The Presidents of the Church: Insight Into Their Lives and Teachings

presidents of the church

Okay.

I picked up this book because I’m Mormon, and I want to know more about Mormon history, and most especially the prophets/presidents. They tend to be pretty influential, right? Right. So this is a good start.

Here’s the problem. Truman G. Madsen is a very well-known, celebrated Mormon scholar and author. He’s one of those “big fish in a small pond,” and everybody loves him, and apparently, everybody wants to publish his books. Regardless of whether they’re a good idea.

I can’t judge his other works based on this, because this is a “highlights reel” of the lives of the church presidents. Heaven knows, he could have written much more about all of these men (and probably did, in other books.) But here’s where things go wrong. Madsen is like, “Okay, I have about 20 pages to spend on each person’s bio. I need to cut out everything you already know.”

And Truman G. Madsen assumes you already know all the stuff he already knows. So he keeps saying things like, “We all know the story about the cow in the woodshed… but have you heard the story of…” Yeah, I’ve never heard of that cow or that woodshed, buddy. Also adding to this problem: since Madsen assumes you already know all the basics, he goes out of his way to find the most obscure or personal stories out there, adding his own commentary like “There were no bathtubs in this camp.” What?

This book has gotten very positive reviews. I’m assuming that’s either because everyone else who gets through it already knows the basics (I’m not exactly Madsen’s target audience here), or because they really like the sticky-sweet these-men-can-do-no-wrong bias. I believe these men are inspired. I’m not looking to tear them down. But please don’t tell me the worst thing they ever did in their lives was raise their voice to their mother, once, never to do so again because they were so crushed by the look on her angel face. Gag. I can’t handle it. These are human beings. I want to relate to them at least a tiny bit.

I can’t recommend this book to anyone, because I can’t for the life of me figure out who Madsen’s target audience was. To be honest, I feel like the publishing company just told him they wanted something lighter than his usual stuff, so they could sell more copies. If you pick up Truman Madsen, pick up something heavy, where he’s allowed to go into detail. Maybe if he had more than 20 pages, he could write a really good biography. ♦

What Does Google Have Against Mormons?

The word “funny” can have two meanings in American English. There’s “funny: humorous,” that you might use to describe your favorite uncle, your neurotic cat, or a Groucho Marx movie. And then there’s “funny: odd or out of place,” that you might use to describe the suspiciously rank smell that’s developing in your unwashed kitchen sink. Google has done something that matches that second definition of “funny.”

So, here’s a funny thing: when you look up “Mormonism” on Google, you get a definition – much like you usually do when you look something up. Here’s a screenshot:

mormonism

Here’s the problem: I’m Mormon. And this is false. Like, blatantly false. Last time I checked, I’m pretty Christian. And let me check – nope. No change. Still Christian. But before I blame Google for this, let’s take a reality check here. Google does not personally rule the internet (yet). Google didn’t write this. Raptureready.com wrote this. (And they have some doozy opinions on Mormonism.) And, you know, if they’ve got a good enough SEO crew to get to the top of the Google results, good on them.

So I got curious. Who else has made their way to the top of the charts? I did a quick Google search for “what is Catholicism?”

Dictionary definition.

“What is Christianity?”

Dictionary definition.

Hinduism? dictionary.
Judaism? dictionary.
Protestantism? dictionary.
Paganism? dictionary.
Baptist? Wikipedia.
Agnostic? dictionary.
Atheism? dictionary.
Democrat? dictionary.
Jehovah’s Witness? dictionary.
Christian Science? dictionary.

Apparently, there’s enough bad publicity to change the dictionary definition of Mormons… but no one website says enough about Christianity, Jehovah’s Witnesses, or Democrats to oust Google’s default definition. Isn’t that funny? ♦

Daughters in my Kingdom

daughters in my kingdom

I don’t really know how to categorize this book. It’s decidedly not a novel of any sort. The book is distributed (for free!) to members of the Relief Society, the women’s service organization in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the subheading is “The History and Work of Relief Society.” But, speaking as a history major, this is not what I would call a history. Maybe a mini-history, or a historical overview. But it’s not all history; it’s also a “what we learn from history” text, as well as a “how to be an awesome participant in Relief Society” manual. It’s kind of like trying to describe the Boy Scout manual in a literary sense.

At any rate, despite my complete inability to categorize this book (manual?), it’s one of my favorite sources for “today’s spiritual insight.” It’s completely dedicated to uplifting stories and suggestions, and almost exclusively about Mormon women. As a Mormon woman, I find it quite fitting, helpful, and inspiring.

I would encourage Mormon women to read this book, especially if they have questions regarding the role of women in the gospel. I’m not promising it will answer your specific questions – it probably won’t – but it’s provided me with a really good insight as to the real doctrine behind women’s roles in the Church. It’s helped me figure out some differences between Mormon doctrine and Mormon culture, which has helped me figure out how to live the doctrine even when my personality sometimes clashes with “expectations.” (You know “that mom” – the one who always has home-made bread out of the oven by the time the kids are awake? Yeah, not happening, people.)

I would encourage Mormon men to read this book, so they can better understand the women they know. Also, so they can better understand how the men’s Priesthood organizations are supposed to work in harmony with the Relief Society. The better we all work together, the better everything works, yes?

I would encourage men and women outside the LDS Church to read this book, simply because it gives a snapshot of what Mormon women really believe and strive for. I have a friend who was told – by a Mormon man – that Mormon women are basically expected to sit down, shut up, and do what a man tells them. Clearly, some of our Church members are misinformed, and I pointed her to this book as a means of finding out – for reals this time – the kind of standard Mormon women are really trying for. And I hope the man in question also reads this book at some point, as he might find it enlightening.

At any rate, while not exactly a “beach read,” this is a very easy read (it’s a history specifically designed for people who may not like to read history), it’s inspiring, it forwards the cause and points out the incredible power of women, and all-around, it makes me pretty proud of being one. And, overall, it shows that the purpose of all programs in the Church – men’s and women’s – is to point people toward Christ. ♦

For free, online! Click here.

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. ♦

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. ♥

 

The Bigotry Epidemic?

A while ago, my husband wrote an open letter to anyone who had left the Mormon church, asking that they rethink their decision and come back. He didn’t write a full-on sermon, just a general “We need you – please come back” statement. Within hours, he had a slough of angry comments about how naive he was, how offensive his letter was, and generally denouncing him as a bigot.

There were some comments that made a good point. One reader, an ex-Mormon, pointed out that Ethan was getting negative feedback because he only addressed a few reasons people had left the church, and many felt he was over-simplifying their difficult decision. You know what? I’ll take that. That was a respectful comment, and a valid point. What bothered me was the tidal wave of hatred from less respectful readers who seemed determined to make sure the world knew that there was no God, but if there was, He would have sent my husband through Hell seven times already by now.

We did a little investigating, and discovered the high hater traffic was due to a link someone posted on an anti-Mormon site. Apparently, someone was so offended by my husband’s post that, instead of ignoring it, they wanted to make sure the entire world knew about it. The funniest part for us was reading the comments on the anti-Mormon site. These comments can be summed up as:

“Wow. Is this guy really this dumb?”

“Yup. I actually know him personally, and he gives free time to the church, volunteers to help those around him, and does good things without expecting a return. It’s going to ruin his life eventually, and he’ll never be able to hold down a relationship.”

No lie. This was the argument. We thought this was hilarious, especially since we were recently married and obviously very happy with our relationship. I fell in love with Ethan primarily because of the selfless way he treats others. I’m sick in bed as I write this, and he’s been taking care of me all night. I don’t see how that’s going to make me want to leave.

But I digress. The real point of my post is not to complain about the negative response of the masses to my husband’s blog post. My concern goes a little deeper than that.

Why are there anti-Mormon sites?

Because there are anti-Mormons, yes, I know. We all have freedom of speech, and it’s not my business whether you want to believe in the LDS faith or not. But I want you to think about this. If I established an anti-gay site, I would be a bigot. If I established an anti-Hispanic site or an anti-Black site, or an anti-abortion site, or an anti-feminist site, I would be a bigot. By definition, I would. a bigot is “a person who hates or refuses to accept the members of a particular group (such as a racial or religious group).”

So tell me something. Why is it that if I established or frequented an anti-gay site, I would be (rightfully) called a bigot, while if I frequented an anti-Mormon site, I would be considered an informed individual who asks a lot of questions before becoming involved in something? Why is it socially acceptable for people to blame White Christians for society’s problems, but if I have the audacity to suggest that a Black student should study harder for a grade, I’m discriminating against him or her?

Now, let me clarify: I’m not saying that feminists, Blacks, Latinos, gays, or any group of people is trying to spread hatred. Everyone I know personally – with one exception, who thinks our relationship is doomed because my husband is selfless – would shy away from stupid, demeaning commentary. If they felt I was being a bigot, they would approach the topic respectfully, point out my lack of perspective, and possibly even discuss it with me personally over lunch. Which is why I don’t understand the hatred online. I firmly believe that any two people can treat one another respectfully, if they both set out to see the other person’s perspective.

If the internet is to be believed, we have an unmatched bigotry epidemic on our hands. I simply don’t believe that. I think we have an over-sensitivity epidemic on our hands. I believe there is considerably less discrimination now in the U.S. than ever before – we’re not perfect, but you know, we’re trying.  And there is a difference between disagreement and discrimination. While there is still real bigotry alive and well in the States, I think most of the discrimination incidents we hear about are simply disagreements blown out of proportion. I feel like our real problems will be ironed out a lot more quickly and effectively if we can all stop looking to take offense and start looking to share our opinions without attacking our “opponent”: the stranger who had the audacity to disagree with us on social media. ♦