Wednesday, September 23, 2015

LDS Church Members Strongly Support Church Staying With the BSA

One of the big news items this past summer in the circles I travel in was the kerfuffle between The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the Boy Scouts of America. After the BSA denied the LDS Church's request to briefly delay a vote on dropping the BSA's general ban on gay adult leaders, the Church issued a strongly worded statement suggesting that it would consider other options when top leaders reconvened following their July recess. (See my 7/27 post and my 7/30 post.)

This was a big deal because the LDS Church provides significant membership, support, and income to the BSA. It is the BSA's largest single sponsor.

Near the end of August the Church issued a statement saying that it would continue to sponsor BSA units "at this time," but that it would "continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs." (See my 8/26 post.)

In past posts I opined that the major issue between the LDS Church and the BSA was likely the nature of the relationship between the two entities rather than the resolution about gay leaders — a warning that the BSA needed to engage in some relationship improvement with the Church. A friend of mine who is a lifelong Scouter disagrees with this assessment. He doubts that the church would "be so petty" and feels that the Church's statement was sincere.

During the interim between the Church's original dour statement and its later statement that the Church would continue its relationship with the BSA, I noted that "a poll found that a strong majority (63%) of "very active" LDS Church members felt that the church should probably (25%) or definitely (29%) leave the BSA (See Utah Policy Daily article)." UPD writes (in this 9/22 article), "Apparently, church leaders didn’t follow the wishes of most of their active Utah members in deciding to stay in the Boy Scouts, at least for now."

UPD has released the results of a new poll that was taken a few weeks after the LDS Church decided to stick with the BSA. The poll "finds that “very active” Mormons say – following their leaders’ decision – their church should stay in the scouting program – 81 percent in favor, 17 percent opposed, 2 percent don’t know."

UPD bluntly states, "When the Brethren speak, loyal Mormons listen – which we knew all along." For the uninitiated, "the Brethren" is cultural code referring to top LDS Church leaders. It is a well documented fact that church members look to top leadership for, well, leadership on issues like this when forming their own opinions.

When the Church's official statement seemed to put the BSA in a negative light, nearly two-thirds of active members were ready to throw the BSA on the trash heap. As soon as Church leaders said they were sticking with the BSA, members strongly sustained the action.

Still, not all active or very active Mormons are happy that the LDS Church will continue to sponsor BSA units. This time around pollsters asked why.
  • 9 percent said it was too costly financially.
  • 47 percent said their church could devise a better program than scouting that would teach young males character, leadership, proper morals and other church-related ideals.
  • 0 percent said scouting was unfair because LDS girls don’t have a similar strong program within the church.
  • 22 percent said recent Boy Scouts national decisions – including the gay leader board vote – no longer reflect the values of the LDS Church.
  • 11 percent said “all of the above” were reasons they want their church out of the Boy Scouts.
  • 11 percent mentioned some other reasons.
  • And 0 percent didn’t have an opinion on why they wanted their church out of scouting.
So church members that want out of Scouting have a variety of reasons for their opinion. But since more than three-quarters of those that consider themselves at least nominally Mormon support the church's continuing relationship with the BSA, it is uncertain how much sway anti-Scouting opinions will have in the church.

People can say what they want. The real proof of how Church members feel about the Church sticking with the BSA will be in how well they support the decision by their actions. More than a few will refrain from wholehearted engagement, constantly expecting the Church's "at this time" statement to reach it's expiration date before long.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Revelation, Authority, and Popular Prepper Prophets

I recently had a rather disturbing conversation with a friend. Through people in his LDS ward, he has begun listening to and reading material of an alarming nature regarding cataclysmic events that are prophesied to occur in the very near future. Prophesied by whom? In the answer to that question lies the rub.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has a long history of being guided by divine revelation. The church's earliest origins lie in revelation. Today revelatory experience is encouraged and is to be relied upon at every level in the church from the youngest Primary child to the president of the church.

This central feature of the church, however, comes with a qualifier. It is not simply revelation that is important. It is authoritative revelation that is the church's guiding principle. In D&C 132:8 the Lord said that His house (i.e. church) "is a house of order ... and not a house of confusion." Accordingly, church members are authorized to receive revelation on behalf of those for whom they have authoritative stewardship, but not for others. Elder Boyd K. Packer said:
Revelation continues in the Church: the prophet receiving it for the Church; the president for his stake, his mission, or his quorum; the bishop for his ward; the father for his family; the individual for himself.
Of course, revelation doesn't just come to men. Last year Pres. Henry B. Eyring explained how his mother received revelation for her family. A few days ago I listened as a ward Relief Society president described revelation she had received for those for whom she has responsibility.

My friend finds some of the people to whom he has been listening to be very convincing as they describe their revelations and give their interpretations of those revelations. I do not doubt that these people have received revelations. But I do question their sources and their insistence on broadly publishing their experiences.

Joseph Smith had to tackle the problem of well meaning church members teaching unauthorized revelations when the Church was less than half a year old. The Lord revealed how this was to be handled in D&C 28 (consider especially verses 2-3, 6-7, 11-13). Joseph Smith taught (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 21):
[I]t is contrary to the economy of God for any member of the Church, or any one [else], to receive instruction for those in authority, higher than themselves.
Later in D&C 42:11 the Lord said:
Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.
My friend is quick to point out that the prophets he has been listening to — he didn't call them prophets, but they fit the definition of a prophet — admonish church members to listen to their priesthood leaders. They say they are only telling people to get their emergency kits and food/clothing storage ready, just as church leaders have admonished for decades.

Oh, and "listen to me and buy my stuff." Even if fortune is not involved, fame surely is. I doubt my friend would countenance my crass take on the matter, insisting that these people only want to use the gifts the Lord has given them to help others. But there is a name for setting oneself up as a light outside of the authorized pattern. It is called priestcraft.

Elder Boyd K. Packer also warned, "Know this: There are counterfeit revelations which, we are warned, “if possible … shall deceive the very elect, who are the elect according to the covenant.” (JS-M 1:22)"

Over the years I have seen many popular but unauthorized prophets come and go. Frequently they have forecast dire events in the near future, often right after the next general conference. I think the first time I listened to one of these people was in the late 1970s. This person interpreted their visions in the framework of the Cold War, insisting that it would become a hot war that would doom all but the few that were prepared. It worked out differently.

In the 1980s I became aware of several of these prophets that foresaw the rapid demise of the US monetary system. When Black Monday 1987 shook up investment markets, followers of these prophets were certain that the prophecies were coming true. I watched one man destroy his retirement savings in an attempt to ensure that his family could weather the coming storm. He achieved the exact opposite of what he intended.

These prophets sometimes suggest that the church is undertaking unusual emergency preparations. From time to time Church spokespeople have denied that the church was doing anything other than what it has always prudently done. But this does not stop the popular prepper prophets from regularly popping up and drawing a following, often preaching to standing-room-only crowds. It seems that Paul was right about church members turning away from "sound doctrine" to those that they think can scratch their "itching ears" (1 Tim 2:3-4).

Church leaders have made it clear that even when people do receive revelations that seem to be useful to others for whom they have no official stewardship, it is incumbent on them to keep it confidential within their stewardship. Some may have grand and glorious visions, but these are generally given for the private enrichment and perhaps for close family members.

Those that receive such revelations open themselves and others up to Satan's deception when they publish these private experiences. At any rate, we ought to see red warning flags anytime we see somebody violating this principle. One church leader has suggested that "God does not reveal himself to blabbermouths."

FAIRMormon has a good page that deals with this topic. Among the quotes from Joseph Fielding Smith listed on the page are the following:
  • If a man comes among the Latter-day Saints, professing to have received a vision or a revelation or a remarkable dream, and the Lord has given him such, he should keep it to himself.
  • Now, these stories of revelation, that are being circulated around, are of no consequence, except for rumor and silly talk by persons who have no authority.
  • There have been individuals, from time to time, who have been invited to go into the wards, in the sacrament meetings, priesthood classes, Sunday Schools and Mutual Improvement organizations, and at times, for their special benefit, cottage meetings have been held where they might come and relate remarkable visions or revelations claimed by these individuals to have been given to them. All this is wrong.
One of the reasons that personal revelations are private is that telestial beings are rarely qualified to interpret them for others. It has been helpful for me to think of our telestial faculties as existing in a two-dimensional realm, compared to celestial beings that exist in a three-dimensional realm. Yeah, I know that's a very imperfect analogy, but bear with me here. After all, I am dealing with a telestial brain.

When God grants a revelation to a human, it's as if that 2D person is granted a limited glance into a 3D space. Not only does their 2D mind have difficulty comprehending it, they lack the 3D vocabulary to adequately describe it. Even prophets have challenges with this. That's why Lehi and Alma II said said, "... methought I saw ..." when describing their visions (see 1 Nephi 8:4Alma 36:32). Some revelations were crystal clear to Joseph Smith, yet our finest scholars still don't understand parts of them. Joseph puzzled about other revelations for years. Some he never recorded or spoke of to others.

When I received my patriarchal blessing (a revelation for my personal benefit), the patriarch explained that no one other than me — with divine aid — was qualified to interpret the words of the blessing. That included him (the patriarch), my bishop, my parents, and even the prophet himself. The same is true of other revelations given for personal use.

Nor do revelations that seem crystal clear always mean exactly what the prophet sees. A quick read of the Revelation of John ought to sufficiently reinforce this concept. John Taylor recorded an apocalyptic 1877 vision that certainly was never fulfilled as he clearly saw it. The Lord often communicates in symbols, analogies, and metaphors. Just as the patriarch was not qualified to interpret the blessing he gave me, those receiving private visions are likely unqualified to interpret their visions for others.

I can't say that the people my friend is listening to have it all wrong. Maybe the world will go down the tube right after October general conference. At any rate, it doesn't hurt anyone to prudently put together emergency plans and supplies as church leaders have long taught. Unless they are acting out of fear rather than faith.

But even if these people are right, I still have a problem with listening to them and giving them credence, because their pattern goes against the order of God's Kingdom on earth. Satan has a lot of practice leading people astray with large doses of truth promoted in the wrong way.

These popular prepper prophets may have the best of intentions. I can't see into their hearts. But I can say that their methods are problematic. My counsel to my friend is to leave the unauthorized prophets alone and cling to those the Spirit has confirmed to him to be the real thing.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Increasingly Public Personal Life Fraught With Challenges

Many examples of generational shift are quite apparent to my generation. Not all of it is bad. Some of it seems to be tightly tied to technology. As in, my generation would have done the same thing had today's technology been available. That's why it's hard for me to take seriously some of the generational condescension spewed by my generation.

One thing that has intrigued me is the rise of the "promposal." That's where teens go all out just to ask a date to a school dance. Last spring Main St reported that teens now spend an average of $324 just to ask a date to prom. Many dates spend an equivalent amount responding to the invitation. It has become very common for these promposals to appear on YouTube, where teens hope that their video will go viral.

The total cost of going to prom reportedly hovers around $1,000 "per household," give or take $100 or so, depending on where you live. That appears to include the cost of the promposal. As I understand it, this means that a couple attending prom spends somewhere around $2,000 for one date.

It shouldn't be surprising that the generation that has grown up with this paradigm is following the same pattern when it comes to marriage proposals and wedding receptions. Proposals are becoming increasingly public and expensive. I'm not the only one that thinks there are some issues with this trend. Studio C has a satirical sketch about an attempt to produce a viral wedding proposal video.
I couldn't find data on the average cost of a wedding proposal. But I suppose it can be presumed that the trend is similar to that of promposals. Wedding receptions are going that direction too, currently running around $25,200 for a party that lasts a few hours.

There are likely many reasons for these trends. Some speculate that as marriage rates decline, those marrying feel that it's increasingly important to make a grander statement about their commitment to each other. Others think that all of these grandiose displays are attempts to compensate for the declining rate of marital commitment, which increases the risk of marital failure. We turn the whole thing into a three-ring circus in a vain attempt to recapture the level of couple commitment that has been lost in the wake of increasing personal freedom.

I'm grateful that my generation didn't have to deal with the social media landscape that developing relationships today must navigate. Not only can everyone find out all kinds of things about prospective dates, it would be irresponsible not to do so. But those public personas available on social media can say things about us that may portray an unbalanced picture of who we are.

Recently, friends and family of a young couple celebrated as the couple's courtship advanced to the point of a marriage proposal. The proposal itself was a huge event with many friends and family members in attendance (along with elements you might see at a circus).

The couple went through all of the normal wedding arrangements. Then just as they were preparing to mail out formal wedding announcements, one partner backed out. Not only was the party off, housing arrangements were thrown into disarray. The couple remains friendly with each other, but the sheer fact of the matter is that the defunct romance shared by this couple is now public record on social media that any future prospective date will be see.

It will be easy for these people's future partners to compare themselves with the partner that didn't work out. I suppose that happened in the days before social media. Only now the new partners will have access to the romantic photos, videos, and love notes from the failed relationship for the rest of their lives.

While it would be easy to grouse about the younger generation, all of this is simply part of the culture in which they live. It's the culture that my kids are swimming in. Each generation faces a unique set of problems and this is among the problems of today's younger generation. I wish my kids well. While I will gladly to what I can to help them navigate the world where they live, they will face many things that are beyond my capacity to help with.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

A Neighbor Passes Away and Almost Nobody Notices

Many years ago we built a house in a developing subdivision. Over the next several years we were joined by a number of new neighbors. The days of newly installed yards are long gone and nowadays the neighborhood is flush with mature trees, seasoned fences, and cracked driveways. Some of the original homeowners (including us) still live in the neighborhood. G was one of those original inhabitants — until recently, when she made the final move from this world.

G and her best friend T came into our lives when they moved into a home near us, along with T's adopted twin daughters. Although not particularly religious, T had tried to talk a pregnant young woman out of aborting her baby. The young woman finally agreed, on the condition that T would adopt the baby — something that had not been on T's list of things she planned to do in life. But she felt strongly enough about choosing life for the child that she agreed to the adoption.

A short time later it was discovered that the young mother was carrying twins. T was suddenly going to be saddled with two children instead of one. T called her lifelong friend G asking what she was going to do. Eventually the two formulated a plan where they would buy a home together and work together to raise the girls.

At the time that T and G moved in, the girls were a year or so older than our oldest child. There were approximately a thousand kids under age 10 in the neighborhood back in those days. Or at least it seemed that way. Toddlers roamed the subdivision in packs. G always exercised great concern about the neighborhood kids. If you heard a kid nearby bawling, maybe from scraping a knee, you could be sure that G would be one of the first adults to attend to the child. Our kids were frequent visitors to T's and G's place and the twins were frequent visitors to our place.

As the girls got older, T and G advanced in their respective careers. When the girls were in high school, finances were such that T could afford to move to her own home. G bought out T's part of the home in our neighborhood. The girls split their time between T's and G's places, but continued to attend the local high school until they graduated. As the girls advanced into adulthood and started forays into living on their own, we saw less and less of them.

Despite her concern for children, G could be somewhat abrasive. More than one neighbor had run-ins with G. But she always treated our family like gold. When G's health began to fail a few years ago, our family started clearing snow from her driveway and walks. In fact, we kind of took over that chore, an activity for which G frequently expressed gratitude. G had a riding lawn mower that allowed her to continue to care for her lawn during the warmer months.

Eventually G took a medical retirement because she simply couldn't do her job effectively anymore. As G's health issues worsened, she mostly confined herself to her house, so we saw less and less of her. Her sister and brother-in-law frequently helped. But since they lived a few miles away, G always felt comfortable calling us and relying on us for assistance.

A few weeks ago, my wife returned from a visit to G, saying that G was in pretty bad shape. One of the neighbors and I soon paid a visit. Although she was not Mormon, she asked us to give her a priesthood blessing. We gladly obliged. The main thing I felt inspired to say was that she would soon get some relief from her challenges.

A couple of days later, I noticed that my wife was making a batch of cheesy potatoes. Around here the dish is commonly called funeral potatoes. I guess this stems from the fact that the dish is frequently served at family gatherings following funerals. Although this is a beloved dish in our family, we don't make it very often — usually only for holidays or funerals.

When I queried my wife as to why she was making funeral potatoes, she said that G had mentioned to her how much she would like to have some. The thought that she ought to make a batch kept coming to her over the next couple of days until she suddenly had a sense of urgency about it.

G's sister answered the door when my wife took the potato dish over to G's. The sister later reported that, although, G hadn't had much of an appetite, she got a fork and ate some right then while it was hot. The following morning while she was chatting with a family friend, G put her head down as if she needed to rest and then breathed her final breath.

We were among the first alerted by G's sister, who expressed gratitude for all of the years we had been good neighbors to G. But the sister explained that, in accordance with G's wishes, there would be no obituary or funeral. A few days before passing, G had even asked my wife to keep her death quiet in the neighborhood when it happened. She didn't want to burden anyone.

Many neighbors have no idea that G is no longer with us. Her home looks the same for now. She had rarely been seen outside during the past few months anyway. And yet, every time I look at the house, I feel a sense of loss. I'm glad that G's years of pain and physical challenges are over. But I still feel like something is missing.

While my wife promised not to broadcast G's death, I made no such promise. It seems somehow wrong for a neighbor to pass away while the rest of us in the neighborhood go on about our lives as if nothing has happened — as if her life didn't mean anything. She might not have been the easiest person in the world to associate with, but G still played a valuable role in the lives of my family members. She was among the ingredients that made up the recipe for our neighborhood — a recipe that will now be forever changed.

Although not religiously observant, G was a woman of faith. I wish her well in her new surroundings.