You’ve Seen the Play, Now Read the… Lawsuit?

Thomas S Monson

Tom Phillips, an ex-Mormon from Britain who became disillusioned with the church a decade ago, is now filing a lawsuit against Church President Thomas S. Monson for fraud, claiming that Mormon church leaders have been deliberately teaching false doctrine in order to swindle people out of their money. Here’s the story on USA Today:

Mormon president ordered to appear in British court

I’m not here to  convince anybody to go out and become a Mormon today, but as an active member (who still voluntarily gives 10% of my income as tithes), and having served as a missionary and in local church leadership positions, I’d like to make a few observations:

  • Any contribution given to the Church is voluntary. Phillips stated that paying tithing is “mandatory” in order to remain in good standing – which is true. But let’s talk about that phrase, “good standing.” Falling out of “good standing” does not mean your local bishop is going to take you out back of the shed and box your ears. Being in “good standing” means you are considered worthy to serve in church positions of high responsibility, it means you can be trusted to help serve other members of your congregation, and it is one of the qualifiers for entrance to the temple.Nearly every church position is voluntary. This means that Phillips, who was formerly a bishop, a stake president, and an area executive secretary, was not paid for his service in these positions.The temple is the highest form of worship in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Temples are different from regular churches, which have “Visitors Welcome” printed on the front of the building, and probably won’t turn away anybody unless they walk into the foyer in a Speedo, holding a blow-torch and screaming obscenities at small children.

    Refusal to pay tithes will not result in a church member’s expulsion from either the church building or from membership. In fact, being baptized and entered into church membership only requires a pledge to pay tithing in the future, not an actual history of financial contribution.

    In other words, by ceasing to pay tithes and losing his “good standing” in the church, Phillips lost his unpaid responsibilities in community service, and the opportunity the worship in one specific location, reserved for those living a high spiritual lifestyle.

  • The law cannot prosecute you for believing something you can’t prove – which means that in order to prove the Mormon church was defrauding its members, Phillips would have to prove that church leaders were deliberately distorting the truth in order to secure money. He would have to prove that the church leaders themselves did not believe the message for which they’ve been teaching, living, and working tirelessly for most of their lives.
  • Let’s talk a little bit about church in general. The Mormon church asks tithes of its members. As far as I’m aware, so does the Anglican church. And the Catholic church. Most Protestant churches. Islam. Judaism. Church of Scientology. So why is Phillips so hung up about this church specifically? Let’s be fair here, and sue every religion equally.While we’re at it, let’s take a look at how Mormon tithes are used. Most church positions aren’t paid, so where does all the money go to? Building churches. Building temples.  Funding youth programs, addiction recovery programs, employment programs, education funds, and other charitable causes. Other contributions are often used to help provide food for needy families, and to finance humanitarian efforts. I lived in New Jersey as a missionary when Hurricane Irene hit my neighborhood. Within days, there were truckloads of cleaning supplies and thousands of unpaid volunteers helping people gut their rotten basements and assess the damage for their insurance companies. All paid for by the church.
  • So it looks like Phillips’s main issue here is that he’s concerned about people being convinced to spend their money somewhere they ultimately don’t want to spend it.Now let’s talk about the Superbowl. It costs $4 million to advertise during the Superbowl. And why are companies willing to spend that much? Because they’ll make well more than $4 million dollars from that advertisement. And what kind of things are usually advertised during the Superbowl? Community service? Humanitarian aid? Oh, stop. You’re making me laugh. Everybody knows the Superbowl is about beer, Coca-Cola, beer, Dorito’s, beer, scantily clad cheerleaders, beer, heart-clogging fast food, lager, and more beer.So if Phillips is really concerned about people being convinced to spend their money foolishly, why is he attacking a charitable association instead of an unhealthy tidal wave of adverts sacrificing hapless victims to the rising obesity epidemic?

But I digress. This post isn’t about the Superbowl, or about fast food. It’s about faith. Either Phillips is suing a charitable organization for accepting his donation, or else he feels the Mormon church has lied about doctrine in order to extort him out of his money on the premise of providing salvation.

Which leads me to faith. Faith is the assumption that God knows more about the universe than you do. Which means that a belief based on faith is one that you can neither prove nor disprove on scientific ground: God is better at science than we are. So, as an American, I’m not sure what the British court system is like – but I wouldn’t be surprised if this case is thrown out entirely. Unless there are documents that prove the leaders of the church deliberately misled church members, Phillips won’t have a leg to stand on. Worst case scenario: the church is required to provide documentation of all its humanitarian spending, the news gets a good story, and the public learns a little more about what Mormons believe. I’m alright with that. ♦

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An Example of Faith

Happy New Year! I’ve been reading the Book of Mormon this morning (and by morning, I mean noon. Please. It’s a holiday, people.) Anyways, now that I’ve got you here, I’d like to talk a little bit about Enos.

Enos only wrote one chapter in the BOM, so we’ve only got about 27 verses on his life story. And he really only tells one story – the whole chapter could be summed up by saying, “Here’s a really great experience I had with prayer this one time.” (Remind me to write in my journal more often. I want more than 27 verses for my posterity.) But I digress. What impresses me is that, with only 27 verses of content, he spends a whole lot of them talking about his personal  relationship with God, and unquestioningly believes what God tells him.

At the start of the chapter, Enos introduces the chapter as a story about the “wrestle which I had before God, before  I received a remission of my sins.” He talks about the words of his father – who was a prophet – and how he (Enos) just started thinking about God one day while he was out hunting. He starts praying for his soul, implying that he’s probably not already the most spiritual guy. This is before he received a remission (or cancellation) of his sins. His personal relationship with God is probably just based on whatever his father taught him.

A few verses later, he receives an answer from God: “there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” God sends him an answer, and forgives his sins. He (God) later explains that this is because of Enos’s faith in Christ, “whom [he has] never before heard nor seen.”

The part I think is most impressive is Enos’s reaction: He says that he “knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.” God gave him an answer, so he believes it. That’s that. He asks “how is it done?” because he’s in awe that God could take his guilt away like that, but he doesn’t just stand there and argue with God, as I tend to do. He doesn’t say, “Well, isn’t there something I’m supposed to do about this? Is that really it? Are you sure?” God says he’s clean, so he’s clean. He later says that he knows God will honor His covenants, “wherefore my soul did rest.” He takes God at His word.

I need to work on this. Faith is a belief in something or someone you can’t see – but it’s also trusting that person or thing. I believe in God, but that’s not enough if I don’t believe what He tells me. I also believe Satan’s there, even though I can’t see him, but that doesn’t mean I have any faith in him. The point of Christianity isn’t to believe in Jesus Christ, but to believe Jesus Christ, and follow His word.

I don’t have a specific goal for this yet (suggestions welcome), but I want to set a resolution this year to hold more faith in God as a Mentor, a Guide, and a Father. My prayers tend to be either complacent (a wish list) or impatient (an argument). I want my prayers to be more of a conversation. I want the Lord to call me “friend,” and I want to trust in Him like a good friend would. ♥

 

Parenting Is Not About Parents.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

good parents

It sounds stupid, right? “Parenting is not about parents.” Why don’t you tell me that gaming is not about games, or that painting is not about paint, or that spackling is not about spackle? But seriously – parenting is not about having children, or about being perfect parents, or about getting your kids to be your friends, or really anything that centers on the parent. Parenting is about children. The whole concept of parenting is child-centered. Here’s a newborn baby. He can’t really eat, walk, protect itself, or put on his own pants without help. He’s a vomiting lump of vulnerable, powder-scented meat. If parents were focused on themselves, they probably wouldn’t be parents.

I was cruising around online today (looking for hilarious cat pictures, of course), when I stumbled upon one of the most absurd advice columns I’ve ever encountered. It’s a parent complaining about their son, who is homosexual. Now, just for all you haters out there, I’ll add this disclosure: I’m not here to say whether this kid is right or wrong for his life decisions. Frankly, from this letter, I don’t know a thing about the kid. What worries me most is the parent’s attitude toward his or her child. Check it out:

Amy Advice column

I’ll take the liberty of translating the parent’s portion of this exchange, just to clarify my point. Here’s what I get from reading this:

Dear Amy: my son just told me he’s gay.

I’m so worried this is going to humiliate me.

He probably just hates me because I ignore him.

Please make him stop. He’s getting on my nerves.

Now, let me give another disclosure here. I’m not a parent yet. So really, all the advice I have on parenting is from the child’s perspective. I recognize that parents need their own lives, and all that. I’m not advocating parental servitude here. But when a child is going through a life crisis, he needs a parent’s support – not shame. What this parent probably thought he or she wrote was something like this:

I believe homosexuality is wrong, and my son’s decision troubles me. I’m not sure how to handle this, and I want your help and advice.

But what the parent actually expressed was that their convenience, social group, church network, and work schedule are way more important than their child, and what he’s going through. If I had just admitted to my mom or dad that I was homosexual, I would be worried about the way they viewed me, the way my peers viewed me, the way my own church group viewed me, the way the neighbors viewed me – in short, it would be a major life decision, a huge challenge in accepting myself for who I was, and an incredible leap of faith to tell my parents.

If my dad promptly looked at me and said, “Are you trying to embarrass me in front of my friends?” I would be shattered.

I’m religious. I have a church group. I believe that living a homosexual lifestyle is wrong. But if any of my friends came to me and told me they were homosexual and worried about being received by others, you can bet I would be the best support network in the world! Why? Because they need it! This parent seems to have forgotten that parenthood is about serving your kids, not hoping they’ll make you look good. This kid is making a huge life decision. Even if his parents disagree with it, they can at least do him the justice of acknowledging that it’s a difficult decision to make, and try to understand his point of view. Writing to an advice column for help resolving a dispute? Acceptable. Writing to an advice column for validation when you brush off your kid (for 3 years)? Nope.

I think Amy’s response here is spot-on. Her first paragraph puts the parent in the child’s shoes, and says, “Hey. This is hard for him. Stop thinking about yourself.” Then she tells this parent to take a more active role in their child’s life. Then she suggests support groups that will help them understand one another.

good dad

Is her rebuttal a little harsh? Yes – but I think it’s necessary. If someone can write a letter that’s this self-centered and not see it, they probably need a good shaking before they’ll recognize they’re being selfish about “their” crisis, and finally see the conflict their child is going through. I sincerely hope I’m never this parent – but knowing there will be some days that I am, I also hope I will have friends and neighbors who are willing to give me a rebuke like this and help me realize I’m being ridiculous. Nobody’s perfect, and this may have just been a bad day; I hope this letter isn’t typical of the parent who wrote it, and I hope they took Amy’s advice to heart. If they did, there’s a good chance their son will realize his parents care enough to do hard things – and to help him through hard things. ◊

supportive parents

 

Extreme Mental Spring Cleaning: October Edition!

Ethan has school pretty much all day on Wednesdays, which means I have a lot of time to fill… and no husband to fill it with. Ho hum. Today after work, I rushed home to eat a sandwich (the few minutes with my husband I had), then went visiting teaching. I met this sister for the first time today, and she blew me away. I asked her what reminds her that God loves her, and she told me how God has held her up every day of her illness and recovery, how she wakes up at four in the morning to read scriptures and pray for two hours, and how that carries her through the rest of the day. “Sister,” I told her, “you’ve taught us a whole lot more than we’ve taught you.”

After visiting another sister, who taught me a heartfelt lesson about God’s love and forgiveness, I picked up some groceries and made my way home. I set out some Halloween decorations, lit some (Halloweeny) candles, got out my Book of Mormon, and read about ten verses before the phone rang. It was the Sister missionaries. They had a “chaperon” fall through, and they weren’t allowed to go teach a man without a woman present. I thought about telling them that I hadn’t been home all day. (It was seven.) And then I thought it through in my head: “Sorry, Sisters – I can’t go teach the gospel with you. I have to… study … the gospel…”

So I went. And got schooled. This gentle, humble man taught me about getting through trials, struggling with addiction, dealing with grief, and shrugging it off and laughing. And then one of the missionaries taught me about compassionately accepting others while praying for them. I nearly cried. And it was her first day as a missionary.

You know what I’ve accomplished today from my mental “to do” list? Absolutely nothing. But spiritually, I think I’ve needed this spring (?) cleaning for nearly a month. Thanks, God. I really needed it. ♥

Thoughts on Courage

I’ve been studying the scriptures this morning, aided by the Preach My Gospel manual (which is awesome, by the way). Anyways, there’s a little scripture study box on page 32 with the question, “What is the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ?” And I thought, “I know what God’s like already; I’ll skip it.” But then I didn’t. And I’m glad.

I came up with 17 adjectives – just the main ones that stuck out – that describe our Father in Heaven. I’m not going to list them all here (that can be homework, if you really want to find out) but I was struck by one I hadn’t thought of before: brave.

God is brave. Growing up, I thought of “brave” as being an absence of fear, almost a devil-may-care invincibility. Over time, I started to assume that I was a wuss, because there are a lot of things that scare me. But guess what? I just looked it up. Brave means “ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage”. Courage is defined as “the ability to do something that frightens one”. Bravery isn’t the absence of fear at all – it’s the ability to do scary things.

Now here are the scriptures that gave me that adjective.  John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” God knew His Son would be abused here. Jesus knew it, too. But both were willing to allow that pain, because it would allow us to have everlasting life – living with God again. 1 John 4:8-9 “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” God knew that Christ would go through hell down here: that was the point. If He went through Hell for us, He could show us the way out again.

Now, I don’t know how God felt about this. I have no doctrinal citation here, besides these scriptures. But this is His Son – and He loves His children – so I’m guessing that He was scared. But being brave doesn’t mean that you’re never scared; it means you do the right thing anyway. Father in Heaven was willing to let His Son endure pain, sickness, and all the problems of mortal life in order to give us someone to turn to when we realize we need help. That’s brave – and I’m glad. ♥

peaceful shore

The Devil Is A Drama Queen

bread-of-life

While I was a missionary, one of the most common questions I got from teenagers was about horror movies. The specifics varied (depending on which horror movie they had just watched,) but the conversation would usually go something like this: “So, I saw this movie, where this guy was all possessed, and then he went into the woods, and there was a burning cross, and he caught on fire, and his head came off, and his eyes went all weird, and then he ate a baby, and grew horns, and then … [insert whatever Hollywood wants to scare you with here. You get the idea.]  Could that actually happen?”

And, you know, when I really thought about it, some of it could. People do bad things. And when people invite evil spirits into their lives by the kind of lives they’re living, sometimes those spirits take the better of them. I would consider addiction to be a precursor to that kind of thing – especially if it’s an addiction to something that will really destroy your life, like pornography or meth or cocaine. And I do believe that evil spirits exist, and can do bad things if you let them. If you let them.

Because here’s the thing – and it’s what I told all those teenagers who came to me, terrified by the Halloween movie they’d watched the night before. The devil is real. Satan hates us, because he’s miserable and he’s bitter and God loves us and he hates that God loves us. But guess what – God loves us! And God is way, way more powerful than Satan will ever be. And Satan doesn’t have a body. He opted out of the whole mortal experience when he threw a tantrum and demanded God’s power. Which gives us one-up on him already: we have a body and a spirit; he only has a spirit.

Point number two: Satan knows us better than we know ourselves, because he remembers who we were before we were born – before we became mortal. That means he has an advantage, right? Wrong. Because God also remembers who we were, and He’s more than willing to help us remember and show us where we’re supposed to be going. So as long as we spend our time talking with God instead of  Satan, we’ll still have a pretty good advantage.

Point number three: Jesus Christ went through everything we will have to. That includes our sins, sicknesses, weaknesses, temptations, everything. And He paid for our sins. So if we slip up, we can repent. Team God: 3. Team Satan: 0. Also, the power of God will always be stronger than the power of Satan. That’s why Satan wanted to take God’s power. God: 4, Satan: still 0.

jesus-heals-a-possessed-man_DSC3359-1800

Which leads me to this video from the life of Jesus. (Re-enactment. They didn’t have the technology back then, in case you wondered.) But here’s why I really like this adaptation. The whole clip is only just under 2 minutes long. A man is possessed. He’s a little scary. And the devils inside him start to rant and rave and carry on, when Jesus just says, “Hold thy peace, and come out of him.” And they have to. Because Jesus has way more authority than they ever will. Essentially, Jesus tells him to stop being such a drama queen, and leave the guy alone. And you know – they do. That’s why I’ve never really been scared of those over-the-top Hollywood scenes coming to life. The few times I’ve watched a movie with something like that in it, I’ve just stood there thinking, “Why don’t they just pray for help? Why don’t they go to God?” And Hollywood makes it look like that didn’t work – but it would, in real life. No matter what happens, God will always be stronger, and He will always help.

I recognize that some things require more than a simple prayer for help. We all have chronic problems or spiritual weaknesses or even flat-out addictions that require the help of a priesthood holder or some good friends or family members or even a professional therapist or recovery group. But the point is, if we’ve got Christ on our side, we will win in the end. It may take some time, and we may go through some hell on the way, but we’ll always come out on top if we’re on the same team as Jesus. And that’s where faith takes my fear away. ♥

A Parable in Dreams

I had a dream that I walked with Jesus, as one of His disciples. He asked us a question: what would we do when He was gone? We hemmed and hawed and came up with various answers, and basically hoped that He would never leave us. How could His work continue without Him? He promptly left, and we walked on without Him for a while, wondering.

We found him a few miles down the road, healing a lame woman by the way. He picked up her crutch (which was now useless,) and started off the beaten path with her, talking with her as He walked her home. When He saw me, He smiled.

So I took the crutch from Him and walked with her while He joined the disciples. She was glad for my company, and when I ran out of conversation, I started to sing, and she was glad for the song. Long after dark, we arrived at her home as friends, both in good spirits.

“….Therefore, what manner of men ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” (3 Nephi 27:27)

“Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his lord hath made ruler over his household, to give them meat in due season?

Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing.” (Matthew 24:45-46)