September 13th, 2015

What is Your Agency?

A tragically large number of God’s children decided to reject His plan and follow Lucifer. This “war in heaven,” which continues today, was triggered by a cunning, counterfeit proposal that seduced many.

We know that Lucifer’s supposed plan would have, if implemented, destroyed the agency of man. This scriptural signal conveys to us the importance of agency, for if the enemy of all righteousness attempted to undermine it, we should therefore value it. But in my experience, it seems that while many Saints understand its importance, few understand its purpose.

We often talk about the things necessary for agency to exist—commandments, choice, consequence, etc.—but the analysis often ends there. This would be like talking about what the process of birth entails without addressing the miracle of procreation or the purpose of life. Things are defined not by their circumstances, but by their characteristics. Even then, descriptions often fail to convey intent. Agency is more than its environmental elements, and even more than the inadequate synonyms often used to define it, such as “choice” or “free will.” 

We’re taught that agency is “The ability and privilege God gives people to choose and to act for themselves.” I’d like to show why I think this misses the picture.

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September 6th, 2015

Dehumanization Through Objectification

Perhaps society’s greatest failure is in denying the humanity of the individual. Throughout history, entire races, genders, cultures, religious groups, professions, and other classes and combinations have been collectively consolidated into generalized groups and pejoratively painted with broad brushes.

Rather than seeing another individual as a person like them—another child of God with talents, trials, qualities, and curiosities—far too many people dehumanize others, objectifying them for their pleasure or scorn. It therefore becomes easy to take advantage of another, after first deeming them of subhuman value—for if the person had human value, we might treat them as we ourselves would prefer to be treated by them.

The most striking example is pornography, where a person is reduced to mere body parts—a factory of flesh to be served up for those who wish to satiate their sexual gratification. Now that I’m a father, I find myself pondering what kind of life must lead a person to be photographed or filmed for the express purpose of another’s sexual self-indulgence—a dark and hidden act that takes into account nothing more than the size, shape, or sensuality of the model’s body. What kind of family did this person grow up in? How warped must his or her emotional development be to take pride in such work, and to be known for nothing more than how stimulating he or she is to others? If this person’s parents are unaware or supportive of such a line of work, then thought should still be given to what his or her heavenly parents would think of such behavior.

The degree to which this objectification has skewed the actions of so many can be demonstrated, I think, with a simple question: What father with a predilection towards pornography would want his daughter to be somebody else’s fleeting fetish?

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August 9th, 2015

How Going to Church Helps Us to Keep the Sabbath Day Holy

I gave the following talk in my ward today.

Occasionally I try and ponder the words and phrases we commonly use to emphasize their meaning and rescue them from their casual familiarity. For example, I was recently teaching my children about the microwave in our kitchen. I paused a moment when I realized that to some extent, the word explained itself: the devices use electromagnetic waves with short (“micro”) wavelengths to heat our food. This became a teaching opportunity.

A similar experience occurred on my mission, when we were introduced to a deaf, 10-year-old Cuban girl living a small Honduran pueblo, where I was serving. She was interested in learning, but we didn’t know sign language. My companion and I procured a book to learn Spanish sign language, and I spent the next week poring over its contents. At our next appointment this young girl was amazed by my ability to communicate; I had very quickly learned what otherwise would have taken months—something I attribute to whatever the equivalent of “gift of tongues” for hands would be.

As my companion and I began to teach her, we brought up the subject of baptism. She explained, in sign language, that she had already been baptized as a child. But something odd stood out to me, a sign language newbie. There was a sign for baptism, and then there was a separate sign for sprinkling water on an infant’s head—the Catholic method of baptizing a new baby. I asked this young girl to do the sign for baptism again, and she complied by holding her fists out with thumbs extended upward, turning them both 90 degrees at the same time, and then returning them to the upright position. The sign for baptism itself implied immersion. This became a teaching opportunity.

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August 2nd, 2015

The LDS Church Should Abandon the Boy Scouts—But for the Right Reasons

At the Boy Scouts of America’s annual meeting in 2014, the organization’s president, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, stated that he strongly believed that to allow homosexual leaders to participate in the program “would irreparably fracture or perhaps even provoke a formal, permanent split in this movement,” and declared that he would “oppose any effort” during his presidency to consider the issue. A year later, however, he reversed course, pushed for the policy change, and now the fracturing he previously feared may be coming true.

Following the BSA’s announcement that it would no longer prohibit openly gay adult leaders, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints made an announcement of its own. As the largest sponsoring organization of the Scouting program, constituting 17% of membership nationwide for the BSA, the LDS Church stated that “the admission of openly gay leaders is inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church” and as a result, “the century-long association with Scouting will need to be examined.” Many believe the writing is on the wall, and the relationship will soon end.

Let’s ignore, for now, the confusing part of this announcement—the declaration that an openly homosexual leader in the BSA is “inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church.” (Did I miss an announcement in general conference?) As an Eagle Scout myself, and as the son of a dedicated, decade-long Scoutmaster who ran a functioning program providing memorable experiences for dozens of young men, I have spent the last few years pondering whether I want my son to participate at all. The Church’s potential separation—one which I previously believed would never occur under the presidency of Thomas S. Monson, an über Scouter who has an award in his name—may make my decision easier.

I’ll say it outright: I believe that the Church should separate from the BSA, but for the right reasons.

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July 26th, 2015

Dear Kate Kelly: “Sparking Joy” is Not a Litmus Test for the Gospel of Christ

Kate Kelly was excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints one year ago. In the months prior to this culminating severance, as her Ordain Women group increasingly agitated for a doctrinal shift in the Church, I observed and opined that she had reduced the restored gospel of Jesus Christ to a male-dominated social club in need of her feminizing reforms.

In one interview after another, I looked for—and failed to find—an expression of testimony. I awaited an affirmation of her faith. Instead, she would say things like “I love this church,” “I love the gospel and the courage of its people,” and that her mission through Ordain Women was to “stand up for [her]self and for people that [she] loved.” Indeed, in her written defense hoping to deter her bishop from choosing excommunication, there was not one whit of testimony—no attempt to make clear that her spiritual house was still built upon Christ’s rock. Instead, she blandly informed the bishop that she had loved her “association with the Church” and “the feeling” she got attending meetings, as if she was casually expressing affection for her local Rotary Club.

One year later, Kelly is encouraging her formerly fellow congregants to abandon our affiliation with the Church if our “participation in Mormonism [does not] spark joy.” Even now, the phrases she chooses are indicative of her indifference to the principles of the gospel—rather than referring to membership in the Church, or God’s kingdom, or belief in and commitment to the gospel, she presents a sterilized picture of “participation in Mormonism,” as if it’s a mere parade or fad or social campaign.

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June 26th, 2015

Lazy Conservatives and a Losing Cause: Marriage, Morality, and a Missed Opportunity

This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a legal opinion on a 5-4 vote, holding that every state in the country must recognize, and perform, marriages for same-sex couples. Predictably, conservatives are outraged.

Contrary to what they believe, they bear some of the blame for today’s ruling.

I’ve grown quite fond of the adage, “Never give your friend a power that you wouldn’t want your enemy to have.” In political parlance, this means you shouldn’t empower the state to do something you like when your party or perspective is dominant, because that power can be wrested from and used against you. And that’s what has happened here.

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June 22nd, 2015

Religion and the State: Can Latter-day Man Serve Two Masters?

The Jews decided to kill Jesus Christ. It was thought by many Sadducees—the aristocratic class controlling the Sanhedrin, Israel’s highest political body—that this act would squash the uprising and neutralize the threat to their power. They thought wrong.

You see, Peter had found his voice; having denied the living Christ, he finally mustered the courage to boldly proclaim Christ crucified. The message was carried on, much to the dismay of the ruling elite in Jerusalem.

“What shall we do to these men?” they asked themselves, scheming how to react anew to this persistent perturbance. “Let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” And that’s what they did.

But Peter and his apostolic associates continued in their work, having been commissioned of Jesus Christ to carry his gospel to the four corners of the Earth. The teaching continued, as did the miracles. And in response, the high priest and his fellow Sadducees on the council “were filled with indignation,” fueling their animosity enough to actually seize and incarcerate the religious renegades.

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May 10th, 2015

Mormons and Medical Marijuana

As Libertas Institute has become a leading force in the effort to legalize medical marijuana in Utah—the backyard of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—I’ve been paying attention more closely to the experiences and thoughts of Mormons around the country who use, or desire to use, cannabis as a medical treatment option.

Nearly half of the 50 states have now legalized cannabis for medicinal and/or recreational uses, thereby defying federal law criminalizing possession and use of the plant. This patchwork of policies has produced a similarly heterogenous set of experiences by church members.

The fundamental question to be addressed by followers of Christ who seek to keep His commandments is whether the use of this plant for medicinal purposes is an acceptable action. One litmus test used to help determine the answer to that question is the Word of Wisdom, commonly known as the health standard to which Mormons adhere.

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March 23rd, 2015

Mormons Making Friends with the Nazi Mammon of Unrighteousness

In June 1933, just a few months after Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, a convention of some seven thousand Jehovah’s Witnesses convened in Berlin. They unanimously adopted “A Declaration of Facts,” a document in which they established their opposition to the rising Nazi regime. Copies were sent to every government official they could identify; more than 2.5 million copies were disseminated.

The response was predictable—the German government criminalized their religious services and missionary work. Roughly half of their twenty thousand German members served terms in prison or a concentration camp. Several thousand died during incarceration due to hunger, exposure, or abuse. Over two hundred were tried in a Nazi court and executed.

As documented in Moroni and the Swastika, written by David Conley Nelson, this scenario stands at odds with how members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints acted towards and were treated by the same government. The book exhaustively documents the alarming degree to which church officials bent over backwards to appease, accommodate, and even proactively ingratiate themselves with Nazi leadership.

What becomes clear from the revealed history of interactions between Church officials and Nazi party leaders is the earnestness of the desire on the part of Mormon leaders to make friends with German rulers to ensure the safety of Church members and the ability of the Church’s missionary work to continue. The price was deemed worth it by leaders who—some reluctantly, and many cheerfully—modified church curriculum to remove any reference to Jews or Israel, including Sunday School lessons, hymns, and other material; included Nazi insignia, such as flags, and Hitler’s portrait, in Church meetings; played Hitler’s speeches during or after Church meetings, compelling congregants to listen; enthusiastically and reflexively repeating the “Heil Hitler” salute; expelling Jews from church services; excommunicating a rebel, Helmuth Hübener; denying legal assistance to Mormon Jews wishing to emigrate to America to escape the Hitler regime prior to the war; publishing op-eds and other material affirming that Nazis and Mormons shared several overlapping interests, and emphasizing that one could be a good Mormon and a good citizen of the Nazi state; and on and on.

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February 8th, 2015

A Widespread Misunderstanding About Satan’s War on Agency

Having been raised in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was taught the key doctrines of the faith—along with various teachings that were not necessarily true, though I accepted them as such in my youth. This was the case with one of the most central issues in our theology—the catalyst for choosing Christ over Satan. I’m referring to the “war on agency” waged by Lucifer, God’s fallen son.

It wasn’t until I read a book called Satan’s War on Free Agency several years ago that I realized I had not correctly understood this foundational event. Taking certain statements by church leaders at face value, I had believed that Satan wanted to force us to be good, and that Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ wanted to allow us our agency to choose to be good.

Reading the book, however, I realized that since the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ there have been contradictory statements made by church leaders suggesting, perhaps, some confusion on this topic—certainly there was not consensus. For example, then-Elder Ezra Taft Benson taught, “The central issue in that premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed Him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force” (emphasis added).

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December 21st, 2014

Why Latter-day Saints are Condemned

King Mosiah had many duties, one of them being the charge over the protection of, and addition to, the plates of Nephi—the official record of the Nephite people to be used “for the instruction of [the] people” and their “profit.” Eager to help future generations know of their prophecies and experiences, the plates were added to periodically for posterity’s edification.

Having been raised in an environment rich with teachings and the documentation thereof, it should strike nobody as a surprise that Mosiah was well prepared to act upon other records he received. After all, if the entire intent of prophetic scripture-making was to benefit others, then of course he and his people would want to benefit from the record of God’s dealings with others.

When Mosiah’s sons began their missionary work among the people of Limhi, they were presented with a mysterious discovery—24 gold plates discovered in the ruins of a fallen and forgotten civilization, written in an unknown language. Limhi was hoping to find a way to translate the record “to know the cause of their destruction.”

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December 16th, 2014

Torture is okay, because hey, we’re awesome!

After four years and forty million dollars, a Senate committee released a report last week summarizing its findings and views of the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture against alleged terrorists held captive by the agency in hopes of extracting useful information.

The report contains a number of startling (but perhaps unsurprising) revelations, such as sleep deprivation, forced rectal hydration, threats made against detainees’ family members, extensive waterboarding, knowingly innocent people still being held and tortured, and a concerted effort by the CIA to evade transparency and accountability.

The reactions to this report have been voluminous and varied in their degree of dismissal or objection. One commentary on the issue, however, encapsulates a response that I believe to be held widely by Americans. It was passionately offered up by Andrea Tantaros of Fox News who justified torture because it was “what the American public wanted” the Bush administration to do in order “to keep us safe.” Dismissing the report as being solely “about politics,” she launched into a jingoistic spectacle of American cheerleading.

“The United States of America is awesome, we are awesome,” she said, then arguing that “the reason [Democrats] want to have this discussion is not to show how awesome we are.”

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