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.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Remembering and applying 'The Family: A Proclamation to the World'

(by Kristine Frederickson deseretnews 9-18-16)

Over dinner earlier this year, my grandson told his family about the learning activity, or social engineering endeavor, he was participating in during his junior high school social studies class. They were studying families and were assigned various family roles. He was married, and he and his wife were parents to six children. Laughter and good-natured joking ensued.

He went on to mention that one of his friends was assigned the role of lifetime roommate to someone of the same sex. They were in process of purchasing a home, raising children and making a life together. My daughter’s “what?” led my grandson to pull back a bit and she let the subject drop. In a phone call to me, she mulled over how to deal with the situation and best explain to her son Heavenly Father’s eternal doctrine on family life.

She settled on reading and discussing "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" for family home evening. It is timeless, pertinent and historically enlightening.

The proclamation was first shared by President Gordon B. Hinckley on Sept. 23, 1995, at the General Relief Society Meeting of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I recall at the time recognizing its significance: a proclamation to the world, signed by each member of the First Presidency. As such, it held prodigious weight in articulating the Savior and his church’s position on the family. I also recall it raised few eyebrows and generated no firestorms in wider society because, in many respects, it reflected then current American societal beliefs.

It still stands as a sterling example of God’s omniscience and how, through modern-day prophets, seers and revelators, God anticipates and prepares us for the future — in this instance for its confusions and turmoil. Prescient also because, by today’s societal standards — a mere 21 years after its issuance — the proclamation’s teachings are distinctly divergent from prevailing views on family and marriage.

Nevertheless, it is the Lord’s timeless standard and provides stunning insights into the theories, principles and doctrine behind his teachings.

In a world drowning in moral relativism, it is important that individuals both in and outside the LDS Church understand the “reasons why” — the truths upon which the proclamation is founded. The Lord has counseled, “Teach ye diligently and my grace shall attend you, that you may be instructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand. …” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:78).

The proclamation (the complete text is online at lds.org/topics/family-proclamation) begins by solemnly declaring, “marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and … the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of his children.” It describes “all human beings — male and female” being created in God’s image, loved by him, and adds this critical truth, “Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” Before we came into this life, while here and after we depart, gender remains a constant.

The proclamation gives meaning, purpose and understanding to life on Earth. We are here to “gain earthly experience to progress toward perfection and ultimately realize (our) divine destiny as heirs of eternal life,” it states. Further, “the divine plan of happiness enables family relationships to be perpetuated beyond the grave.”

How exquisite to know that loving, companionate relationships can continue beyond mortality.

We are reminded, “The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for his children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.” Additionally, “We affirm the sanctity of life and of its importance in God’s eternal plan.”

The Lord also emphasizes the critical role of parents and best practices for happy, successful family life: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. … Children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony, and to be reared by a father and a mother who honor marital vows with complete fidelity. Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon the teachings of … Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work and wholesome recreational activities.”

While espousing gender equality, the proclamation also designates gender specific duties: “By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

Rather than constraining women or men, the proclamation notes certain innate gendered characteristics within a broad range of personal freedoms consistent with the wise use of individual agency.

Anticipating mankind’s capacity to act inhumanely we are warned “that individuals who violate covenants of chastity, who abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God. Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets.”

How prophetic in light of the tragedies and horrors we observe as families and communities disintegrate.

The proclamation enjoins “responsible citizens” and government leaders to promote “measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society.”

While the world drifts from its moorings, how grateful we should be for earthly prophets, for the Savior’s ongoing concern and interest in the happiness and welfare of his children, and for the expression of his unconditional love found in his giving us "The Family: A Proclamation to the World."

We would do well to share these great, eternal truths with our families, friends and loved ones for, as Sister Bonnie L. Oscarson, Young Women general president, explained, the proclamation is a “benchmark for judging the philosophies of the world, and I testify that the principles set forth … are as true today as they were when they were given to us by a prophet of God (over) 20 years ago.” (see “Defenders of the Family Proclamation,” Ensign, May 2015).

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865662664/Remembering-and-applying-The-Family-A-Proclamation-for-the-World.html

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The reason why Mormon mommy bloggers are so successful

(by Herb Scribner deseretnews.com 9-23-16)

Mormon mommy blogs have hit the mainstream.
Mormon mothers may be putting together the best blogs out there, according to The Toronto Star. And much of the success of these blogs seems tied to Mormonism’s history of sharing positive family values with readers.

“We don’t drink, we don’t smoke, we don’t swear. Those sort of things make us stand out naturally,” Utah mom Meredith Ethington, who runs the Perfecting Pending blog, told The Toronto Star. "But we also struggle with the same things that other people struggle with. . . I would like people to see that I’m normal and real and not perfect by any means.”

Other Mormon mommy bloggers told the Star that the success of these blogs may be because these blogs are another form of missionary work.

“Mormonism is a missionary religion. Members of the church are encouraged to share their faith with others,” Patrick Mason, a historian, told the Toronto Star. “Blogs have become a really popular way for them to do that, often times in a really low-key way.”

It makes sense that Mormons would embrace the written word in this way, too, since the church has a history with journaling, according to The Star.

Even especially liberal and nonreligious readers embrace these blogs. Emily Matchar of Salon, who claims to be an atheist, said these blogs help her see the positive and uplifting aspects of life.
“To read Mormon lifestyle blogs is to peer into a strange and fascinating world where the most fraught issues of modern living — marriage and child rearing — appear completely unproblematic,” Matchar wrote.

Of course, some of these mommy bloggers don’t use their stories to only promote a positive lifestyle. Many actually use them to spread information about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, helping people gain a better understanding of the faith.

Shawni Pothier, author of the 71 toes blog, told the Deseret News in 2013 that she often gets questions about her faith, so she answers them on the blog.

“I get a lot of questions from people about my religion, so it was perfect to be able to explain and give them the real deal, the Book of Mormon, to figure it out for themselves,” Pothier said.
But it's not always easy to run a Mormon mommy blog, at least as a full-time job, according to The Atlantic.

These bloggers will often create their blog and receive attention at first, especially from other family members. But eventually, as The Atlantic reported, the attention fades and the struggle to find advertisements to fund the blog rise, putting these mothers at risk of having to shut down their blog.
Susan Bidel, a senior analyst at Forrester research, told The Atlantic that bloggers should manage their expectations.

“If you can generate enough content to attract a good enough audience by working all by yourself, and you'll be happy with an income of $50,000 a year, you'll be fine,” Bidel told The Atlantic.

Still, regardless of what topics they share, it seems that the positive light Mormons shine on their lives through their blogs may be the most attractive quality for readers, as The Toronto Star reported.
“I love my family and I love my kids and I love to share the humorous and silly side of that, while still being really positive about being a mom and being a wife,” Jenny Evans, a mom fo six and blogger for Unremarkable Files, told the Star. “Mormon belief is just to look for the positive in things.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865663142/The-reason-why-Mormon-mommy-bloggers-are-so-successful.html

Friday, September 23, 2016

An ancient American book, dismissed as a fraud, proves to be genuine

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 9-22-16)

When the Spanish conquistadors returned to Europe, among the treasures they brought with them were three Maya codices or books. Today, these documents — focused in each case on calendrical and astronomical matters — are named for the cities whose museums hold them: Dresden, Paris and Madrid.

But was a fourth Maya codex found in the 1960s?

Around 1965, or so the story goes, two looters discovered several illustrated bark-paper sheets in a cave in the Mexican state of Chiapas. In 1971, having come into the hands of a Mexican collector via a story right out of a Hollywood film, the documents were displayed in New York City’s Grolier Club, and they’ve been known since then as the “Grolier Codex.” But then they vanished. Since reappearing in 1977, they’ve languished undisplayed in the basement of Mexico City’s National Museum of Anthropology.

Like the three codices held in Europe, the Grolier Codex is astronomical. It’s focused on the movements of Venus, the basis of the Maya calendar. However, it’s shorter, less detailed, rather poorly crafted and in relatively bad shape. About a third of each page is missing, and nine pages (of its original 20) have been lost altogether.

The Grolier Codex was controversial from the start. In particular, the famous Mayanist Sir J.E.S. Thompson took aim at it, labeling it a fraud.

Now, though, a press release on Sept. 7, 2016, from Brown University reports on a study conducted by four of the world’s most eminent living Mayanists (including Brown’s Stephen Houston, who, though non-Mormon, taught at Brigham Young University 1994-2004). They reviewed “all known research on the manuscript,” examining it “without regard to the politics, academic and otherwise, that have enveloped the Grolier.” (“It became a kind of dogma that this was a fake,” says Houston.)

The new study analyzes accounts of the discovery of the Grolier manuscript, its style and iconography, the character and meaning of its astronomical tables, carbon dating and other scientific data about the manuscript, and the craftsmanship of the codex, ranging from Mesoamerican papermaking methods to Maya artistic techniques.

A 20th-century forger would need to have known (or successfully guessed) several things in order to create the Grolier, and the scholars argue that it simply couldn’t have been done: For example, the forger would need to have guessed the existence of deities that hadn’t been discovered by the mid-1960s and then to render them perfectly; figured out how to create Maya blue pigment, which wasn’t created in a laboratory until the 1980s; and have deployed “a wealth and range of resources” depending, in some cases, on knowledge that was unavailable until recently.

The authors of the study believe that they’ve now answered essentially every objection to the authenticity of the Grolier Codex.

“A reasoned weighing of evidence,” they conclude, “leaves only one possible conclusion: four intact Maya codices survive from the Pre-Columbian period, and one of them is the Grolier.” Says Houston, “There can’t be the slightest doubt that the Grolier is genuine.”

In a brief 1997 article titled “The Sobering Lesson of the Grolier Codex” (available at archive.bookofmormoncentral.org/node/301), John Sorenson and John Welch offered five observations linking the Grolier controversy to the Book of Mormon:

1. Those who regarded the Grolier Codex as a hoax were prejudiced by the unconventional manner of its finding. Yale’s Michael Coe, a longtime defender of the Grolier and a co-author of the new study, believes that, had the Grolier’s origin been less controversial, it would have been “accepted by even the most rock-ribbed scholar as the genuine article.”

2. Its antagonists scarcely gave the Grolier serious examination — which is very reminiscent of the Catholic sociologist Thomas O’Dea’s 1957 quip that “the Book of Mormon has not been universally considered by its critics as one of those books that must be read in order to have an opinion of it.”

3. Those who dismissed the Grolier Codex were often closed-minded, responding not reasonably but reflexively.

4. When they bothered to examine the Grolier, critics often focused on nitpicking details, seeking a “quick kill.” It was, they felt, too obviously bogus to deserve serious examination.

5. Opponents of the Grolier’s authenticity frequently resorted to name-calling and dismissive epithets rather than rational argument.

None of this proves the Book of Mormon true, of course. But observant members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will easily recognize remarkable parallels between the treatment of the Grolier Codex and the way the Book of Mormon is often summarily dismissed without a genuine hearing.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865663001/An-ancient-American-book-dismissed-as-a-fraud-proves-to-be-genuine.html

Thursday, September 15, 2016

The LDS Church will never have the world's universal approval

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 9-15-16)

Jesus Christ’s true disciples don’t do good to earn praise from others (see Matthew 6:1-6). However, most members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints want their church to be well regarded so others might be moved to consider its claims. In this, they obey Jesus: “Let your light so shine before men,” he said, “that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). After all, his sheep will hear and recognize his voice (John 10:27).

But the LDS Church will never be universally respected, let alone beloved. And this shouldn’t be surprising.
The Savior taught in both hemispheres that, while the gate to destruction is broad “and many there be which go in thereat,” “strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14; 3 Nephi 14:13-14).

He warned his first disciples they would be despised and abused:

“Blessed are ye,” he said, “when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12).

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. … The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:18, 20). “Yea, the time cometh,” Jesus predicted, “that whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service” (see John 16:2).

In other words, opponents of early Christianity often regarded themselves as doing good, fighting evil. Why should it be different now?

Today, many millions venerate the names of those first Christian disciples. They “build the tombs of the prophets” and “garnish the sepulchres of the righteous” (Matthew 23:29). While the disciples lived, though, the world neither loved nor respected them.

“We preach Christ crucified,” reported the apostle Paul, “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

And, indeed, true revelation often goes beyond human logic and understanding (see, for instance, Moses 5:6; 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Nephi 11:16-17; 1 Nephi 19:3; Alma 7:8). If it only told us what we could have discovered on our own, it would be redundant.

The apostles, said Paul, were “despised” as “fools for Christ’s sake” (1 Corinthians 4:10).

“Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” he explained. “But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen” (1 Corinthians 1:26-28).

Joseph Smith’s First Vision was received “with great contempt,” and he was soon advised that his name would be had not only for good but for evil “among all nations, kindreds and tongues” (Joseph Smith—History 1:21, 33).

Very quickly in the founding text of the Restoration, Nephi sees “the mother of abominations,” who would have “dominion over all the earth, among all nations, kindreds, tongues and people.” By contrast, peering into the future, he sees that “the saints of God were also upon all the face of the earth; and their dominions upon the face of the earth were small” (see 1 Nephi 14:11-12). That is, while the restored church will spread worldwide, it won’t become numerically dominant.

Why not? Partially because elite opinion will despise it. Lehi saw “a great and spacious building; and it stood as it were in the air, high above the earth. And it was filled with people, both old and young, both male and female; and their manner of dress was exceedingly fine; and they were in the attitude of mocking and pointing their fingers towards those who had come at and were partaking of the fruit” of the tree of life. Some who partook were “ashamed, because of those that were scoffing at them; and they fell away into forbidden paths and were lost” (see 1 Nephi 8:25-28, 33). Nephi learned that the building represents “the world and the wisdom thereof,” and rebellious worldly “pride” (1 Nephi 11:35-36).

Faithful church members should be neither disheartened nor ashamed. These realities were predicted long ago. Ultimately, though, “the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:25).

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865662459/The-LDS-Church-will-never-have-the-worlds-universal-approval.html

Friday, September 9, 2016

Why is Christianity declining?

(by David Gushee religionnews.com 9-6-16)

The number of Christians and cultural strength of Christianity are both declining in the United States. This decline is noticeable and is affecting church life, culture, and politics. It is also deeply disturbing to most Christians, including me.

These descriptive claims are found in my new book, A Letter to My Anxious Christian Friends, just out with Westminster John Knox Press. I will be reflecting on themes from that new book in my blog posts over the next few weeks. This is the first, exploring Christian decline in the United States.

I could now spend several paragraphs inviting a debate over whether and in what sense Christianity really can be said to be in decline in the U.S. But I won’t. Suffice it to say that when one percent fewer Americans each year claim a Christian affiliation, that marks decline. When most denominations and congregations report declining membership and attendance, that marks decline. When more and more congregations close their doors forever, that marks decline. And when the youngest generation shows the greatest disaffiliation trend, that marks a decline likely to have lasting impact.

No, the more interesting question at this point is why. Why this disaffiliation trend? What are its causes?

An interesting problem in recent conversations about Christian decline is that many who weigh in appear to be defending their side in internal Christian conflicts and controversies. Undoubtedly there is some truth to their respective claims, but their polemic purposes must be considered.

For example, many conservative evangelicals have for a long time pinned Christian decline on the mainline liberals, stating that if they had held firmly to a more robust and orthodox Christianity, they would have done better.

On the other hand, many mainliners, not to mention disaffected evangelicals and ex-evangelicals, have made quite the opposite claim. For them, Christian decline is due to the excesses and rigidities of conservative religion.

Having experienced both kinds of churches, I have witnessed both kinds of disaffiliation: ex-mainliners leaving because their churches were so insipid, and ex-evangelicals leaving because they could not reconcile conservative faith with science, critical thinking, or the contemporary world.

So let’s count both of those as reasons why some are disaffiliating. Here is my very tentative proposal for eight other reasons:

–Prosperity and affluence distract people from regular church attendance and reduce a strong sense of need to be in church, gradually eroding not just church attendance but Christian identity.

–The pre-modern claims of traditional Christian faith appear increasingly incredible to postmodern Americans. It has been a very long time since a majority of cultural elites found Christianity’s supernatural claims, for example, to be credible. These elites dominate our culture.

–Hypocrisies and conflicts in church, when they (inevitably) erupt, don’t just drive people to other churches, as in the past, but sometimes take them out of Christianity altogether.

–The fading of cultural Christianity means that fewer and fewer Americans feel any cultural or familial expectation to be in church or practice Christianity. “It was good enough for grandpa” just doesn’t cut it anymore.

–American Christianity is not producing many compelling leaders, and thus the average church (as well as the Church writ large) is not especially inspiring or visionary. Many ministers play it safe in order to keep their jobs, or are simply not that talented.

–The collapse of any protection of Sunday from recreation and work, together with the gig economy, means many people are working or otherwise engaged on Sunday.

–It is harder for parents to pass the faith onto their children in a wired world in which parental influence is in decline.

–Evangelism is dead. No one really knows how to “share the Christian faith” any more in a way that connects with people, and many Christians have stopped trying.

So that’s ten proposed reasons why Christianity is declining in the United States. I invite you to add your own reasons for this significant trend. In a later post I will reflect on what might be done to redress the problems the churches now face.

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http://religionnews.com/2016/09/06/why-is-christianity-declining/

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Are the New Testament documents reliable?

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 9-1-16)

F.F. Bruce (died 1990) spent most of his career as Rylands Professsor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis at England’s University of Manchester. An accomplished scholar of Greek who authored over 40 books, he argued for the historical trustworthiness of the New Testament, which he saw as essential to Christian faith.

He published his first book, “The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?” in 1943. It rapidly became something of a classic and has remained influential through multiple editions. (In this column, I draw from the 1994 printing of the fifth revised edition.)

In it, Bruce observes that “The New Testament was complete, or substantially complete, about A.D. 100, the majority of the writings being in existence 20 to 40 years before this.”

For example, he dates 10 of Paul’s epistles to the period between A.D. 48 and A.D. 60. Additionally, he cites a majority of modern scholars as dating the gospel of Matthew to roughly A.D. 85-90, Mark to around A.D. 65, Luke to approximately A.D. 80-85, and John to about A.D. 90-100. Bruce himself favors earlier dates for the three synoptic gospels (Mark, 64-65; Luke, just before 70; Matthew, shortly after 70).

“But even with the later dates,” he writes, “the situation is encouraging from the historian’s point of view, for the first three Gospels were written at a time when many were alive who could remember the things that Jesus said and did, and some at least would still be alive when the fourth Gospel was written.”

Moreover, he adds, “If it could be determined that the writers of the Gospels used sources of information belonging to an earlier date, then the situation would be still more encouraging.” And, in fact, he believes that such information sources are detectable in the Gospels.

“The evidence for our New Testament writings is ever so much greater than the evidence for many classical authors, the authenticity of which no one dreams of questioning," he writes. "And if the New Testament were a collection of secular writings, their authenticity would generally be regarded as beyond all doubt.”

Specifically citing the surprised reaction of A.N. Sherwin-White, a prominent historian of ancient Rome, to the approach of many biblical scholars, Bruce comments on the “curious fact that historians have often been much readier to trust the New Testament records than have many theologians.”

He also comments on the state of the New Testament manuscript evidence, which hasn’t changed substantially since he wrote.

For Julius Caesar’s “Gallic War,” written between 58-50 B.C., nine or 10 decent manuscripts exist, the earliest of which was created nine centuries after Caesar. Of the 14 books of the “Histories” of Tacitus (d. ca. AD 100), only four completely survive — in just two manuscripts, from the ninth century and the 11th. Beyond a few papyrus scraps from roughly the time of Jesus Christ, the great fifth-century B.C. history of Thucydides is known to us through just eight manuscripts, the earliest of which was created around A.D. 900. The same is true of his great contemporary, Herodotus, often called “the Father of History.”

“Yet,” Bruce comments, “no classical scholar would listen to an argument that the authenticity of Herodotus or Thucydides is in doubt because the earliest (manuscripts) of their works which are of any use to us are over 1,300 years later than the originals.”

By contrast, over 5,000 entire or partial manuscripts exist for the New Testament. The Codex Bezae, for instance, contains the Gospels and Acts in both Greek and Latin and was created in the fifth or sixth century. The Codex Alexandrinus was produced in the fifth century. The Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus date to around A.D. 350.

But there’s considerable evidence from one or even two centuries earlier still. Portions of the Chester Beatty Biblical Papyri, which contain most of the New Testament, date as far back as the early A.D. 200s. In fact, certain papyrus fragments that may reflect a knowledge of the four Gospels have been dated to no later than A.D. 150. One such fragment, kept in the John Rylands Library at Manchester, has been assigned a date of A.D. 130; it contains verses from John 18. Papyrus Bodmer II, from around A.D. 200, contains the first 14 chapters of John, with only one relatively small gap.

Greek and Roman history are routinely discussed and taught on the basis of manuscript evidence that isn’t remotely as solid and secure as this.

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865661455/Are-the-New-Testament-documents-reliable.html