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.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Discovery of pioneer journal sheds light on Temple Square mystery

(by Ryan Morgenegg 7-20-17)

On the 170th anniversary of the Saints entering the Salt Lake Valley, a longtime question has now been answered. How long after Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley was land surveyed and designated as the official location of Temple Square? A week? A month? According to a recently discovered journal belonging to pioneer surveyor Jesse Carter Little, the location of Temple Square was known the day pioneers entered the valley, July 24, 1847.

In April, Rob Thurston of Provo, Utah, age 60, made an amazing discovery about his great-great-grandfather, Jesse Carter Little. He found his ancestor’s journal containing entries made along the journey west to the Salt Lake Valley. But the journey to acquiring the journal was an adventure in and of itself.

“When I was a young boy about age 7, I used to go down to Manti, Utah, to where my grandmother lived,” Thurston said. “In her old house I used to like to play hide-and-seek and hide under the stairs.”

In the small confines of the room under the stairs, Thurston remembers seeing an old cream-colored box filled with aged letters and photographs. At the time, the letters were of particular interest because of the stamps that could be cut out and added to his stamp collection.

It wasn’t until this past April that memories of the cream-colored box came flooding back in Thurston’s mind. “I asked my mother whatever happened to the box,” he said. “She wasn’t exactly sure but recalled that it was given to a BYU professor to take a look at. The professor was contemplating writing an article about the items in it and also indicated he would see if they held any worth.”

The only problem with the box was it was given to the BYU professor, who Thurston declined to name, in 1977, 40 years ago. “I thought, 'That’s it, they’re gone,'” Thurston said. "And to top it all off, my mother could not remember the name of the BYU professor.”

After a lot of hard work, Thurston found out the name of the professor, who, fortunately, was still working at Brigham Young University. He called the professor and mentioned the cream-colored box. Sure enough, the professor still had the box and remembered his mother. Thurston made an appointment to see him.

At the office of the BYU professor, Thurston recovered the box. It had been on a shelf for many years. “I remember what the professor told me,” said Thurston. “'There really isn’t anything in there. I didn’t see anything of value. Go ahead and take it.’”

Thurston took the box home and opened it. It held more than 180 items.

“Not knowing exactly what I had, I took the box to a document expert to help me understand. I was told that there were a number of significant things.”

The box contained a treasure trove of journals, letters and photographs from Thurston’s ancestors. “It gave depth to my ancestors I knew nothing about,” he said.

“There was a letter from Brigham Young I was excited about and a bunch of letters from an ancestor named Jesse Carter Little. He was the one ancestor I knew. He helped found the Mormon Battalion, and he met with President James K. Polk to get funds to help the Saints come west.”

The pinnacle of the discovery was an 1846 journal kept by Jesse Carter Little from the first pioneer company coming across the plains with Brigham Young. It contained tons of detailed information about the company’s trek west. “He recorded how many miles they went, where they reached, location names and coordinates for longitude and latitude with a sextant and compass,” Thurston said.

The most interesting entry was the one dated July 24, 1847. Little was in the advance party that entered the valley, and he recorded the following on two lines in his journal. Line one reads: “Salt Lake Valley 114 miles from Fort Bridger.” The second line reads: “Northern boundary of the Temple Square 40 degrees latitude and 111 degrees longitude.”

To check the accuracy of Little’s journal, the distance from the address of Fort Bridger to the address of Temple Square was calculated using Google Maps. It yielded 118 miles versus the journal’s 114. Plugging the longitude and latitude coordinates from Little’s journal into the U.S. government’s NASA website latitude/longitude finder yields the location of Temple Square in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“For the last 85 years these treasured items were either under the stairwell of an old house or in the office of a BYU professor. Finding these items was important. In my family, we are calling this the miracle of the cream-colored shirt box.”


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Deseret Industries helps bring hope to desperate Sioux reservation

(by Jason Swensen 7-17-17)


To say living conditions on South Dakota’s Oglala Lakota Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation are akin to a Third World nation may be an overly positive comparison.
Many of the challenges facing the reservation are identical — and in some instances even more desperate — to that of the world’s poorest nation.

The statistics are staggering: Unemployment on this reservation of about 30,000 inhabitants hovers near 90 percent. Men are not expected to reach their 50th birthday. And the annual household income is about $3,500.

Perhaps most troubling is the alarmingly high infant mortality rate and the reservation’s staggering rate of teen suicide — particularly among young women.

“If Pine Ridge were a country it would be the poorest in the world,” said Twila True, a Lakota Sioux who spent part of her childhood on Pine Ridge.

True counts herself among the fortunate from her tribal nation.

She escaped many of the troubles that define Pine Ridge and has built a successful life in the business world. She is a philanthropist, a wife and a mother. But her love for her people and their potential remain.

She founded the “True Sioux Hope” organization with a vision to deliver opportunity and hope to her people.

Now she counts the Church’s Deseret Industries as a key partner.

True’s connection to the Church began with, well, a couple of Mormons. Through her organization’s charitable efforts, she became acquainted with Latter-day Saints Kelli Brienholt and Stacy Brimhall.

The two were well aware of the challenges on Pine Ridge. When they learned True Sioux Hope was hoping to open a much-needed thrift store on the reservation they put the organization in touch with Church welfare officials.

“We knew we could help,” said Brienholt.

Last January, organization leaders traveled to Salt Lake City to meet with Deseret Industries officials. They discussed their shared goals to help others realize self-reliance, explored their options and decided to work together on the Pine Ridge thrift store.

“Once the Church understood that we had a plan and a building and that we had something that was sustainable and replicable they not only joined our [effort], they have become our number one supporter,” said True.

The Church’s guiding principles of self-reliance “match perfectly with True Sioux Hope’s vision of self-reliance,” noted Deseret Industries official Steve Peele.

Soon plans were underway to combine resources and open the thrift store by Memorial Day. The 5,000-square-foot store is located in the heart of Pine Ridge and shares a parking lot with other True Sioux Hope-sponsored properties.

“Our goal for the thrift store was not only to offer goods and service, but to provide a nice environment to be in,” said Beverly Moore, an administrator at True Sioux Hope. “Without the help of the Deseret Industries, this store would not have been possible. We are eternally grateful for their support.”

Two Deseret Industries tractor-trailers arrived at the store prior to the opening. The trucks were filled with shelves and other equipment needed to set up the store — along with several containers filled with clothing, shoes and household items that would become the store’s maiden inventory.

“We had all we needed for a successful grand opening,” said Peele.

The thrift store has been well received across the community. It’s also provided essential jobs to several residents, who have received Deseret Industries-sponsored training.

“Plus, most of the items on sale at the thrift store can’t be found anywhere else on the reservation,” said True. “To find these same items you would have to drive to Rapid City, which is 100 miles away. And many people on the reservation don’t have a car.”

The holiday grand opening was a marked success.

“We did over $1,000 in sales on the first day,” said Moore.

The benefits of the Church’s partnership at the thrift store stretch beyond reasonably priced household items and even job training and placement. It’s a signal that folks care about the residents of Pine Ridge and their future.

“The people on the reservation are proud of the thrift store. They are proud of themselves. It’s something they can go home and talk about,” said True.

It’s hoped that the success of the thrift store extends beyond Pine Ridge. The Deseret Industries plans to provide additional self-reliance training on the reservation and continue to contribute store items.
True added she envisions such efforts being replicated in other Native American communities.

Visit for more information.


Friday, July 14, 2017

Mitt Romney Transition Website Draft Uncovered

(by Dan Froomkin 11-8-12)

Mitt Romney really was all ready to go if he’d won the election on Tuesday.

For a while on Wednesday, a draft version of his transition website was visible to the public on a server belonging to the company that designed it, a Utah software shop called SolutionStream. The site, located at, was titled: “Mitt Romney Elected the 45th President of The United States of America.”

The site opened with a quote from Romney: “I’m excited about our prospects as a nation. My priority it putting people back to work.” On the home page was a placeholder link to video of Romney’s acceptance speech.

Jason Thelin, one of the owners of SolutionStream, told The Huffington Post Wednesday evening that he wasn’t sure if he was allowed to talk about the project. But he noted that it had been turned over to the campaign and was “all ready to go.” He called it a “tiny” project. “We were able to throw it together in a day and a half,” he said of the initial mockup.

Thelin said his company was first contacted by volunteers working on Romney’s transition about 10 days before the election.

Not long after HuffPost reached him, the site was no longer publicly available.

The “Believe in America” section of the site explained: “President-elect Romney has a vision for an American century and has a strategy to secure our enduring interests and ideals. He believes that liberty, opportunity, and free enterprise have led to prosperity and strength before and will do so again.”

The subsection on “Restoring America’s Leadership” said: “President-elect Romney knows many Americans are asking whether our country today—with our ailing economy, and our massive debt, and after 11 years at war—is still capable of leading. President-elect Romney believes that if America does not lead, others will—others who do not share our interests and our values—and the world will grow darker, for our friends and for us. America’s security and the cause of freedom call for strong leadership. “

The page on “Repealing the Affordable Care Act” declared: “ On his first day in office, Mitt Romney will issue an executive order that paves the way for the federal government to issue Affordable Care Act waivers to all 50 states. He will then work with Congress to repeal the full legislation as quickly as possible.”

There was a list of nominees — all blank, except for the position of vice president.
And the “Join the Administration” page warned applicants that “government service is not for everyone.”


Friday, June 23, 2017

Is the English Book of Mormon written in Joseph Smith's language?

(by Daniel Peterson 6-22-17)

Theories of the origin of the Book of Mormon abound. (See my 2004 essay “‘In the Hope That Something Will Stick': Changing Explanations for the Book of Mormon,” online at Those who reject it typically say that the translator Joseph Smith wrote it himself, or that he plagiarized it from the work of some other roughly contemporary person or persons.

Such theories have recently been challenged by the extraordinary ongoing research of linguists Royal Skousen and Stanford Carmack, which seems to demonstrate the existence in the Book of Mormon elements of Early Modern English that cannot be fully explained even by borrowing from the King James Bible, let alone by referring to the 19th-century English spoken by Joseph and his contemporaries. Skeptics who dismiss the Book of Mormon’s style as “just Joseph, trying to sound scriptural,” now face a bigger hurdle than they had realized.

Even believers in the Book of Mormon differ in their views of its translation and of the relationship between the Prophet Joseph Smith and the original text. A common explanation offered by faithful scholars has held that Joseph came via revelation to a miraculous understanding of the content of the golden plates; he then expressed that understanding in his own language, albeit in a manner heavily affected by the grand, archaic style of King James’ early-17th-century Bible translators.

However, in a new article published in “Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture” — full disclosure: I’m the Interpreter Foundation’s chairman and president — under the title “How Joseph Smith’s Grammar Differed from Book of Mormon Grammar: Evidence from the 1832 History” (online at, Carmack presents further evidence suggesting that the language of the Book of Mormon is not that of the Prophet Joseph.

He compares the Book of Mormon to one of our earliest specimens of Joseph Smith’s style, his 1832 autobiographical “History.” (The document, nearly 2,000 words long, is available for reading online at A third of it was written by Frederick G. Williams at Joseph’s dictation; the rest is in Joseph’s own hand. Carmack concentrates on three archaic and nonbiblical linguistic features that occur quite frequently in the Book of Mormon, concluding that, although there was ample opportunity for their use in the 1832 “History,” they don’t occur in it.

The “History,” says Carmack, manifests linguistic features that we would expect to see in a text coming from its background in the early American Republic. Thus, it differs substantially from the Book of Mormon. In Carmack’s judgment, “This provides support for the view that English words were actually transmitted in some way to Joseph in 1829, words that he then dictated to scribes” — and, if true, counts as evidence against not only the skeptical claim that the Book of Mormon was altogether composed by Joseph Smith or some rather obscure contemporary or group of contemporaries, but also against the notion that Joseph clothed a divinely delivered understanding of the contents of the golden plates in his own language.

Carmack acknowledges that further study of Joseph’s language, based upon larger samples of it, would be helpful, and hints that this may yet be done. Nonetheless, he argues, the 1832 “History” offers a very useful glance into Joseph’s linguistic preferences and habits, and specifically into his grammar, at a time not too far removed from the dictation of the Book of Mormon, which makes comparison between the two texts meaningful and significant.

With this article, Carmack deepens and solidifies one of the arguments that he and Skousen have been making with meticulous care, on the basis of objectively “observable, descriptive linguistic facts: the earliest text of the Book of Mormon contains a large amount of archaic language — vocabulary, syntax and morphology — that is not found, either systematically or at all, in 19th-century American dialect or in the King James Bible. Massively represented syntax supports independent instances of archaic, extra-biblical vocabulary. Obsolete lexical usage supports the descriptive linguistic conclusion that there is archaic, extra-biblical syntax and morphology.”

All of which, among other things, comes together to suggest, in a manner nobody had imagined even a few years ago, that neither Joseph Smith nor any of his contemporaries wrote the Book of Mormon.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Faithful Young Family: The Parents, Brothers and Sisters of Brigham


Brigham Young—organizer, pioneer, inspired prophet of God. We revere him as an energetic, fearless man of action who helped establish the kingdom of God on earth and helped ensure its nonstop proliferation through the best and worst of times.
Yet Brigham Young’s story is hardly one of auspicious beginnings or easy circumstances. And it is not the history of his life alone. Rather, his story commences with a family portrait. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters formed an intimate, cherished nucleus where Brigham was nourished in Christian principles and thereby prepared to embrace the restored gospel. All living members of his immediate family joined the Church, became stalwarts in the faith, and set spiritual precedents for future generations.      

Early Years

Brigham Young was the third youngest of eleven children born to John and Abigail (“Nabby”) Howe Young between 1786 and 1807. John, a veteran of three Revolutionary War campaigns under George Washington, married Nabby in 1785. The young couple settled on a farm in Hopkinton, Massachusetts. John, a “small, nimble, wiry man,”   toiled unceasingly to support his rapidly growing family. But he never lost sight of his moral and religious convictions. “He was very circumspect, exemplary and religious,” wrote Brigham, “and was, from an early period of his life, a member of the Methodist Church.” 3
Nabby was one of the five popular Howe sisters of Shrewsbury, near Hopkinton—“pretty girls, vivacious, musical. … All were very devout and deeply concerned with Puritan religious life.” Physically, Nabby was “a little above medium height. She had blue eyes, with yellowish brown hair, folded in natural waves and ringlets across her shapely brow.” And the nineteen-year-old was “exceedingly methodical and orderly in her temperament.”   
She had innate medical ability, as her son Phinehas testified:
“My earliest recollection of the scenes of life are relating to myself and my brother Joseph. A short time before I was two years old, he cut off my right hand, except a small portion of my little finger, with an ax, while we were at play. My mother doctored it and saved it.”   
The first eight Young children were Nancy, born in 1786; Fanny (1787); Rhoda (1789); John, Jr. (1791); Nabby, her mother’s namesake (1793); Susannah (1795); Joseph (1797); and Phinehas Howe (1799).
After sixteen years in Hopkinton (with a brief interlude in Platauva District, New York), John moved his family into a log cabin on the outskirts of Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, in the bitter New England cold of January 1801. Here, five months later, Brigham was born on 1 June 1801. The family remained in Whitingham for about three years while John cleared timber to render the land suitable for farming.
Another promising land enterprise took the Youngs to Sherburn, Chenango County, New York, in 1804, where John “followed farming, clearing new land, and enduring many hardships, with his family, incidental to new settlements in a heavy timbered country as New York was in those days.”       Here the last two children were born, Louisa in 1804 and Lorenzo Dow in 1807.
Despite John’s industry, Nabby’s thrift, and occasional prospects for economic improvement, the Youngs never had material success. Sacrifice, illness, and poverty were constant, unremitting companions. Brigham reflected years later on the discrepancies between his father’s dreams and the disheartening reality:
“My father was a poor, honest, hard-working man; and his mind seemingly stretched from east to west, from north to south; and to the day of his death he wanted to command worlds” (Journal of Discourses, 9:104).
By the time baby Lorenzo Dow joined the family in 1807, two of his sisters had already married and left home. Nancy married Daniel Kent in 1803; the same year Fanny, then sixteen, married Robert Carr.
Joseph Young recalled that when baby Brigham was a few months old, “my father bought a cow … and it is worthy of note that the cow gave more milk than any one I have ever seen since that time. … The animal would suffer no one to come near her, except my sister Fanny, who with the infant Brigham in her arms performed this service of milking twice each day during the summer; this was in consequence of the sickness of my mother, and the child had to be nursed from the bottle, and no one could pacify him but my sister Fanny.”   
Daughter Nabby, then fourteen, died of consumption (tuberculosis) in 1807. The illness had ravaged the frail constitution of her mother for several years and would ultimately prove fatal to her, also. It was a prolonged, agonizing death, common among frontier families of the day.
In 1813 two more of John and Nabby’s children left the nest. In February Rhoda, then twenty-three, married John Pourtenous Greene; later that year John, Jr., married Theodocia Kimball. Susannah married James Little in 1814. By this time the family had moved again—to Cayuga County, New York.
When in June of 1815 Nabby Young finally lost the long and painful battle against consumption, five of her children—Joseph, Phinehas, Brigham, Louisa, and Lorenzo—ages just under eight to eighteen, were living at home. Fanny, separated from her unfaithful husband, had returned to the household during Nabby’s final days, and for a while kept the family together. Within three years of Nabby’s death, however, father and children had gone separate ways, though strong family ties still united them in many respects. Joseph had been apprenticed out to a brother-in-law, James Little (Susannah’s husband), for miscellaneous “service”; Lorenzo lived for a while with a sister, Rhoda Greene, and later joined the Littles to learn gardening and tree raising.
Phinehas married Clarissa Hamilton at age nineteen in 1818. Father Young meanwhile moved to Tyrone, New York, and in 1817 married Hannah Brown, a widow with several children. She and John would have a son, Edward. Brigham, apprenticed to a carpenter in Auburn (near Tyrone), in a short time became an expert carpenter, painter, and glazier. Louisa probably lived with her father and stepmother until she married Joel Sanford in 1825.
(for more, click on the link bellow)

Friday, June 16, 2017

Documents tell of Joseph Smith's dog

(by R. Scott Lloyd 6-4-17)

Among the companions of the Prophet Joseph Smith was a faithful and protective dog. At a session of the Mormon History Association Conference June 2, scholar Alexander L. Baugh presented sources that tell more about the dog, including documents recently discovered in Iowa.

“The very first reference we have to Joseph Smith’s dog is from George A. Smith on Zion’s Camp,” Baugh said, referring to the expedition led by the Prophet from Kirtland, Ohio, to Clay County, Missouri, to regain land from which the Saints had been driven.

According to George A. Smith’s reminiscence, an 80-year-old member of the camp know as Father Baker gave the dog to the Prophet for protection, fearing that spies who were watching the camp would seek Joseph’s life.

“The dog was greatly attached to Joseph and was generally by his side, keeping watch over everything that approached the camp,” George A. Smith wrote.

The reminiscence describes an altercation between Joseph and a dissenter in the camp named Sylvester Smith, who was angered when the dog threatened to attack him with the intent of protecting Joseph.

Baugh, a professor and chair of the Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU, cited another reference to the dog, this one from a reminiscence by Joseph Smith III, son of the prophet. He remembered at the age of 6 some excitement going on outside the house.

“I remember Father starting away from the house and our white dog Major jumping from an upper window in a platform below to follow him off,” Joseph III wrote.

From this, it can be learned that the dog’s name was Major.

Another reference to the dog was in the Times and Seasons newspaper of Oct. 15, 1841.

“Joseph Smith was accused of getting rich off the Church, and the Quourm of the Twelve issued this epistle and mentioned in there what Joseph owned,” Baugh said. The items were his horse, two pet deer, two old turkeys, four young ones, an cow, “his old Major dog,” his wife, children and a little household furniture.

Inez Smith Davis, great-granddaugther of the Prophet recounted some family lore in a book she wrote describing Joseph and Hyrum Smith’s departure for Carthage from Nauvoo: “All seemed to sense an approaching tragedy, at least those nearest and dearest to Joseph and Hyrum felt impending calamity. Even Joseph’s great mastiff, Major, for the first time in his faithful life, refused to obey orders to ‘go back home’ and insisted on staying close to his master.”

“Now we know what kind of dog he was,” Baugh commented.

He quoted a source describing an English mastiff as having a lifespan of 10-12 years, weighing up to 230 pounds, and being affectionate, courageous, protective, good natured, dignified and calm.

“So that tells another reason why Joseph loved this dog and obviously used old Major as a protection for himself,” Baugh said.

In the collection of Iowa documents recently found by Baugh’s colleague at BYU, John W. Welch, are two letters written by Aaron W. Harlan to the Keokuk Daily Post in Keokuk, Iowa, dated Feb. 17 and March 2, 1888. In the letters, Harlan recalls numerous experiences with Joseph Smith.

In the last letter, he said of Joseph Smith: “I have ate with him at his table and played with his dog, and on noticing the dog was getting old, I said to Mr. Smith, ‘Your dog is unusually fat.’ ‘Yes,’ said Mr. Smith, ‘he lives as I do and shall as long as we both live,’ and then added that when he was prisoner in Missouri, that dog could not be separated from him and for months when he slept that dog always remained awake by his side.”

Baugh referred to a letter Joseph wrote to his wife Emma from Liberty Jail mentioning the dog, indicating the dog was not with him at that time. “I think we can probably conclude the dog was with him,” Baugh said, “until at least late January 1839, because that’s the last time Emma visits Joseph Smith, and perhaps now that she’s getting ready to go to exit Missouri and go to Quincy, Joseph or somebody gave the dog to her to go to Quincy with her.”
He summarized: “Old Major was a large, white, English mastiff. There is evidence old Major was given to Joseph Smith by Samuel Baker while en route to Missouri with Zions Camp in June 1834. Mastiffs are characteristically loyal, courageous and protective. And it appears that old Major served to protect Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was permitted to have Old Major with him in Liberty Jail. The dog did not remain with him during the entire incarceration.

“At some point the dog was probably taken back to Far West, possibly by Emma during her last visit to the jail on Jan. 21, 1839, and the fact that the Liberty prisoners made an attempt to escape the jail on Feb. 7 suggests that Old Major was no longer there. While in Liberty Jail, Joseph clearly missed Old Major as evidenced by the fact that Joseph inquired about him in his March 21 and April 4 letters to Emma. Old Major was still alive by the time Joseph was murdered and would have been about 10 years old if he was a young dog at the time he got him in 1834.”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

LDS Perspectives: "Mere Christians?" with Robert Millet

I fell hard for the Book of Mormon but did not convert to the LDS Church

(by Grant Sheve 5-30-17)

When I first picked up the Book of Mormon in preparation for a dissertation on religion and the rise of the American novel, I didn’t expect to fall in love with it. But I did fall — and hard — although not into the arms of the church. I did not, in other words, become a Latter-day Saint.

Mine was an aesthetic experience, not a religious one. The Book of Mormon gripped me in the same way Herman Melville’s "Moby-Dick" and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s "Dred" had years earlier. I’m a sucker for books that go against the grain, and the Book of Mormon went against just about every grain I knew. Its strangeness, its audacity, its rebuke to the tacit creeds structuring everyday life in antebellum (and contemporary) America, utterly thrilled me. In it, I felt I had discovered a singularly penetrative and searching intelligence. “How does such a book exist?,” I thought. And why isn’t everyone talking about it?

Encounters with the Book of Mormon like mine have been rare, historically speaking. From its inception, the book has more often been a tool for conversion and spiritual edification than an object of belletristic appreciation. Because of its inextricable attachment to a living, thriving, but often marginalized religious community, the Book of Mormon’s place within the academic humanities has been complicated, to say the least.

English departments, especially, have simply pretended it doesn’t exist, quietly building a wall of separation between literary studies and the Book of Mormon that, even though it never threatened the book’s status as a religious text, ultimately denied it its power as a literary one. In the past several years, however, scholars of American literature have become increasingly receptive to teaching and writing about the Book of Mormon as an essential part of American literary history, marking a momentous turning point in the respective histories of both the book and literary studies.

It’s hard to overstate how remarkable this seachange is. As I argued recently in an essay for Religion & Politics, American literature studies’ historical silence surrounding the Book of Mormon has been deafening. Aside from its surprising inclusion in the “Popular Bibles” section of the first edition of the Cambridge History of American Literature, published in 1921, the Book of Mormon was absent from all major histories of American literature until 2009, when "A New Literary History of America" included an entry on the Book of Mormon written by Terryl Givens. In the interim, the Book of Mormon hardly ever received even passing mention in scholarly publications on American literature. And what nods it did receive were rarely favorable.

As the study of American literature became more professionalized after 1930, literary critics learned reflexively to dismiss the Book of Mormon as biblical parody. In 1932, the critic Van Wyck Brooks, echoing a long line of 19th-century critiques, called the Book of Mormon a “solemn parody of the Bible.” Three decades later, in his seminal study of American literature’s arrested adolescence, "Love and Death in the American Novel," Leslie Fiedler parroted Brooks when he wrote that the Book of Mormon had “caricatured the Bible unawares.” Even today, it’s not hard to find scores of critics — professional and amateur, online and in print — who regurgitate this sentiment, whether or not they’ve ever read the book.

This history of dismissal underscores how significant it is that professors of American literature across the country are now assigning the Book of Mormon to students alongside such staples as "Leaves of Grass" and "The Scarlet Letter," and that reputable scholarly journals in the field have begun publishing essays on it after decades of either quietly rejecting articles about the Book of Mormon or never receiving them in the first place. Many factors have contributed to this reversal of the Book of Mormon’s fortunes within the academy, but two of the most important are the availability of editions of the book from reputable trade and academic presses as well as a renewed interest among literary critics in the relationship between religion and literature.

But just because many literature professors have embraced the Book of Mormon does not mean that they are all teaching it the same way. Indeed, its long exclusion from canons of American literature means that there doesn’t even exist a standard way to teach it in the modern secular classroom, as there does, say, with Henry James’s "Portrait of a Lady."

Besides becoming a more familiar presence in large introductory survey courses that familiarize undergraduates with the touchstones of American literary history, the Book of Mormon has also been appearing on syllabi for courses that situate it in some of the discipline’s most cutting-edge contexts. Both Princeton and Johns Hopkins now offer regular courses on American scriptures, which read the Book of Mormon in conjunction with other scriptural works published in the United States (like "Science and Health" and "Dianetics") as well as works that have scriptural aspirations (like "Moby-Dick" and "Ben-Hur").

At the University of California, Davis and the University of Illinois at Chicago, English faculty are teaching the Book of Mormon through the lenses of queer theory and temporality studies. And at the University of Vermont, graduate students were recently treated to a course singularly devoted to the Book of Mormon and the many possible contexts for reading it. In addition to this pedagogical renaissance, a forthcoming collection of essays from Oxford University Press titled "Americanist Approaches to the Book of Mormon" promises to be a culmination of recent literary engagements with the book.

For someone like me, whose interest in the Book of Mormon is entirely removed from any church affiliation, these reappropriations and novel interpretations of the book seem all for the good. But I also recognize that the recent embrace of the book by literature scholars radically alters the context in which many are encountering it. For nearly two centuries, the LDS Church has set the terms for the Book of Mormon’s reception and interpretation. But in the 21st-century literature classroom, the book’s spectacular origins and the questions surrounding its veracity are often altogether absent from the conversation. Instead, its narrative structure, its historical context, its textual history and its rhetorical power, have taken center stage. Under such conditions, the book is likely to grow in esteem but is unlikely to swell membership rolls.

It’s been disorienting to find myself on more than one occasion over the past several years sitting around the dinner table with family and friends ferociously defending the artistic merits of the Book of Mormon and repeating ad nauseam the old adage that the only thing guaranteed to keep a person in everlasting ignorance is “contempt prior to investigation.” Sometimes I feel like the old deacon who breathlessly reported to Parley Pratt that he had come into possession of a “strange book, a VERY STRANGE BOOK!”
I am a full-throated advocate for this very strange book but the conversations I long to have about it are best suited for the seminar table and the lecture hall. That they are happening more and more in college classrooms throughout the United States testifies to the truth of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s remark that great books endure once they have been “winnowed by all the winds of opinion.”


Friday, June 2, 2017

Near Eastern languages in ancient America?

(by Daniel Peterson 6-1-17)

Critics of the Book of Mormon often argue that no evidence exists for contact between the ancient Near East and the Americas. Accordingly, proof of such contact would demolish a principal objection to Joseph Smith’s prophetic claims.

If the thesis of Brian Stubbs’ "Exploring the Explanatory Power of Semitic and Egyptian in Uto-Aztecan" is correct, he has furnished precisely that proof.
I’ll draw here from two reviews of his difficult, complex book. The first was published in BYU Studies by Dirk Elzinga, who teaches linguistics at Brigham Young University and is online at Holder of a doctorate from the University of Arizona, his research focuses on Uto-Aztecan languages (specifically, Shoshone, Goshute, Paiute and Ute). The second, written by John Robertson, professor of linguistics emeritus at Brigham Young University, appeared in Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture and online at Equipped with a Ph.D. from Harvard, Robertson's scholarly career has concentrated on language change, the reconstruction of proto-Mayan, and the grammar and sound system of Mayan hieroglyphs.

More than 30 years ago, Stubbs told Robertson he had found “a significant number of cognates that would link a New World language family (Uto-Aztecan) to an Old World language family (pre-exilic Hebrew and later others).” “Two words are cognate,” Elzinga explains, “if it can be demonstrated that they both have a common historical source and that their sound (and meaning) differences are due to normally occurring linguistic change.”

Robertson admits he was initially “suspicious” of “a wild claim.” After all, “the scholarly consensus was and is that among the thousands of languages spoken in the New World prior to European contact” none had Old World connections. (“It is something of a parlor trick among linguists,” observes Elzinga, “to find false cognates between any two arbitrarily chosen languages; it is surprisingly easy.”)

Since then, though, based on such works as his massive 2011 book “Uto-Aztecan: A Comparative Vocabulary,” Stubbs has become “a well-respected linguist” (Elzinga) and “one of the leading Uto-Aztecanists worldwide” (Robertson).

And now he’s published “his crowning work” (Robertson), “his magnum opus, a compendium of lexical, phonological, and grammatical data that provides evidence for infusions of ancient Near Eastern languages in Uto-Aztecan grammar and lexicon” (Elzinga).

“Of course,” Robertson points out, “it would not be difficult to dismiss the whole of his argument out of hand.” For one thing, “all previous attempts to connect any New World language to European or Middle Eastern languages have been amateurish, even laughable by credible linguistic standards,” and, for another, “because Stubbs is a Mormon, his scholarship would naturally be tainted and therefore untrustworthy.”

However, “It is an impressive follow-up to his earlier UA work,” writes Robertson. “His 2015 publication deserves the same assessment of the data that has been given to his earlier 2011 publication — even in the face of his unusual claim.”

“At first glance,” writes Elzinga, the book seems to belong to “linguistic crackpottery.” It’s “dense, self-published, and in sore need of careful editing — none of which immediately commends it to the serious reader.” But Stubbs “has … the training and experience, together with extensive accurate data, to back up his extraordinary claim.”

“As a practitioner of the comparative historical method for 40-plus years,” Robertson concludes, “I believe I can say what Stubbs’s scholarship does and does not deserve: It does not deserve aprioristic dismissal given the extensive data he presents. It does deserve authoritative consideration because, from my point of view, I cannot find an easy way to challenge the breadth and depth of the data.”

“The scholarship throughout is sound,” Elzinga declares. “Stubbs has a good track record of academic publication in Uto-Aztecan studies, and he is just as careful with his treatment of the present material as he is in his more traditional Uto-Aztecan work. … It is definitely worth the trouble to work through this book.”

So, has Stubbs proved the Book of Mormon true? No. But, as Elzinga perceptively observes, his data suggest that speakers of both Egyptian and a Semitic language came into contact with Uto-Aztecan speakers at roughly the same time, and that a distinct Semitic infusion occurred at a different point.

“To Latter-day Saints, a scenario immediately presents itself to explain two separate Semitic infusions, but Stubbs is careful to avoid this sort of speculation and to let the data speak for itself,” Elzinga writes.
Helpfully, Stubbs has also published a shorter, simpler and expressly Mormon-oriented version of his longer work, titled “Changes in Languages: From Nephi to Now.”


Tuesday, May 30, 2017

'Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel' shares historical, religious insights to early First Presidency letters

(by Lauren McAgee 5-28-17)

LDS Church historian and recorder Reid L. Neilson joins with associate editorial manager for the Joseph Smith Papers Project Nathan N. Waite to write an invaluable volume for those interested in early history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
"Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel: The General Epistles of the Mormon First Presidency" consists of 14 general letters sent by the First Presidency of the LDS Church to its members worldwide between the years 1849-1856 into one volume.

The book begins with two essays written by editors Neilson and Waite, which provide insight into two important themes addressed by the letters, as well as providing observations and historical backgrounds of the different epistles.

Additionally, Neilson and Waite provide religious contexts for the focus for the LDS Church from its humble beginnings in New York to the mass exodus to Utah and the following years of cultivation and settlement. They also discuss how these epistles and the missionary efforts of early church members fit into the time period and Christian perspective in the United States.

The essays written by the editors are interesting and well documented by research, providing important background to help readers understand the context preceding the different letters. The essays also help readers further understand the culture of not only the early LDS Church members but also Christian theology and ideas that existed in the United States at that point in time.

The letters included are presented word for word as they were originally published. However, they are often accompanied by footnotes explaining theologies, quick biographies of important historical figures and other related events from that time period.

Overall this volume of work, written in academic style and filled with research and historical notes, provides interesting facts and insight into the early LDS Church and its members that should satisfy anyone interested in history.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

LDS missionary finds his own Jr. Jazz jersey while serving in Africa

(by Sarah Petersen 5-5-17)

Parker Strong, a 19-year-old from Centerville, Utah, sat on a tro-tro in West Africa. The Ghanaian public transportation was overcrowded and passengers began to pass their goods back for others to help hold. Strong was handed a goat to keep on his lap. It breathed on his face and he looked out the window at the rain forest he was driving through.

"In that moment it just hit me," Strong said. "'I’m in the middle of West Africa.’"

Strong, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was called to serve in the Ghana Accra Mission in 2013. Although he would eventually get used to the culture and learn several different dialects of the language, upon arriving in Ghana, Strong had some major adjustments.

The first three months Strong viewed as an adventure. Waking up each morning to fetch water, using a bucket to shower and living life without electricity seemed exciting. However, the excitement began to wear off as the reality of his new circumstances settled in. Along with longing for the luxuries he had at home, Strong began to have doubts that Ghana was the place he could share the gospel the best.

"I think it’s natural for most missionaries to feel that way," Strong said. "‘Is this really where I’m supposed to be? Is this what I should be doing with my life?’"

One night in September, such thoughts lingered in Strong's mind as he tried to help teach a lesson with his companion. They sat across from a sewer in a tiny fishing village. The sun was beginning to set when Strong looked up and saw a young boy walking by wearing a Jr. Jazz basketball jersey.

"I looked at it and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the Jazz, that’s my hometown team,’" Strong said. "That alone was so exciting because it was something I recognized from home. ... I looked at that and was like, 'Wow, that really speaks to me, that’s so cool. It’s a little piece of home in the middle of West Africa."

Strong asked the boy to come over, and asked if he could look at the jersey. The boy took it off and handed it to Strong. As he held it on his lap, Strong noticed the jersey was a number zero, the same number he had worn many years ago in Jr. Jazz. Strong flipped the jersey inside out to see the reversible side.

"Inside I saw a signature, and there in terrible handwriting, probably the handwriting of a 10-year-old it said, ‘Parker B. Strong,'" Strong said. "That’s my name. It was an out-of-body experience, it was like, ‘Is this real? Is this really happening? Am I dreaming? Is this really in my hands right in front of me?'"

Overcome by emotion, Strong immediately felt love and awareness from God.

"Literally all my fears, all of my doubts, everything was laid to rest," Strong said. "The odds of that happening are extremely astronomical. That just doesn’t happen, that’s not a coincidence. I looked at it and got pretty teary thinking of that and looking at it. Here in my hands was evidence that God loved me and that he was telling me that I was where I was supposed to be. It was in the form of a Jr. Jazz jersey that I’m sure I had signed at the time because I thought I was going to be some big star and it was going to sell for millions of dollars. But no, sitting in Ghana, West Africa, was my jersey and it was more priceless to me than it ever could have been."

Somehow, when Strong had given his jersey to his mother years before, and after donations to the DI, this Jr. Jazz jersey had found its way back to Strong.

"It was really just there to tell me that I was loved and cared for and that my Heavenly Father was watching over me," Strong said. "He knew me and he knew my prayers, he knew everything I had said to him and this really was where I was supposed to be, where I was supposed to grow."

Strong handed the jersey back to the confused boy and tried to control his emotions to continue on with the lesson he was teaching. However, that experience impacted Strong throughout his mission and continues to impact him in his life today.

"My life is going to be directed how God wants it to be as long as I’m willing to pay attention," Strong said. "God really does hear you. He honestly cares and loves you. You may not always feel it at times, but he’s there. I’ve loved having that knowledge, it’s a happy way to live."


Friday, May 12, 2017

'The Benedict Option' or 'The Brigham Option'?

Basilica of St. Benedict in Norcia Italy

(by Daniel Peterson 5-11-17)

A just-published book by Rod Dreher, an American writer and blogger on politics and religion, began to garner an unusual level of attention even before its publication. It continues to generate vigorous responses, both pro and con. Titled “The Benedict Option: A Strategy for Christians in a Post-Christian World” (Sentinel, $25), it’s a book that I think members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints might profitably read and discuss, as well.

Moreover, given our unique doctrinal perspective and history, I believe that we have something to contribute to the conversation. (So does Dreher himself: “The Latter-day Saints … may not be Orthodox Christians,” he says, “but they are exceptionally good at doing the kind of community building” that he advocates.)

Dreher’s view of the current state of “Christendom,” as it was once called, is distinctly negative: “The light of Christianity,” he writes, “is flickering out all over the West. There are people alive today who may live to see the effective death of Christianity within our civilization. By God’s mercy, the faith may continue to flourish in the Global South and China, but barring a dramatic reversal of current trends, it will all but disappear entirely from Europe and North America. This may not be the end of the world, but it is the end of a world, and only the willfully blind would deny it.”

“Today,” he continues, “we can see that we’ve lost on every front and that the swift and relentless currents of secularism have overwhelmed our flimsy barriers. Hostile secular nihilism has won the day in our nation’s government, and the culture has turned powerfully against traditional Christians. We tell ourselves that these developments have been imposed by a liberal elite, because we find the truth intolerable: The American people, either actively or passively, approve. … American Christians are going to have to come to terms with the brute fact that we live in a culture … in which our beliefs make increasingly little sense. We speak a language that the world more and more either cannot hear or finds offensive to its ears.”

But Dreher’s book isn’t solely or even largely a lament about the decline of Western civilization. (Some critics think his pessimism exaggerated, which would, itself, be a good discussion topic.) Mostly, it’s a set of recommendations and exhortations to Christians concerning how to act and respond in a culture that no longer supports much of Christian morality, let alone Christian belief.

“Could it be,” he asks, “that the best way to fight the flood is to … stop fighting the flood? That is, to quit piling up sandbags and to build an ark in which to shelter until the water recedes and we can put our feet on dry land again? Rather than wasting energy and resources fighting unwinnable political battles, we should instead work on building communities, institutions, and networks of resistance that can outwit, outlast, and eventually overcome the occupation.”

Dreher derives the title of his book not from the recent Pope Benedict XVI, whom he admires, but from the sixth-century St. Benedict of Nursia, who founded about a dozen monastic communities and authored the famous Benedictine “Rule” for monks. Because of his pivotal role in Europe’s emergence from the so-called “Dark Ages” that followed the collapse of the Roman Empire, Benedict is considered the continent’s “patron saint.” The choice of Benedict’s name already suggests something of Dreher’s overall advice for Christians, which involves a combination of withdrawal, sinking deeper roots, and re-engagement.

Mormons, who don’t particularly share Dreher’s passionate admiration of monasteries and convents, may think that such advice has little relevance to them. However, in our doctrine of “gathering” and our simultaneous commitment to preaching the gospel, as well as in our focus on local ward and branch communities and on covenants made in very private sacred places and our doctrine of being “in the world but not of the world,” we too believe in a religious practice that combines withdrawal and sinking deep personal and communal roots with lives completely engaged in the world around us.

When Dreher says that, “if believers don’t come out of Babylon and be separate, sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally, their faith will not survive for another generation or two in this culture of death,” he’s speaking our language.

I found every page of “The Benedict Option” stimulating even when I disagreed, and I strongly recommend it to my fellow Latter-day Saints for discussion.


Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Book of Mormon: What is uniquely ours?

(by Nate Sharp 4-24-17)

President Thomas S. Monson’s powerful witness of the Book of Mormon in April 2017 general conference and his invitation to each of us to “prayerfully study and ponder the Book of Mormon each day” have helped bring a renewed focus on and appreciation for the Book of Mormon into my life this month. President Monson’s message has also helped me recall some of the building blocks of my own testimony of the Book of Mormon.
In his remarkable October 1988 general conference address titled “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” President Ezra Taft Benson taught:

I have a vision of the whole Church getting nearer to God by abiding by the precepts of the Book of Mormon…I do not know fully why God has preserved my life to this age, but I do know this: That for the present hour He has revealed to me the absolute need for us to move the Book of Mormon forward now in a marvelous manner. You must help with this burden and with this blessing which He has placed on the whole Church, even all the children of Zion.

President Benson also quoted Elder Bruce R. McConkie’s statement: “Few men on earth, either in or out of the Church, have caught the vision of what the Book of Mormon is all about. Few are they among men who know the part it has played and will yet play in preparing the way for the coming of Him of whom it is a new witness.”

One of my most memorable experiences with the Book of Mormon came at about halfway through my full-time mission in South Korea. My companion and I were teaching a Korean woman, Sister Lee, who yearned for a testimony of Jesus Christ and had previously been unable to find answers to her most important questions. One afternoon, we were reading from the Book of Mormon with Sister Lee and asked her to read Alma 12:24 out loud:

And we see that death comes upon mankind… which is the temporal death; nevertheless there was a space granted unto man in which he might repent; therefore this life became a probationary state; a time to prepare to meet God; a time to prepare for that endless state which has been spoken of by us, which is after the resurrection of the dead. After she finished reading, Sister Lee raised her eyes and said, “All my life I have searched for the truth that I have now found in a single verse of the Book of Mormon.” Through that one short verse, Sister Lee finally felt she understood the purpose of this life and the Spirit of the Lord bore witness to her concerning the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Sister Lee later received baptism and joined the Church. This experience on my mission taught me that the power of the Book of Mormon’s witness of Jesus Christ comes not just by what the Book of Mormon says but also by how the Book of Mormon says it.

Several years after returning from Korea, I began making note of short scriptural phrases in the Book of Mormon that didn’t seem to occur anywhere else in the Standard Works. Soon I set out to identify some of the Book of Mormon’s unique contributions:
  1. First, I carefully read the Book of Mormon cover to cover, underlining all the short, meaningful, powerful phrases that stood out to me.
  2. I then typed each of those phrases into a computer spreadsheet, reviewed the list, and narrowed it down to the 685 phrases that I felt were most meaningful.
  3. Using computer software, I searched for matches (including slight variations or similar phrases) for each Book of Mormon phrase in the Standard Works (the King James Version of the Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price), Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Personal Writings of Joseph Smith, and Words of Joseph Smith. My intent in searching Joseph Smith’s teachings was to see if he incorporated any of the unique Book of Mormon phrases into his personal manner of speaking or writing.
  4. From the search results, I compiled a chart that indicates where and how often the phrase or any close variation of the phrase occurs in these sources.
After I finished my searching, I was astonished at the remarkable, matchless contributions of the Book of Mormon, both in terms of the plain and precious doctrines it helped to restore and also in terms of shaping the language Latter-day Saints use to understand and articulate our religious beliefs and experiences. Some of the Book of Mormon phrases I identified are doctrinal; some are poetic; some are just unique ways of expressing ideas. All are contributions to the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and many have been adopted into the way members of the Church speak about the gospel in personal or casual conversation—often without their recognizing the unique origin of the phrase in the Book of Mormon. For example, when we speak of our desire to be “an instrument in the hands of God,” most of us fail to realize that this phrase was canonized first in the Book of Mormon.

Of the 685 short phrases I identified in the Book of Mormon, 463 of them (67.6 percent) occur only in the Book of Mormon and never in any form in the other Standard Works or in the writings and teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith.
The following list includes some of my favorite phrases that were canonized first in the Book of Mormon:
  • a God of miracles
  • a mighty change
  • a perfect brightness of hope
  • a snare of the adversary
  • a tree springing up unto everlasting life
  • an eye of faith
  • appease the demands of justice
  • arraigned before the bar of Christ
  • baptized unto repentance
  • captivity of the devil
  • clothed with purity
  • due time of the Lord
  • dwindle in unbelief
  • easy to be entreated
  • exercise faith
  • faith unto repentance
  • fall into transgression
  • feast upon the words of Christ
  • full purpose of heart
  • fullness of the Gospel
  • infinite atonement
  • instrument(s) in the hand(s) of God
  • light and knowledge
  • opposition in all things
  • our first parents (Adam and Eve)
  • plan of happiness
  • plan of redemption
  • plan of salvation
  • probationary state
  • procrastinate the day of your repentance
  • ripe in iniquity
  • sincerity of heart
  • spiritual death
  • steadfast and immovable
  • swift to do iniquity
  • the chains of hell
  • the condescension of God
  • the cup of the wrath of God
  • the depths of humility
  • the depths of sorrow
  • the father of all lies
  • the father of contention
  • the fountain of all righteousness
  • the grasp of justice
  • the light of Christ
  • the spirit of revelation
  • the sword of justice
  • the tongue of angels
  • the tribunal of God
  • the wisdom of the world
  • unpardonable sin
  • unshaken faith
  • weary of good works
  • weighed down with sorrow
  • wickedness never was happiness
  • with real intent
  • wound their delicate minds
  • ye have tasted this light
  • yielding their hearts unto God
My lifelong study of the Book of Mormon has strengthened my testimony of its truthfulness and of the Lord’s hand in preserving this sacred scripture for our day. The fact that the Book of Mormon has canonized doctrines such as the plan of salvation and the infinite atonement is part of what makes it such a powerful testament of the Lord Jesus Christ. As prophesied in Ezekiel 37:15-17, the Book of Mormon and the Bible have come together as companion witnesses of the divine mission of Jesus Christ. I am thankful that the Book of Mormon has changed my heart and changed my life through its powerful witness of the Savior and through the amazing spirit it brings into my life each time I open its pages.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

An excellent commentary from a friend of a friend on Facebook

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to mention this now after 14 years, but I'm willing to take a little risk if it will bring a little more attention to this issue, because I feel very strongly about the message here.

I have a personal connection to the Elizabeth Smart story and have always followed it with particular interest because I was the foreman on a federal grand jury assigned to this case in Salt Lake City at the time. There were two grand juries convened at that time and we met on alternating Wednesdays, and I think the other grand jury may have been the primary one on the case, but we were involved because they couldn't always wait two weeks if action was needed.

I don't have any unique information (so don't ask), and I ended my term early when we moved to North Carolina, but I did pray a lot for this girl, before and after she was found, and as the father of three girls am still emotionally affected when I hear about her. I am glad that science and research and empirical evidence are coming around to confirm what our hearts and conscience and common sense have been telling us about pornography all along.

Society is appalled at stories like Elizabeth Smart's, but judging from the continued growth of the pornography industry in the 14 years or so ensuing years, we are apparently not appalled enough to stand against this contributing source of the problem.

There is a fight against sex trafficking, but not nearly as valiant a fight against the industry that finances it and benefits the most from it.

We talk about gun control as a means of reducing violent crimes, but what about pornography control as a means of reducing violent sex crimes?

We talk about being vigilant about protecting our children from potential predators, but are we willing to take steps to reduce the development of these predators in the first place?

Women have made so much progress in improving their rights and roles in society as compared to men's traditional rights and roles, and yet for some reason it is still acceptable (in fact, increasingly so) for women to suborn themselves to (primarily) men by selling provocative images of themselves--and for (primarily) men to buy them--even when doing so can put other women and children (like Elizabeth Smart) at risk.

There was a time when the tobacco industry denied the harmful effects of the products it was selling, even as the science and data piled up against it--until one day the overwhelming weight of the truth brought the entire industry to its knees and forced it to pay billions of dollars to its victims and put warning labels on its products. This backlash against the tobacco industry included acknowledging the danger of second-hand smoke--in other words, that using their products could put innocent third parties at risk.

I hope that as the science and data continue to pile up about the pornography industry, it will meet a similar fate--and that innocent third parties like Elizabeth Smart and other sex-crime victims (and potentially our own children) will get the most protection society can provide them. Denying the truth doesn't change the truth. So let's stop denying it.

Richard Morrell

Monday, May 1, 2017

An early reference to the First Vision

(by Daniel Peterson 4-27-17)

Some critics of Mormonism deny that any reference to Joseph Smith’s First Vision existed prior to 1832. This claim is false: Hostile witnesses had demonstrably heard elements of the First Vision by 1827, and newspaper reports strongly suggest that Latter-day Saint missionaries were alluding to it by early 1831 (i.e., within a year of the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints).

It’s true, however, that Smith’s written accounts of the First Vision don’t come until later. This is scarcely surprising, since his wasn’t a bookish upbringing. His parents, he wrote in his 1832 autobiographical sketch, which is available on, “being in indigent circumstances were obliged to labour hard for the support of a large Family having nine children and as it required the exertions of all that were able to render any assistance for the support of the Family therefore we were deprived of the bennifit of an education suffice it to say I was mearly instructtid in reading writing and the ground rules of Arithmatic which const(it)uted my whole literary acquirements.”

Moreover, he seems initially to have regarded his First Vision as a private personal experience and not as the mighty dispensation-opening theophany that we now treasure for its doctrinal richness. The fire-and-brimstone sermons around Palmyra, New York, had left him worried about “the all importent concerns for the well fare of my immortal Soul,” he wrote in 1832. “My mind become excedingly distressed for I become convicted of my sins.”

“Therefore I cried unto the Lord for mercy for there was none else to whom I could go and obtain mercy,” he wrote. Significantly, the first divine words that he quotes in 1832 are “Joseph my son thy sins are forgiven thee. Go thy way walk in my statutes and keep my commandments.”

His public ministry, he may originally have felt, began only with Moroni and the Book of Mormon. And then, in a revelation given at the organization of the church on April 6, 1830, came the Lord’s command: “Behold, there shall be a record kept among you” (Doctrine and Covenants 21:1).

The Prophet Joseph presented a document called the “Articles and Covenants” — revealed through him in April 1830 — to a conference on June 9, 1830, and Oliver Cowdery read it aloud during another conference on Sept. 26, 1830. It briefly summarizes the story of the Restoration to that point, including an unmistakable reference to the First Vision. Later, it was published in the non-Mormon Painesville (Ohio) Telegraph on April 19, 1831. It is readily available today in Doctrine and Covenants 20:5-12: “After it was truly manifested unto this first elder that he had received a remission of his sins, he was entangled again in the vanities of the world.” So reads Doctrine and Covenants 20:5, which refers unmistakably to the First Vision and to the subsequent “weakness and imperfections” confessed in Joseph Smith — History 1:28-30.

Verses 20:6-8 then summarize Moroni’s visit:

“But after repenting, and humbling himself sincerelythrough faith, God ministered unto him by an holy angel, whose countenance was as lightning, and whose garments were pure and white above all other whiteness; and gave unto him commandments which inspired him; and gave him power from on high, by the means which were before prepared, to translate the Book of Mormon.”

Verses 20:9-12 continue in historical sequence, alluding to the Book of Mormon witnesses and explaining some of the significance of the book, “which contains a record of a fallen people, and the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles and to the Jews also; which was given by inspiration, and is confirmed to others by the ministering of angels, and is declared unto the world by them—proving to the world that the holy scriptures are true, and that God does inspire men and call them to his holy work in this age and generation, as well as in generations of old; thereby showing that he is the same God yesterday, today, and forever. Amen.”

This well-documented history poses a potent challenge:

“Therefore, having so great witnesses, by them shall the world be judged, even as many as shall hereafter come to a knowledge of this work. And those who receive it in faith, and work righteousness, shall receive a crown of eternal life; but those who harden their hearts in unbelief, and reject it, it shall turn to their own condemnation


Saturday, April 29, 2017

Meet Greg Trimble, the California man behind the viral Mormon blog

(by Trent Toone 4-24-17)

In recent years, Greg Trimble's blog posts in defense of the LDS Church have been read by millions.
But at age 21, Greg Trimble wasn't an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
A spiritual awakening the night before his sophomore season of college baseball changed the course of his life, he told the Deseret News.

"God had had it up to here with me. He was done 'nudging' me. That night … I had what I would consider a Godly beat down. It was almost as if the next day held some sort of cosmic significance in my life," Trimble said. "It was as strong of a spiritual experience as I have ever had in my life up to that point and even until now. The message? Quit baseball. Drop your scholarship. Enlist in God’s army."
Who is Greg Trimble? The blogger's bio on his website is pretty disarming.

"I’m supposed to jot down a bunch of important credentials here that will convince you that I’m some kind of great writer, but really, I’m just a normal guy, leading a very normal life," Trimble writes.

"Above all, I love God and my family. I love to write and hope that something I say helps someone have a better day. I just want to do some good in this crazy world."

It’s a simple yet straightforward introduction to a man whose blog has received approximately 7 million page views and attracted tens of thousands of social media followers in just a few years. In truth, Trimble has been told his blog has more digital reach than some news outlets. Not bad for a guy who once got a "D" in high school language arts.

Trimble, 36, husband and father of two, is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and resides in Riverside, California. By day he runs two companies: a digital marketing agency that helps businesses do better online, Lemonade Stand, and Yalla, a platform for team, task and collaboration management.

By night he writes primarily about his faith and religious topics, although he reserves the right to share his thoughts on business, sports, life and anything else he finds interesting. It’s why he titled his blog, "Life Through My Eyes" (

"If you don’t like what I write … I hope we can still be friends!" Trimble writes.

Trimble’s motivation to be a digital missionary can be traced back to that life-changing decision that led to a mission, a foundational experience that continues to bless his life. While sending his testimony into cyberspace has resulted in some joining the church, a host of negative comments almost overwhelmed him to the point of quitting. Yet the man behind the blog has continued to write, even recently publishing his first book, with two more in the works.

It’s his "authentic voice" that attracts an audience, his wife, Kristyn Trimble said.

"I get why people love reading his stuff," she said. "He has a great testimony. He speaks from the heart, he’s real. He says things in a way that people can relate."

God's Army

At the time of Trimble's religious awakening in 2001, he was preparing to start his sophomore season as a team captain for the Orange Coast College baseball team. He had just accepted a scholarship to transfer and play baseball at Hawaii Pacific University and was even talking to some major league scouts. When he wasn't playing baseball, he was surfing.

Trimble hadn't been active in the LDS faith for a few years and had no interest in serving a mission.
"Life was shaping up the way I'd planned," he said. "I couldn't have dreamed up a better situation at age 21."

Then came the sleepless night that changed his life. What actually happened is hard for Trimble to describe. It was like a spiritual operation on his soul, and what he learned was unmistakable. And had he not walked away right then, he might not have had the fortitude to do so later, Trimble said.

"I learned that 'God will feel after you and he will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings,'" Trimble said, quoting the Prophet Joseph Smith. "No, the angel Moroni didn't appear to me in my room, but the visions of my responsibilities and foreordination were clear and as tangible as if that angel were standing above me in the air."

As painful as it was, Trimble obeyed. He handed in his uniform on opening day. His coaches told him he was crazy.

When he called the coach in Hawaii, he was essentially told in colorful and angry terms, "thanks for nothing," Trimble said.

Trimble moved home and began preparing for a mission. Within a few weeks he met Kristyn and they promptly fell in love. The soon-to-be older missionary was tempted stay home and marry her, but knew he needed to serve. In time he was assigned to labor in Michigan.

Ready to serve

People who think Trimble is a great writer laugh when he tells them about his struggles with English in school. He didn’t even like reading or writing until he became interested in the gospel. Before reading the Book of Mormon, he would only "skim stuff and try to get by," he said.

As he prepared for his mission, Trimble read the standard works and as many gospel-related books as he could find before writing a book report on each one. The purpose was to better retain information and create notes he could carry into the mission field, he said.

"I wanted to show the Lord I was sorry for being a bum. From the day I committed to him, I wanted to go full throttle. If I was going to give up my dream of playing baseball and leave Kristyn, I wanted to make sure those two years were meaningful," Trimble said. "Now I see the role that a mission has played in everything that I’ve done and am currently doing. The contents of those book reports became the inspiration behind the content of my blogs."
Another future blogging lesson came to Trimble as a missionary in Michigan. A turning point came when he realized people don’t respond positively to confrontational Bible-bashing or doctrinal arguments. A more effective method is to listen, love and share truth, he said.

"The first half of my mission I thought I had to win with the gospel," Trimble said. "I learned to stand for truth, make your point heard, and leave it at that. Don’t argue if someone has a difference of opinion. I’ve tried to carry that over to the blog."

Going viral

Trimble started blogging in 2014 with zero online presence and fully aware of his writing woes. But he was determined to share what he knew to be true. Within a few months, his blogs were going viral. He remembers taking a phone call from a man at a news website who wanted to know his "strategy."

What strategy?

"I don’t know. I was surprised as anything. I just wrote a few not-well-written blogs about gospel stuff and people liked them for some reason. They got shared a bunch, and that energized me to write more," said Trimble, who serves as the high councilor over missionary work in his California LDS stake. "He was telling me you get more traffic than a lot of news stations get."

Trimble wrote about his "10 Most Read Blog Posts" on his website, displaying page views and shares to date.

As he continued to post his thoughts, opinions and impressions related to gospel topics and current events, Trimble began receiving messages from people around the world who had read his words and felt guided to meet with missionaries, to get baptized or return to activity. This both fascinated and fueled him to keep writing.

"I looked at the blog as an opportunity to be a missionary," Trimble said.

But along with the golden experiences came tremendous opposition in the form of brutal, mean-spirited comments. His most viewed post, "Quit Acting Like Christ Was Accepting of Everyone and Everything," drew more than 500 comments, some of which were especially vicious. His wife told him not to read the comments, but he couldn’t resist. It got so bad that Trimble almost gave up blogging, he said.

"You think you can block it out, but it was depressing and affected me in all walks of life. I had experienced opposition on my mission, but never how vocal and mean people can be on the Internet," Trimble said. "My wife told me to 'Man up' and deal with it, that I was doing a lot of good. So I started writing again."

Part of Trimble’s success might be attributed to how he tackles tough topics and fearlessness in sharing his opinions, Kristyn Trimble said.

"Come what may, I guess. I think so many people get sick of hearing from entities. But to hear a personal opinion from a real person can sometimes be more meaningful and touching,” she said.

Lesson and tips

What Trimble likes most about blogging is making friends with people who are critical of the LDS Church.

"My goal has been to reach out, be kind and try to make friends with them. I like getting to know them, hearing their thoughts," Trimble said. "It’s actually helped to strengthen my testimony."

His three-step approach is to first, recognize he doesn’t know everything, so be open to what others are sharing and listen. Second, don’t lose your cool; maintain an open dialogue. Third, show love and find common ground, regardless of differences or disputes.

"What it boils down to for me is I haven’t found anything that can give me a brighter hope than Mormonism," Trimble said.

When it comes to writing a good blog, Trimble has shared these five tips.

First, ignore what others say about your writing; Second, don’t be so technical, write as if you are having a conversation; third, record thoughts and impressions using available technology; Fourth, don’t give up so fast and write consistently; Fifth, be passionate about your topic.

It’s been exciting for Trimble family to see its husband and father be a pioneer in digital missionary work, Kristyn Trimble said.

"I wish so many people would pick up what he is doing, because of the success and people he has helped," she said. "How many more could be reached?"

Champion of fatherhood

Trimble recently released his first book, "For Dads Who Stay and Fight: How to be a Hero in Your Family." It was published by Cedar Fort and comes with a foreword by Tim Ballard, founder of Operation Underground Railroad. Trimble hopes to publish two more books with Cedar Fort in the coming year.

The idea for this book came to Trimble as he and his family were driving across the South Dakota plains on a vacation. He realized it was their first real family outing in nearly eight years. This turned his thoughts to the importance of fatherhood and the millions of American children who grow up without fathers. It also reminded him of several general conference talks on the topic by LDS Church leaders.
Trimble’s book offers information, inspiring stories, insights and ideas for seasoned fathers, future fathers and women who are looking for the right man to marry.
"The reason I wrote this book was so men, women, boys and girls would read it and that it might inspire a dad movement across the globe," Trimble said.