How Should Mormonism Deal with Transgender and Nonbinary People In Their Midst?

The answer to every question starting with “what should the religious response be to X ” should always, always, always be unconditional love, support and concern. Full. Stop. Love is the answer no matter the question. But is that enough? Should that end the discussion? Perhaps, but let’s dive in a little more anyway because I do think it helps, within the context of full love, acceptance and support to understand issues better.

First of all let’s root out some basic definitions, as I understand them. Gender and sexual attraction are different things. Traditionally, we’ve operated within the concept of two distinct biological genders, male and female. Typically, we experience sexual attraction to the opposite gender. Biologically, this sexual attraction serves biological reproduction functions necessary to ensure the biological survival of our species. From a purely scientific Darwinian perspective, we are hard-wired for survival, both individually and as a species. For this reason, the strong majority of human beings fit cleanly into one of the two genders and are sexually attracted to the other. Because it takes so long for our children to mature and achieve functioning independence, we long for long-lasting stable, romantically sexual relationships that endure within stable family structures. Societal, religious, and ethical norms and rules have been setup in order to provide this sort of stability. I think all of this makes sense in the aggregate, but exceptions to the rule abound in nature. I believe individual diversity within humanity also serve important societal benefits as well. Extended family can provide essential support networks. To this end, childless adults can provide additional support especially when the more traditional nuclear family fails in all the ways such families can fail. Our over-reliance on the traditional, nuclear family is a more recent innovation, is not so traditional and has notable and significant flaws. But childless adults can play more than support roles to families. Not having to worry about raising children can be free them up to make significant contributions to society in ways not possible for couples rearing multiple children. Bottom line, we need everyone. We need to be careful not to over-simplify the complexities that show up in our world. Most importantly, the exceptions to the rule are every bit as important as the rule itself, and individuals that don’t cleanly line up within traditional or majority understandings or categories should be accepted, accommodated and even celebrated.

Religious theology has at times tried to respond to these issues beyond these purely materialistic concerns. Mormonism’s primary contribution on this issue can be found in “The Family Proclamation to the World”. Let’s dissect this document in detail from the perspective of non-binary and transgender individuals.

We, the First Presidency and the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, solemnly proclaim that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God and that the family is central to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children.

The proclamation begins with a bang. Not only is the family structure essential as a means to raise children in this life, but has an eternal nature that continues after death. The underlying principle driving this belief is that our experiences in mortality are simply a snapshot of something much larger and more enduring. What gets established here continues.

All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

The idea of gendered spirits seems more or less intuitive although difficult to prove empirically. Difficult though not impossible because I’ve seen fairly convincing attempts to find empirical evidence for spirit. I’m less familiar with attempts to prove that spirits might be gendered, but I don’t preclude the possibility. Stated here as a matter of fact, revelation is doing almost all of the work. Assuming gendered spirits, the existence of transgendered outcomes seems to be a very likely possibility. That transgendered people exist would be strong evidence spirits are gendered and that this gender may not always line up with the gendered body. If we assume the world is a complex and evolving system outside the direct, micro-manipulation of deity, then, it seems well within reason that at times, there could easily be a mismatch between the gender of the spirit and body. A church that believes in gendered spirits and gendered bodies has to accept the possibility of a mismatch and then must formulate a theological and practical response rooted in love. My church so far has refused to do this as far as I can tell. Most transgendered people either have to suppress this part of them or leave the Mormon community altogether. In other words, Mormonism has a long way to go to live up to the ideal to respond always with love at least in this area.

While there’s clear room in this statement for transgendered, there’s much more ambiguity and complexity for non-binary possibilities. Non-binary gender disrupts my initial assumptions about the existence of two genders at least somewhat. If there are male and female categories, then perhaps there are circumstances where someone fits within a spectrum in between. This obviously happens no matter how one defines gender. Biological ambiguity occurs. When each of my four children were born the way we discovered gender was looking at their genitalia, but there are times when the creation of the genitalia is ambigous and gender identification is uncertain.

Beyond that, though, gender markers extend into cultural expectation, traditional roles and characteristics. Societally speaking, some behaviors are considered more feminine and others more masculine and these behaviors show up in statistically significant ways more common in one gender group than another. But thinking about gender in this way is even more complex because the statistical group differences between men and women is not large and there’s a lot of overlap in the distribution. Plenty of women are stronger, more athletic, and more masculine than even most of the men, especially if you’re on the tail end of the distribution. All men exhibit or should exhibit feminine characteristics and vice versa. Historically, cultural norms and taboos have shamed individuals away from showing cross-gendered characteristics although famously, recent popular culture, especially rock-n-roll have done a lot of work in breaking down those taboos and social norms.

So, what does gender even mean given the reality of this diversity and complexity? What does it mean for someone to identify as non-binary, especially if their biology indicates no gender ambiguity? Gendered spirits complicates this further. What markers indicate gender in the spirit? Chromosomes? Genatalia? If spirits are gendered, it seems that the masculine and feminine characteristics dominate in gender identification and given the range here, I don’t see how spiritual gender is easily categorized into two groups. All of this is speculative because we really have no idea. Even accepting the revelation of gendered spirits, the church provides no details. We are left guessing. And in that ambiguity, we have to accept individual experiences, feelings and best efforts for what they are, always, always, always in the spirit of love, acceptance and accommodation.

Moving on.

The first commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve pertained to their potential for parenthood as husband and wife. We declare that God’s commandment for His children to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. We further declare that God has commanded that the sacred powers of procreation are to be employed only between man and woman, lawfully wedded as husband and wife.

This statement hits on a complex topic in a vague enough way that makes it hard to pin down precisely. Any power that produces life is both sacred and unfathomable. We want to ensure such procreative acts occur within a loving home. Given the genetic connection between parent and child, I think there are benefits for children to feel a loving connection with their biological parents when that is possible. But I do think we need to complicate family structures in ways that make them resilient to dysfunction and hardship.

But most importantly, within this discussion, does the inverse of this statement follow? For adults who can’t procreate or who don’t fit cleanly into prescribed gender categories, what of them? Does the “sacred powers of procreation” the only way to think about intimate sexual relationships?

I’m skipping to the more controversial parts of the Family Proclamation, otherwise we’ll be here all day.

By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation. Extended families should lend support when needed.

This comment presupposes gender roles that extend beyond biological markers as described above. Here, it indicates that these gender roles are prescribed by God, “by divine design”. I take issue that the father has a leadership, “presiding role” in the home because that idea can lead abuse. The second part of the sentence complicates this quite a lot, however – to do so “in love and righteousness” which basically undermines the word preside. Love and righteousness in parenting implies deep equality giving the wife and possibly other adults involved, opportunities and obligations to preside.

If there are masculine and feminine attributes that naturally show up in higher precentages in their respective genders, and I think this is true, some of the differences described in this passage will show up naturally. Men tend to pursue more lucrative career paths that scale, take more risks and sacrifice more for their careers. Women tend to carry more of the nurturing burdens. There’s a lot of evidence that suggests much of these outcome differences come as a result of discrimination and cultural mysoginy. Definitely men have a responsibility to nurture their children and women need to worry about providing for the necessities of life and protection. Individual participants in a marriage likely have a bias one way or the other, and doubling down on that bias could cause more neglect than what any church should want. A family proclamation should recognize individual preference as natural that deserve accommodation but recognize the need to work harder against those preferences for the benefit of the family.

Given that I believe men and women aren’t significantly different and the overlaps abound, prescribing ordained roles like this has risks resulting in more common abusive outcomes. To that end, the proclamation ends with a clear warning against abuse, hopefully in ways that address this risk.

I hope it’s clear that I think the Family Proclamation has important ideas but doesn’t do enough work to consider binary and transgendered populations. Mormonism is founded on the ideas of continual revelation and adaptation. We need more revelation in this area. In the meantime, I’ll return where I began. The answer is always, always, always love.

Doctrine and Covenants 2; Joseph Smith – History 1:27-65 – The Restoration Begins

A Brief Historical Background

Joseph Smith History is a very brief history narrated by Joseph Smith and included in the scriptural cannon for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons). The beginning of the narrative describes events that led to and include his very first vision of God and Jesus Christ and end at verse 26. Three years elapse unrecorded and Joseph Smith picks up the narrative once more. I think a couple of contextual insights are helpful. First, Joseph Smith was born into a hard-working but poor family. His parents inherited resources but both bad luck and bad investments caused them to lose their farm early in their marriage. Moving west to Palmyra to find better opportunities, they hoped to rent land and raise enough money to eventually obtain security in land ownership once more. And that goal was obtained shortly before the visions described in this history, but only by the skin of their teeth, and always under the constant threat of losing what they had gained, under constant pressure to earn enough money to make their payments for the land they obtained on credit.

Joseph’s Initial Reactions to Moroni

Joseph Smith describes briefly what happened in those intervening three years. He shared his first vision experience with a few notable people, word gets out and he receives persecution as a result. Personally, I can relate to the feelings he describes in verse 28 “persecuted by those who ought to have been my friends and to have treated me kindly, and if they supposed me to be deluded to have endeavored in a proper and affectionate manner to have reclaimed me”… If we want to help someone who has been deluded by bad ideas, probably better to try reclaim them with affection, although, I think often times, perhaps for reasons I don’t totally understand but also relate to, we can be harsh to those on divergent paths.

This narrative was also written by Joseph Smith in retrospect when he was much older, the official version being 1838 (verse 60). I think that’s relevant when he recounts his sins. In verse 29, he describes feeling “condemned for my weakness and imperfections”, driving him to prayer for “forgiveness for all of my sins and follies”. But earlier, in verse 28, he’s careful to caveat this feeling, that he wasn’t guilty of anything too serious. That seems to me to be somewhat of a contradiction. I think often we are much kinder to ourselves in retrospect than in the moment and that could be what’s going on here.

In verse 30, in response to his prayers, Joseph Smith receives a vision from Moroni. I think understandably, he spends some time describing Moroni, even though and also understandably being unable to do so in his earlier vision. When describing God and Jesus Christ, Joseph says “whose brightness and dglory defy all description”, with Moroni he’s much more explicit in verses 31 and 32. A couple of points stand out. Moroni’s robe’s color is of the “most exquisite whiteness”, “beyond anything earthly I had ever seen.” I don’t get the sense Joseph Smith, at that time of his life, had actually seen anything all that white. But I also know how difficult it can be to keep white clothing exquisite over time, giving his robe a transcendent quality. Beyond his robe, Moroni appears to be completely unprepared for the earthly elements – bare feet, no other clothing underneath that could be detected. Moroni was in the world, but not really affected by it. In verse 32, Joseph describes Moroni’s appearance as glorious and his countenance, in particular like lightening. Which, if I was concerned about my state with God (and who among us isn’t), I would find this type of person incredibly intimidating. And indeed he did, his first reaction was fear, but then for reasons unexplained but perhaps intuited, the fear left him. Moroni tells Joseph that God has a work for him (verse 33) and the first step in this work would be to obtain a record that would become the Book of Mormon.

Four Identical Sunday School Lessons Back to Back to Back to Back

Moroni decides to use most of this encounter to dive into a number of scriptures from the King James version of the Bible, mostly but not exclusively from Old Testament authors – Malachi 3 & 4 though with some edits in verse 1, 5 and 6. In verse 1, the edits seem to personalize the warnings a little more directly. In verse 5, Elijah brings the priesthood which is missing in the original. In verse 6, Moroni removes the bi-directionality of the turning hearts. In Moroni’s version, the promises of the fathers are planted in the children. Perhaps, in Moroni’s mind, the parents hearts have already been turned by this point. Isaiah 11 is quoted in full with the promise that the prophecy is about to be fulfilled. Isaiah 11 is a prophecy of gathering, a prophecy of Zion. Acts 3:22-23 describes a prophet like Moses, that prophet being Christ, but the reckoning for unbelief was still to come, Moroni quotes Joel 2:28-32 describing a day when God’s spirit will pour out so extensively that even our sons and daughter will have visions, dream dreams and prophecy. Finally, Moroni shows Joseph the location of the Book of Mormon plates in vision.

Moroni leaves allowing Joseph Smith to catch his breadth when he returns again, shares the exact same lesson with some additional warnings about the hardships about to come upon the earth (the Civil War is looming in the future and of course the horrors of World War 1 and 2). Moroni leaves for a moment and then returns and repeats everything again with a warning that Joseph’s aims in this work needs to remain pure.

The morning arrives, Joseph tries to go about his daily duties which he finds impossible. His father recognizes something is wrong and sends him home. On his way, Joseph collapses and after some time awakes to yet another visit from Moroni and has the entire message repeated a fourth time, is told to go back and tell his father. His father believes him and encourages Joseph to follow through which Joseph does. Joseph is young, likely lacks some confidence, having the assurances of his father must have been an essential step for his ability to push forward.

The Book of Mormon

Jospeh Smith is unable to retrieve the records immediately. He returns each year on the same day of the year at the location of the records burial in the earth to visit with the angel and receive instruction and preparation. In the meantime, life continues. Shortly after Moroni’s first visit, Alvin dies tragically. The official record is brief but Alvin is an enormous loss to the family – a leader of the family, both temporally and spiritually, a primary supporter and believer in Joseph Smith’s work. In addition, he meets Emma, who would become his wife despite her father’s objections. In verse 58, Joseph explains their disapproval due to his heavenly visits. Numerous biographies attribute it more to his reputation as a money digger, something he explains and defends in verse 56, though I think the true nature much more fully, complicating the official narrative provided here.

Marrying Emma and actually getting the plates (verse 59) are described together here. I don’t think these two events are coincidental. Joseph needed Emma. Joseph wasn’t ready for the responsibilities of translation until he had her in his life.

Martin Harris

The narrative ends when Joseph Smith meets Martin Harris around the time Jospeh and his family are forced to leave Palmyra because of persecution fleeing into Pennsylvania. They receive support and help from Harris. Martin Harris serves an important early role in Joseph Smith’s life. He’s an early believer with some financial means and a skeptical wife. He believes, but has doubts. Martin Harris gets Joseph Smith to copy some of the characters off the plates to have an expert in ancient languages inspect and validate its authenticity. Professor Anthon confirms its authenticity and writes a note to confirm. However when told of the revelatory nature of the book and its translation, revokes his endorsement.

Doctrine and Covenants 2

Moroni gives Joseph Smith a Sunday School lesson four straight times. Jospeh Smith highlights in his history a subset of the scriptures cited, but he places special emphasis on the last two verses of Malachi, including them in D&C 2. Here the highlighted verses describe the Elijah bringing the priesthood to plant the promises of the father’s into the hearts of the children. Among the first instructions Joseph receives is that as part of his work, an outpouring of Elijah will come, as a spiritual gift, motivating us, the children to remember those who came before, eventually sealing us to them and them to us. And that work continues, each generation, more children, additional parents, all connected throughout time and history.

Questions

  1. Consider every verse in this record is scriptural cannon, why would Joseph Smith include his perceptions of the persecutors? What can we learn from it? How would it reflect Joseph Smith’s biases?
  2. Why would the kickoff to the restoration be triggered by Joseph Smith’s proactive decisions? What can we learn from that?
  3. How relevant was concern for his sins in triggering the event the kicked off the restoration?
  4. How connected were his sins and state of his soul to his inability to retrieve the plates for a period of time?
  5. How important was Emma’s role in obtaining the plates?
  6. Why was Martin Harris account included in this very brief record?
  7. What can we learn from Joseph Smith’s reaction and description to Moroni’s initial visit and physical description?
  8. Why were the particular verses sited by Moroni?
  9. Why was it necessary for Moroni to visit Joseph Smith four times relaying the exact same message over and over again?

Doctrine and Covenants Section 1 – The Preface

Introduction

Just like that, in the church’s Sunday School curriculum, we’ve jumped from the Book of Mormon to the Doctrine and Covenants. I feel kind of overwhelmed in my preparation for the Doctrine and Covenants study in comparison to the Book of Mormon because I think it’s really helpful to understand scripture in context. The Book of Mormon kind of makes this easy to an extent. First of all, contextualizing the Book of Mormon is controversial. Faithful believers, place the Book of Mormon within an ancient context, the book containing two narratives, one beginning in Jerusalem at around 600BC and the other beginning during the Genesis story of the Tower of Babel. Either way, both stories quickly leap to the Americas where collaborating historical texts are non-existent. For those who aren’t faithful believers, believe Joseph Smith to be the author, putting its context in 1820’s northeastern America. Either way, the Book of Mormon production is the first step in kicking off the restoration story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints.

While contextualizing the Book of Mormon may yield some useful fruit, I found the Book of Mormon imminently useful simply by reading it on its own terms. And I knew this going in. I’m much more familiar with the Book of Mormon than I am with the Doctrine and Covenants having taking seriously the church’s encouragement to prioritize it over other parts of our scriptural cannon.

Historical Context

The Doctrine and Covenants places greater contextual demands, steeped as it is directly within church history. It’s a set of direct revelations, written directly in God’s spoken voice as responses to questions or as directives to problems in the early days of church organization. These revelations don’t have directly connective bindings other than the historical narratives that are not directly written in its text and must be studied from other sources. While I do believe each section of this book can stand alone, a deeper study of the accompanying history is too tantalizing to pass up.

And as a member of this church, these founding revelations need to be taken seriously. They describe original intentions and motivations of the early church. A lot has transpired over the last two hundred years, but I think it’s important to understand first principles.

Section 1, on this note, is an interesting kick off to this, the first section in the scripture, it’s not the first recorded revelation. It acts as the book’s preface. The Saints Volume 1, provides a couple different reasons why in November 1, 1831, the church organized a conference to discuss the desire to publish these early revelations: 1) as a response to church critics who doubted Smith’s revelations and 2) as a way to offer them as convenient resources for church members. Originally, Sidney Rigdon, Oliver Cowdery and William McLellin were tasked with composing the preface. The results were unsatisfactory. Frustrated, they turned to Joseph Smith to ask God in prayer for insights, and from that prayer Joseph Smith dictated section 1 of the Doctrine Covenants while Sidney Rigdon recorded.

My own Very Crude Paraphrase

I recommend a careful reading of this remarkable revelation. Patrick Mason offers a good example of how to do this offering here his own rephrasing of this section in his own words and it provides useful insights. I think I’ll follow that example.

These revelations are not just for members of the church, though they are for them, but they are written for every person, no matter how remote (verses 1 & 2). Even the rebellious, those who refuse to hear and conform to God’s will, shall be pierced by it. Their secret acts shall be revealed to all. (verse 3). Christ’s disciples will be tools in God’s hands to prepare the world as a voice of warning (verse 4), nobody will be able to stop them (verse 5). Their authority comes from these revelations (verse 6) and what God has decreed will come to pass (verse 7).

Those people who preach God’s word not only do it with God’s authority, but with God’s power (verse 8, 9). The choices we make, the work we perform, will have consequences, for good or for bad (verse 10), so we need to listen (verse 11) and prepare while we still have time (verse 12), for things are likely to get rough (verse 13), and if we don’t give heed to God’s word, we risk isolation and disconnection. (verse 14).

For the most part, the world is in a tough spot (verse 15), too many of us are thinking only about our own needs and concerns (verse 16) and the result will be catastrophic (verse 17), so God called Joseph Smith among many others and provided them revelation and commandments (verse 17 and 18). God performs his work through the weakest of us (verse 19). Really, God wants to speak through all of us (verse 20). God wants faith to increase (verse 21). God wants to establish His covenant with us (verse 22). That we might teach the fulness of the gospel (verse 23).

God speaks to us either directly or through others, but in our language. God comes to us where we are (verse 24). And even God’s most devoted servant is weak (verse 25). But no matter how weak we may be, if we seek, we will be instructed (verse 26). God loves us so much that we’ll be chastened when we error (verse 27). In our humility, we are made strong (verse 28).

Joseph Smith kicked off this work by translating the Book of Mormon (verse 29), but that was only the beginning, the foundation of the church must be laid (verse 30). Christ’s church, which is true, a good and pure gospel meant to bless an imperfect and broken world. And of course, we all sin, we all suffer, both those within and without the church. We’re all in need of repentance. (verse 31-33). Again, this church is meant for everyone, God loves all of us (verse 34-35). God will be with us and is concerned with us and everyone in this world (verse 36).

This record is meant for all of us. Search these things, for they are “true and faithful (verse 37) and shall be fulfilled (verse 38 – 39).

Questions:

  1. How can we live up to the call of this revelation to share these things to all people?
  2. How should these revelations affect us? How should we prepare? How should we hearken?
  3. What does it mean when is says the anger of the Lord is kindled?
  4. What does it mean that those who do not hearken are cut off?
  5. How do we walk in our own way? How can we do better to not do this?
  6. Which calamities have come upon the world since this revelation? How could have we prevented or endured them better if we would have more faithfully hearkened? What future calamities still await us?
  7. What examples beyond Joseph Smith do we have of the weak things breaking down the mighty on strong ones?
  8. What does it mean that every person should speak in the name of God?
  9. How can faith increase in the earth?
  10. God’s love is shown to us by making it known to us when we make mistakes, granting wisdom when we seek it, or being chastened when we sin. Can we think of examples of this?
  11. How did the translation of the Book of Mormon come by the mercy of God?
  12. What does it mean referring to this church as the “only true and living church”?
  13. If this gospel is meant for all, does it only include the LDS institutional church which is relatively tiny?

Moroni 10 – Why The Book of Mormon Matters – Big Picture

Moroni 10

The last chapter of the Book of Mormon is Moroni’s concluding remarks before he forever seals up the record with faith that one day it might be recovered for some benefit to future generations. I can’t emphasize this point enough. Through Moroni we have an example. No matter how pointless, desperate, or hopeless our individual lives might feel, there’s always a hope that whatever we leave behind as we leave this world might be of some benefit to future generations. I think we all want our lives to have some sort of impact. We should live them with hope that they might. Moroni provides such an example.

Verse three, Moroni repeats much of what’s found throughout the book, to remember God’s mercy in our history. Verse four, is an exhortation for the reader to pray about “these things”. I doubt “these things” means the book itself, but its contents and gospel. We should elevate the message over the delivery mechanism.

Verse 8 through 23 echo 1 Corinthians 12, Moroni emphasizes the need for a diversity of spiritual gifts that show up in individual members, that they all are gifts, one is not better than another, that we should rejoice in diversity at that “it is the same God who worketh all in all” (verse 8). What should show up in this diversity, however, what should underly it all faith, hope and charity (verse 20).

The chapter concludes with a reference to Isaiah and a call to the reader to “awake and arise from the dust” (verse 31), to “strengthen they stakes” to build up Zion. It’s a message of gathering all good things and for each of us individually to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in him.””” (verse 32).

My Thoughts on the Book of Mormon

This book of scripture loses a lot of resonance and importance outside of Latter Day Saint traditions (Mormonism and its knock-offs). Members of the church view it as sacred scripture, most accept it as a literal historical narrative that has come through us through divine and miraculous channels, just in the way Joseph Smith describes it. There is an enormous amount of apologetics trying to prove the Book of Mormon is empirically historical. I’m not sure anyone outside of Mormonism takes these claims seriously.

Efforts to find archeological evidence for a Jewish/Christian community somewhere in the American continent as a way to prove the Book of Mormon for me seems like wasted effort. I don’t think a Mormon faith should hinge on such a non-religious foundation and the book itself pushes hard against it.

The book is fundamentally a religious not a historical book. I think the book is best read as if it’s historical, but I don’t think it loses its power if at some future date, someone proves incontrovertibly the book was a product of Joseph Smith – some believe we’re already there, but I’m not sure that’s actually true. I suspect, just like the Bible, the further we move away from the Joseph Smith temporally, the more difficult it will be to prove things either way. Much of the Bible’s historical claims are equally as difficult in many ways but because the Bible comes from a fare more ancient period, its claims are harder to validate one way or the other.

There are remarkable, physics defying miracles described in both the Book of Mormon and the Bible that don’t seem to happen today (some people thing otherwise). Perhaps, miracles happened in ancient times that are no longer necessary. More likely, ancient people were more superstitious, less scientifically savvy and believed in and described things in ways that stretched events far beyond actual occurrences. Much of what is scriptural can be viewed as more mythical than historical.

None of that actually matters to faith, though. Does a story, myth or event motivate a person into more alignment with goodness and God? If yes, great.

It is my witness the Book of Mormon has done that for me. And for me that is enough.

Moroni 7-9: Final Sermons from Mormon

Moroni 7: Faith, Hope, and Charity

While reading scripture, I think it’s helpful to keep the teachings in context. We know that Moroni did not expect to be writing this book of scripture at all (see Moroni 1:1). By this point, his father Mormon had died in battle and he was alone, a former general of a civilization that no longer existed. In Moroni’s final words, he chose to focus on the organizational church (Moroni 1-6). In chapter 7, Moroni decides to quote earlier sermons from his father.

It’s difficult to make total sense of the sermon’s context in Moroni 7. It appears it was delivered in a time of peace and at least given to a people striving to live up to their Christian covenants. Given the horrors of war described in Mormon and soon to be described in Moroni 8 & 9, it’s a memory of a time and place for different from Moroni’s current situation. It’s a beautiful sermon entitled right up front by Moroni as a few words about “faith, hope, and charity” (Moroni 7:1).

In the sermon, Mormon right up front expresses this teaching opportunity as a “gift of his calling unto me” given “by the grace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Moroni 7:2), which I think is the right way to approach this type of encounter with others. Every time we are in the same space with another person, consider it a gift of God. I think of that right now as my oldest daughter is contemplating a lift-off out of our house into the broader world. These encounters are precious. We should treat them as such.

In verse 3, Mormon addresses his audience as the “peaceable followers of Christ” which has added poignancy considering Mormon’s service as a war general from age 16 until his death in battle. Who are these peaceable followers of Christ? Nonetheless, they have “obtained a sufficient hope by which [they] can enter into the rest of the Lord…” Moroni 7:3. I think there must be a link there. Hope brings rest.

From verse 5-15, Mormon boils the gospel down to this – “by their works ye shall know them” (Mormon 7:5) and even more expansively, “all things which are good cometh of God”. (Mormon 7:12) I think we need to take this principle to heart in all that we do, as a way to break through walls and connect cross-culturally, cross-faith tradition, bi-partisan, find ways to build bridges. The gospel is less about specific beliefs and more about what we do and how we do it.

These verses also make the deep case that character does matter, “A man being evil cannot do that which is good, for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.” (Moroni 7:6). More poignantly, this sermon makes the case to judge righteously. “Wherefore, take heed, my beloved brethren, that ye do not judge that which is evil to be of God, or that which is good and of God to be of the devil.” (Moroni 7:14).

To be a bit political for a moment, we can’t expect our political leaders, no matter what they say with their lips to lead well if they aren’t good within. But if they are good, we can expect goodness to flow out of them. What they say, how they say it and how they treat others matters. We should modify our politics accordingly.

The injunction to “lay hold upon every good thing” (Mormon 7:18), according to Mormon requires deep and abiding faith, “by faith, they did lay hold upon every good thing.” (Mormon 7:25). Then Mormon ties faith to miracles, linked I think directly to the act of holding onto every good thing. I think as we open ourselves up, authentically with vulnerability, relationally with others, we can experience miracles and the visitation of angels, in all of their forms, however you choose to interpret that.

All of this gets boiled down to what the core of the gospel has always been about, “And the office of the ministry is to call men unto repentance, and to fulfil and to do the work of the covenants of the Father…” Moroni 7:31 Everything comes down to faith, repentance, and covenant.

Mormon 7 concludes by connecting faith with hope in Christ and to underly it all with the pure love of Christ, which is charity, which “suffers long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up… ” Moroni 7:45). He concludes the sermon with a plea to pray “with all the energy of heart” to be filled with this love. (Moroni 7:48).

Moroni 8: Don’t Baptize Young Children

Again, this chapter seems oddly out of place considering the hellscape both Mormon and Moroni were living within. But apparently, many among them were arguing about whether to baptize little children. I think within the context of deep mortality, where men, women and children were likely holding onto life by the bearest of threads, securing salvation through ritual must have been top of mind. In Thomas Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the heroine, in late night desperation baptizes her dying child. Mormon’s response to this impulse is that children “need no repentance, neither baptism.” (Moroni 8:10).

This chapter re-affirms baptism as a covenant to live a life of penitent concern for others, designed for those old enough to make this covenant and that underlying everything we do should be grace, hope, charity and faith. In that sense, baptism is not an item on a checklist, nor is the gospel about checklists (not that checklists aren’t helpful tools, but they are tools). We should learn not to get hung up with details.

Moroni 9: Society is Still Actually Falling Apart

The transition in Moroni 8 from baptism to the state of society feels a bit like when Hermione Granger to in Harry Potter said:

Now, if you two don’t mind, I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed. Or worse, expelled.

https://www.definitions.net/definition/get

Yes, baptizing little children is not good, but there are plenty of far worse things to worry about, “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction except they should repent.” (Moroni 8:27)

And then it just gets worse from there, Moroni 9 goes into dark details of cannibalism, rape, murder, destruction, “O the depravity of my people! They are without order and without mercy.” Moroni 9:18. However, here’s the hope, the importance of our work:

And now behold, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God.

Moroni 9:6

The Book of Mormon is deeply concerned with justice, mercy, grace and works. None of these principles are in tension, they are all intertwined. It’s through grace we work, we find mercy only in a just world. There is a deep need within us to be useful, connected and at work for the benefit of others. Let us all labor diligently, no matter how desperate or dim we find our circumstances.

Moroni 1-6

These six chapters are among the shortest in the Book of Mormon. These really tiny little nuggets of chapters weren’t even going to be written. Moroni had finished what I imagine and to be a monumental task to summarize the history of the people of Jared, thinking he was finished with the record, “but I have not yet perished” (Moroni 1:1).

Moroni was a general in the civil wars described in the final records recorded by his father Mormon. His people had been wiped out or absorbed. Moroni was among the lone survivors. The Lamanites were on a cultural genocidal rampage “and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ. And I, Moroni will not deny the Christ; (Moroni 1:2).

What’s interesting here, even though Mormon described the civil wars to be between the Lamanites and Nephites, it seems here that the Christian identity and not the Nephite identity was at the heart of the conflict. This makes sense given that in 4 Nephi, the Lamanite and Nephite populations had dissolved into a single group for two hundred years – intermixing and inter-marrying, organized around Christian principles after Jesus visit. Eventually, class conflict, pride, and tribalism produced the civil wars that ended what’s identified as the Nephite population but I question that framing.

Some speculation here – the Nephites were likely those who remained Christian, not necessarily those literal descendants from Nephi, while others had fallen out of the Christian tradition taken on the older Lamanite tribal identities. The Nephites ended up no more righteous than the Lamanites but likely continued to maintain their Christian identities, using it as a marker and justification for their own self regard in ways that are counter to the spirit of what Christianity is supposed to be doing.

Moroni was among the sole survivors who tried to live the spirit of the Christian message while remaining loyal to the culturally identifying group he was born into. He could tried to assimilate, repudiating his Christian/Nephite identity, but he chose to remain true to his covenants and so wandered in isolation.

In this desperate state, expecting to be captured and killed, but finding some additional and unexpected time and space, he decided to write down some of what he felt were among the most precious truths that would someday, he hoped, be of benefit to the descendants of those people who would hunt him down and murder him if given the chance. What are Moroni’s most precious truths?

In the next few chapters, Moroni details the structures of the functioning church Jesus had set up 400 years earlier. In chapter 2, he describes the manner in which Jesus gave the disciples power to invoke the Holy Ghost through the laying hands upon heads. In chapter three, he describes the manner of ordaining priests and teachers who are called “to preach repentance and remission of sins through Jesus Christ, by the endurance of faith on his name to the end.” Moroni 3:3. Once again, the core purpose of a Christian church is to guide the individual into a lifetime of repentance, faith, and service to others. That’s it. That’s the gospel.

In Chapters 4 and 5 Moroni gives us the sacramental prayers word for word. Finally (at least for this Sunday school lesson, Moroni continues on for four additional chapters), in Chapter 6, Moroni describes the purpose of weekly church.

And the church did meet together oft, to fast and to pray, and to speak one with another concerning the welfare of their souls. And they did meet together oft to partake of the bread and wine, in remembrance of the Lord Jesus.

Moroni 6:5-6

These weekly meetings, the regular habits we build up, to come together, to practice our virtues. To recommit each week to really think of the life of Jesus, a life of consecrated service and sacrifice. Moroni having survived a brutal civil war, wandering alone, cutoff from community, holding onto his faith, reminds us how precious these simple things are, the weekly meetings that we too often take for granted, that become routine events in our lives, that we sit through habitually. We need to hold onto them with greater care and attentiveness, allowing the regular rituals to work deeper into our hearts, to purify our souls and put us in greater concern and care for others. If that’s not happening, church isn’t happening.

Ether 12-15: Faith, Hope and Charity, Plus The End of a Civilization

It’s difficult to wrap my head around the book of Ether completely. Mormon ends his summary of the Nephite people describing the complete downfall of his civilization into chaos and civil war. His son, Moroni carries on for a couple of chapters describes the dismal landscape and what seems like isolation and despair – the aftereffects of being the last member of an annihilated people. In the midst of this, he decides to include the summary of a still more ancient people and their annihilation. This people, the Jaredites, a people originating from the Biblical narrative detailed in Genesis about the confounding of the languages at the tower of Babel. Their language is not confounded, but they are scattered, led by the power and mercy of God to the New World. Hundreds and hundreds of years go by until their society is utterly and completely destroyed. Their record left behind for the Nephite civilization to discover it and for Moroni to summarize it.

Moroni, in the midst of his own war-torn hell-scape feels compelled to summarize the hell-scape of a people who preceded him. Right before the end, Moroni pauses on the last prophet, Ether, for whom the record is named, who “could not be restrained because of the Spirit of the Lord which was in him. For he did cry from the morning, even until the going down of the sun, exhorting the people to believe in God unto repentance…” (Either 12:2-3).

The Book of Mormon speaks primarily at societal levels. Occasionally, the narrative zooms into the personal as it does here for a moment with Ether, who nonetheless is trying to address his entire community. It’s kind of vague here. How exactly was this message delivered? What does the scriptures mean here by repentance? Of what, precisely?

Perhaps, the point of the Christian message is not the precise sin that we’re guilty of, perhaps there is a general call to all people to enter into a life of repentance and forgiveness. Perhaps we need to recognize our fallibility and our proneness to error and lean into each other all the more. At a societal level, violence occurs when softer means of communication stop working. If we took on the spirit of good-faith, trust, meekness, and faith, war breaks down to. Perhaps this is what Ether is responding to.

Ether 12:4 is one of my favorite verses in all of scripture:

Wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.”

Either 12:4

This passage is a way to address the fundamental unjustness of the world. No matter who we are or where our place in life lies, we can with surety hope for a better world. This hope within us to make this world better. It’s the hope for a better world that can become an anchor to our souls, sure and steadfast, moving us into greater charity, love and concern for others. It’s our call to do what we can to make that world better now all the while recognizing a hope for a better world to come.

Through the rest of the chapter, Moroni injects himself into the commentary. In verse 6, he defines faith using words very similar to those found in Hebrews: “I would show unto the world that faith is things which are hoped for and not seen; wherefore, dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith.” Ether 12:6.

Faith and hope are tied together here. Moroni spends several verses listing examples of faith. That it was through faith Jesus came to those in America, through faith prophets were called, faith that Moses brought forth the law, faith that Alma and Amulek brought down prison walls, faith that Nephi and Lehi converted the Lamanites, faith that miracles happen, and it will be by faith that this record will come forth to the ancestors of the very people who destroyed Moroni’s tribe and by faith this record will bring them to the knowledge of the gospel.

It’s here that Moroni is worried about the countless people who will read his writing, unedited as it will be. This level of insecurity comes natural to any of us who’ve tried to work on something for the benefit of others, that our gifts will be rejected. “‘Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing;…'” God responds, “my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness; and if men come unto me, I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.” Ether 12:23, 27.

I’m wondering if this is why it’s so hard for us to come unto Jesus. We come unto Jesus so that he will show unto us our weakness. The price of admission is deep humility, an utter dependence on God’s grace. Then through grace, God will magnify our sacrifice, sanctifying it so that we can bless the world, not for our own benefit, but for the benefit of those who may receive it.

Moroni recognizes his weakness will be amplified through grace, but even that may not be enough if the recipient fails to receive our gifts. The recipients of the record must extend charity, “wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.” (Ether 12:34). And that is true not just here but in all parts of life. We do our best, we pray for grace and we hope that those who accept our gifts will receive it with charity that it may have maximum benefit. And it can. As we receive, listen and read works produced by others with an open heart full of love, both the hearer and the receiver are edified.

In Ether 13, Moroni returns to the prophecies of Ether and the people’s response to him:

For behold, they rejected all the words of Ether, for he truly told them of all things, from the beginning of man; and that after the waters had receded from off the face of this land it became a choice land above all other lands, a chosen land of the Lord; wherefore the Lord would have that all men should serve him who dwell upon the face thereof;

Ether 13:2

The prioritization of the sacred history runs through the Book of Mormon. We forget or minimize our history to our peril. It’s our duty to see the sacred narrative of the world, recognize our place in it. This passage also seems to prioritize the land, to an extent, over the people who occupy it. Sacred places persist long after the human lives who try to exploit it.

This chapter also elevates sacred cities, the restoration of Jerusalem and the creation of a New Jerusalem in the new world, tying the new world directly to Israel. Interestingly, the United States, historically, is linked to Britain. Our cities and regions are linked to European cities, “New England, New York, New Hamphsire”, etc. We don’t have a New Jerusalem, only an old. Bringing new version of old things from Eurpoean culture out into the broader world has always been a product of imperialism, oddly. Israel has never participated in such. They’ve always the scattered, holding on to an ancient culture and religion despite the world’s best efforts to purge it from the earth. But the US has always been predominantly a Gentile country, although a friend to Israel. But the Book of Mormon’s prophesies of a gathering and describes it as an adoption into the Israeli family. There are many ways to think of this, I believe the most expansive interpretation is correct. Where the global cultures inspire and influence into something bigger and more expansive. A religion to hold all religions. That the Book of Mormon speaks to this phenomenon using Jewish words is not as relevant as we think.

Ether’s message is ultimately rejected and Ether departs from the narrative. The rest of the book continues the carnage of earlier chapters.

In the very last chapter, 15, verse 2:

“Coriantumr began to remember the words which Ether had spoken unto him. He saw that there had been slain by the word already nearly two millions of his people, and he began to sorrow in his heart; yea there had been slain two millions of mighty men, and also their wives and their children. He began to repent of the evil which he had done; he began to remember the worlds which had been spoken by the mouth of all the prophets, and he saw them that they were fulfilled thus far, every whit; and his soul mourned and refused to be comforted.”

Ether 15:1-3

It was too late. Ether had warned him earlier that if he would repent, the Lord would preserve him and his kingdom. But by this point, too much blood had been spilt. Coriantumr had already killed Shared. Shared’s brother Gilead was slain. Coriantumr killed Gilead’s successor Lib, and now Lib’s brother Shiz refused Coriantumr’s offer for peace. His response was that he would spare his people if Coriantumr would sacrifice his own life. I suspect that if Coriantumr had done so, for the good of his people, it wouldn’t have ended the war, that the war would have continued on without him. However, Corianumr refused the demand, the war continued until the society completely collapsed in a monumental, cataclysmic, societal destructive civil war.

And that is where Ether ends. And I think it’s fair to ask, why do we have this in our sacred text? How is this relevant? This death spiral of grievance. This willingness to let hate consume our souls. It’s perhaps a warning or maybe a call into a more virtuous cycle of ever willing repentance and forgiveness.

I think that has been the ever-consistent message of the Book of Mormon.

Come Follow Me – 3 Nephi 27- 4 Nephi

Thoughts on Chapter 27

Up through chapter 26 of 3 Nephi, the people experienced Christ first hand. They were simultaneously chastened for past sins and lifted up through first-hand exposure to the core essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ, transformed through amazing spiritual experiences. With Christ’s departure, the designated disciples worked diligently to establish the church but got stuck early-on over names. In response, early on in Chapter 27, they unite in “mighty prayer and fasting” (verse 1) over what to name the church.

Why is naming things correctly so important?

Christ responds to their prayers with a final visit, instructing them to search the scriptures, wherein they may find the answer to this particular question. To be Christ’s church it must be called in Christ’s name. Being called in Christ’s name would make it Christ’s church but only “if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (verse 8).

In these sets of verses we get some clues about the role the gospel of Christ should play in our lives – the gospel needs to be foundational. We build our lives in individually unique ways according to our gifts and circumstance, but the foundation of our lives must rest firmly on the rock of the gospel of Christ. Which begs the question, what is the gospel of Christ? This question is answered, yet again, in chapter 27.

The gospel of Christ is to uplift, to elevate, but the only way to do that truly is to “do the will of my Father” (verse 13). Christ’s life was fully consecrated to do the will of the father, which led him inevitably to the cross. And through that sacrifice, our lives may be lifted up as we dedicate them fully to the will of the Father. “Now this is this commandment: Repent, all ye ends of the earth, and come unto me and be baptized in my name, that ye may be sanctified by the reception of the Holy Ghost, that ye may stand spotless before me at the last day.” (verse 20) Baptism is a way to dedicate our lives fully to Christ through covenant.

Earlier, Jesus warns about the lives not built upon the gospel, that “I say unto you they have joy in their works for a season, and by and by the end cometh, and they are hewn down and cast in the fire, from whence there is no return.” (verse 11)

I don’t think this is quite as harsh as it sounds, but it is descriptive. Life is short, everything that begins must end. It is this way by design. As we fully consecrate everything to Christ, we share in the eternal round of God. We die in God, we are renewed in God. We die but then we live again.

Think of art. Really great art, architecture or music fully produced through the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ lives in some capacity, ever renewing and expanding as one generation’s art inspires and informs the next. As we flow within the conversation of deep time (to use a Richard Rohr concept), we contribute to an ever-growing, ever-continuing, never really dying life of humanity. We become one. That is the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m sure there’s more to it than that but that’s the way I experience it right now.

Thoughts on Chapter 28

In Chapter 28, Jesus asks the disciples, “one by one, saying unto them ‘What is it that ye desire of me’ after that I am gone to the Father?” Nine of the twelve asked to have a full life fully consecrated to God and then when it’s done they can enter speedily into the kingdom of heaven. A full life in these terms is 72.

Can you imagine requesting this? 72 used to be a long, blessed life, considering the many ways life could be cut short. Now it’s considered an early-ish death. But this request shows a deep embrace of life’s temporariness. Having direct experience with eternity, these nine had no fear of it. They wanted a full life and a gentle transition into eternity. Contrast that with the more typical experience we all endure, the uncertainty and ever-present possibility of our lives cut short. We live life like it will never end, but it will, sometimes sooner than we expect.

The remaining three disciples, however, wanted something different. They wanted their lives extended to see and experience first hand the events to unfold on this earth until Christ returns again. They wanted to live on earth like the rocks or the trees, a permanent fixture, living on, while others died, that they may have a direct influence for good over the course of events while they remain.

After these blessings are requested and granted, the twelve disciples “were caught up into heaven and heard unspeakable things”. (verse 14).

When I think of unspeakable things, my mind goes in two directions – the information conveyed in the words being taught are so deep, requiring a level of sophistication, experience and training for the words to be understandable at all, they might as well be unspeakable. I can imagine going to a conference event in a field meant for people in an industry, where I have no direct training, and finding what’s being said to be, from my perspective, unspeakable.

Second, I can think of experiences that I cannot properly convey through language. Perhaps experiencing a devastatingly beautiful landscape or being captured in beautiful music at just the right time my entire soul is raptured. There’s no way to really communicate what I experience to another person that will give that experience justice. I’m imagining some combination of both is what’s being experienced here.

Mormon concludes describing the experiences of the three disciples that continue to live, writing as he is 400 years after the time described here, having encountered them himself.

Thoughts on Chapter 29 and 30

As the Book of Mormon comes forth into the world and as people all over the world really engage with its text, then you may know the time of Christ’s covenant to his people of Israel will be fulfilled, that Christ will remember the remnant. But not just the remnant of Israel but the Gentiles also. Now is the time for the gathering of Israel, a gathering that excludes no one. We will all be gathered in a final time.

Thoughts on 4 Nephi

Imagine if the Book of Mormon were organized differently. 4 Nephi consists of a single chapter, 49 verses covering three generations and two hundred years. This single chapter of 49 verses covers considerably more time than Alma, a book that takes up 1/3rd of the Book of Mormon. Imagine if Alma were one chapter of 49 verses, and 4 Nephi expanded out like Alma into 60 chapters, filled with multiple sermons and specific experiences described in as much detail. I think it’s wrong to think nothing of note happed during the time of 4 Nephi. Mormon applied editorial discretion in his summary for reasons I’m not sure are clear. Mormon knew war, named his son after Captain Moroni, a central hero of Alma.

But know, fourth Nephi is remarkable. Describing in some detail that the people achieve Zion over multiple generations, for 200 years.

“And they had all things common among them; therefore there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift.” (verse 3)

They rebuilt their civilizations. The people did “wax strong, and did multiply exceedingly fast.” (verse 10)

“And it came to pass that there was no contention in the land, because of the love of God which did dwell in the hearts of the people. And there were no envyings, nor strifes, nor tumults, nor whoredoms, nor lyings, nor murders… and surely there could not be a happier people among all the people who had been created by the hand of God.” (verse 16, 17).

But halfway through this chapter, Mormon slows down the pace considerably to dwell on the fractures that begin to take place. In verse 24, he describes the pride creeping in because of their riches and at that time, the society starts to divide into classes. Divisions crept in, multiple churches were created, some who claimed Christ but did not live up to his gospel, others denying Christ fully.

They begin to divide into historical tribes, Nephites and Lamanites, Nephites were they who believed in Christ and those who didn’t united as Lamanites. And then finally, they bring back in the “secret oaths and combinations of Gadianton” (verse 43).

Three hundred years had passed away and both the Nephites and Lamanites both become exceedingly wicked. The end of 4 Nephi brings the narrative right up to the time of Mormon, the prophet who had been narrating the story since Mosiah.

My Ballot



Another case for yes
Office Candidates My Vote Links Commentary
President Biden, Trump Duh The first debate if you can stand to watch it. Let me count the ways
US Senator Martha McSally, Mark Kelly Mark Kelly The debate Martha McSally moved away from her moderate pragmatic past and has become a full-on Trumper.
US Rep Congress District 9 Greg Stanton, Dave Giles Greg Stanton The Debate David Giles is not a serious candidate and has no chance of winning.
State Senate District 26 Jae Chin, Juan Mendez Jae Chin Jae Chin’s backstory Mendez is ambitious but has gone pretty far left to the extent I’m not sure what he’s doing in the legislature. And Jae Chin has an interesting story.
State Rep District 26 Bill Loughrige, Seth Sifuentes, Melody Hernandez, Athena Salman Seth Sifuentes, Athena Salman A brief summary of the candidates from ASU State Press Loughrige is too conservative, Hernandez too inexperienced. Sifuentes has some interesting ideas and Salman is the incumbent.
Corporation Commission Lea Marquez Peterson, Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar, Jim O’Connor, Eric Sloan, Shea Stanfield Lea Marquez Peterson, Bill Mundell, Anna Tovar AZ Central summary

The Debate
Peterson is the only incumbent and seems non-ideological Bill Mundell and Ann Tover both have relevant experience. Jim O’Connor is far too ideological conservative, Eric Sloan seems compromised, and Shea Stanfield seems a bit disconnected.
County Board of Supervisors District 1 Jack Sellers, Jevin Hodge Jevin Hodge Liberal Blog Perspective

AZ Central overview
Sellers seems like the more experienced candidate, however the board of Supervisors is weighted heavily toward Republicans. Going with the young guy for a bit of balance.
County Assessor Eddie Cook, Aaron Connor Aaron Connor AZ Central Summary Aaron Connor has more relevant experience. Eddie Cook seems more politically bent.
County Attorney Allister Adel,
Julie Gunnigle
Julie Gunnigle Debate

The Gaggle Analysis on the candidates
Both candidates seem pretty good, but we need serious reform, Gunnigle is the better pick.
Country Recorder Adrian Fontes, Stephen Richer Adrian Fontes AZ Central Summary Fontes had some early-term missteps that seem to have been (hopefully) mostly corrected. Richer is an interesting candidate, but I’m not sure his criticisms of Fontes are fair or non-partisan.
Country School Superintendent Steve Watson, Jeanne Casteen Jeane Casteen Liberal blog’s perspective Both candidates seem good, tie goes to the Democrat
Sheriff Paul Penzone, Jerry Sheridan Paul Penzone The debate Jerry Sheridan worked for Joe Arpiro, I don’t have a reason to vote against the incument.
Maricopa County Treasurer John Allen, Daniel Toporek John Allen AZ Central overview

AZ Central Overview
Allen’s experience seems more relevant to the position.
Constable Kyrene Ben Halloran Ben Halloran Running unopposed
Maricopa County Special Healthcare District Mary Harden, John Farnsworth Mary Harden AZ Central Overview Harden is a registered nurse, Farnsworth isn’t (she’s also the incumbent).

Blog On the race
Proposition 449 Yes The case for yes Its a continuation of a tax that pays for public health.
Maricopa County Community College District At-Large Shelli Richardson Boggs, Linda M. Thor Linda Thor AZ Central overview An entire career working with junior colleges, seeking her second term.
Maricopa County Community College District 1 Jacqeline Smith, Laurin Hendrix Jacqeline Smith Same link as above Hendrix is a politician, Smith works in education at ASU
Tempe Union No. 213 Lori Bastian, Don Fletcher, Berdetta Hodge, Sarah Lindsay James, Sandy Lowe, Armando Montero, Michael Myrick, Paige Reesor Sarah Lindsay James, Paige Reesor, Sandy Lowe Ahwatukee Overview My wife tells me Sarah Lindsay Page is fantastic, Paige Reesor is the only other teacher in the running and Sandy Lowe is the incumbent. I’m intrigued by Armando Montero, but the other’s bio’s fall short for me.
Tempe Elem No 3 Monica Trejo, Allison Ewers Running Unopposed
City of Tempe Question 1 2, 3, 4 Yes on all of them. Information on the City of Tempe’s website I’m an automatic yes for bonds to fund infrastructure.
Judges Judicial Review

AZ Republic Opinion
Legalization of recreational marijuana: Proposition 207 N/A No The Reason website takes a stab on recreational marijuana I’m sympathetic to it, but the negatives outweigh the positives in my opinion.
Proposition 208 N/A Yes The Case for No

Laurie Roberts case for yes

Robert Robb’s case for no

Debate

3 Nephi 12-16 – The Sermon on the Mount in America

Introduction

These chapters cover Christ’s teaching immediately after his arrival to America after his resurrection. In chapter 11, he allows each of those who happened to be at the Bountiful temple to touch his wounds, he calls twelve among them to lead, and then he provides a brief introduction for what is about to come next. I consider this text the absolute core of Christianity, from which the Book of Mormon provides a direct second witness as the Christ’s sermon on the mount gets repeated a second time.

3 Nephi 12

Jesus works through people, so we need to “give heed” to them to indicate a recognition that Christ speaks to us through human conduits. First to those with authority, the twelve that were called, 3 Nephi 12:1, but also to anyone else who happen to be Christ’s witnesses, both directly and indirectly, 3 Nephi 12:2. The sign that indicates this belief is a willingness to “come down into the depths of humility” and be baptized from which comes the Holy Ghost and “a remission of sins”.

Christ then jumps into the beatitudes, from which Christ connects specific blessings to spiritual gifts of the heart in ways that seem somewhat disconnected. The poor in spirit receive the kingdom of heaven. Those that mourn receive comfort as a blessing. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are filled with God’s Spirit. The merciful receive mercy. The peacemakers are called the children of God. These are the same behaviors Christ showed and it’s through these attributes we draw strength.

It’s clear that Christ works through those who have these attributes to bless the whole earth. At least it becomes clear in verse 13-16 comparing Christ’s followers to the salt of the earth giving the world its flavor, or commanding Christians to be lights to the world.

Jesus concludes this chapter by talking in specifics how Christ has come to fulfill the law of Moses. What’s required now is a “broken heart and a contrite spirit” and a directive to “come unto Christ”. What does that mean specifically? It means, not only don’t you take another person’s life, you avoid anger, nor can we come to Christ until we’ve reconciled our broken relationships (12:23, 24). More than that, reconcile disagreements quickly.

Not only shouldn’t we cheat on our spouse, we should avoid lustful desires from entering our hearts at all. We should cherish our marriage relationships and work desperately to make them solid. Our communications should be filled with goodness and integrity. Others should trust us. We should follow through.

The climax of the chapter sums it all up, that we should love our enemies, “bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you” (3 Nephi 12:43).

3 Nephi 13

Jesus continues the sermon in this chapter imploring the people to give to others with sincere, authentic attempt without ulterior or selfish motives. He describes the manner of prayer, to do it in secret, without vain repetitions, with reverence, a willingness to yield to God’s will, a desire to forgive and repent, a plea for strength against temptation, and a recognition of our desire to seek God’s kingdom (3 Nephi 13:1-13). Jesus describes the proper way to fast, implores the people to seek for heavenly and not earthly riches, and to keep our eye single so that our whole body can be full of light.

The final passage of this chapter makes an interesting distinction. Those who are called should be fully focused on the ministry without concern for food, clothing and shelter. This is a directive to the twelve which I think means that most of us should be concerned with these because I think working hard is also a spiritual practice in itself.

3 Nephi 14

This sermon is rapid fire. First he implores the people not to judge unrighteously. He tells the people to hold precious that which is precious, “do not give pearls to swine” but then gives hope. It’s ok to ask questions, to seek, to knock and that as we spend our lives doing so, answers will come. Christ talks about the strait gate and the narrow way that we all must walk through to find Christ. He warns of false prophets and how to detect them.

3 Nephi 15, 16

These last two chapters mark an interesting shift. Here Jesus digs in about his global concerns, that he is concerned with all people, “that other sheep I have which are not of this fold, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (3 Nephi 15:17). And that “it is because of their iniquity that they know not of you” or “that they now not of them” (3 Nephi 15: 19, 20). These passages seem to indicate that we should really know about other nations and cultures and what they can teach us as well as what we might teach them, such that we can ultimately become one fold and one shepherd.

Chapter 16 concludes with a summary of earth’s history and destination, that it would be one of scattering of God’s people throughout the earth because of unbelief and God’s effort to gather them again which is the core point of the restoration, that “God will remember my covenant unto you, O house of Israel, and ye shall come unto the knowledge of the fulness of my gospel”. (3 Nephi 16:11). He concludes by quoting Isaiah’s prohecy of zion, “when the Lord shall bring again Zion”… “and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of God.” 3 Nephi 16:18-20.