8 years old and they take upon themselves the baptismal covenant,” she said.

Sister Burton said she is excited for the meeting because “there is power in gathering. … We elevate each other in a way when we are together that is absolutely remarkable.”

She said the new general meeting sends the same message as integrated global training and international boards: “It is unity. It is seamless in spirit and purpose. We are together.”

Sister Oscarson said that when she and her presidency were called last spring and asked to consider a Young Women general board, they felt like the time was right to include women from across the globe.

As part of the board, four women from the Wasatch Front will serve side by side, by the use of technology, with women from Africa, Peru, Japan, Brazil and New York City. “This is a global church,” Sister Oscarson said.

She said she hopes the international board will send the message to women across the world that the Lord is aware of them.

Sister Burton said the Relief Society and Primary leaders will be watching and learning from the Young Women international board. Leaders haven’t determined yet if they will call international members to the Relief Society and Primary boards.

Sister Wixom said new online training will make it possible for women all over the world to receive the same message at the same time. Another change, added Sister Burton, is the timing of the training. The annual training emphasis and materials will be developed after April general conference, which will be held April 5 and 6, for posting on approximately June 1.

Sister Oscarson said the training will consist of online video segments and other materials and will respond to the growing needs of the worldwide church.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865595897/Mormon-leaders-announce-effort-to-unite-LDS-women-across-the-globe.html