Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Are the gospels late and legendary?

(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 12-4-17)

In his engaging book “Cold-Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels” (2013), former atheist J. Warner Wallace brings his unique background as a widely respected murder investigator with a graduate theological degree to bear on the reliability of the New Testament.

Among the many topics that he addresses is the date of composition of the four New Testament gospels. Some critics have argued that they were written very late, and, accordingly, that they’re more legend than history. Wallace defends their early origin, arguing that they represent genuine eyewitness testimony.
The list and discussion below summarizes pages 161-169 of his thoroughly enjoyable book, necessarily omitting much of its detail and all of his responses to counterarguments:

1. The New Testament doesn’t mention the destruction of Jerusalem’s temple in A.D. 70. Coming at the conclusion of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, that catastrophe fundamentally changed the nature of Judaism and, arguably, of Christianity. Moreover, it fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus recorded at Matthew 24:1-3. It would have offered a powerful illustration of Jesus’ prophetic ability, but no gospel mentions it.

2. The New Testament says nothing about the three-year-long Roman siege of Jerusalem. Jewish suffering during that time was appalling, but none of the gospels refer to it.

3. Luke doesn’t refer to the deaths of the apostles Paul and Peter. Peter was executed in Rome in A.D. 65, and Paul, Luke’s one-time traveling companion, was martyred there in A.D. 64. But neither Luke’s gospel nor his sequel, “The Acts of the Apostles,” mentions those devastating losses. In fact, at the conclusion of Acts, Paul is clearly still alive (under Roman house arrest).

4. Luke also doesn’t mention the martyrdom of James (Jesus’ half-brother) in A.D. 62. He chronicles the deaths of other early Christian leaders — for example, the A.D. 34 martyrdom of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60) and that of James, the brother of John, in about A.D. 44 (Acts 12:1-2) — but, although Acts 15 assigns an important leadership role to James, Luke never refers to his death.

5. According to Acts 1:1-2, Luke wrote his gospel before Acts, which is the second installment of a two-part work often called “Luke-Acts” by scholars.

6. The New Testament’s 1 Timothy 5:17-18 apparently quotes Luke 10:7, which would demonstrate Luke to have been written earlier. Some scholars, of course, argue that 1 Timothy was written quite late and not by Paul. Others contend, however, that it was written by Paul (and, thus, necessarily before A.D. 65), possibly as early as A.D. 58.

7. In his letters to the Romans, the Corinthians, and the Galatians — dated between A.D. 48 and A.D. 60 and accepted as genuinely Paul’s by virtually all scholars — Paul echoes the principal claims of the gospel writers. For example, Jesus — “the Son of God” — died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:3-8; Romans 1:4). And Paul claims to have received his information directly from the eyewitnesses Peter and James at least 14 years earlier (Galatians 1:15-19; 2:1).

8. Paul appears to quote Luke 22:19-20 in 1 Corinthians 11:23-25, which seems to make Luke’s gospel earlier than Paul’s letter.

9. In its turn, Luke’s gospel seems to quote Mark in roughly 350 verses and Matthew in approximately 250. Luke never claims to be an eyewitness; instead, he describes himself as a historian working from eyewitness sources (Luke 1:1-4).

10. Mark’s gospel seems to be a first and preliminary report. Here, Wallace’s background as an experienced analyst of evidence and police reports kicks in. I cannot summarize here the impressions he shares on pages 166-168, but I recommend them. He offers an intriguing argument for regarding Mark as a rather hasty early account.

11. In his gospel, Mark appears to “protect” certain “key players.” Whereas, for example, John identifies Peter as the man who attacked the servant of the high priest at Jesus’ arrest in Gethsemane and Mary as the woman who anointed Jesus (messianically) in the home of Simon the leper, Mark leaves both anonymous. Was he trying to avoid putting living people at risk? (Some early Christian traditions report that Mark was personally close to Peter.) John 12:9-11 reports that the Jewish leadership sought to kill Lazarus because his miraculous restoration to life had led many to believe in Jesus; Mark omits the story altogether.

At Christmas, it’s good to be reminded that the gospels aren’t merely stories. They’re history.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865694013/Are-the-gospels-late-and-legendary.html

Saturday, December 16, 2017

It's not 'if' Mormons believe in grace, but 'how'

(by Tad Walch deseretnews.com 12-13-17)

Editor's note: This is the second of two articles about the Mormon doctrine of grace. Part 1 provided the backstory of how grace regained its place over the past 30 years among Mormons raised on works.

PROVO — At times when he has given a presentation, Stephen Robinson has been introduced as the man who changed the Mormon doctrine of grace.

"If that's true, I should be taken out and hung," the retired Brigham Young University religion professor said on campus recently at a conference on grace.

Robinson meant he would never attempt to change the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. "I'd be more than happy to be known as the one who changed Mormon culture," he said, part of a renaissance of grace talk in Mormonism in the past 40 years.

Grace has been a meaningful part of Mormon scriptures and doctrine from the beginning, but LDS Church leaders, theologians and scholars have long placed an energetic emphasis on the doctrine of works in part because of the Book of Mormon phrase that God's children are saved by grace "after all we can do" (see 2 Nephi 25:23).

Many Latter-day Saints who grew up in the 1950s, '60s or '70s said they never heard the concept of grace taught in church. Some said they learned not to bring it up. But that is changing. A quick review of the word's usage in LDS general conferences by decade shows a surge. Grace was mentioned 60 times during conferences in the 1930s and 96 times in the 1960s.

With years to go, the term grace already has been used 225 times in general conferences during this decade, including recent talks that have defined and explained the LDS configuration of a core doctrine of Christianity. If there is any remaining doubt that Mormons believe in grace, a pair of evangelical academics recently tried to drive a stake in it in a recent academic paper that sought to shape how evangelicals interact with Mormons.

"Future participants in the evangelical-Mormon dialogue would do well to acknowledge the existence of grace in Mormon theology," the authors wrote, "irrespective of whether they agree with this or that configuration."

So how do scholars and church leaders define grace in LDS belief?

Robinson boldly declared what it isn't.

"There's some people," he said, "who think what they're doing is somehow they are climbing the ladder, that they'll do some percent and Jesus will do the other percent. They are wrong. If they think the Mormon conception of grace is there is any salvation from what they've done, they're wrong."

Others worry that the surge of grace language among Mormons has made some begin to sound too much like Catholics and evangelicals, wandering away from what the Prophet Joseph Smith taught.

The real question

For decades, Mormons rejected, shunned or worried about the term grace because of their belief in works. For example, the late Elder Bruce R. McConkie of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught that believing in salvation "by grace alone and without obedience" is a "soul-destroying doctrine" because it could lessen the determination of people to follow God's commandments.

Yet in the 1970s, McConkie was among the first to help Mormons begin to "wake up to grace," said Camille Fronk Olson, former chairwoman of Brigham Young University's department of ancient scripture.

Since Mormon scripture is replete with grace, the question "Do Mormons believe in grace?" is a poor one, wrote John Anthony Dunne, a professor at Bethel University, and Logan Williams, a doctoral student at Durham University in England, in a paper this year titled, "A Perplexing Gift: Toward Clarity in the Evangelical-Mormon Interfaith Dialogue on Grace."

They proposed better questions: Do Mormons believe in the Protestant configuration of grace? How do Mormons configure grace? How is Mormon grace talk configured in Mormon terms?
 
Due to the Restoration, Mormons clearly configure grace differently than Protestants. How they do can be complex, as Dunne and Williams observed.

"Grace is everywhere in Mormonism, but it is certainly not everywhere the same," they wrote.
Generally, they found the term salvation often refers to two concepts for Mormons. First, some have referred to the general salvation from death provided to all through Jesus Christ's Resurrection.

Second, it can mean exaltation and reaching the highest level of heaven. Mormons often have defined the first as salvation by grace and the second as overcoming spiritual death by works, or obedience to laws and principles that lead back to God's presence.

But grace is a deep part of that second definition of salvation, too.

Gifts of grace

For the Mormons who spoke at BYU's conference, titled "My Grace is Sufficient: Latter-day Reflections," grace was necessary from before the Creation and the Fall, is a partnership with God, exists to provide healing and enabling power throughout life and is about human development, education and transformation.
Adam Miller flatly rejected the idea that perfection could be private and independent of Christ. He said Robinson's book, "Believing Christ," changed his life but left him feeling as though grace was Plan B, installed because flawless obedience failed.

"In the beginning, there was grace," said Miller, a professor of philosophy at Collin College in Texas. "If sin comes first, and God's grace comes as response to sin, then grace is a Band-Aid, a backup plan. Grace is not God's backup plan. Grace is the plan. Full stop."

Asked about Miller's comment in a later conference session, Robinson agreed.

"Christ and his grace are the ground of being on which everything is built," Robinson said. "Grace is the ground on which everything else rests."

Miller said Christ's disciples must learn to stop running from this "rolling grace" and instead partner with it, making the present "ground zero for grace."

That, of course, requires a choice. In the conference's final speech, Deseret Book CEO Sheri Dew outlined the choice: "How much light and Godly power do we want to have in our lives? And, what are we willing to do to get it?"

After or regardless?

Several speakers echoed a 2015 conference talk by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, who challenged those who "misinterpret" the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi's use of the word "after" when he wrote that grace is available "after all we can do."

"We must understand that 'after' does not equal 'because,'" he said. "We are not saved 'because' of all that we can do. Have any of us done all that we can do? Does God wait until we’ve expended every effort before he will intervene in our lives with his saving grace?"

If Robinson could write his book over again, "I would do a better job of explaining 'after all we can do,'" he said. "I have seen too many people crushed by that 'after all we can do.' I've seen people give up and leave the church. 'I can't be what so and so is, what chance have I got.'"

"When I was younger I always thought grace was something that comes at the end," said BYU religion professor Brad Wilcox, the author of several books on grace. "I'd have to be scraping on my hands and knees, I had to be down on the ground, I had to have dirt under my fingernails, and finally at the end of this path, somehow grace would come."

Christ's grace doesn't supplement a person's works, he said. Instead, Wilcox said he now understood grace to be a power that is available and surrounds each person at all times and is about growth and God and his children working together. Grace is the power of Jesus Christ.

"I am certain," President Uchtdorf said, "Nephi knew that the Savior’s grace allows and enables us to overcome sin. This is why Nephi labored so diligently to persuade his children and brethren 'to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God.' After all, that is what we can do! And that is our task in mortality!"

Robinson has explained Nephi's passage as "a preposition of separation rather than a preposition of time" and as meaning "apart from all we can do" or "all we can do notwithstanding" or "regardless of all we can do."
Robinson would like Latter-day Saints to link the Nephi scripture to Alma 24:11, where the prophet Ammon said repenting sufficiently "was all we could do."

Transformative grace

Elder Bruce C. Hafen, an emeritus LDS General Authority Seventy, expressed concern that the surge in Mormon grace language since his seminal book "The Broken Heart" was published has blurred the distinctions between Protestant and Mormon beliefs on the topic.

"There are a few reasons to be cautious about our increased Atonement conversation," he said. "Some emphasize a relationship between grace and works that is closer to or draws on evangelical" and is a move away from Joseph Smith's teachings. While Mormons believe 'we are utterly dependent upon the grace of God,' there is a further level of grace available only on certain conditions.

"The most obvious example is forgiveness conditioned upon repentance," he said.

The story of Adam and Eve is the story of receiving the Atonement, he added.

"Do we believe in being born again in this church? Absolutely, but it's only the beginning," he said, adding, "It's a doctrine of human development, it makes human growth possible. ... Because of Christ's Atonement we can learn from sins, unintendeded mistakes, any form of adversity. Not just that help us survive our bitter experiences, but grow and become more, better."

Grace, then, plays a critical role in Mormon salvation theology. The plan of salvation is not designed just to bring God's children back to him, but to bring them back changed. A partnership between grace and works and God and his children is required for that transformation.

"Our works will evidence the kind of people we have become," said BYU professor Robert Millet, who spoke at the conference and has written books on grace and Mormonism.

Different frame?

"This is no return to a primordial condition," said Terryl Givens, a professor of religion at the University of Richmond and a Mormon author, "but a transcendance of progression from a premortal realm to a more abundant eternal life.

Givens, in fact, would like to reframe the issue. He said the Restoration was designed in part to erase the pessimism of Tertullian, Augustine and the Reformers who taught that mankind inherited original sin from Adam and Eve.

"Joseph's divinely appointed task was to rescue Christianity from such a dismal preoccupation with sinfulness, depravity, inherited guilt and kindred abominations," Givens said. "Joseph taught that our story begins not with an Edenic catastrophe, but with heavenly parents who loved us and 'saw proper to institute laws whereby the rest could have a privilege to advance (with them).'"
He said many Protestant scholars have begun to ask the question, "Was the Reformation a colossal mistake?"
"Yes, says the Restoration," Givens said.

Givens said he is wary of the growing dialogue between Mormons and evangelicals.

"In our own tradition there is a lamentable tendency to find accommodation and common ground with Protestant theology, using a vocabulary of grace that was entirely co-opted 500 years ago," he said. "It would be sadly ironic if Latter-day Saints were working to accommodate an Augustinian inheritance at the very moment that Protestants are questioning its entire basis."

For Givens, grace is available to help God's children find constant healing during a bruising journey that necessarily includes sin, pain and wounding as part of the education.

"Restoration understanding of grace does not diminish Christ's role in our salvation. It greatly enhances it," he said. "Rather than concede so much ground by joining in the debate, 'Have you been saved' or, 'Are we saved by grace or works,' we might more boldly reframe the question: How are we healed? Have you been healed?"

Mormonism, he added, "envisions a God who invites us into active participation in a community of fully and generously shared energies. Grace is the name of his relentless, inexhaustible and ultimately irresistible invitation."

Climbing mountains
In addition to President Uchtdorf, other senior church leaders have spoken about grace recently. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has discussed it in multiple talks, including one he gave in October titled, "Be Ye Therefore Perfect — Eventually." He asked LDS Church members to "strive for steady improvement without obsessing over what behavioral scientists call 'toxic perfectionism.'"
 
"If we persevere," he added, "then somewhere in eternity our refinement will be finished and complete — which is the New Testament meaning of perfection."

Elder D. Todd Christofferson of Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke in the same conference, saying that the doctrine of Christ teaches that the LDS basics of faith, baptism, repentance and the gift of the Holy Ghost are the gate to the Savior's atoning grace and exaltation.

As a longtime executive of Deseret Book, Dew solicited the books on grace by Elder Hafen and Robinson and has published several books by Wilcox and Givens. A former counselor in the church's general presidency of the Relief Society her own books have sold more than 1 million copies.
Dew's belief is that God's grace is constantly available.

"The Savior has all power in heaven and in earth," she said at the close of the conference. "Power to cleanse, forgive and redeem us. Power to heal us of weakness, illness, sadness and heartache. Power to inspire us. Power to conquer Satan and overcome weakness and weaknesses of the flesh. Power to work miracles and deliver us from circumstances we can't escape ourselves. Power over death. Power to strengthen us.

"Grace is divine power that enables to handle things we can't figure out, can't do, can't overcome, can't manage on our own," she continued. "We have access to this power, because Jesus Christ, who was already a God, condescended to endure the bitterness of a fallen world and experience all physical and spiritual pain. He is the eternal healer. He will heal us from sin, weakness, hurt, fear and even years of pain. That's because his love is greater than any pain. Because of the Savior, we don't have to deal with grief or insecurity or fear or loneliness alone. With his help we can resist temptation, we forgive those who've hurt us and seek forgiveness from those we have hurt. We can receive answers to our questions or peace in the absence of an answer.

"We can become the best version of ourselves," she concluded. "We can change. We can grow and progress. We can fulfill our mission on this earth. My belief is the Lord rarely removes the mountains in front of us, but he always helps us climb them."

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865693954/Its-not-if-Mormons-believe-in-grace-but-how.html

Monday, December 4, 2017

'Do the heavens declare the glory of God?'


(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 10-6-17)

A few weeks ago, a certain Christian conspiracy theorist gained notoriety with his prediction that the end of the world as we know it would commence on Sept. 23, when Earth experiences the disruptive pass-by of a mysterious (and probably non-existent) object called “Nibiru” or “Planet X.” He had, he said, derived his prediction by “merging” astronomy and the Bible through “numerology.” (Doomsday has since been corrected to Oct. 21.)

Some religious skeptics used the occasion to mock Christianity as plainly incompatible with reason and science. One wonders, though, why they chose to focus on an eccentric preacher who received no significant support from any portion of world Christianity rather than, say, on Owen Gingerich.

Gingerich, now a professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard and senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, is also a devout Christian — and the author of such books as “God’s Universe” (2006) and “God’s Planet” (2014). Arguably, he illustrates the relationship between Christianity and astronomy at least as well as a man who seems to have ignored Mark 13:32: “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.”

A sermon that Gingerich delivered some time ago in Tennessee — titled “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?” and online at godandnature.asa3.org) — provides a good introduction to his religious reflections on astronomical science.

He leaves his audience in no suspense. He tells them upfront that the bookplate that he uses for his personal library includes the motto “Coeli enarrant gloriam Dei” (“The heavens are telling the glory of God”), as Psalm 19:1 is translated in Joseph Haydn’s great 1797-1798 oratorio “Creation.” But the substance of his sermon remains interesting nevertheless, and well worth reading.

He freely grants that the universe as we know it is vastly larger and older than that of the Psalmist, so that, in a sense, when we wonder “Do the heavens declare the glory of God?” we’re asking a very different question than biblical peoples would have.

“We are no longer in ecstasy about the beauty of creation,” says Gingerich, “but we are instead crushed down by our insignificance in the vastness of the universe.” Instead of Psalm 19:1, we turn to Psalm 8:4: “What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him?” “Where,” Gingerich asks, “do we fit in as little specks in such an immense and ancient universe?”

He immediately responds with his conviction that our ability to reason about such matters — of all the millions of species that have existed on Earth, ours is the only one, so far as we’re aware, that raises these questions — suggests our connection with a greater, cosmic reason. And, ultimately, he will speak of God’s Son entering our world.

In the meantime, though, he points to a famous discovery involving the great astronomer/astrophysicist Sir Fred Hoyle (died 2001). I won’t try here to explain Hoyle’s theory of stellar nucleosynthesis nor, more specifically, his discovery regarding the resonance of carbon. (Read the sermon!) But it was enough, apparently, to shake Hoyle’s very vocal and public atheism.

Later, Hoyle wrote about his discovery in the CalTech alumni magazine (and Gingerich quotes in “Do the Heavens Declare the Glory of God?”):

“Would you not say to yourself, ‘Some supercalculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom, otherwise the chance of my finding such an atom through the blind forces of nature would be utterly minuscule.’ Of course you would. … A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. The numbers one calculates from the facts seem to me so overwhelming as to put this conclusion almost beyond question.”

Elsewhere, when someone suggested to him that the entire universe might be the product of thought, Hoyle responded thus: “I have to say that that is also my personal opinion, but I can’t back it up by too much of precise argument. There are very many aspects of the universe where you either have to say there have been monstrous coincidences, which there might have been, or, alternatively, there is a purposive scenario to which the universe conforms.”

Gingerich, by contrast, is entirely willing to declare that the universe does indeed seem to have been designed for life.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865690371/Do-the-heavens-declare-the-glory-of-God.html

Friday, December 1, 2017

Introducing 'An Introduction to the Book of Abraham'


(by Daniel Peterson deseretnews.com 11-30-17)

Many papyri from ancient Egypt have been recovered and, by and large, only a handful of specialists pay much attention to them. In June 1835, a small collection of such papyri reached the American frontier town of Kirtland, Ohio. That would have remained merely a slightly surprising historical footnote had they not caught the attention of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who was living there at the time.

The Book of Abraham has been controversial in some quarters since it was canonized by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1880, and it has long been a favorite target of critics. While many believers (very much including myself) esteem it highly for the doctrinal richness of its short text — for, among other things, its invaluable disclosures about the pre-existence of all humanity with God — detractors of Joseph Smith have often sought to depict the Book of Abraham as the “smoking gun,” the decisive and irrefutable evidence that demonstrates his prophetic claims false, and, specifically, discredits his claim to have had revelatory access to ancient documents. If the Book of Abraham falls, some have argued, so too must the Book of Mormon, the keystone of Latter-day Saint faith.
I myself have occasionally waded into the debate. In January 1994, for example, I published an article in the Ensign magazine under the title “News from Antiquity.” It was subtitled “Evidence supporting the book of Abraham continues to turn up in a wide variety of sources.” Later, with John Gee and William Hamblin, I published a 2005 article bearing the title “And I Saw the Stars — The Book of Abraham and Ancient Geocentric Astronomy,” available online at publications.mi.byu.edu. I stand by both of these articles still today.

But nobody has devoted more time, expertise and effort over the past quarter of a century to the study of the Book of Abraham in all its aspects than the aforementioned John Gee. Trained in ancient studies at Brigham Young University and Berkeley and equipped with a doctorate in Egyptology from Yale, he holds the William "Bill" Gay Research Chair at BYU. From that position, he has contributed prolifically to international Egyptological journals and conferences while also researching the 19th-century background story to our English Book of Abraham and keeping an eye on the often-intense debates concerning it.

In 2000, Gee published a short “Guide to the Joseph Smith Papyri,” offering general readers what was, nearly 18 years ago, an up-to-date primer on many of the basic issues.

Now, recently returned from a year-long research leave in Heidelberg, Germany, Gee has issued “An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” (Brigham Young University Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book, 2017). It replaces the earlier “Guide” — Gee describes this new book as having been “rewritten … from the ground up” — and provides a superb overview of the best information currently available. Moreover, compared to the earlier volume, it considerably expands the range of subjects covered. In calm, lucid, irenic and accessible style, Gee’s new book methodically leads readers to the basic facts that they need to know — and guides them through the arguments with which they may well be confronted.

“The goal with the ‘Introduction to the Book of Abraham,’” he explains, “is to make reliable information about the Book of Abraham accessible to the general reader. Although based on extensive academic research, it is not primarily an academic work.”

The book is divided into 17 concise and clearly written chapters, covering such topics as “Joseph Smith and the Papyri,” “The Contents of the Book of Abraham,” “The Ancient Owners of the Papyri,” “The Egyptian View of Abraham,” “The Contents of the Joseph Smith Papyri,” “The Relationship of the Book of Abraham Text to the Papyri,” “Historical Authenticity,” “Abrahamic Astronomy,” and “The Facsimiles.” In the last chapter, Gee responds to a number of “Frequently Asked Questions.”

“An Introduction to the Book of Abraham” engages virtually every significant issue raised by and connected with this important part of the Pearl of Great Price. Further, it’s elegantly (and often usefully) illustrated, and, beyond footnoted references, each chapter concludes with an annotated guide to further reading — citing not only relevant Latter-day Saint literature and some of Gee’s own academic writing in non-Mormon publications but several works by non-LDS scholars.
This is an admirable book. For any who are interested in deepening their knowledge about the historical background of the Book of Abraham, Gee’s new “Introduction” is indispensable.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865693479/Introducing-An-Introduction-to-the-Book-of-Abraham.html

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Ignorance of Mocking Mormonism

It’s precisely the beliefs of Latter-day Saints that critics dismiss as strange which produce the behaviors those same critics often applaud.

(by Hal Boyd theatlantic.com 11-15-17)

“What the Mormons do, seems to be excellent,” according to Charles Dickens’s 19th-century journal Household Words, “what they say, is mostly nonsense.”

Since the days of Dickens, Mormons have been occasionally portrayed as virtuous despite their “strange” beliefs. Yet, those who study Mormonism closely often come to appreciate that distinct Latter-day Saint behavior is strongly tethered to distinct Latter-day Saint theology.

Writing in The Atlantic this week, Kurt Andersen praises members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or Mormons for their “sincere commitment to leading virtuous lives” while simultaneously snickering at their “extreme and strange” beliefs.

There is, of course, a long and rather ignoble tradition of simultaneously praising and mocking Mormons. In the throes of World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt sent off a friendly missive to Winston Churchill and his wife. Roosevelt noted his “very high opinion of the Mormons” while also taking the opportunity to poke fun at Mormon polygamy, which had officially ended in 1890.

FDR’s ribbing was playful, but Missouri’s extermination order against Mormons in the mid-19th century was not. Nor was the federal confiscation of LDS Church property or the proposed immigration ban against Latter-day Saints in the late-19th century.

Religious minorities can be prone to taking offense too easily. And a persecution complex helps no one. But neither does trading in casual Mormon mockery. “You’d be surprised,” Harvard Law School’s Noah Feldman once observed, “by how many people pride themselves on having no prejudices at all but preserve a little place in their heart for this kind of soft anti-Mormon prejudice.”

Even after Governor Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency brought immense media attention to the LDS Church, the Pew Research Center found that barely half of Americans understand that Mormonism is a “Christian faith.”

And while 7 or 8 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t vote for an otherwise qualified black, Hispanic, or female presidential candidate, fully 18 percent of Americans still say “they would not vote for a well-qualified presidential candidate who happens to be a Mormon.” The figure is “virtually the same as the 17 percent who held this attitude in 1967.” Mormons today would evidently fare better than, say, an atheist or Muslim candidate, but the remarkably persistent numbers since 1967 are telling.

Latent anti-Mormon bias may seem harmless enough—after all, Mormons are reluctant to call others out on it. (Instead of picketing The Book of Mormon musical, for example, the Mormon Church bought advertisements in Broadway playbills that say things like, “You’ve seen the show, now read the book.”)

The liberal television personality Lawrence O’Donnell even admitted, after an on-air rant about Mormon founder Joseph Smith, that he wasn’t worried about any negative consequences since “Mormons are the nicest people in the world. … They’ll never take a shot at me.”

There are, meanwhile, consequences for Mormons.
 
A federal judge told me recently of an Ivy League law professor who sent him a letter of recommendation for a Mormon student, observing that in general Mormons are solid workers but tend to lack “intellectual imagination.” The professor did not know that the judge on the receiving end was himself a Mormon. The same professor sent a similar letter sometime later on behalf of a different Latter-day Saint student. The letter again contained the same caution about the Latter-day Saint’s lack of “intellectual imagination.”
 
A separate Ivy League student—now a tenured professor at a prestigious university—similarly recalled the shock on one of his professor’s faces when the professor discovered that this student was a Mormon. The noted scholar remarked that he didn’t think Latter-day Saints took “ideas seriously.”
 
Criticism about another’s beliefs is hard to separate from judgments about a person’s worth or intellectual capacities. But, ironically, it is often the very beliefs that Andersen and others criticize that have produced the pro-social Mormon behaviors so often praised. As The Atlantic’s McKay Coppins observed in partial reaction to Andersen’s piece, “I’m not so sure those ‘ridiculous supernatural beliefs’ can be so easily separated from the values/principles/‘righteousness’ showcased in Mormon life.”

This isn’t to suggest that beliefs or truth claims are off-limits from scrutiny or rigorous debate. Rather, it means that the link between behavior and belief should prompt greater engagement with actual religious teachings, instead of straw man caricatures. It means trying to understand why a belief that seems implausible on its face is believed and lived by otherwise rational individuals. It means seeking to understand what it is about that given belief that tends to produce virtuous behavioral outcomes.

The late-Catholic theologian Stephen Webb observed that “mocking Mormonism is one of the last frontiers of verbal lawlessness to be untouched by the vigilante powers of political correctness.”

He asks: “What other group is ridiculed equally by Christians and secularists—and not just any kind of Christian or secularist but the most fervent and hard core?”

Andersen, for his part, seems to have genuinely meant to applaud Mormon politicians like Senator Jeff Flake, Evan McMullin, and Mitt Romney for being among the first Republicans to condemn Alabama politician Roy Moore after allegations surfaced this past week that the would-be septuagenarian U.S. senator lecherously pursued teenage girls while in his early 30s.

But lest Andersen be perceived as overly soft on the Saints, he made sure to take a passing shot at what he calls Mormonism’s “sci-fi” heaven with its promise of a “personal planetary fiefdom.”

Setting aside the questionable characterization of LDS doctrine (as a life-long Latter-day Saint I’ve never once been taught in a church meeting that heaven involves a “planetary fiefdom”) it may well be true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but mockery is almost certainly America’s most consistent form of initiation. The Catholics got The Sound of Music; the Jews got Fiddler on the Roof, and, well, the Mormons got South Park on stage.

Not unlike The Book of Mormon musical, Andersen’s musings aim to initiate rather than alienate, to praise rather than punish. But what Andersen fails to appreciate is that it’s precisely the pro-social beliefs of Mormons—the eternal nature of families, obligations to the poor and oppressed, accountability to God, the importance of clean living, and the value of self-reliance and personal agency—that result in specific shared behaviors and actions by the likes of Flake and Romney.

The British public intellectual Alain de Botton’s book Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion similarly seeks to appreciate the good of religion without accepting what he believes are unpalatable theological claims. But as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks eloquently observed in a conversation with de Botton: “Matters of the spirit live on the basis of obligation or ... [divine] command. Unless you hear a command [or] an obligation that comes from beyond you … you will not be able to generate sustainable [behavior].” For the religious, behavior is an extension of belief, of divine command—it’s a system of obligations rooted in metaphysical truth claims about the world and universe.

As much as South Park or Andersen desire to decouple behavior from belief, the reality is that, in the words of the columnist David Brooks, “Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn't actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice, and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.”

If Andersen honestly wants more politicians like Flake and Romney, it might help to be a bit less dismissive of religious belief, and a bit more curious in understanding why it seems to work.

---------------
 
https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/11/the-ignorance-of-mocking-mormonism/545975/

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

BYU professor's lecture examines the timeline of Joseph Smith's translation of the Book of Mormon

(by Trent Toone deseretnews.com 11-11-17)

With basic figures, it could read like a 4th grade math problem.

If Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery translated 10 words per minute, eight hours a day, how long would it take them to translate the 269,510 words in Book of Mormon?
BYU professor John W. "Jack" Welch has done the math and has the answer.
 
"Is doing this even possible? The answer is yes," Welch said. "By doing 10 words per minute, eight hours a day, they could get the Book of Mormon done in 56.2 full working day equivalents. ... If they worked faster (15 or 20 words per minute) or if they worked an hour or two fewer per day, they could also get it done."

Welch, a BYU law professor and author who served as the founding president of FARMS (the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies), examined the timing of the Book of Mormon translation as he gave the 2017 Book of Mormon lecture for the Laura F. Willes Center for Book of Mormon Studies Wednesday at the Gordon B. Hinckley Alumni & Visitors Center.

"My purpose, I hope, is to get us all thinking more specifically than ever before about the amazing and illuminating timing of the translation of the Book of Mormon," Welch said. "We can be more specific about those days, even those hours and minutes. ... I too, hope to awaken a greater sense of gratitude in our hearts for this miraculous volume of scripture."

At the outset of his remarks, Welch said it was the late Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles from 1981 to 2004, who first asked him how long it took Joseph Smith to translate the Book of Mormon. That question launched him into a 30-year involvement with the subject, Welch said.

In his presentation, Welch reviewed earlier scholarship on the timing of translation before discussing what he called "5 anchor dates" which set up the translation timeframe as April 7-June 30, 1829.

"History is admittedly an inexact science, dependent to a large extent on the accidental survival of information and personal memory," Welch said. "In stabilizing historical judgments, one always looks for certain anchor points that hold in place the structural girders of our historical understanding. ... I propose that these five anchor dates in particular can be tied down with near-historical-certainty. They are based on credible, contemporaneous, primary sources, found in independent documents.

They show that, with the possible exception of a page or two, the entire Book of Mormon came forth, day after day, and hour by hour, between April 7 and June 30."

Welch's five anchor dates (all during the year of 1829) include:
  • April 7, with Cowdery acting as scribe in Harmony, Pennsylvania.
  • May 15, as documented by testimonies given by Cowdery and Lucy Mack Smith, Joseph's mother.
  • May 31, when the Title Page of the Book of Mormon was translated.
  • June 11, when Joseph Smith obtained the copyright from the Library of Congress.
  • June 30, the established date for completion of the translation. Cowdery began to copy the Printer's Manuscript in July so it could go to press, Welch said.
With that timeframe established, Welch counted the number of days between April 7 and June 30, which is 85. Subtract 11 full days for trips or times when Joseph was identifiably occupied, leaving 74. Subtract another 16 days of about half-time distractions or other interruptions (business, farming, chores, personal time, visitors, Sundays, church matters and other distractions), and it's down to 58. Another day is taken away for work to receive 13 revelations and you are left with 57, Welch said.
          
In order to test how fast Joseph and Oliver may have worked, Welch and his wife, Jeannie, tried an experiment. They picked two pages in Royal Skousen’s Yale edition of the Book of Mormon and he played the role of Joseph while his wife acted as scribe. They timed themselves with a stopwatch and estimated their translation rate at about 20 words per minute.

"But we couldn’t imagine sustaining that rate hour after hour," Welch said. "Hands got tired, and Joseph needed to catch his breath and clear his voice. We used ballpoint pens. We imagined Oliver dipping and using his quill pen."

Welch said they found the experience so "intellectually awakening" and "spiritually engaging" that they repeated the activity in his stake scripture class.

"The experience was equally electrifying for everyone in the class," he said. "Although not strictly scientific, this exercise produced a flood of experiential insights."

Welch said his research into the timing of the Book of Mormon increased his gratitude and faith. What he learned increased his appreciation, awe and reverence for the scriptures, as well as his love for the Lord.
"This book is worthy of the name miracle," Welch said. "It is a miraculous work and a miracle."

Before he spoke, Welch was honored with special recognition by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship and BYU Studies for his work over the last 26 years as the BYU journal's editor-in-chief, along with the publication of BYU Studies Quarterly's 100th issue.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865692589/BYU-professor-calculates-how-long-it-took-Joseph-Smith-to-translate-the-Book-of-Mormon.html

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Mormon missionary brings an unexpected Jesus to the streets of local graffiti art festival


(by Rosalynde Welch stltoday.com 9-29-17)

For two Mormon missionaries, last Saturday was a long day of sharing their gospel message in the hot streets of St. Louis. But the pair of missionaries was not knocking doors. They were tagging a public wall with spray paint.

Their graffiti? An 11-foot, four-layer image of Jesus, emblazoned with the web address MORMON.ORG.

Elder Jacob Burgoyne, 19, the lead artist, had worked toward this moment for nearly a year. One day last fall, he stumbled on photos of the international street art festival Paint Louis, held annually at the flood wall south of the Gateway Arch.

Burgoyne knew he wanted to be part of it in 2017.

He prepared a portfolio of his artwork and submitted it to festival organizers. Once he got notice of acceptance, he had to sell the idea to his mission president, the church official who supervises the missionary force in eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

After that, it was just a matter of finding time in their proselytizing schedule to prepare the complex stencils out of taped-together cardstock. Burgoyne enlisted the help of his companions to hold the stencils steady for hours as he painstakingly cut out the design with X-acto knives. They went through dozens of blades.

The design he produced is imposing and spare. An 11-foot Christ dominates the wall against a background of colorful galaxies, a reference to Christ’s creation of the cosmos in Mormon teaching.
In a clever nod, Burgoyne’s and McIntyre’s traditional black missionary name tags appear as the graffiti “tag” of the artists.

Burgoyne has a simple message to communicate with this mural: Mormons worship Christ. Every visual element is designed to reinforce that concept. Like the stained-glass windows in medieval cathedrals designed to teach Bible stories, Burgoyne’s street mural is designed to teach the viewer. It’s the same message Mormon missionaries share everywhere: Jesus Christ is Lord.

Mormon missionary life is highly regimented to minimize individuality and emphasize discipline and selflessness. Most missionaries set aside their personal passions during their two years of service.
Burgoyne thought the same would be true for him.

He studied art for five years in California before his mission. He discovered the work of street artist Banksy, and obsessively studied his techniques. He reproduced Banksy murals step by step, learning how to create depth and shadow with layered stencils.

When he came to Missouri, he abandoned his art for a time. Then he decided to create an intricate paper representation of a Mormon temple for a woman he was teaching. It inspired her to be baptized into the faith.

Burgoyne realized that he could use his art in his missionary efforts. He started painting again. His reproduction of the famous Banksy image “Balloon Girl” hangs on a canvas in one of his former missionary apartments.

The Paint Louis mural, however, was a bigger and more complex project than he had ever tackled before.

The irony of representing the Mormon faith, typically considered buttoned-up and conservative, in the edgy style of graffiti street art was not lost on Burgoyne. Could a law-abiding Mormon communicate in the artistic language of outsiders and outlaws?

Yes, it turns out. Mormons were literally outsiders in the 19th century, expelled from the United States and from “respectable” mainstream society. For Mormons, the sense of being outsiders is never far away.

On Sept. 22, Burgoyne and his companion, Elder Scott McIntyre, arrived early at the flood wall armed with stencils, paint and a borrowed ladder. They got to work on a 20-foot section of wall, laying down bright colors and textures. Other artists arrived and began working around them.
But things soon went awry. The intense heat and humidity of the weekend compromised the adhesive meant to hold the stencils to the wall, and Burgoyne struggled to align his layers. A renowned tag artist known as Fleks struck up a conversation with the missionaries and gave them a few pointers.

It was the first of many times that weekend that they enjoyed the camaraderie of other artists. Despite different backgrounds, they traded tips with the artists around them. One painter suggested they add tattoos to their Jesus. When a few passers heckled the missionaries, tag artists around them came to their defense.

It seems oddly appropriate, placing Jesus in the midst of drinking, smoking and swearing. After all, the gospels depict Jesus visiting with those who scandalized polite society.

Since the mural’s completion, hundreds of passersby have stopped to admire or stare in curiosity. Whatever they make of it, they leave with the message that Mormons worship Jesus Christ.

Well, most of them do. “Oh look, it’s the Statue of Liberty!” one little girl exclaimed.

Many people stop to take selfies. Christ’s painted hands are situated at the perfect height to look as though they are resting on a person’s head. Some people have begun to call the mural “Touched by the Lord.”

Burgoyne hopes that some will be spiritually touched, as well.

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http://www.stltoday.com/lifestyles/faith-and-values/civil-religion/mormon-missionary-brings-an-unexpected-jesus-to-the-streets-of/article_56ee7d2c-4674-5f2c-b506-b0b421a1d94a.html?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter&utm_campaign=user-share

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Angelic handoff of Mormon golden plates to Joseph Smith took place 190 years ago today

(by Trent Toone deseretnews.com 9-22-17)

It was on this day in 1827 — 190 years ago — that Joseph Smith received the golden plates from the angel Moroni at a hill in upstate New York.

The Mormon prophet went on to translate the plates' ancient writings and publish the Book of Mormon.
The timing of the anniversary seems appropriate given that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently purchased the printer's manuscript of the Book of Mormon and church historians are piecing together fragments of the original manuscript for future publication, the Deseret News has reported.

Why the date of Sept. 22? The annual visitations by Moroni appeared to be in timing with the Israelite harvest festival season, according to Book of Mormon Central, a website that specializes in Book of Mormon scholarship.

"The initial visit on September 21 in 1823 coincided with that year’s celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. In 1824, September 22 was the eve of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) and the beginning of the fall festivals. In 1825, September 22 was precisely Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement). In 1827, when Moroni finally delivered the plates to Joseph (Joseph Smith—History 1:59), his timing on September 22 coincided exactly with Rosh Hashanah, also known as the Feast of Trumpets," BookofMormonCentral.org explains.

No existing account was made of all that happened the night the Prophet Joseph retrieved the golden plates from the Hill Cumorah, but he was warned that "wicked men" would "lay every plan and scheme that is possible to get them away" from him, Andrew H. Hedges wrote in a 2001 church magazine article, "Take Heed: Continually Protecting the Gold Plates."

The evil men did not succeed. After once retrieving the plates from a secret place, Joseph was attacked by three men but fought his way out, his mother Lucy Mack Smith recorded in her book, "History of Joseph Smith."

"As he was jumping over a log, a man sprang up from behind and gave him a heavy blow with a gun," his mother wrote. "Joseph turned around and knocked him to the ground, and then ran at the top of his speed. About half a mile further, he was attacked again in precisely the same way. He soon brought this one down also and ran on again, but before he got home, he was accosted the third time with a severe stroke with a gun.

"Joseph struck this third and final attacker with such force that he dislocated his own thumb. He continued running, 'being closely pursued until he came near his father’s house,' at which time his assailants, 'for fear of being detected,' broke off the chase. Reaching a fence corner, he 'threw himself down … to recover his breath,' then rose and continued running until he reached the house."

On the same day Joseph Smith received the plates, future church leader Heber C. Kimball, his wife and others in Mendon, New York, along with future church president Brigham Young and friends in Port Byron, New York, all claimed to see wonders in the heavens, including an army of men marching across the horizon, History of the Saints wrote for LDSLiving.com.

"They continued marching until they reached the western horizon. They moved in platoons, and walked so close that the rear ranks trod in the steps of their file leaders until the whole bow was literally crowded with soldiers. They were dressed in the full battle gear of 19th century soldiers—muskets; bayonets, and were so clear and distinct that Heber and the small group of neighbors could distinguish the features of their faces, and hear the jingle of their equipage as they moved," the article said.

When asked what it all meant, an older man replied, "Why, it's one of the signs of the coming of the Son of Man."

Many have wondered what became of the golden plates following the translation and publication of the Book of Mormon. The plates were deposited in Cumorah's cave, Cameron J. Packer wrote in an article for Journal of Book of Mormon Studies.

Packer's article presents several accounts from church leaders and others about what happened to the plates. One account by Young in the Journal of Discourses, June 17, 1877, reports that Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdrey walked into a cave at the hill and found themselves in a room full of other ancient records, "probably many wagon loads," the account said.

They saw sacred objects like the Sword of Laban and "tons of choice treasures and records," Wilford Wood wrote in his journal on Dec. 11, 1869.

"By looking at all the accounts and context in which they were shared, one can see that regardless of the meta-physical nature of Cumorah's cave, it has served to teach important gospel principles — principles such as God's miraculous dealings with man, his dominion over all things, consecration, and continuing revelation," Packer wrote.

-------------------

https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865689397/Angelic-handoff-of-Mormon-golden-plates-to-Joseph-Smith-took-place-190-years-ago-today.html

Thursday, September 21, 2017

LDS Church buys printer's manuscript of Book of Mormon for record $35 million


(by Tad Walch deseretnews.com 9-20-17)

The LDS Church paid a record-setting $35 million Monday to buy the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon from the Community of Christ.

Donors provided all of the money for the purchase made by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The two churches jointly announced the sale Wednesday night. Both faiths treasure the document, which is the most complete copy of the original manuscript of the Book of Mormon dictated by Joseph Smith to several scribes.

The printer’s manuscript is a handwritten copy of the original manuscript. Smith provided it to the printer, E. B. Grandin, in Palmyra, New York, in 1830, and Grandin used it to set the type for the first edition of the Book of Mormon.

"We hold the Book of Mormon to be a sacred text like the Bible. The printer’s manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of about 72 percent of the Book of Mormon text, as only about 28 percent of the earlier dictation copy survived decades of storage in a cornerstone in Nauvoo, Illinois," said Elder Steven E. Snow, LDS Church historian and recorder, in an LDS Church news release.

A Community of Christ news release included the purchase amount and the information that it was funded wholly by donors. The release said the amount is the most ever paid for a manuscript, exceeding the $30.8 million paid by Bill Gates for the Leonardo da Vinci Codex in 1994.

"It's new territory for any manuscript for sure, or any book," said Reid Moon, owner of Moon's Rare Books in Provo, Utah. "Just to give it a comparable, George Washington's annotated copy of the Constitution sold for $9.8 million in 2012."

Moon expected the sale to increase the value of other rare Mormon books and documents.

Elder Snow expressed appreciation to the anonymous donors who funded the purchase.

The LDS Church is making plans to display the manuscript for the public at the Church History Library in Salt Lake City later this year, its release said.

The Community of Christ is based in Independence, Missouri, and previously was known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Community of Christ bought a collection that included the printer’s manuscript in 1903 for $2,500.

The printer’s manuscript is missing only three lines of text, according to the Community of Christ release.

The LDS Church announced last month that it had acquired several tiny fragments of the original dictation of the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith placed the original manuscript in the cornerstone of the Nauvoo House in 1841. When it was removed decades later, water had ruined most of it.

As for the printer's manuscript, Oliver Cowdery, who wrote it out by hand, gave it to David Whitmer shortly before his death in 1850. Whitmer guarded the manuscript until his grandson George Schweich sold it to the Community of Christ in 1903.

The LDS Church and Community of Christ have worked jointly on conservation projects to preserve the manuscript over the years.

"We are pleased to transfer stewardship of this important document to those who will treasure it and continue to care for it for future generations," Community of Christ leaders said in their news release.
Still, the sale was not an easy decision.

"Church leaders know that letting go of this document will cause some members sadness and grief," the Community of Christ statement said. "We feel sad, too. However, the church’s use of the Book of Mormon as scripture and our appreciation and respect for our history are not dependent on owning the printer’s manuscript. Letting go of this document does not affect the rights of Community of Christ to publish and protect the copyrights of its editions of the Book of Mormon. When a decision had to be made, we chose the well-being of people and preserving the current and future mission of the church over owning this document. “

The Community of Christ's Presiding Bishopric set the price after evaluating the market for the manuscript with consultants. There were multiple potential buyers, according to the Community of Christ release.

The LDS Church published the entire printer’s manuscript in 2015 in Volume Three of the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. It plans to post digital images of the entire manuscript online at josephsmithpapers.org.
Moon said the da Vinci manuscript was an only copy of 7,000 pages of his notebooks. The $31.8 million paid by Gates would be worth $49 million today, adjusted for inflation.

"But for actual dollars paid, this does set a record, and it will get the world's attention," Moon said.
Moon said if the original, dictated copy of the Book of Mormon existed in complete form, it could fetch as much as $75 million.

A first-edition copy of the Book of Mormon sold for more than $50,000 in 2016.

"Early Mormon books have appreciated at a far more rapid pace than comparable 19th Century literature. I think it's because Mormons really appreciate their own history and want to own a piece of it."

Community of Christ leaders affirmed the Book of Mormon's place in the church.

"The Book of Mormon is an important part of our church’s heritage and ongoing sacred story," they said in their release. "We affirm that these sacred writings do not replace or improve upon the witness of the Bible; they confirm its message that Jesus is the Christ."

The Community of Christ released an eBook edition of the Book of Mormon in November 2016.

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https://www.deseretnews.com/article/865689273/LDS-Church-buys-printers-manuscript-of-Book-of-Mormon-for-record-35-million-from-Community-of.html


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Philippines reaches major Mormon milestone: 100 stakes

(by Sarah Jane Weaver deseretnews.com 9-10-17)

Five and a half decades after The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was legally registered in the Philippines, Elder Neil L. Andersen created the church's 100th stake in the country on Sunday.

To a capacity congregation gathered in the Kia Theater in Metro Manila, Elder Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoke of the historic milestone for the Philippines — the first nation outside of the Western Hemisphere to experience this level of LDS growth.
 
 
Why among all the nations of the earth “has the Savior set his feet so firmly here in the Philippines?” he asked. “It is because of who you are.”

Elder Andersen and his wife, Sister Kathy Andersen, praised the Filipino church members for their gentleness, humility, education, optimism and belief in Jesus Christ.

“This is a special place,” Elder Andersen said. “Do not underestimate who you are. … The most important part of the Philippines is the people.”

Elder Ulisses Soares, of the Presidency of the Seventy, told early church pioneers in the Philippines that they are the reason the gospel of Jesus Christ took root in their country. "We are celebrating this wonderful moment because of the faith of people like you."

The new stake — the Mandaluyong Philippines Stake — is located in the area where the LDS Church built its first chapel in 1966.

The milestone is significant. The LDS Church has only reached this milestone in four other countries of the world — Brazil, Mexico, the United States and Peru.

Although the first official Mormon conference was held in the Philippines on May 13, 1945, it was only attended by Latter-day Saints in the U.S. military.

The Philippines wasn’t dedicated for the preaching of the gospel for another decade. On Aug. 21, 1955, then-Elder Joseph Fielding Smith, who later became the 10th president of the church, offered a prayer of dedication on the Philippines.

On April 28, 1961, under the direction of then-Elder Gordon B. Hinckley, who would also later serve as prophet, the church was legally registered in the Philippines and received permission to send missionaries to the nation.

“This is an occasion you will never forget,” Elder Hinckley told a group gathered at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Manila in 1961. “What we will begin here will affect the lives of thousands and thousands of people in this island republic, and its effect will go on from generation to generation for great and everlasting good.”

Since that time, church growth in the Philippines has been rapid, said Keith Erekson, director of the Church History Library.

“If we measure from the date of the first stake to the 100th, the Philippines reached the milestone in 44 years. (The first stake in the Philippines, the Manila Philippines Stake, was created in 1973.) That same milestone was reached by Mexico in 94 years and Peru in 43 years. By this measure, only Brazil was faster, 27 years. In the United States, the only states outside Utah to reach the milestone — California, Idaho, and Arizona — all took more than 100 years.”

Ruel E. Lacanienta, Philippines Olongapo Mission president, was 10 years old when he and his family met Mormon missionaries in 1963 — just two years after Elder Hinckley prayed for the country and the people.

He became the 60th Filipino member to be baptized in his country. In his lifetime, the church has grown from one branch meeting in a rented building to 100 stakes meeting in more than 730 church-owned chapels.
 
 
President Lacanienta served a full-time mission in Manila; back then he was one of just a handful of Filipino elders and sisters. Today, 60 percent of the missionaries in the Olongapo Mission are Filipino. They join more than 4,000 other Filipino missionaries currently serving in their nation.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and his wife, Sister Kristen Oaks, lived and served in the Philippines from 2002 to 2004 as he presided over the Philippines Area of the church.

“When Sister Oaks and I arrived in the Philippines 15 years ago, there were only about 80 stakes, but the Philippines Area was rich in faith and determination to serve the Lord," said Elder Oaks, who was not in the Philippines for the stake creation.

“I am thrilled that the faithfulness and commitment of the Philippines saints has brought the church to this great milestone in their growth in that favored part of the vineyard.”

Saturday evening, some 600 primary children and youth marked the historic milestone with music and dance in a cultural celebration titled, “Upon the Isles of the Sea.”

What began in a quiet cemetery with only a small group “now has 21 missions, two operating temples (with two more temples to be built) and a total membership of 750,000 in 100 stakes and 75 districts,” said Elder Shayne M. Bowen, a General Authority Seventy and president of the church’s Philippines Area “This is truly worthy of a celebration.”

The youth celebrated the geographic and cultural diversity of their country by performing dances indigenous to different regions of the Philippines. “'Upon the Isles of the Sea' we have 7,100 islands,” said Dino Antenorcruz, cultural celebration director. “The thing that really binds them is the gospel.”

Roni Balde, 15, of the Malolos Philippines Stake, performed the Bumaya-Uyauy, a festival dance that celebrates a bountiful harvest. She said she is happy to use the dance to mark the church taking root and growing strong in her country.

“As long as there are still people who have not heard the word of God in the Philippines, then the church will keep growing,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe in the future we will reach 200 stakes.”

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http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865688496/Philippines-reaches-major-Mormon-milestone-100-stakes.html

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

The prosperity gospel, explained: Why Joel Osteen believes that prayer can make you rich

The long, strange history of a quintessentially American theology.

(by Tara Isabella Burton vox.com 9-1-17)

In the wake of Tropical Storm Harvey, which has resulted in the deaths of at least 46 people, few narratives have captured the public imagination — or anger — like that of Joel Osteen and his Lakewood Church, one of the largest megachurches in the country. Osteen’s seeming hesitation in opening the church as a shelter for evacuees provoked an intense social media backlash.
 
Lakewood’s representatives maintain that the church was opened as soon as it was safe and feasible to do so. But whether the backlash was founded or not, it reflects the profoundly ambiguous feelings Americans of different faiths have about wildly wealthy preachers like Osteen — whose net worth is estimated at over $50 million — and about the “prosperity gospel” he preaches.
 
As Laura Turner notes in an excellent piece for BuzzFeed, no theological tradition is as rife for accusations of hypocrisy as the “prosperity gospel,” a distinctively American theological tradition. While it’s popular among many evangelical Protestants, it’s been condemned by many others. But to many of its critics, especially since the election of Donald Trump, this tradition has come to represent the worst of the conflation of American-style capitalism, religion, and Republican party politics.

The prosperity gospel has its roots in an American occult tradition called New Thought

The prosperity gospel is an umbrella term for a group of ideas — popular among charismatic preachers in the evangelical tradition — that equate Christian faith with material, and particularly financial, success. It has a long history in American culture, with figures like Osteen and Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, glamorous, flashily-dressed televangelists whose Disneyland-meets-Bethlehem Christian theme park, Heritage USA, was once the third-most-visited site in America.

A 2006 Times poll found that 17 percent of American Christians identify explicitly with the movement, while 31 percent espouse the idea that “if you give your money to God God will bless you with more money.” A full 61 percent agree with the more general idea that “God wants people to be prosperous.”
 
Its roots, though, don’t just lie in explicitly Christian tradition. In fact, it’s possible to trace the origins of the American prosperity gospel to the tradition of New Thought, a nineteenth-century spiritual movement popular with decidedly unorthodox thinkers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and William James. Practitioners of New Thought, not all of whom identified as Christian, generally held the divinity of the individual human being and the priority of mind over matter. In other words, if you could correctly channel your mental energy, you could harness its material results. New Thought, also known as the “mind cure,” took many forms: from interest in the occult to splinter-Christian denominations like Christian Science to the development of the “talking cure” at the root of psychotherapy.
 
The upshot of New Thought, though, was the quintessentially American idea that the individual was responsible for his or her own happiness, health, and situation in life, and that applying mental energy in the appropriate direction was sufficient to cure any ills.
 
Thus, New Thought thinker Ralph Waldo Trine (not to be confused with Ralph Waldo Emerson) could exhort his readers to “See yourself in a prosperous condition. Affirm that you will before long be in a prosperous condition.”
 
In addition to influencing Christian movements like the prosperity gospel, New Thought has also made its way into many “secular" aspects of American life, including the tradition of positive-thinking self-help represented by books like The Secret, which was written by an Australian but gained popularity when promoted by Oprah.

Today’s prosperity gospel was also shaped by pro-capitalist and Pentecostal thought traditions

 

A second strand in the development of the American prosperity gospel was the valorization of the “Protestant work ethic.”
 
Written in 1905, Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism traced what he saw as the specifically Protestant approach to labor as integral to the development of capitalism and industrialization.
 
In Weber’s historical analysis, Protestant Calvinists — who generally believe in the idea of “predestination,” or that God has chosen some people to be saved and others damned — felt the need to justify their own sense of themselves as the saved. They looked both for outward signs of God’s favor (i.e., through material success) and for ways to express inward virtue (i.e., through hard work). While the accuracy of Weber’s analysis is still debated by scholars, it nevertheless tells us a lot about cultural attitudes at the time Weber wrote it.
 
By 1905, at least, the idea that working hard and receiving material, financial reward for that work was integral to a certain strand of Protestant Christianity had entered the public consciousness. According to a recent Dutch study, that point of view still holds true today: Protestants and citizens of predominately Protestant countries tend to conflate labor with personal satisfaction more than those of other religious traditions.
 
A final strand of the development of the prosperity gospel was the development of charismatic Pentecostal churches in America. An umbrella term for a decentralized group of churches — comprising over 700 denominations — Pentecostal churches are characterized by an emphasis on what is known as “spiritual gifts” (or charisms, from which the term “charismatic” is drawn). A worshipful Christian might experience, for example, the gift of healing, or might suddenly start speaking “in tongues.” This tradition of worship meant that, for a believer, the idea that God would manifest Himself to the faithful in concrete, miraculous ways in the here and now was more prevalent than it would be in, say, a mainline Episcopalian church. In addition, the decentralized nature of these churches also meant that individual leaders, many of whom practiced faith healing or similar practices, had a particularly strong effect on their congregations and could build up individual personal followings.

These three strands collided throughout the twentieth century, as the prosperity gospel came into being. It started — like the “work ethic” Max Weber described — as a way to justify why, during the Gilded Age, some people were rich and others poor. (One early prosperity gospel proponent, Baptist preacher Russell H. Conwell, told his mostly-destitute congregation in 1915: “I say you ought to be rich; you have no right to be poor.”) Instead of blaming structural inequality, Conwell and those like him blamed the perceived failures of the individual.
 
Throughout the twentieth century, proponents of this particularly American blend of theology envisaged God as a kind of banker, dispensing money to the deserving, with Jesus as a model business executive. Both of these characterizations were, at times, literal: In 1936, New Thought mystic and founder of the Unity Church Charles Fillmore rewrote Psalm 23 to read, “The Lord is my banker/my credit is good”; in 1925, advertising executive Bruce Bowler wrote The Man Nobody Knows to argue that Jesus was the first great capitalist. The literal money quote reads, “Some day ... someone will write a book about Jesus. Every businessman will read it and send it to his partners and his salesmen. For it will tell the story of the founder of modern business.”
 
Yet it was in Pentecostal churches — with their focus on immediate spiritual gifts and the power of God to confer favor (and wellness) immediately — that the prosperity gospel as we know it today took hold. The “Word of Faith” movement — a Pentecostal version of New Thought that saw positive affirmation as central to financial and material success — became more prominent. Figures like Kenneth Hagin, his protégé Kenneth Copeland, Oral Roberts, and, of course, Osteen himself built up individual followings: followings that often grew as a result of cross-promotion (something religious historian Kate Bowler points out in her excellent Blessed, a history of the prosperity gospel movement). One preacher might, for example, feature another at his conference, or hawk his cassette tapes.
 
Central to the prosperity gospel was the idea of tithing, or giving money to the church, ideally one's “first fruits” — or initial earnings. This money, many prosperity gospel preachers promised, was an investment. By showing faith, parishioners could have a “hundredfold” return on their investment, a reference to a verse in the Gospel of Mark about those who suffer for Christ receiving a hundredfold what they have lost. Thus could Ken Copeland write in his Laws of Prosperity, "Do you want a hundredfold return on your money? Give and let God multiply it back to you. No bank in the world offers this kind of return! Praise the Lord!” In this mentality, tithing is a financially responsible thing to do. It’s a show of faith and a shrewd investment alike, a wager on the idea that God acts in the here and now to reward those with both faith and a sufficiently developed work ethic.

Many of the evangelical leaders that surround Trump are proponents of the prosperity gospel

The prosperity gospel tended to ebb and flow in accordance with wider cultural trends — it flourished in the postwar boom of the 1950s, and then again (unsurprisingly) in the no less ostentatious ‘80s, when big hair and big money alike were in. Yet despite the catastrophic fall of some of the most prominent proponents of the gospel — Jim Bakker, for example, spent years in prison for fraud — the movement has persisted well into the present day. Perhaps no less unsurprisingly, two of its major proponents — Paula White and Wayne T. Jackson — were among the six faith leaders invited to pray with Donald Trump at his inauguration.
 
Certainly Trump is, in some sense, a product of that mentality. In a recent op-ed in The New York Times, theology professor Anthea Butler argued that Donald Trump and Joel Osteen were “mirrors” of one another:

Both enjoy enormous support among evangelicals, yet they lack a command of biblical scripture. Both are among the 1 percent ... Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Osteen’s brands are rooted in success, not Scripture. Believers in prosperity like winners. Hurricanes and catastrophic floods do not provide the winning narratives crucial to keep adherents chained to prosperity gospel thinking. That is why it is easy for both men to issue platitudes devoid of empathy during natural disasters.

It’s difficult to say that the prosperity gospel itself led to Donald Trump’s inauguration. Again, only 17 percent of American Christians identify with it explicitly. It’s far more true, however, to say that the same cultural forces that led to the prosperity gospel’s proliferation in America — individualism, an affinity for ostentatious and charismatic leaders, the Protestant work ethic, and a cultural obsession with the power of “positive thinking” — shape how we, as a nation, approach politics.
 
What is our collective approach to health care, after all, if not rooted in a visceral sense that the unlucky are responsible for their own misfortune? What is our willingness to vote a man like Trump into office but a collective cultural reward for those who brand themselves as successful?
 
After all, Trump may have embraced New Thought more than anyone realized: seeing himself in the White House, affirming himself in the White House, before anyone else saw it coming.
 
He’s gotten his investment back a hundredfold.

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https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/9/1/15951874/prosperity-gospel-explained-why-joel-osteen-believes-prayer-can-make-you-rich-trump