Staying Spiritually Anchored in Our Time

My talk presented in Tempe Stake Conference Adult Session

Some time ago, I was in the checkout line at the Fry’s grocery store waiting behind a woman who was checking out ahead of me. All of my items were on the conveyer belt, the woman ahead of me was taken a bit of time and I simply checked out. I pulled out my phone and began to mindlessly scroll through social media feeds. I was shaken out of my mental fog when the woman waiting behind me intervened. Apparently, the woman checking out was short on money and was trying to negotiate which of her items she could do without until she was able to purchase it. She was obviously stressed. The woman behind me offered to pay the difference. I still remember the expressions of relief and gratitude wash over her face as she expressed gratitude to that kind woman. I also remember the feelings of shame I felt because I was disconnected and unaware.

I was asked to center my talk today on staying spiritually anchored in our time. An anchor is a type of connection with weight and substance, so much so that it provides a force that can keep us steady even when life gets rough. I’m going to focus on connection today.

Brene Brown in her book The Gifts of Imperfection describes connection as

the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgement; and when they derive sustenance and strength from relationship.

When we interact with others with the spirit, this type of connection can happen.

In Doctrine and Covenants 93, verses 33 through the first half of 35 reads:


For man is spirit. The elements are eternal, and spirit and element, inseparably connected, receive a fulness of joy. And when separated, man cannot receive the fullness of joy. The elements are the tabernacle of God; yeah, man is the tabernacle of God, even temple”.

D&C 93:33-35

One way to apply this verse is through the prism of connection. When our spirit is fully embodied in our lived experience, we have opportunities of connection required to experience moments of joy. In the grocery store that day I missed out on receiving a fullness of joy through connection.

D&C 88:13 it reads:

The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon the throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst all things.

D&C 88:13

The spirit of Christ, that sitteth upon the throne, that is in the bosom of eternity is also in the midst of all things. Christ cares about the details. I know sometimes we think connection happens most often when we separate ourselves from our daily routine and seek out sacred spaces, like in the temple, out in nature, or in quiet contemplation as we wait for the sacrament. Those moments are important. We should find regular moments of deep communion in sacred places. But we also have opportunities for spiritual connection in all parts of our lives.

Let us imagine for a moment now that we’re sitting in a Sunday School class and the teacher asks what we can do to have the spirit more regularly in our lives. I can imagine the answers – read our scriptures, say our prayers, attend our meetings, visit our ministering families. In short, keep the commandments. I worry though if we reduce our gospel responsibilities to a transaction we miss out on the full impact of our gospel responsibilities and potentials. We place our acts of obedience into the vending machine and out pops the spiritual blessings. I don’t want to be too dismissive about this. Covenants have a transactional nature to them, but we shouldn’t reduce our covenants to transactions.

Doctrine and Covenants 93, verse 20 provides insights:

For if you keep my commandments you shall receive of his fulness, and be glorified in me as I am in the Father; therefore, I say unto you, you shall receive grace for grace.

D&C 93:20

Clearly there’s something transactional in that verse. To receive of his fulness, we must keep the commandments, but the second half of that verse describes how that process happens – we shall receive grace for grace. Grace is definitionally non-transactional. Grace is receiving more than we deserve. It’s merciful, forgiving, generous. It’s abundance.

Yes, we need to read our scriptures, but we need to let Christ’s grace stir up moments of insight and inspiration as we read. Yes, we need to get down on our knees in regular prayer, but we also need to sit in meditative silence to allow the grace of Christ’s spirit to provide answers, guidance and direction. Yes, we need to show up for our meetings, but we need to be open to allow the words from our teachers and speakers to inspire us beyond even their intentions. Yes, we need to serve others in our ministering assignments, but we need to be open to allow these visits an opportunity develop into true and caring relationships. And yes, we need to go about our lives and fulfill our daily responsibilities. But we need to be more open, awake and attentive to opportunities to allow the spirit to inspire us into more loving connection to those we run into.

I started out with a kind of negative experience, I’m going to end with a more positive one.

Last weekend, I was flying up to Salt Lake City to help move my oldest daughter into her Snow College dorm. I found my aisle seat and a spot in the overhead bin and I was settling in. Soon, as the last passengers were boarding, I overheard a couple searching for a seat lamenting that they probably wouldn’t be able to sit together. There was an empty middle seat next to mine and in a moment of quiet, sponteneous inspiration and grace, I allowed them to take my seat as I found a middle seat further up the plane.

At the end of the trip as we were preparing to get off the plane, they reached out with a small thank you. It was a small moment of grace and connection and spirit, but one I was grateful for. May we all more consistently find these regular opportunities to be connected in the spirit as we navigate the distractions, temptations and difficulties of our modern life, in the name of Jesus Christ amen.

Mormonism is Big, Big, Big (So is Christianity, so is Religion)

If I were a member of any religious tradition, if I dug into the heart of it, I expect I would come to the same conclusion. I think the way we see religion in practice, too many of us narrow and limit it within creeds and tribes, engaged in bitter, polarized competition for converts. Christianity like other religions is missionary-oriented, which I think is good and important. Religious traditions should be in conversation with the world, offering up its best offerings and allowing those who seek for shelter in a broken world a bit of comfort and community.

Joseph Smith was born and raised in a time and place where religious revivals were in full swing. He saw what the bitter fruits that religious confrontation could bear. Struggling to know his own place in this confusing circumstance led him into have visions and revelations and eventually a new, deeply American religion. Reading the Doctrine and Covenants, which is really just a collection of mostly Joseph Smith’s revelations as the church was just getting started, bundled together in mostly chronological order. There’s very little consistency from section to section. Some are short, some are long and incredibly sprawling. There’s no attempt here at definition or boundaries, simply Joseph Smith’s interactions with the divine. To me, the primary message of Joseph Smith’s revelations is that religion is big.

With that as prequel, this week’s Come Follow Me is D&C 88. Richard Bushman in his book “Rough Stone Rolling” introduces it this way:

Like other revelations, the “Olive Leaf” moves from subject to subject. Nothing in ninetheenth-century literature resembles it. The writings of Swedenborg come closest, but they were much less concerned with millenarian events. The “Olive Leaf” runs from the cosmological to the practical, from a description of angels blowing their trumpets to instructions for starting a school. Yet the pieces blend together into a cohesive compound of cosmology and eschatology united by the attempt to link the quotidian world of the now to the world beyond. The revelation offers sketches of the order of heaven, reprises the three degrees of glory, delivers a discourse on divine law, offers a summary of the metahistory of the end times, and then brings it all to bear on what the Saints should do now.

Rough Stone Rolling, page 206.

The word that kept popping into my mind reading D&C 88 is big. The sections on light in particular. Just some examples follow:

Which truth shineth. This is the alight of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was bmade.

11 And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your aunderstandings;

12 Which alight proceedeth forth from the presence of God to bfill the immensity of space—

13 The alight which is in all things, which giveth blife to all things, which is the claw by which all things are governed, even the dpower of God who esitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

In other words, Mormonism places Christ at the center of everything and everything is within the realm of Christ.

The revelation pivots to the physical elements of the earth, binding the heaven and the earth. Expanding on the degrees of glory revelation of 76, Joseph Smith links resurrection and body to kingdoms and laws. That living the celestial law actually means filling the “measure of our creation” whatever that might mean for us as human beings and as individual people with unique talents, gifts and circumstances. It goes beyond our Sunday religious service or even our religious identity but how we orient our entire lives within this earth accepting calling with graciousness and service.

15 And the aspirit and the bbody are the csoul of man.

21 And they who are not asanctified through the blaw which I have given unto you, even the law of Christ, must inherit canother kingdom, even that of a terrestrial kingdom, or that of a telestial kingdom.

22 For he who is not able to abide the alaw of a celestial kingdom cannot babide a ccelestial glory.

36 All kingdoms have a law given;

The blessings of eternity seem to be more about what we are willing to receive than it is about what we are willing to do.

32 And they who remain shall also be aquickened; nevertheless, they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are bwilling to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.

33 For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift.

The kingdom analogies are interesting, given kingdoms, kings and monarchies have been an historically common form of government. Like most things, Christianity (and by extension Mormonism) flips these notions completely on their head – everyone becomes priests, everyone becomes kings, kingdoms are everywhere.

37 And there are many akingdoms; for there is no bspace in the which there is no ckingdom; and there is no kingdom in which there is no space, either a greater or a lesser kingdom.

47 Behold, all these are akingdoms, and any man who hath bseen any or the least of these hath cseen God dmoving in his majesty and power.

And if we are to be priests and kings, what is our responsibility in this? Scholarship. Education becomes an essential component in Joseph Smith’s theology. The church orients its members deeply into the world. Everythig is a kingdom and those who interact with all things interacts with God, “moving in his majesty and power.”

40 For aintelligence cleaveth unto intelligence; bwisdom receiveth wisdom; ctruth embraceth truth; dvirtue loveth virtue; elight cleaveth unto light; fmercy hath gcompassion on mercy and claimeth her own; hjustice continueth its course and claimeth its own; judgment goeth before the face of him who sitteth upon the throne and governeth and executeth all things.

Those who take the ideas in verse 40 seriously would engage fearlessly in study and discussion. Being informed in and with science, the arts, philosophy. Mormonism, lived well, interacts naturally with the world and folds in the insights and discoveries within its theology. It’s boundless. Whatever is true, falls within the purview of the church.

The revelation ends with a call into deep study.

77 And I give unto you a commandment that you shall ateach one another the bdoctrine of the kingdom.

78 Teach ye diligently and my agrace shall attend you, that you may be binstructed more perfectly in theory, in principle, in doctrine, in the law of the gospel, in all things that pertain unto the kingdom of God, that are expedient for you to understand;

79 Of things both in aheaven and in the earth, and under the earth; things which have been, things which are, things which must bshortly come to pass; things which are at home, things which are abroad; the wars and the perplexities of the cnations, and the judgments which are on the land; and a dknowledge also of countries and of kingdoms—

118 And as all have not afaith, seek ye diligently and bteach one another words of cwisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best dbooks words of wisdom; seek learning, even by study and also by faith.

119 aOrganize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a bhouse, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God;

In summary, Mormonism is expansive and takes in everything. Those within covenant are called into service, yes, but also into learning, study and teaching. Our homes and churches should be places of faith, wisdom and learning for the benefit of society. God is in all things, so must we.

Priesthood in Mormonism

My Very Male Youth Experience

Growing up male in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint, priesthood played a significant role in my development. In my religious tradition, boys receive the Aaronic priesthood as a Deacon at age 12 with responsibilities to pass the sacrament (communion). Every two years they progress to a different office with different responsibilities centered primarily around blessing, passing and preparing the sacrament for each Sunday worship service, though their responsibilities extend beyond that. It’s sort of a rite of passage for young men in the church that,

if all goes well, will eventually end up with them receiving the higher Melchizedek priesthood as an elder on their way to serving a two year mission for the church. At every step, the young man has an interview with the bishop (pastor) of the congregation to determine worthiness and readiness. Going through this as I did in the 1980’s when the church was operating within peak purity culture, sexual sins were emphasized with little nuance and often uncompassionate harshness. Sexual indiscretions were one step below murder in seriousness. I remember hearing stories about prominent church leaders telling their sons they’d rather see them return from a mission in a casket rather than committing sexual sin while serving.

For someone as sensitive and young as I was, growing up with parents who were terrible at talking about healthy sexuality, being immersed in a pretty sexualized environment, and having my own biological hormones to deal with, where walking past the swim suit edition of the Sports Illustrated at the grocery store was enough to stir longing curiosity and desire as well as shameful guilt. Having sexual purity play such an essential precondition for priesthood service, while also having priesthood service occupy such a public place in the church services, where a young man who bowed out of sacrament administration seemed to be making an effective confession of sexual misdeeds to the entire ward, my maturing through the priesthood ranks was fraught with shame.

In my immature, unable to contextualize brain, I assumed my indiscretions were worthy of excommunication and would bring horrible embarrassment to me and my family if discovered, so I kept them buried deep inside, never admitting to anything in my yearly worthiness interviews, feeling worse for the secrecy. I desperately wanted to go on a mission, knowing I couldn’t go without coming clean to my problems, I finally talked to bishop around my 19th birthday. Needless to say, I wasn’t excommunicated. Nothing happened at all in fact except the overwhelming love and support I felt from a kind man who assured me I was ok and could serve a mission.

I have a 16 year old son now who is going through the priesthood advancement path. The sexual purity rhetoric has been toned down significantly, although traces are still there. As parents, my wife and I try to talk openly and honestly about sex. We emphasize the importance of consent and respect and that much of the way sex is portrayed in the media is exploitative, especially toward women. I go with him to his interviews with the bishop and the questions are far less probing than the ones I experienced. I obviously don’t know what’s going on in his head but I trust that he’s not suffering from the damaging shame I suffered.

The problem, though with my experience with priesthood was that it was centered around me – my worthiness and my opportunities to administer weekly ordinances. In that sense, it was very male, very exclusive, used primarily as a tool to keep young men in line. But that is not what the priesthood is about at all. I had completely missed the mark.

Women’s Experience With Priesthood

I don’t know why women in my church cannot hold priesthood office. I suspect it has to do with tradition more than inspiration. I know other traditions have opened church leadership to women. While its true women do have leadership opportunities within Mormonism, those are primarily within women and children organizations, answering ultimately to men who preside over them. There are examples of women prophets and spiritual leaders in the Bible, though I like to think of a prophet as descriptive that circumstance moves someone into and not as an official position.

For this Sunday’s Sunday School, we’ll be covering Doctrine and Covenants 84 which does a deep dive on the priesthood. I was anxious to hear what the Faithful Feminists had to say about it. They touched on it briefly, but rather than deal with the section directly, they instead referenced this brilliant essay by Amy McPhie Allebest which flips the gender script to help men understand better what it feels like to be a woman in a deeply patriarchal society and religious community where the majority of the elite and leadership figures in society are men, from Mozart to God.

But centering the priesthood as male authority also centers it incorrectly. Here again, we’re missing the mark.

D&C 84 – The Priesthood and It’s Potential, Rarely Realized in Practice

Pushing aside the significant issue of patriarchy and how it can negatively effect, in different ways, both men and women. I think there’s a way to read D&C 84 that centers the priesthood much more universally and correctly. Let me first provide a sampling of relevant verses.

  • In verse 17: The priesthood continues in the church of God in all generations, without beginning of days or end of years.
  • In verse 19: The greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries of the kingdom.
  • In verse 20: Through the ordinances the power of godliness is manifest.
  • In verse 23: Moses, through the priesthood, “sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God” and live.
  • In verses 26-27: The lesser priesthood continued, holding the keys of the ministering of angels and the preparatory gospel of repentance and baptism and forgiveness
  • In verses 33-34: The promise that whoever is “faithful in obtaining these two priesthoods” “and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit” and “become the elect of God”.
  • In verse 38: A promise that whoever receives God in all the ways that entails, receives all that God has.

These set of verses constitute the “oath and covenant of the priesthood” (verses 39, 40).

This is universally inclusive language that includes women because the priesthood is not fundamentally about the men administering the ordinances. The real power and authority of the priesthood in all the ways that truly matter, in ways that make real differences in people’s lives, through which the power of godliness is made manifest, applies to those receiving the ordinances – the men, women and children sitting on a chair receiving the blessings of God through hands placed on their head, the men, women and children sitting in the pews remembering their baptismal covenants while partaking of the sacrament, the men, women and children participating in baptismal ordinances. That’s where the actual power and authority of the priesthood is made manifest. As those who receive those ordinances use the power of God to bless and serve others.

The priesthood isn’t centered around those administering the ordinances, its centered around all those receiving the ordinances and most importantly, through those priesthood keys, those people that magnify their callings, both given them through official channels and those they take on voluntarily as they seek to fulfill baptismal and other covenants by being anxiously engaged in a good cause.

Let me put it another way. We can think of priesthood blessings and healings only through the prism of priesthood blessings administered through male priesthood holders. I think that is limiting. How many people are ultimately healed through the love, care, service, prayers and yes blessings coming from all sources, men, women and children who administer love, care and concern for those who need it. The priesthood power works through these acts of service, more so.

Every person who makes covenants through ordinances receives the priesthood power enabling them to administer the power of God to bless the lives of others. That is essentially the power of God.

Conclusions

I hope one day our church can do a better job elevating women’s voices as well as their power and authority within the church. We need to hear their voices as keynote speakers in more of our meetings. They need to make more of our key decisions. Their ideas, opinions and perspectives need to be heard in more of our meetings. All of this is true.

But until then, we can do more right now to live up to the oath and covenant of the priesthood by emphasizing it’s universality. By realizing that the priesthood power and authority, the power of God lies within every single person who enters sacred covenant through ordinances to bear one another’s burdens, to strengthen the feeble knees and to bring to pass Zion.

The power of Godliness is not centered in the young men passing the sacrament or within the bishop presiding over meetings or within the Elder’s giving blessings, it’s centered in every single individual member of the church making the covenants, receiving the blessings and ordinances and ultimately the priesthood, it’s power and authority.

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.