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.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

'The First Vision' harmonizes accounts of Joseph Smith's theophany

(by Rosemarie Howard deseretnews.com 4-29-15)

Matthew B. Christensen's first book, “The First Vision: A Harmonization of 10 Accounts from the Sacred Grove,” brings together historical accounts of the initial appearance of God and Jesus Christ to Joseph Smith, prophet and founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Using Joseph's account of the First Vision found in the Pearl of Great Price as a base, Christensen inserts additional words or sentences from nine other accounts of the experience recorded before the prophet’s death on June 27, 1844. Inserted words are color coded according to their source, and a key to the code is provided at the bottom of each page.

Of the 10 accounts, five were written or dictated by Joseph Smith; the other five were written by contemporaries who heard the account from him: Orson Pratt, Orson Hyde, Levi Richards, David White and Alexander Neibaur.

Christensen hopes to share the original accounts of the First Vision in a way that provides fresh insights and builds faith.

The book is a valuable resource and a fine introduction for those wanting to learn more about this foundational event in the history of the LDS Church. For those wanting to do more in-depth study, sources for the complete texts of the 10 accounts are included in the seven pages of endnotes.

Beautiful illustrations include a cover painting by Walter Rane and other full-color depictions of the Sacred Grove and the First Vision.

As an adjunct instructor, Christensen has taught Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants classes at Brigham Young University, and was a contributing researcher and writer for the last 11 books of the late Joseph Fielding McConkie. He works as a donor liaison at LDS Philanthropies and lives in Provo.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

All 4 of Joseph Smith's firsthand accounts of the First Vision released in 10 languages

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865627253/Joseph-Smith-Papers-releases-First-Vision-accounts-in-10-languages.html

(by Trent Toone deseretnews.com 4-24-15)

Millions of international members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can now study an essential part of Mormon history for themselves.

The Joseph Smith Papers and the Church History Department have translated all four of Joseph Smith’s firsthand accounts of the First Vision into 10 languages and made them available for study online. This marks the first time a Joseph Smith Papers project has produced material for non-English-speaking audiences.

“The firsthand accounts of the First Vision have been published in English for decades now, since the 1970s,” said Nathan Waite, an associate editorial manager with the Joseph Smith Papers.

“International church members no longer have to hear about them from scholars or editors, they can now read Joseph’s words in their own language and learn something new about this pivotal event. This will bless the international (members of the) church.”

Joseph Smith’s First Vision is a fundamental aspect of the LDS faith. It details his first encounter with deity as a young man in the spring of 1820 and marks the beginning of the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

The canonized version of the First Vision, produced by Joseph in 1838 and published with his personal history in the Pearl of Great Price, is the best-known account. It has long been translated into multiple languages and distributed throughout the world in the church’s standard works.

Now foreign-speaking Latter-day Saints can also read the prophet’s other three firsthand accounts (1832, 1835, and 1842) of the key event in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish. To see images of the documents, along with English transcripts, visit JosephSmithPapers.org.

For translation purposes, the Joseph Smith Papers team added some necessary punctuation to standardize each narrative, Waite said.

Waite, along with Ben Godfrey, a product manager with the Joseph Smith Papers website, explained that each firsthand account was related by Joseph at a different time in his life, under different circumstances, and for different audiences. The accounts vary in detail, offering different perspectives of the same event, but relate a consistent story overall.

A detailed explanation of each First Vision account exists on the gospel topics essay page on LDS.org. The Joseph Smith Papers team has also created several short videos that provide additional insight about each firsthand account.

Godfrey said the gospel topics essay page adds context for anyone who has questions and will be helpful for those wanting to study the First Vision accounts. Many international members may not even know that Joseph Smith published more than one account of the First Vision.

"We wanted to have those original documents and sources available to all the members around the world, in their own language, and we believe it's going to be beneficial," Godfrey said. "For me personally, reading the various accounts of the First Vision strengthens my testimony of the prophet Joseph because it helps me see him as a real person. It helps me understand that just like me, he spoke to different people in different ways, as he was trying his best to communicate the message of the Restoration. I believe members around the world will have the same experience when they can read the words for themselves. I am confident it will strengthen their faith."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sisters of the Prophet Joseph Smith

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626513/Seeking-and-sorrowing-Sisters-of-the-Prophet-Joseph-Smith.html?pg=1

(by Susan McCloud deseretnews.com 4-16-15)

Faith was a real and vibrant part of life for the three sisters of the Prophet Joseph Smith.

Sophronia, born in 1803, had the companionship of two kind, gentle older brothers, Alvin and Hyrum. Her little brother, Joseph, was born two and a half years later on Dec. 23, 1805.

Sophronia and Joseph were close friends during their childhood, and Joseph’s tenderness toward her increased when the dreaded typhoid fever swept the upper Connecticut River Valley where they lived. Six thousand people lost their lives to typhoid fever, and every child in the Smith family was infected. Sophronia came the closest to dying, being in a dangerously low state for 89 days.

When the doctors pronounced Sophronia's case hopeless, her parents, Joseph Sr. and Lucy, clasped their hands and knelt at her bedside in prayer, pouring out their anguished appeals to God. Though it seemed the child no longer breathed, Lucy gathered her into her arms and paced the floor with her until she caught her breath, sobbed and from that moment began to recover. The other children, including 5-year-old Joseph, were watching — and feeling the faith of their parents when all had seemed lost.

Years of change, poverty and persecution followed. Sophronia was about 13 when the family was forced to leave their Vermont home in penury. Joseph Sr. had gone ahead to New York and could not help. Mother Lucy had a new baby, Don Carlos, to care for. The family paid the bills demanded of them with all they had, “the last payment being made,” wrote the Prophet Joseph, “with the drops (earrings) taken from my sister Sophronia’s ears,” according to an article about Sophronia by Joseph's descendant Gracia N. Jones at josephsmithsr.com.

As Sophronia grew, her devotion to her family never wavered. She, her mother, Hyrum and Samuel joined the Presbyterian church prior to Joseph’s vision in the grove. Before Alvin died in November 1823, he urged her to never forsake her parents. She followed this sacred counsel throughout her life.

At 23, she married Calvin Stoddard, who was a Bible student and very excited about spiritual things. Her daughter Eunice was born in March 1830, and the family made the difficult move to Kirtland, Ohio. They celebrated the marriage of her younger sister Katharine on June 8, 1830.

Tragically, little Eunice died 16 days later, on June 24, 1830.

Sophronia’s life was one of constant struggle and uncertainty — including in a spiritual sense. Her husband, Calvin, fluctuated in his spiritual consistency and dependability. Her faith, despite all, never wavered. When she was close to death with consumption, family friend Jared Carter blessed her, and with faith she told her mother that she knew she would be healed, though it would be a slow process.

When Calvin died rather suddenly, presumably from tuberculosis, Sophronia was left a widow with one little girl, Mariah. Sophronia married William McCleary a year and a half later, and their lives were very bound up with the family and the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the Nauvoo, Illinois, years. They were sealed in the temple, and it appears from letters they intended to travel West, but it never happened, according to Jones' article on josephsmithsr.com. A few years after they were sealed, McCleary seems to disappear from all the records and letters, and Sophronia became a widow again.

It is difficult to piece together the history of these three women. During the years before the Prophet’s death, each lived and worked faithfully in the kingdom, spinning, knitting, cooking, washing, fashioning carpets for the temple — all things lovingly and gently given, despite the poverty and insecurity of their personal lives.

Katharine was born in 1813 and married in 1830, but nothing akin to an ordinary life unfolded for her. In leaving Kirtland for Far West, Missouri, and after traveling in pouring rain for days, Katharine gave birth to her son in an abandoned hut, then traveled with the new infant 40 miles in the next few days to catch up with the company.

Katharine’s husband, Jenkins Salisbury, often deserted the family for periods of time in which they had to fend for themselves. He eventually became disassociated from the LDS Church and died in 1853. Katharine married Joseph Younger in 1857, but the marriage lasted only a few months.

The Smith children of these struggling sisters suffered severe persecution as they were growing up because of their connection with the Mormon prophet. This cruelty culminated as late as 1880. Katharine’s second son, Alvin, was exchanging angry words with an acquaintance and went to hit him. The man, Thomas Duff, suddenly pulled a knife and struck Alvin in the chest and in the upper arm, then drove the weapon deep into the boy’s forehead, causing his death.

Katharine became reconciled to many of her Utah Smith cousins, who visited her and the others often, and she was softened and gratified by Brigham Young’s willingness to send her several large sums of money (beginning with $200) to help build a home for her family. It was not until later years that her children became involved in the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Her heart, for many years, was drawn toward the body of the Saints in Utah, and she expressed her desire to be among them, praying for “the blessing of heaven” to be with President Young “and all the church” (see “I Have a Question,” by Richard Lloyd Anderson, Ensign, March 1979). Katharine lived the longest of the three sisters. On her 80th birthday, she was described as “a tall woman, with one of those clear, pink and white complexions so charming in an old lady. Her eyes are blue and her face is a pleasant one” (see “I Have a Question,” Ensign, March 1979).

Lucy, the last child of Joseph Sr. and Lucy and named after her mother, was born in 1821, nearly 16 years after the Prophet Joseph. When her brothers Joseph and Hyrum were taken prisoner in Far West, Missouri, Lucy went with her mother to bid them farewell as they were taken away in a wagon. A cover was nailed down over the men, and they could only reach their hands out to their loved ones. Mother Smith recorded, “… the wagon dashed off, tearing my son from us just as Lucy was pressing his hand to her lips to bestow upon it a sister’s last kiss” (see "History of Joseph Smith by His Mother," by Lucy Mack Smith).

What imaginable effect could such an experience have had upon her tender sensitivities? Then this 17-year-old girl lost her shoes in the muddy crossing of the Mississippi and fainted at the excitement of hearing that Hyrum and Joseph had been released from prison.

Lucy was nearly 19 when Joseph performed her marriage to Arthur Millikin, and together this young couple cared tenderly for Mother Lucy for years following the martyrdom. Lucy also helped her mother perform baptisms in the Nauvoo Temple for her Mack family, including her beloved sisters who had died young.

The trials and experiences of daily life in those times are beyond comprehension. Arthur was severely wounded at the Battle of Crooked River in Missouri in August 1838.

Another Lucy — Lucy M. Smith, who later married Joseph's cousin George A. Smith — recalled how the Prophet Joseph, at the ferry landing in Nauvoo, “took his sister Lucy’s seven months’ old boy in his arms and sat down and wept for joy, as his sister was thought to be in a decline when she left home the year before with her husband. She was indeed the picture of health when she returned …” (see “Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith,” The Juvenile Instructor 27, 1892).

Lucy Smith Millikin gave birth to nine children, Katharine to eight and Sophronia to two. Lucy and her husband died of respiratory disease in 1882, Lucy being just 61 years old and most likely having been infected by a sick daughter-in-law whom she had nursed.

The deep commitment of these Smith women to Joseph’s widow and to their widowed mother, their desire to stay close to their many dead who slumbered near them, the exhaustion and confusion of spirit which they suffered — these are things that cannot be imagined in attempting to look back upon their lives.

Following a visit to the family, Joseph F. Smith wrote: “Aunt Lucy said, as soon as she got hold of my hand, she felt she had been mistaken, and she greeted me warmly” (see "I Have a Question," Ensign, March 1979).

To all Utah visitors, who were welcomed warmly, and to all the curious or even hostile neighbors or strangers who questioned them, the Smith sisters maintained unwavering testimonies of their Prophet brother and of the work which he did.

It is easy to look with tender respect and admiration upon the contributions of these women — the courage, determination and gentleness of their spirits — and to be reminded, in gratitude, of the remarkable Smith family who virtually gave their lives that the Restoration might go forth.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Baptismal site of Brigham Young




(by Kenneth Mays deseretnews.com 4-15-15)

After a careful examination of the Book of Mormon, Brigham Young entered a period of a year and a half with no opportunity of contact with the new religion that had produced it.

In the fall of 1831, some Mormon missionaries passed through Mendon, New York, where the Brigham Young family was living. His attitude toward their message was “watch and see.” They came back several months later and he found himself praying about the message they presented.

He subsequently traveled to Pennsylvania and Ontario, Canada, to observe Mormon worship services and discuss this new religion. On Sunday, April 15, 1832, Brigham Young was baptized in his own mill stream, which was covered with ice. He was baptized by Eleazer Miller, a convert of only four months. His wife, Miriam, was baptized about three weeks later. Miriam passed away in September of that same year.

These images show the approximate site of the baptism on land once occupied by the Brigham Young home, shop and mill.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

16-year-old LDS ballerina shares her talents, testimony through dancing



(by Maddie Swensen deseretnews.com 4-15-15)

Sixteen-year-old ballerina Gisele Bethea of Mesa, Arizona, has received numerous awards, traveled the world to perform and been asked to join the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company.

But her talent is not the only thing that sets Bethea apart in the world of ballet. She belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and she is fearless about sharing her beliefs.

“She’s never been afraid to share or to tell people that she loves Heavenly Father,” said Bethea's mother, Heidi Bethea. “She is always sharing things like that with her friends, even when she was really small.”

Gisele Bethea was about 4 years old when she started dancing around the house. Her mother noticed and took her to a local dance studio where Bethea began taking recreational dance classes.

Around the time Bethea turned 8 years old, her dance teacher recognized her talent as a ballerina and suggested her parents send her to Russia to train with some of the best ballet teachers in the world.

That wasn't really an option for the Bethea family, but the young ballerina did begin training with her teacher. When she turned 12, Bethea entered the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, and has been there ever since.

Being watched by the world is a lot of pressure for a 16-year-old girl.

“I need to make sure I’m up to those standards at all times. People are watching me,” Bethea said.

“The best way for me to deal with that is to make sure that I’m humble.”

Bethea said that if she forgets that her family, friends and teachers are there for her, the stress gets too hard to handle. By staying humble, she is always aware of the support she has surrounding her.

“It is not normal family life for us," Heidi Bethea said. "But because Gisele is who she is and because we believe there is a purpose for all of this and that we can play a part in the purpose, it makes it really helpful."

Heidi Bethea said decisions regarding her daughter’s training are family matters. When deciding which competitions Bethea will travel to, the family always sits down and decides together what they can all handle.

“We just feel so strongly that we have to stay close to the Spirit all the time,” Heidi Bethea said. “I feel like living close enough to the Spirit is key. The other key thing that helps us the most in making decisions is making the gospel a priority.”

Despite her long days training, Gisele Bethea said, she attends early morning seminary and never goes to bed without reading her scriptures. Both Bethea and her mother said that seminary and scriptures are not optional; the gospel always comes first.

As a ballerina, Bethea has to pay special attention to her costumes. She has made her stance on modesty clear, and her teachers know exactly what she will or will not wear.

“I’m not willing to show my stomach because it is mine,” Bethea said. “It’s not anybody else’s; it’s mine.”

Modesty during practice is also important to Bethea, particularly when traveling to and from the studio. Her standards and habits have become segues into sharing more of her beliefs with her peers, she said.

Living her standards isn’t the only way Bethea has been able to share her beliefs.

When competing, she often meets people who don’t want anything to do with the people they are competing against. But Bethea sees it differently.

“I want to know my competitors. I want them to know that they are loved, and that they have my support and that I am rooting for them,” she said. “As I do that, I build a friend relationship with them and I’m able to ask them about their personal lives and ask them about their beliefs in God.”

Following a recent international competition, Bethea was in an airport speaking with her translator, who told her she looked like a princess when she danced.

“I said that it helps to know that I’m a daughter of God and that I really am a princess,” Bethea said.
Bethea then asked her translator if she believed in God, to which the translator replied that she did. In a quick conversation before Bethea boarded the plane, she shared her personal witness of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

“That’s why I love to dance,” Bethea said. “Because when I dance, I am able to share the love of God.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626474/16-year-old-ballet-phenomenon-shares-LDS-faith-in-more-ways-than-one.html

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The 'Narrative of Zosimus' and the Book of Mormon

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865626023/The-Narrative-of-Zosimus-and-the-Book-of-Mormon.html

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 4-9-15)

Professor James Charlesworth, of Princeton Theological Seminary, spoke in Provo and Logan last week. A major figure for decades in the study of Judaism and Christianity around the time of Jesus, Charlesworth is also a longtime friend (and, in some cases, a mentor and former teacher) of several members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’s visited and spoken in Utah on several prior occasions, and he’ll host a significant academic conference at BYU’s Jerusalem Center in August.

One night during Charlesworth’s visit, a few of us, including professors Stephen Robinson and John Welch, who studied under him when he taught at Duke University, gathered with him for dinner, and the conversation sometimes turned affectionately reminiscent.

At one point, Robinson and Welch recalled a seminar where Charlesworth asked his students to read a text called “The Narrative of Zosimus.” This curious document is difficult to date but seems to have existed in Greek, at least in some form, by the middle of the third Christian century.

Indeed, its core material may originally have been composed in Hebrew, perhaps at the time of Jesus Christ or even earlier. Charlesworth invited his students to try to determine whether the document was Christian or Jewish.

As Welch and Robinson describe their experience, they were both immediately struck by the parallels they saw between the Zosimus story and elements of the Book of Mormon, which is itself a notable mixture of seemingly Jewish and Christian elements. Yet there’s no evidence that the “Narrative of Zosimus” was available in English at the time the Book of Mormon was published. (Its first major publication came in 1867.)

I quote from a summary of the document published by Welch, with an obvious eye to the Book of Mormon, in 1982:

“According to the Narrative of Zosimus, a righteous man named Zosimus, dwelling in a cave in a desert, prays to the Lord and obtains spiritual passage to a land of blessedness. In order to arrive at this land of promise, Zosimus must wander in the wilderness without knowing where he is being led. He is pushed to the point of exhaustion but attains his destination by constant prayer and divine intervention. Zosimus eventually arrives at the bank of an unfathomable river of water covered by an impenetrable cloud of darkness. Catching the branches of a tree, Zosimus is transported across the water where he sits beneath a beautiful tree, eating its fruit and drinking of the life-sustaining water which flows from its root. Zosimus is then met by an angelic escort, who asks him what he wants, shows him a vision in which he thinks he beholds the Son of God, and ultimately introduces him to a group of righteous sons of God. These elders tell Zosimus of their history and instruct him in their ways of righteousness. Their history is engraved upon soft stone plates. It explains how the group, led by their father, escaped the destruction of Jerusalem at the time of Jeremiah and how as a nation they survived the scattering of Israel.”

The similarities to the Book of Mormon — and there are more than are summarized here — will be obvious to anybody who’s read even 1 Nephi. They’re difficult to explain from either a faithful perspective or that of someone seeking to refute the claims of Joseph Smith and the Restoration.

It seems unlikely, for example, that the author of the “Narrative” could have known about the Lehites; it’s certainly difficult to imagine his knowing their story after they’d left Jerusalem and, indeed, the eastern hemisphere altogether. But the “Narrative of Zosimus” is indisputably an ancient Near Eastern book, and the fact that the opening chapters of 1 Nephi seem so very similar to it in theme and subject matter suggests that the Book of Mormon, too, may well be a book with roots deep in the ancient Near East. And that, of course, is precisely what it claims to be — with far-reaching implications if its claim is true. Yet we can be virtually certain that Joseph Smith had never read — nor heard of — the “Narrative of Zosimus.”

For a fuller analysis of the document and its seeming parallels to the Book of Mormon, see John W. Welch, “The Narrative of Zosimus and the Book of Mormon,” published in 1982 (online at ojs.lib.byu.edu/spc/index.php/BYUStudies/article/viewFile/5290/4940), or, in even greater detail, his “The Narrative of Zosimus (History of the Rechabites) and the Book of Mormon” (online at publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1099&index=16), published in 1997.