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

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

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

Tuesday, 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 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.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

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

(by Trent Toone 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.


Sunday, October 22, 2017

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

(by Rosalynde Welch 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.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

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

(by Trent Toone 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," 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

"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.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

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

(by Tad Walch 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
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.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Philippines reaches major Mormon milestone: 100 stakes

(by Sarah Jane Weaver 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.”


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 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.


Saturday, September 2, 2017

Rare Arnold Friberg sketches come to Springville Museum of Art in new exhibit

( 2-18-17)

In his home studio in Holladay, famed Latter-day Saint painter Arnold Friberg had a handmade advertisement of sorts. The sign invites people to buy a portrait from Friberg, described as “The most confused, abused, misunderstood, and underfed Genius in Seven Counties!”

That sign now hangs in the Springville Museum of Art as part of its newest exhibition, “From the Studio of Arnold Friberg.” Alongside it are enormous illustrations — some as large as 7x14 feet — that Friberg sketched on his studio walls.

Yes, these aren’t canvases, but literally huge chunks of Friberg’s own walls.

Keep in mind, these walls are now on the second floor of the museum. And the museum doesn’t have a freight elevator. The exhibition’s largest piece, which depicts Joseph Smith being visited by God and Jesus Christ, weighs more than 600 pounds, according to Emily Larsen, the museum’s assistant curator and registrar.

“And I tried to do all the geometry and the math to say, ‘Can we get it in at an angle? Can we tabletop it somehow?’ And there was no way it was going to fit through,” Larsen said, standing atop the narrow staircase through which it was somehow transported.

“And it was nail-biting to watch it come up,” she continued. “We had probably 10 different people, four big guys, and all the interns and volunteers we could scramble. It was really stressful. But it worked, and it was so exciting.”

Within LDS circles, Friberg is most known for his illustrations of Book of Mormon scenes that he completed in the 1950s. These illustrations became an unexpected success after they were included in the church’s official distributed copies of the Book of Mormon — Friberg became the art director for Cecil B. Demille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments” as a result. Friberg fans, be they Mormon or not, are used to seeing his works rendered in grand, dynamically painted color schemes. This new exhibition, though, turns these associations on their head: Instead of direct, colorful statements, the exhibit’s pieces are ethereal, somewhat vague black-and-white pencil sketches.

“It all feels more personal,” said Ali Royal-Pack, the museum’s educator. “I’ve grown up seeing those images from the Book of Mormon, and I love the idea of seeing kind of the raw, behind-the-scenes quality of some of these works. And it feels a little more personal to get a glimpse into his process.”

The museum worked with Micah Christensen, a specialist at Anthony’s Fine Art & Antiques in Salt Lake City, on the exhibition. Christensen got to know Friberg before Friberg’s death in 2010. Friberg, he said, was so much more than a hero of Mormon art. His paintings were revered around the world, particularly in England, where he had been commissioned to paint portraits of the royal family.

“The problem with Arnold Friberg … is we’re too familiar with him. Just like Van Gogh,” Christensen said. “We think we understand them because we’re familiar with them. And the thing that I think surprises people when they see Arnold Friberg’s sketches is how skilled he was as an artist. On a technical level, he had an enormous arsenal.”

Friberg was also a contemporary of Norman Rockwell. The two men went against the grain of their own artistic time period, focusing on realism when the era’s biggest visual artists — people like Pollock, Warhol and Lichtenstein — focused on surrealism and postmodernism. And yet, Rockwell and Friberg succeeded. When the LDS Church became more directly involved with Friberg, it had never courted an artist so highly regarded.

“Well, Arnold Friberg was a powerful force to be reckoned with as an individual,” Christensen said. “He had very strong opinions, and he had no problem going toe to toe with apostles and prophets when it came to his work — and he often did.”

These toe-to-toe interactions aren’t commonly known among Latter-day Saints, but are made manifest in much of Friberg’s religious art. David O. McKay, president of the LDS Church from 1951-1970, wanted church-sanctioned art to avoid literal, physical depictions of God and Christ — he wanted to avoid the iconography so rampant in other Christian faiths. In this, Christensen said, Friberg was vehemently opposed.

“So when you see the First Vision depiction that he did, that’s on the wall at Springville, it was a somewhat rebellious act by him,” Christensen explained. (That piece features an embodied God and Christ.)

Drawing on one’s own walls, Christensen said, is pretty atypical for artists. But it certainly conveys the boldness and matter-of-factness with which Friberg seemed to live his life. Friberg, Christensen said, was prolific, drawing on whatever kinds of surfaces he could find, be it his enormous studio walls or otherwise.

Added Christensen, “He was a big fish who happened to paint Mormons.”


Monday, August 28, 2017

How to define LDS Church doctrine: BYU Professor Anthony R. Sweat offers these 4 guidelines

(by Danielle Christensen 8-25-17)

Defining doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can at times be no easy task for Sunday School teachers, said Professor Anthony R. Sweat at BYU Education Week.

“Some people say doctrine are only those things that are eternal and they never change,” said Sweat. “I have used that definition. I think it’s useful in some contexts.”

But there’s a problem, he continued.

“If I’m only using the word doctrine to define things that are eternal and unchanging, is the Word of Wisdom a doctrine of the church?” he asked the audience.

According to, the Word of Wisdom, or “law of health,” was originally revealed in 1833. The law states that some substances are harmful to the human body, including alcohol, tea, coffee and tobacco, the website states. And while members of the LDS Church may automatically assume that the Word of Wisdom is a doctrine of the faith, Sweat pointed out a conundrum:

“It obviously was not had in other dispensations in the form we have it and it was changed in our dispensation,” he said, noting that it therefore is not strictly eternal. “So by that definition, that limiting definition, I would have to say . . . the Word of Wisdom is not LDS doctrine.”

Still, Sweat noted that the Word of Wisdom is an important doctrine in the church—the definition of “doctrine” just needs to be given a broader definition, he said.

“I would say this: It’s authoritative teachings of the church,” he continued, citing an official statement made by Mormon Newsroom on the subject.

Breaking it down further, Sweat explained that doctrines can be categorized into four main areas:

  1. Core Doctrine — those essential for salvation, including faith, repentance and baptism
  2. Supportive Doctrine — those that elaborate on core doctrine, but are not essential for salvation
  3. Policy Doctrine — authoritative, binding teachings of the LDS Church involving application of core and supportive doctrines
  4. Esoteric Doctrine — known perhaps by prophets or may have once been authoritatively taught in the church, but no longer are, and are not essential for salvation
To find essential doctrines in the church, Sweat suggested looking at official documents and statements issued by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve, such as The Living Christ and The Family Proclamation. Each word has been approved by the brethren, which is no easy feat, he added.
“To bring 15 men together of diverse backgrounds who are strong-minded and opinionated and have had a lifetime of experience, and to get them all united is something,” Sweat said. “Trust me. In the religion department, sitting around with 30 Ph.D’s, it might be the millennium before we’re united in anything. And I say that with love to my fellow colleagues,” he joked.

Other ways to identify official doctrines include studying the Standard Works—the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price—and seeing whether they are consistently taught throughout the scriptures. Church leaders who have repeatedly taught about a doctrine while in their official capacities can also be helpful, he said.

“I hope . . . that these models help you in your thinking about doctrine and whether doctrine’s official,” Sweat continued. “May it be a way to categorize and have discussions and come to your own learning as you seek to learn by study and by faith.”


Friday, August 25, 2017

'Archaeology, Relics and Book of Mormon Belief'

(by Daniel Peterson 8-24-17)

John E. Clark, a respected authority on the archaeology of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, teaches at Brigham Young University. In 2005, he published an article on archaeology and the Book of Mormon titled “Archaeology, Relics and Book of Mormon Belief” (see “Archaeology, Relics, and Book of Mormon Belief,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies” 14/2 (2005)

“The Book of Mormon,” he points out, “is unique in world scripture because its claimed divine origins can be evaluated by checking for concrete evidence in the real world. Prove the existence of Zarahemla, for example, and the validity of the rest follows. The logic is simple and compelling.”

“If Joseph Smith made the book up,” he explains, “then its peoples did not exist, its events did not happen, and there should be no trace of them anywhere. If, after a reasonable period of diligent searching, material evidence is not found, then the Book of Mormon would be shown to be imaginary, and by implication, Joseph Smith would be exposed as a liar and the church he founded unveiled as a hoax.”

However, while it’s easy to imagine something that might demonstrate the Book of Mormon true to all reasonable people — say, a stela bearing the name “Nephi, son of Lehi” and identifying him having built a temple patterned after one in his homeland across the sea — a decisive proof that the Book of Mormon is false is somewhat harder to picture. And how much time spent in “diligent searching” would be “reasonable”?

Nonetheless, many critics happily announce that the game is over, that the Book of Mormon has been proven false. The Bible’s claims, conservative Protestant critics of Mormonism often like to argue, are corroborated by geography and archaeology. But those of the Book of Mormon, they insist, are not. Decades of desperate archaeological research in Mexico and Central America, often (they say) sponsored by the LDS Church, have (they say) yielded absolutely no evidence for the Book of Mormon.

(On this latter issue, see my article “On the New World Archaeological Foundation,” which is online at

Professor Clark, however, is unimpressed by such critics: “They believe they are winning the day,” he writes, “but 175 years of falsehoods and weak arguments (have) not scratched the book’s credibility.” In his 2005 article, though, he spends little time rebutting critics’ claims. Instead, he offers positive support for the Book of Mormon in multiple areas, including the placing of metal records in stone boxes and the discovery of ancient Mesoamerican writing systems.

Until three or four decades ago, he notes, the Book of Mormon’s claims about fortifications and warfare were ridiculed by famous scholars. The peaceful peoples of Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica were simply devoted, said the authorities, to cultivating their fields of maize and beans. But, says Clark, things have changed: “Now that Maya writing can be read, warfare appears to have been a Mesoamerican pastime.”

The cities, temples, towers and palaces depicted in the Book of Mormon, Clark notes, match Mesoamerican structures in striking ways, including, very specifically, the use of cement. So do the kings and monuments that are mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

“The book’s claim of city societies was laughable” in 1830, he further says, “but no one is laughing now.” Moreover, Clark finds notable parallels between the Book of Mormon and the geography of the Old and New worlds.

“The Book of Mormon’s metaphors,” he remarks, “make sense in the Mesoamerican world.” Similarly, intriguing parallels exist between the timekeeping and prophesying described in the Book of Mormon and what we’re learning about ancient Mexico and Central America. Likewise, the cycles of civilization that archaeologists have been able to discern in Mesoamerica correspond with what the Book of Mormon depicts, as does Mesoamerican demographic or population history.

“A trend of convergence” is appearing, Clark writes, between the Book of Mormon and Mesoamerican archaeology. And that, he correctly observes, is remarkable.

The atoms of which oxygen and hydrogen are made aren’t wet. But they form water, which is. Individually, the letters of which this column is composed mean nothing. Put together, however, they create an argument. Individually, none of the arguments yet advanced for the Book of Mormon constitutes decisive proof. Collectively, though, they possess considerable force. (See this previous column by Daniel C. Peterson, “Creating a convincing, cumulative case for the Book of Mormon,” published on on Feb. 19, 2015.)

For related reading, see William J. Hamblin's “Basic Methodological Problems with the Anti-Mormon Approach to the Geography and Archaeology of the Book of Mormon,” online at


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Church history tour

Check out this gentleman's blog of a pretty impressive church history tour he did.

I haven't had time to go thru it yet but I will pretty soon.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Contested sacred space USA: Conflict and cooperation in the heartland

(by Kimberly Winston 8-11-17)

There is an open patch of grass at the intersection of River Boulevard and Walnut Street in this Kansas City suburb. It looks like a vacant lot — no structures, no landscaping, no fence.

But this 2.5-acre site is sacred to a number of religious groups, all of which trace their origins to Joseph Smith Jr., the Mormon prophet. It is here, Joseph Smith declared in 1831, that the Savior will return — and soon — to rule his kingdom from a beautiful temple.

For now, there is no temple — construction never got past the laying of cornerstones. But the three largest denominations with roots in Mormonism have presences in and around Temple Lot: The 15 million-member Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints runs a visitors center on one corner across the street; the Community of Christ, with 200,000 members, has its world headquarters and an auditorium on two other corners; and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), which has just 5,000 members, has a low-slung sanctuary a few steps away.
The world has no shortage of contested religious sites. From the Temple Mount and Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem to the former Babri Mosque built on the site of an ancient Hindu temple in Ayodhya, India, different faiths have both tried to share — and waged bloody conflicts over — spaces considered sacred to their traditions.

Here in the U.S., the three denominations present at Temple Lot have found a way to peacefully share the contested space, as well as two other sites nearby.

The roots of their disputes may not be as deep as the ones that entangle contested sites overseas. But they are certainly complex and emotional, and the Mormon factions’ efforts to come to terms with their conflicting claims has only come about through gestures of magnanimity and evolved thinking on the part of believers who follow the same founding prophet.

“You know the old saying, ‘There’s no fight like a family fight?'” said Steven L. Olsen, senior curator for historic sites for the LDS Church and a seventh-generation Mormon. “I think we have gotten over that because we realize there are bigger issues than the sectarian issues that divided us. We can accomplish a lot more together than we can by fighting each other.”

Shared history

Since Mormonism was born in America and splintered into dozens of religious groups, it may not be surprising that some of the places that figure in the Latter-day Saints’ founding stories are subject to competing claims.

Current estimates range between 30 and 100 active denominations that trace their lineage to Joseph Smith’s revelations.

Yet today, the three largest of these may have more theological differences than commonalities. The LDS Church and the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) retain their belief in a literal and imminent return of the Savior to Independence, while the Community of Christ does not.

The LDS Church has temple ordinances — sacraments and rites performed in temples for baptism of the dead, marriage and sealing families as eternal. Neither of the other two has these ordinances.

And only Community of Christ ordains women and accepts noncelibate LGBT people as full members.

Though Joseph Smith’s “Latter-day Saint movement” is 187 years old, only 14 years of that is shared.

“For 14 years, there was a common tree trunk,” said Lachlan Mackay, a Community of Christ historian. “Then the splintering happened.”

And with it came the contested sacred places.

Kirtland Temple

One of them is the Kirtland Temple, near Cleveland, the first temple Joseph Smith established.
The white, steepled structure wouldn’t be out of place in New England.

In April 1836, Joseph Smith claimed he saw the Savior standing at one of its two pulpits. Joseph Smith believed the Savior was accepting and blessing the temple and his followers. In other visions at Kirtland Temple, Joseph Smith claimed heavenly visitors gave him the keys — the authority — to conduct temple ordinances.

For LDS Church members, this event is sacred scripture, incorporated in their Doctrine and Covenants in 1876. They believe the Savior literally stood at the pulpit of the Kirtland Temple.

But in Community of Christ terminology, Joseph Smith’s visions were more spiritual experiences than actual events — they do not teach the Savior literally stood in the Kirtland pulpit. They hold only one of Joseph Smith’s several visions — his first, in a New York forest in 1820 — as important because, they believe, it shows the healing of God and the mercy of the Savior.

And it is the Community that owns Kirtland Temple.

David Howlett, a Community of Christ historian and author of “Kirtland Temple: The Biography of a Shared Mormon Sacred Space,” said relations there have always been cordial, if sometimes strained. During tours in the 1960s and 1970s, members of the two denominations would sometimes confront each other on the priesthood, plural marriage and more.

“I know from talking with guides from the 1970s, they were ready to go to war,” he said. “They knew what to hit their LDS guests with and they were ready to tangle.”

But the last 20 or so years have seen a change.

Community of Christ allows its “Mormon cousins” to hold worship, prayer and meetings in the temple’s sanctuary. Together, they hold joint Thanksgiving and Easter services and the annual Emma Joseph Smith Hymn Festival, named for Joseph Smith’s widow. The LDS Church has funded a roof replacement and some structural studies as well.

The LDS perspective of events is included in the tour guides’ script, and they always point out the pulpit where Joseph Smith said he saw the Savior stand.

Olsen, the LDS historian, recalls when, in 2003, then-church President Gordon Hinckley was given a tour of Kirtland Temple. The elderly Hinckley asked for a few minutes alone in the sanctuary. It was against the rules, but …

“They ushered everyone out and President Hinckley got to spend an hour in the temple contemplating what we call the ‘solemnities of eternity’ that transpired there,” he said. “That was an amazing act of generosity.”

Howlett says it is not so much that everyone gets along as that what they disagree on has changed. “For Community of Christ, it doesn’t matter whether this or that really happened at Kirtland,” he said. “It is more about the community Kirtland represents. That makes cooperation easier for them both.”


There is an old joke among Community of Christ members that their historical sites exist to ruin LDS family vacations.

That’s no longer true in Nauvoo, Ill., the small pioneer town Joseph Smith and his thousands of followers founded along a bend in the Mississippi River.

Here, the two churches share the log, clapboard and brick buildings. Community of Christ owns the Joseph Smith-related sites while the LDS Church owns sites associated with Brigham Young and other early church leaders. Visitors cross denominational lines without even knowing it.

But there once was a kind of border crossing — two billboards facing opposite directions had the effect of announcing “You are now entering” each church’s territory.

The billboards came down five years ago after a discussion over chips and salsa at a local Mexican restaurant.

“Steve Olsen (the LDS historian) was there and I was there and one of us said, ‘Hey, if we take ours down will you take yours down?'” said Mackay, the Community of Christ historian and overseer of the church’s Nauvoo sites. “It was silly, in the middle of historical sites, to have these billboards.”

That cooperation extends to the Red Brick Store, built in 1841 by Joseph Smith to house his dry goods business and owned by Community of Christ. The second floor was the de facto headquarters of the early Mormon church and is sacred to both groups, but for competing reasons.

Perhaps in a small office with windows toward the river, Community members believe, Joseph Smith made his son, Joseph Smith III, his spiritual successor in a ceremony involving an anointing and a laying on of hands.

But the LDS Church recognized Brigham Young as Joseph Smith’s successor. To them, the second floor is sacred because it is where Joseph Smith established temple endowments — a gift of power from on high that is the highest sacrament of the faith and can only be performed in temples.

Community of Christ does not have endowments, but it includes the historical information in tour materials and signage, and its tour guides are instructed in endowments’ importance for LDS visitors.
More problematic is an issue that roiled both denominations and kept them apart for at least a century. The Red Brick Store is where Joseph Smith recorded some teachings about plural marriage, which he secretly practiced as early as the 1840s and the LDS Church practiced until 1890. The LDS Church sanctified these teachings as scripture, Section 132 of the Doctrine and Covenants.

Community of Christ has always rejected plural marriage. For decades, many members insisted Joseph Smith never practiced it.

“Really, we were here to challenge the idea that Joseph Smith was a polygamist for much of our existence,” Mackay said from his office, a short walk from the Red Brick Store. “That is not what we are here to do to today. We are here to tell a powerful story of a people who believed life in a community is better than a life alone.”

What changed, Mackay said, was the Community of Christ’s attitude toward history. In the 1960s the Community began accepting what outside scholars were arguing about Joseph Smith — that he married about 30 women (but fathered children with only one of them, his first wife, Emma, according to modern DNA testing).

“Historians looked at our story; we embraced their work,” Mackay said. “It didn’t happen overnight and it was very painful. It came down to, if you had to choose between something the Savior said and something Joseph Smith said, what would you choose? And the answer for us, of course, was the Savior.”

Olsen, who often visits the LDS-owned Nauvoo sites, including the house where Brigham Young planned the Mormon exodus to the Salt Lake Basin, said the two groups realized that when they played their disagreements out in the Nauvoo sites, “the people who were victimized were the visitors.”

And “we got to know each other,” Olsen said. “Once we came together in academic and not sectarian forums we came to a mutual appreciation. We realized there is more that brings us together than drove us apart. There have been extraordinary things accomplished since we reached this detente.”

Last year, Mackay, a great-great-great-grandson of Joseph and Emma Joseph Smith, and Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the LDS Church and a great-great-grandson of Joseph Smith Jr.’s brother Hyrum, jointly laid a wreath at their ancestors’ graves near the Red Brick Store — something that wouldn’t have happened a generation ago.

“That symbolizes our relationship now,” Mackay said.
Temple Lot

Nowhere is this relationship played out more clearly than at the grassy field in Independence — about 275 miles west of Nauvoo — known as Temple Lot.

When Joseph Smith purchased Temple Lot in 1831, some Mormon elders dedicated the site to God.
“This spot is the center of the earth,” a resident recorded of the dedication in his journal. “This is the spot of ground on which the New Jerusalem is to be built.”

But Mormons laid only the cornerstones — on view in the tiny museum in the Church of Christ (Temple Lot)’s building. Joseph Smith and his tens of thousands of followers fled the state in 1838 after its governor declared Mormons be “exterminated.”

After Joseph Smith’s death at the hands of an angry crowd in 1844, a breakaway Mormon sect called the Hedrickites came into possession of Temple Lot. The Community of Christ, then headed by Joseph Smith III, sued them for the deed.

The legal battle lasted from 1891 to 1896. In the end, the Hedrickites — by then renamed the Church of Christ (Temple Lot) — won. Both the Community of Christ and the LDS Church made occasional offers to purchase it, but Church of Christ (Temple Lot) officials proclaimed they would never sell.

“It is not for sale at any price … to the LDS Church in Utah, nor to any other division of the Restoration,” church Apostle Clarence Wheaton said. “We hold (it) as a sacred trust before the Lord.”

The land is still not for sale. Nor is it fenced in or guarded. On any summer day, busloads of LDS teens can be seen praying at the site, while Community of Christ members stroll over from a conference or service across the street.

Church of Christ still plans to build a temple on the site, but current efforts are hindered by money and local zoning laws.

There is speculation the LDS Church would very much like to buy the lot. Olsen acknowledged the LDS Church has the assets and likely the inclination to purchase the land, should it be for sale. In the meantime, the LDS Church has given funds to Church of Christ for the land’s upkeep and restoration.
“It is a good relationship,” said Roland Sarratt, a Church of Christ (Temple Lot) leader and historian who presides over its tiny museum on Mondays. “They respect us even though our beliefs are quite different. It is like Christianity in general — we have a common belief in God and the Savior Christ and that belief keeps us from being at a sword’s point on various things.”

Sarratt, who is 82, remembers the old battles over the site — a “defense thing,” he called it. Now, he can walk across the Temple Lot, stand in the footsteps of Joseph Smith Jr. and see something else.
“I have hope, because the way the world is going, we don’t know what the Lord has in mind,” he said. “We don’t know how the temple will ever be built. But the Lord knows. That’s where we’re at.”