Saturday, May 26, 2007

Metal and the Book of Mormon

Many Christians refuse to even consider the Book of Mormon because of what they consider, a lack of archeological evidence to support it's setting and events. This is also what is know as a presumed problem of "historicity." The Book of Mormon's mention of steel, for instance, is considered an example of one of its major flaws. However, I think this minor bit of trivia will prove to be one of the Book of Mormons more fascinating evidences.

Nephi was skilled in metalwork. He the first scenes of the Book of Mormon, Nephi is able to describe Laban's sword with precise detail. It had a hilt of pure gold and the blade was of the "most most precious steel." Now why would Nephi think plain old steel would be precious in comparison to the fine workmanship of the sword's pure gold handle. That's because he was living in 600BC when steel was exceedingly rare (google Vered Jericho Sword). Had it been Joseph Smith writing this account, the gold digger that he was, I imagine that he would have put more emphasis on the ornate solid gold handle and not the blade. Also, the term "most precious steel" suggests a knowledge that there are different grades or qualities of steel. Nephi, who seemed to have a passion for metallurgy, immediately appreciated the true value of Laban's ancient steel sword (1 Ne. 4: 9).

The next reference to steel in the Book of Mormon is in reference to Nephi's bow. Lehi and his family were traveling form the Valley of Lemuel (Wadi Tayyib al-Ism) across the Arabian Peninsula to the Land of Bountiful (Wadi Sayq, Oman). Nephi simply says that he broke his bow and they couldn't hunt food and were starving. Well, there is an important detail about the manner of of his bow's demise which Nephi said was made of "fine steel." While Nephi says his brother's bow's had lost their spring, Nephi says his steel bow simply broke. This is perfect science. While steel is harder than iron, it would be less likely to lose its spring but would have been more brittle and would be more vulnerable to breakage (1 Ne. 16: 18-23) (articles on steel bows of ancient India).

Finally, when he was commanded to build the ship to cross the ocean he immediately asks "where do I find the ore." It seems Nephi was well aware of what to do with the ore and how to make metal tools. I would also point out that Nephi says he obtained metal ore "out of a rock". This is again, perfect science. Iron in particular was obtained by heating/smelting ore (hematite or magnetite) containing rocks. Only very rarely was iron obtained from nickle-iron metorites:

1 Ne. 17: 9-10, 16 9 And I said: Lord, whither shall I go that I may find ore to molten, that I may make tools to construct the ship after the manner which thou hast shown unto me? 10 And it came to pass that the Lord told me whither I should go to find ore, that I might make tools. . . .16 And it came to pass that I did make tools of the ore which I did molten out of the rock.

What is more amazing is that LDS researchers have gone to Wadi Sayq, Oman and the nearby Dhofar mountains; the candidate site for the Land of Bountiful and found rich iron-ore containing deposites which were previously unknown to the government of Oman. But, smelting iron requires temperatures much hotter than a simple wood-buring fire can achieve. Iron smelting requires a blast furnace. That is why Nephi's mention that he made a bellows to "blow the fire" is spot on.

1 Ne. 17: 11 11 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, did make a bellows wherewith to blow the fire, of the skins of beasts; and after I had made a bellows, that I might have wherewith to blow the fire, I did smite two stones together that I might make fire.

Now the temperatures required to smelt iron from hematite or magnetite exceed that which can be achieved by the simple bellows Nephi describes. However, it turns out the iron mineral native to this region near Salalah, Oman is a kind of iron carbonate called limonite and ferroan dolomite. Researchers have demonstrated that sponge iron can be smelted from this ore at much lower temperatures than is required for smelting hematite or magnitite. Using this particular iron ore, Nephi would have been able to fashion iron tools using a simple bellows to achieve the required smelting temperature.

Upon arriving in the Americas, Nephi separated from Laman and Lemuel and established the city of Nephi. Just as Nephi was taught in all the learning of his father, he taught his children in all his learning. Nephi taught his children to work with metal and wood. Nephi presumably developed his skills as a blacksmith while living in Jerusalem. But Nephi learned about woodworking from God after being shown how to build the ship which brought them to America.

2 Ne. 5: 15 15 And I did teach my people to build buildings, and to work in all manner of wood, and of iron, and of copper, and of brass, and of steel, and of gold, and of silver, and of precious ores, which were in great abundance.

The Book of Mormon: The Most Correct Book

When I ask my devoted and faithful Christian friends to characterize their faith and beliefs in comparison to the beliefs of others, they invariably give 2 answers: (1) I don't believe 100%, everything that my preacher or religion teaches, (2) I believe the Bible 100% while everyone else picks and chooses what they want to believe from the Bible.

Those responses illustrated a very significant weakness of the Bible. Through ages of mis-translation and mis-interpretation, the Bible has become rather ambiguous. Consequently, it can too easily be mis-interpreted to justify just about any belief. That is exactly why the Bible (in its current form), has to be given the responsible for so many denominations and non-denominations who claim to believe in the Bible 100%.

Now, please do not be angry with me for being critical of the Bible. I love the Bible. It is the word of God as far as it has been translated correctly. I have felt the power and beauty in its words and teachings. I will be ever grateful that the Bible has been preserved throughout these many centuries. That said, many would argue that it's the Bible that is perfect, and the people who are imperfect. But those same people who argue for the unambiguity of the Bible are the same ones who think they follow the Bible 100% while everyone else is a picker and chooser. All, I know is I have met hundreds of devoted, faithful Christians of many religions and faiths who are all striving to live 100% of the teachings of the Bible and who all have very different beliefs.

Therefore, the Bible really has failed in it's stated purpose to bring all believers to "a unity of the faith." The ambiguity of the Bible is exactly why the Book of Mormon as well as modern and personal revelation is so important. Joseph Smith considered the Book of Mormon "the most correct book" of any book on Earth. I have pondered for many years about what Joseph Smith meant when he said that for many years. And now I think I have finally realized (in part) what aspect of the Book of Mormon qualifies it as "the most correct."

The Book of Mormon is the most correct because it is doctrinally unambiguous. Many critics criticize the book over its historicity but they miss the boat when it comes to the purpose of the book. The greatness of the Book of Mormon is that is so very difficult to misunderstand and misinterpret. The Book of Mormon itself says that together, the Book of Mormon and Bible: "shall grow together, unto the confounding of false doctrines and laying down of contentions, and establishing peace among the fruit of thy loins, and bringing them to the knowledge of their fathers in the latter days, and also to the knowledge of my covenants, saith the Lord" (2 Ne. 3: 12, ).

The Bible itself contains the a powerful prophecy of the Book of Mormon recorded in Ezekiel 37:

"Moreover, thou son of man, take thee one stick, and write upon it, For Judah, and for the children of Israel his companions: then take another stick, and write upon it, For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel his companions: And join them one to another into one stick; and they shall become one in thine hand. And when the children of thy people shall speak unto thee, saying, Wilt thou not shew us what thou meanest by these? Say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his fellows, and will put them with him, even with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they shall be one in mine hand. And the sticks whereon thou writest shall be in thine hand before their eyes. And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land: And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all: Neither shall they defile themselves any more with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions: but I will save them out of all their dwellingplaces, wherein they have sinned, and will cleanse them: so shall they be my people, and I will be their God. And David my servant shall be king over them; and they all shall have one shepherd: they shall also walk in my judgments, and observe my statutes, and do them. And they shall dwell in the land that I have given unto Jacob my servant, wherein your fathers have dwelt; and they shall dwell therein, even they, and their children, and their children’s children for ever: and my servant David shall be their prince for ever. Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them: and I will place them, and multiply them, and will set my sanctuary in the midst of them for evermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them: yea, I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And the heathen shall know that I the LORD do sanctify Israel, when my sanctuary shall be in the midst of them for evermore (Ezek. 37: 16-28).

What is this ambiguous prophecy saying? It is saying that in the Last Days, the 12 tribes of Israel would be restored. The Northern 10 tribes had been conquered and scattered by Assyria while the remaining Southern Kingdom of Judah and its 2 tribes had been conquered and brought into captivity into Babylon. Ezekiel says that at some future date the lost tribe of Ephraim and the tribe of Judah (both leading tribes) would be reunited under one doctrine, one covenant, one temple, and one God.

Is Ezekiel simply talking about the return of the Jews from Babylon and the building of the temple of Zerubbabel and later Herod? No, because the Samaritans (remnant of Ephraim), had their own temple (Mount Gerizim) and religion. And the Herod's temple did not last. It was destroyed by the Romans. Therefore, this prophecy must have to apply to some future date when all the tribes of Israel and God's temple will be restored. That restoration will be accompanied by the coming together of two sacred records called "the stick of Joseph" and "the stick of Judah." The stick of Judah is the Bible and the stick of Joseph is the Book of Mormon.

The Book of Mormon is the word of God. The Book of Mormon is the stick of Joseph in the hand of Ephraim. God has given us this sacred record as prophesied in the Bible to finally establish peace and bring all true believers to Christ so that, at last, there will be "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Eph. 4: 5). The saying goes, "To be great is to be misunderstood." I disagree. I think its far greater to both understand and to be understood. The Book of Mormon is therefore both the greatest and most correct book God has ever caused to be written.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Racist Ban to Save a Racist World

I, like most other LDS members, have been asked on many occasions to explain why the LDS church denied blacks the priesthood until 1978. During a recent debate between Rev. Sharpton and Christopher Hitchens, Hitchens used this issue as one of many examples where man has acted unjustly in the name of religion. Both this and the recent PBS Documentary entitled "The Moromons" by Helen Whitney which focused a chapter of her documentary on this issue, got me to examine how best to answer this concern when it arises.

As I have come to understand it, the official church doctrine on this issue is something akin to Adam's response in the Book of Moses when an angel asks him why he offers sacrifice unto the Lord. Adam responds, "I know not save the Lord commanded me." I believe that Joseph Smith and later president's of the church are prophets of God and that God revealed his will concerning this issue. But, the reason God chose to deny blacks the priesthood for a time, hasn't been revealed. "Wherefore I, the Lord, command and revoke, as it seemeth me good;" (D&C 56: 4-6).

Now, some people consider this response a non-answer or an attempt to avoid the question. Others feel the idea that God would command that a certain group would be blessed and another not, based on race, as blasphemy. The Bible clearly teaches that, "God is no respecter of persons:" (Acts 10: 34). However, the denying of certain blessings to a certain group by Christ is not unprecedented. The Woman of Canaan asked Christ to cast a devil out of her daughter to which Christ responded, "It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs" (Matt. 15: 26). Christ did cast out the devil according the woman's faith, but the verse does seem to suggest a preferential attitude towards the Jews. Only after Christ's resurrection, were his Apostles commanded to "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations," (Matt. 28: 19).

So, If this kind of thing is not unprecedented. So, we are left to speculate on why Christ would institute a temporary policy of racism. Or maybe I am interpreting the "dog" comment inaccurately. In addition, if God is an unchangeable God, why didn't he preach to the gentiles and other nations from the beginning? Or, if you accept that God had his reasons during his ministry to focus on the Jews but that Christ's church was charged to "teach all nations" and therefore the true church of Christ should carry on that commission; how do you explain that? Paul, who had embraced Christ's commission, taught, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3: 28).

Well, first off, we know that Christ and his church were not racist. Evidence for this is his interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was dumbfounded that a Jewish male would speak to her at all (John 4: 7, 9). In addition to portraying Christ's lack of prejudice, this verse illustrates just how racist the Jews were as a whole. Therefore, it is not unreasonable to suggest that certain doctrines existed to make allowance for this.

The policy to exclude blacks from the church was a racist policy by definition. It is an undeniable fact. But, that leads us to then ask, was it necessary? And did God command it? Well, first off, the term "all nations" does not mean the whole world. In this context, "all nations," is meant to refer to the Gentile nations only. The Apostles are recorded to have gone to countries with long-established Jewish populations where they taught in the synagogues and focused on the Jews and Gentiles in those communities.

But what of the Ethiopian man who was taught and baptized by Philip (Acts 8: 27)? Ethiopia is Africa. Well, according to documented ancient Ethiopian history, Jews had been living there since at least 800 BC. The Ethiopian eunuch was not a proselyte, but was a natural born Jew who, according to the verse, came to Jerusalem "to worship" in the Temple. And Gentiles were not allowed to worship in the temple (Acts 21: 26-30).

Now, how does this relate at all the early LDS church? How could the church defend a clearly racist and bigoted policy? The Mormon Church was itself the focus of great injustice, and bigotry that still exists today. The Mormons were against slavery from the beginning and abolitionist beliefs were a major reason the Church was persecuted which ultimately let to Governor Boggs of Missouri signed an extermination order , which was not rescinded until 1976. Hard to believe, but it was technically legal to kill a Mormon in the state of Missouri from 1836 to 1976. Mormon's were greatly persecuted for their views against slavery, which they sacrificed their property, and lives to defend. Mormons never compromised on their abolishionist beliefs.

The Book of Mormon itself teaches equality, "For none of these iniquities come of the Lord; for he doeth that which is good among the children of men; and he doeth nothing save it be plain unto the children of men; and he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile" (2 Ne. 26: 33). So, it the Book of Mormon clearly teaches equality, then why would the LDS Church have a racist policy? While many Evangelical Christian churches are segregated by race, Mormon churches, due to geographical delineation, are some of the most diverse and integrated Christian congregations in the world.

But, all that still doesn't get us to a satisfactory answer. God is not racist and the LDS church had a racist policy for a 150 years; why? Well, I think the story of the Samaritan woman at the well is the key. God gave the LDS church a racist policy because we were and are racist. The whole nation was. Because of man's overwelming natural tendancy toward bigotry, Christ's restored church just narrowly escaped annihilation. Had God's church started preaching to blacks from the start, preaching equality, and having integrated church meetings; the church would have never survived.

Is there a Biblical precedent for God asking someone to lie for God's purposes? Yes! Abraham was commanded to not tell pharoah that Sarah was his wife, but instead say that she was his sister. And, Peter was specifically told that he should deny that he knew Christ 3 times so that he would be able to continue to lead Christ's newly-established church. Peter wept bitterly not because of unfaithfulness, but rather, because he knew he could not prevent the death of the Savior. Had Peter, who had just prior, lifted a sword in defense of Jesus died with Jesus, the keys of the priesthood would have died with him.

There is a story I heard from a past mission president in New Zealand which illustrates another side of this point. One of the early LDS missionaries to New Zealand was a man named Matthew Cowley. He did not have very much success with the Europeans so he started teaching the humble Maori Natives. Well, he was incredibly successful. But now when the missionaries go to teach the Europeans and other non-Maori, they get the reply, "we think the work you are doing with the Maori is great, but we have our church." It's as if the Pakeha (non-Maori) see the LDS church simply as a Maori church and their learned bigotry prevents them from considering the LDS church at all.

So, what does this have to do with the LDS church? Well, had the missionaries gone to Africa, or to convert slaves here in the US, instead of going to Europe for converts, they would have been astonishingly successful. The faithful, spiritual, and humble US slaves, or people of Africa and other 3rd-world nations would have readily considered and received the true church. However, had that been the case, my ancestors, who were racists because they were taught to be racist, may never have considered the LDS church at all.

So, there seems to be a higher wisdom and order in the way the gospel goes forth to all nations first, and then to every kindred, nation, tongue and people later, "And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God. And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last" (Luke 13: 30, 1 Ne. 13: 42). The reason for this racist commandment that the gospel should be preached to certain groups first and other groups later is not because God is racist or God's kingdom is racist. Rather, it is because the people God is trying to save are racist.

So, it was a racist policy for a very imperfect and racist world which was prophesied by Isaiah who said, "Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me" (Isa. 49: 22-23).

It turns out that both the Bible and Book of Mormon present a very prejudiced, yet humbling picture of how the God's kingdom would be established in the Last Days. The descendants of Abraham and the house of Israel, namely the 12 tribes, are described as God's chosen people who are entitled to eternal blessings in the afterlife through Christ. Unfortunately, because of disobedience, the nation and people of Israel were scattered among all nations of the Earth. Much of the blood of Israel is among the humble people who live in 3rd-world counties. The Bible teaches that before the restoration and gathering of the 12 tribes, that God's kingdom would go to the Gentiles and then after a fullness of the Gentiles is achieved, the Kingdom would go from the Gentiles to the remnant of the Tribes of Israel (the rightful heirs).

And what about those people who fall through the cracks. Well, that’s why the LDS church focuses on genealogy and does vicarious proxy baptism, marriages, and priesthood ordination on behalf of the dead (1 Cor. 15: 29). Therefore, in the end, there will be no crack for anyone to fall through. Death isn't a crack (1 Cor. 15: 55-56), Christ overcame death. Work for the dead is a large part of that. And in the end, through this marvelous work and and wonder, Isaiah promises that there will finally be an end to prejudice, bigotry, racism. Isaiah promises, "The envy also of Ephraim shall depart, . . . Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not vex Ephraim" (Isa. 11: 13).

But, all of that explanation still isn't enough because all these evidences are circumstancial at best. Therefore, a better way would be to actually talk to some of the thousands of blacks of have joined the LDS church since 1978. They're the one's who have personally delt with this question first-hand. I'm sure it seems the existence of any black LDS members defies logic. If this policy was so clearly racist, then why would blacks ever consider joining the church at all? According to those LDS blacks I know, they are LDS because they have received the same answers to prayer, and spiritual witness that I have that Joseph Smith was God's prophet and that the Book of Mormon is the word of God. Chruch member learn that once you have received your own answers to these big questions, then you can feel confident to go on in the Mormon direction even if all the minor details haven't been worked out yet on every issue. No, Mormon's do not just blindly follow. We follow in faith because of what we already know to be true.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Civilization and Sabbath

Today in Gospel Essentials our class discussed the importance of the fourth commandment in the Ten Commandments: "Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the sabbath of the LORD thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work" (Ex 20: 8-10).

As our discussion commenced, I was reminded of a PBS documentary on ancient civilizations. The documentary was making the point that hunter-gatherers could barely obtain enough calories to survive. They had to constantly work to find food or risk starvation. What differentiated hunter-gathers from humans who developed advanced ancient civilizations was the existence and cultivation of a quality staple grain. In Ancient America it was corn. In the Middle East, the cradle of civilization, the staff of life was wheat.

Wheat was so easily planted, grown, harvested, and stored and is so excellent in its balance of nutrients, that for the first time, people had--FREE TIME. And with that free time people could stop worrying about the question, “what am I going to eat for lunch?” Instead, they could start asking questions like, “is this all there is?” “What is the purpose of life?” and “is there life after death?”

I am currently in a medical residency program and, of necessity, am forced to work long hours and Sundays. Oft times, I’ve been up for 30 hours at a time and working for 16 days straight without a day off. And, at times I don’t feel much different from a hunter-gatherer. I feel worn down physically, emotionally, and spiritually. During those times, I find it’s more difficult to be patient and in otherwise “put off the natural man.”

Yesterday, I was able to attend church with my family and partake of the sacrament (the bread and water symbolic of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ). I am able to examine my heart and recommit myself to following the Savior. I was born into the church and have never missed going to church for more than a week ever in my life until lately. But, I don’t think I appreciated the spiritual regeneration I feel though church and participation in the Sacrament of the Lords Supper as much as I do now that I haven’t been able to attend church as regularly.

I also would also call your attention to the oft-overlooked second part of the 4th commandment, “Six days shalt thou labour.” I think industry and hard work are also an essential characteristic of Christian living just as resting on the Sabbath Day is. As the adage goes, “an idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” As Christians we should tirelessly devote and consecrate all of our time, talents, and energies to building our families, community, and the Kingdom of God.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Spirituality vs. Futility

I have several outstanding Christian friends who continually say things like, "I wonder what the purpose of life is," and "I wonder where we go after this life," and "It's so great to ponder about the greatness of God." LDS members also ponder these most important "questions of the soul." However, what sets Mormons apart from other Christians is that we feel that we have clear answers to these questions. So, in response to these comments, I would naturally share the answers I feel I have obtained with regard to those very important questions. However, to my initial surprise; to them, my assertion that I had answers to these qustions seemed heretical and almost offensive.

While discussing this with my wife, she made the insightful observation that, maybe these Christian friends do not expect answers to these questions. The evangelical concept of God is incomprehensible and unknowable to the the human mind. To their mind and purely logical understanding of scripture, God and heavenly things are a mystery (1 Cor. 2: 9). Therefore, spirituality to them seems to be more about contemplating the infininte, the unknowable, and incomprehensible and less about getting answers or assurances. To me; this seems more of an exercize in futility. In contrast, the LDS understanding of spirituality is about actually being filled with Christ's spirit and actually being enabled to obtain answers to these spiritual questions and then living a life which reflects this understanding.

Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ . . . And to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ: . . . That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Proper Christian Attitude Toward Free Speech, Public Debate, and Politics

Some say that it is American to criticize our leaders. I do not deny that. Freedom of speech is a privilege and right protected by the Bill of Rights and the Book of Mormon (Alma 30: 7, 11). But, I am not talking about what is American, I am talking about what is Christian. Christians should be held to a higher standard of behavior. So, according to the Bible, when it comes to "evil speaking," "cursing," and "dishonoring" our public servants, I feel that such behavior is unacceptable for a Christian.

I feel the scriptures advocate political activism and open debate when it is focused on ideas and the issues. But when debate turns into personal attacks, name calling, "mud-slinging" and ad hominem; it has crossed the line. Christian Americans should continue in the arena of ideas and continuing to help us all learn from past mistakes and help our leaders make future correct decisions. I would hope that Christian Americans would set a good example when engaged in the public debate.

Jesus Christ, Abinidi, and Captain Moroni were all excellent examples of "conscientious objectors" in a different sense of the term. They criticized religious and political policy but at the same time they were not above the law. Instead, they submitted themselves to the law by paying taxes, serving in the military, and even being put to death.

Rom. 13:1-2,6-7
Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. . . For for this cause pay ye tribute also: for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing. Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour.

Ex. 22: 28
Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.

Acts 23: 2-5 And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth. Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law? And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God’s high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.

2 Sam. 6: 3, 6-7
And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart. . . And when they came to Nachon’s threshingfloor, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen shook it. And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.

Alma 30: 7, 11
Now there was no law against a man’s belief; for it was strictly contrary to the commands of God that there should be a law which should bring men on to unequal grounds. . . For there was a law that men should be judged according to their crimes. Nevertheless, there was no law against a man’s belief; therefore, a man was punished only for the crimes which he had done; therefore all men were on equal grounds.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Bible Literalists vs. Allegoricalists

The Literalist vs. Allegoricalist argument creates a false dichotomy in actuality. Noone can really be a 100% Bible literalist because the Bible says things like the earth is flat and setting on pillars and cannot move (1 Chr 16:30, Ps 93:1, Ps 96:10, 1 Sam 2:8, Job 9:6). It says that great sea monsters are set to guard the edge of the sea (Job 41, Ps 104:26). There is no doubt that the Bible contains many symbols, allegories, and parables that are intended to be interpreted figuratively. However, I feel that when compared with most other Christian churches, the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints supports a more literalist interpretion of the Bible than any other denomination or non-denomination.

When the Bible talks about Moses parting the Red Sea or 3 men getting thrown into a furnace and surviving the Mormon's believe those event actually happened as well as have figurative and spiritual meaning. Some may say that the Bible is true and purely logical. And when it comes to illogical events such as miracles of changing water to wine or calling down fire from heaven; those must simply be fables which are not to be taken literally.

However, if a Christian claims to only accept logic, then what of Christ. Does it make logical sense that Christ rose from that dead? Yes, the Bible predicted it and the claims there were many witnesses. But that doesn't really make it logical does it. Resurrection is absolutely unpresidented, incomprehensible, and unproven. And why apoligize about it. Many scholars and theologins recognize that all spirituality and relgion are based on some supernatural, revelatory, miraculous event that defies logic. Therefore, a true Christian is only fooling himself if he thinks himself a pure 5-senses empiracist. You cannot call yourself a Christian if you do not accept the resurrection of Jesus Christ (the so-called "Scandle of Christianity"). Conversely, you cannot be a 5-senses empiricist if you do. So, if you consider yourself a Christian, why not just accept all the other miracles in the Bible?

Mormon acceptance of the literalist view of the Bible is fundamental to its theology. This is because Mormonism itself was founded by the same sorts of supernatural, revelatory, miraculous events. Joseph Smith, the founder of the Mormon Church, went to pray in a grove of trees and recieved a visitation by God and Jesus Christ where he was told that none of the current churches were true. Years later, Joseph recieved a visitation by a heavenly angel who delivered to him gold plates which he translated as the Book of Mormon. Joseph Smith was called as a prophet like Moses, or Isaiah and was instructed to establish and restore the true Chruch of Jesus Christ. As a part of that restoration, Joseph Smith recieved numerous heavenly visitations and revelations from Peter, James, and John; John the Baptist, Elijiah, and Moses who restored essential priesthood authority and keys necessary to administer the Kingdom of God. Now, to the logical mind, this story sounds utterly preposterous. But, to a Bible literalist, these events are in perfect harmony with the God of the OT who stops the sun from setting, and Jesus Christ of the NT who brought Lazareth back from the grave.

Why is being an Bible literalist important? Because deep down, on a subconscious level, if you doubt that the events in the Bible actually happened, then it becomes more difficult to believe that God can cause miracles to occur in your own life; and isn't that the purpose of religion? But, the God of the Bible is a God of miracles who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The Joseph Smith story and the restoration of the Chruch of Jesus Christ stand as a modern-day witness that The Living God is an Unchanging God and that he continues to reveal his will and miraculously bless his children today. These witnessess inspire faith and hope that God can not only literally save you, but can also literally do miraculous and revelatory things in your life (like repent and come unto Christ).

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Mormon Scientists: Proper Questioning and Experimenting

I feel that what makes the LDS Church different that any other church is that its members are expected to question every doctrine. Now, when I say question everything, I do not mean doubt everything. There is a proper way to "study [principles] out in your mind." Proper experimenting and questioning should not be considered doubting and is never done through rebellion, contention or descent.

I try to question everything in the church by performing what Alma in the Book of Mormon refers to as a faith experiment (Alma 32: 27). The first step in this faith experiment is to desire to know the answer to your question and having faith in the principle (Ether 12: 6), I then try doing it (John 7: 17), and finally I try praying about it (James 1: 5). And, without fail, I have recieved the same inspired answers as the Brethern of the church (John 16: 13). That is because we are using the same "Spiritual Method" to communicate with the same God. In this way, God is able to bring believers to a unity of the faith (Eph. 4: 13).

Now I do not mean to say I have all the answers, because I don't. And, please do not misunderstand; I do not condone an attitude of, "I'm not gonna follow until I get my own answer." God has choosen a prophet and we should always follow with an attitude of "faith obedience." We should follow the prophet even when we don't know all the "why's" because we already have a witness of God, of Jesus Christ, or the Book of Mormon, of Joseph Smith, and the restored gospel. We should be expected to act upon that knowledge which God has already given to us. How can we expect to build upon our knowledge when we don't act upon that which we already have? Therefore, "Faith obedience" is the first step in the experiment upon the world. And only then , after the "trial of our faith," will the additional witness come.

It seems to the outsider that the LDS churches expectation of "faith obedience" is more "blind obedience" and "mindless conformity." However, what outsiders fail to realize is that LDS members already have a spiritual witness of the foundation principles (prerequisite for baptism). Therefore, the LDS church expects its members to act according to that knowledge. That is why it seems like our leaders expect unquestioning conformity, because we have already questioned and we have already recieved answers. Members don't need to keep on asking the same questions over and over. We are expected to live according to what we already know and to move on to higher questions. Ofcoarse, as we do this, our witness of the foundation questions are renewed and refreshed continually.

LDS Leadership has righly taught to beware of intellectualism. Intellectuals, as I have come to understand the term, tend to question but focus more on the lack of answers, defining what is not known, and value doubt. Simply defining what is not known is not true science. True science is about experimenting, evidence, discovery, and solving the unknown. Therefore, the process that the scriptures and LDS leadership describe to gain a witness/testimony/revelation of the truth is perfect science. Therefore, I think we could define a new class of LDS scholar who continually "experiments upon the word" through a process of "faith obedience", prayer, and revelation. All LDS members who follow this "Spirtual Method" and perform "faith experiments" could be considered an LDS Spiritual Empiricists or Mormon Scientists.

Mormon's aren't just expected to be spiritual empiricists alone. While proof does not exist, there is ample tangible, physical, 5-sense empirical evidence to support belief. Christ taught that "By their fruits ye shall know them" (Matt. 7: 16, 20). Therefore, I am led to ask: "am I happy?", "am I more prosperous than I otherwise would have been?" And for me the evidence is in overwelming support of God and the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. The LDS theory or theology has empirical validation. According to the research, If I follow the program I can expect to be, on average: wealthier, healthier, happier, live longer, be more educated, and have a stronger family. For the LDS membership, these are the fruit/reward of true Christian faith and discipleship.

Helen Whitney and Agnostic Intellectualism vs. LDS Christian Science

Helen Whitney is the director and producer of the new Frontline/American Experience documentary entited "The Mormons" which aired on PBS last week. Despite all her research she failed to understand this one point; what makes the LDS Church different is that it teaches its members to question everything. The LDS church does not teach blind, unquestioning, obedience. That’s where the sayings come from like “Don’t live on borrowed light” etc. There is no church that teaches its church to question more that the LDS church.

But additionally, what the LDS church teaches is not only to question but also how to get answers. We get those answers through prayer and the Holy Ghost. God promises anwers about Christ, about the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith and these answers are the source of our unshakable faith, hope, and certainty.

This is the whole significance of Joseph Smith's first vision. He had a question; which church was true? and he sought an answer as the Bible directs. Joseph Smith performed one of the most important spirtual experiments in our day. And he got an answer. And Joseph Smith continued to ask questions: about priesthood, scripture, atonement, church organization, baptism, familes, the temple, where we came from, what is the purpose of life, and what happens after we die. And then Joseph Smith encouraged others to ask the same questions for themselves and get their own answers.

Now, there comes along questions that we don’t get an answer to immediately. But, the lack of an answer every now and again, does not create doubt or destroy the answers we have already received. We just continue on in faith in what we already know to be true, trusting that answers will come. Depite the things we don't know, what we do know (our testimony) become a sure foundation. And eventually the answers to our question will and do come, just as Christ promised: “Ask and ye shall receive, knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

Whitney has clearly indicated that she thinks “doubt” is necessary to be considered an “honest intellectual.” Well, the LDS church is not about creating intellectuals. They are about about creating “honest christian scientists.” LDS members value faith, questioning, experimenting, and getting answers (the scientific method) while intellectuals unfortunately, seem to value the questions, lack of answers and doubt.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

My Mormon Experience

PBS aired a 2-PART Frontline/American Experience documentary by Helen Whitney entitled "The Mormons ." The purpose of the documentary was to define the Chruch of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its religious, social, and historical context. After seeing the documentary, I admit, I'm not crazy about it. There were a few things I liked, there were many things I didn't like. Principly, I didn't appreciate Whitney using so many marginalized, disaffected, excommunited, antagonistic, or otherwise unassociated people to define who we are. So, I decided to come up with my own version of what I feel it means to be Mormon.

True Foundation Principles
Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ really is at the center of this religion. I you could hear Joseph Smith speak, what would he say? He would bare testimony that he saw the living resurrected Christ. Every member accepts Christ as their personal savior and seeks to apply the atoneing blood of his sacrifice. We try to follow Christ's teachings and example in every aspect of our lives. We teach of Christ, we prophesy of Christ, we pray in the name of Christ, we do everything in the Church in the name of Christ. This has been so, unaltered since Joseph Smith. Joseph Smith was inspired to name the church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Some in the media claim that Mormons tried to recreate themselves in the 1990's to re-emphasis the place of Jesus Christ in our church. All that happened is that our logo changed to better reflect the centrallity of Christ in our doctrine. Nothing changed doctrinally in the church. The doctrine has remained the same. We didnt change the Book of Mormon, or the Doctrine and Covenants. These works of scripture speak and testify of Jesus Christ on every single page.

Many evangelical churches have tried to exclude us from being considered mainstream Christian. I think this is rather unfair, really. The basis of this is because our 1st centry christian definition of the God Head differs from their 4th-century, non-biblical, creedal-christian definition of the trinity. We do not accept the ecumenical creeds of the Catholic church. They are not inspired doctrine. We believe that Bible, the Book of Mormon and the modern revelation which teaches that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God. He is a completely seperate and distinct individual from God, our Heavenly Father. Jesus Christ was born of Mary, he lived a perfect life, he paid for the sins of the world, he died on the cross, resurrected, assended into heaven to stand in the right hand of the Father and is considered one in purpose with the Father. He now serves as the great mediator between God man. He is the only way to gain salvation and eternal life.

"It's all about revelation with these people." A Mormon believes that this life, in comparison to eternity, is a brief test to see if we will accept and do the will of God. And everyone will one day stand before God and make an accounting of his/her actions, thoughts, and desires. Mormon's then make knowing the will of God an absolute necessity and supreme priority. Therefore, there are very important mechanism in place for an individual to obtain God's will. Mormon's believe they can know the mind and will of God through the scriptures, through the living prophet, and through personal prayer and revelation.

The church has always taught me to study things out in my own mind" and warned not to "subsist on barrowed light." For example, when others tried to give Brigham Young credit for organizing the mass migration of the saints to Utah, Pres. Young always deflected that praise; instead attributing the migration's success to the "burning testimonies" in the hearts of each individual saints. Nothing but that burning testimony could have inspired my wife's ancestors to leave their homes in England and travel over the ocean to America, travel over land to Missouri and then walk 1000 miles to Utah desert. These people had never even met Joseph Smith or Brigham Young.

Living the Scriptures
Mormons don't just read the scriptures, they live the scriptures. When the Bible talks about Christ making Adam and Eve garments to cover their nakedness, Mormons don't just talk about that story, they wear actual clothing which represents the clothing spoken of in the Bible. And its the same with prophets, apostles, temples, commandments, priesthood, revelations, miracles, etc. The same God that was calling prophets, and performing miracles, and revealing scripture in Bible times is doing those same things in our time. And when the Bible talks about building a perfect Zion society that Christ will recieve at his coming, Mormons have every intention of being the ones who will build it.

Also, the church doesn't have a paid ministry. Anyone could be called to the Bishop or bishop's wife, relief society president or husband of a relief society president. The point is, in the Mormon church, there isn't a divide between the pastor and the congregation. And that translates to the scriptures. When we read about Adam, Abraham, or Moses, every member is an Adam or Eve, every member is an Abraham, every member is a Moses, and every member through Christ can become like God.

The Temple
Just as the temple in Jerusalem was the symbol and focal point of Jewish worship, the Temple remains the central focus of true Christian worship. What is the purpose of the temple? It is the house of God. One who enters the temple feels like he has left the world and is entering the presence of God. The temple helps members regain their bearings, direction, and eternal perspective. In the temple, a member is better able, than at any other time, to distinguish and discern between his own feelings and thoughts and the still small voice of God's Spirit.

In the temples, husband and wife, parents and children are married or sealed "for time and all eternity" and not just "for as long as you both shall live" or "until death do you part." My wife and I are the proud parents of 3 beautiful children. However, between child 1 and 2 we suffered a fetal demise at 32 weeks gestation. My wife and I have never gone through a more emotionally difficult time. All I can say is, when I needed my faith to support me, the promise of an eternal family delivered the peace, hope and comfort I needed during one of the most difficult chapters in my life to date. There is no other doctrine that can supply the comfort, peace and hope in the face of death like the doctrine of the eternal family.

Ordinances such as baptism, ordaining to the priesthood, marriage sealings are also done by the living on behalf of the dead. This does not automatically make the deceased person a Mormon. Ordinance work by vicarious proxy simply and wonderfully supplies and satisfies the necessary celestial technicalities of baptism and other ordinances which the Bible teaches are necessary to enter into eternal life to only those who accept the work of their own free will and choice while in the Spirit Relm and before resurrection. The work is only valid if that person accepts it.

The Worth of Souls
Mormons believe in a glorified corporeal God and in a literal physical heaven on Earth. We believe that all men of every race have an Eternal destiny and potential. Therefore, the worth of a single soul is incalculable. The Bible says to lay up in store treasures in heaven. And Mormons believe that family relationships and friends are just such treasure that we can take with us into the next life. God is love, so our ability to love others is the most essential characteristic we can develop. This is why Mormon's devote themselves to service to their fellow man. We try to follow Christ example and heed the Bible when it says to care for "the fatherless and the widow" and to "lift the hands that hand down and strengthen the feeble knees." This is part of the reason why the Mormons have such an extensive and world-renound welfare and disaster relief program.

History and Legacy
I agree that Mormon history strongly influences and molds the identity of modern Mormons. We sing songs about the pioneers, we tell their stories of suffering, testimony, sacrifice, and persecution. From New York, to Ohio, to Missouri, to Illinois, and then the exodus to Utah. These are powerful stories which bind us together to a common heritage whether we have pioneer ancestory or not. Every member is a pioneer, every member is a missionary. And when it comes to our dirty laundry, we accept it, we own it, we learn from it, and move on.

Families are central to Mormon life. The church functions to support the family in its primary role to help bring about the exaltation and eternal life of each member. Fathers and mothers look consider their family to be the source of their greatest fulfillment in life. No other worldly persuit or honor could suplant the family. Mormon's champion the tradition family and the traditional roles of men and women as fathers and mothers. Fathers have the primary duty to work outside the home, be the "breadwinner" and look after the spiritual and temporal needs of his family. Mothers are to work inside the home and look after the emotional and social needs of the family.

Fathers and mothers have the priniciple responsibility to teach their children the doctrines of the gospel. Monday nights are reserved for family home evenings were parents have the opportunity to teach their own children, and share their testimony with them about the Mormon faith. Families are also strongly encouraged to pray and read scriptures together on a daily basis.
The Mormon household is patriarchal but not paternalistic. My wife and I are equal partners and make all important decisions together. I would never dream of making a desion alone without my wife and telling her "this is what the family is doing, I'm the father, I make the rules." That is not how the church works, that is not how a Mormon home works. Because if something went wrong then I'd have my wife looking at me saying, "Well, good going, this is all your fault, I never wanted to do this in the first place." However, as we make decisions together, study, ponder, and pray to know the will of God and make a united decision. Then when the going gets tough we can say instead, "Hey, we made this decision together, we felt like its what God wanted for us, it's tough. But if we have faith and pray for help and endure, it's going to turn out well in the end." I have always made decisions this way, and so have my parents and it has never failed me.

The Mormon faith gives me a confidence and hope in raising my children. I know that if I follow the program of the church, the scriptures, and the counsels of the prophets and apostles that I can expect when I'm 60 years old, to be still in-love and happily married to my wife, with a quiver full of educated, successful children who are productive and contributing members of society and who have been spared the terrible physical, emotional, social, and spiritual consequences of alcohol, tobacco, drug addiction and sexual promescuity and unfaithfulness. I can also look forward to armfulls of grandchildren who will come to visit me and whose love I will enjoy.

Priesthood Restoration
Where does the Mormon church fit in with the rest of Christianity. The Mormon chruch isn't a protestant church. We are not a branch off the catholic church. We are a 100% restored church. When Joseph Smith went into the grove of trees to ask which church to join, he didn't expect to learn that he should join none of them. He thought one would possess the truth. He later learned that the priesthood authority to administer the true church of Jesus Christ had been taken from the Earth after the dealth of Christ first Apostles and the world had fallen into Apostasy and the Dark Ages. Joseph Smith would be called by God to be his instrument to restore to Earth the priesthood authority, new scripture, and all the doctrines which make up the true chruch of Jesus Christ. The chruch of Jesus Christ is organized in the same way as Christ church was with a prophet, 2 counsellors which make up a first-presidency of 3 members and a quorem of 12 Apostles.

All Mormon men are given the previlage of recieving the priesthood and administering in their congregation and in their own families. Faithful fathers who hold the priesthood can administer and give blessings to their own wife and children when they are sick and also perform ordinances such a baptism and conformation as well as ordain their own sons to the preisthood when they are of age and worthy of it. Woman are not given the priesthood and given callings as bishop or pastor because the time required outside the home to perform those duties would detract from their primary responsibility as mother within the home. Women do serve in the temple, officiate several temple duties, and serve in presidencies over the relief society, young women, and primary under the direction of the priesthood.

Let me just tell you that if you want to know what is going on in a particular congregation with the individual members, the person you need to contact is the relief society president and not the bishop. She and her presidency have the pulse of the ward. They meet withe the bishop on a weekly basis to tell him the needs of his ward and give recommendations on what to do. It is this way throughout the church and always has been this way.

Church Fellowship
The church takes care of its members from the cradle to the grave. Children are not baptized until the age of accountability at age 8. All children who die before the age of 8 are considered innocent and automatic heirs to salvation, eternal life, and exaltation. Fathers instead can bless and name their infant children.. This is an opportunity for the parents of a child to present their infant before the Lord, dedicate their child to the Lord, and bless that child with those things the Holy Spirit isnpires the father to bestow upon his own child during the blessing.
Children grow up from nursery to primary. Primary children sing beautiful Christ-centered songs such as "I am trying to be like Jesus," "I am a child of God," and "Choose the Right." These songs teach powerful principles of faith, repentance, and obedience through the power of music.

After primary comes young men and young women. The program for young men is the scouting program. Young Men learn some of the skills and discipline they will need to take their place as fathers, good neighbors, patiotic citizens, and devout disciples of Christ. Young Women have a program of goal setting and service where they focus on the core values of womanhood and how they can make a difference to their children, neighborhood, and community through charitable service. Young men and women are strongly advised to not date until age 16 and to not go steady until college or after a mission.

Men and many women then go on missions between the ages of 19 and 21 at their own expense. They pay their own way 100%. The mission is fulltime for 2 years. They do not select where they will be called. Prostpective missionaries are interviewed for worthiness, they then put in their papers declaring their willingness to go, and then they go whereever in the world they are sent. I served a spanish-speaking mission in Wisconsin. I have other friends who went to Brazil, Siberia, Tailand, and Mongolia. The mission not just a right of passage, it is a transformative period where boys leave and come back men. Missionaries are always with a companion for saftey purposes. Some are injured or killed but at significantly lower rates than if they stayed at home and never went.

On their mission, if they havnt already, missionaries kindle the fire of their own testimonies of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. They see the transformative effects of the gospel not only in themselves but also in those they teach. I witnessed people the most miraculous transformations to follow the example of Jesus Christ. Return missionaries are then so much better focused and mature that they are so much more prepared for college or other professional training. Many also come back with invaluable language skills and are used by the United States Armed Services, CIA, NSA, and FBI as linguists, and translators.

Highschool-age young men and women attend 4 years of formal religious study known as "Seminary." Then during college and graduate school the rhuch continues their relgious study in its Institute of Religion. All graduates from BYU or other school with an Institute of Religion graduate with an equivalent of a minor in religious training. There are also classes taught which cover important family subjects such as marriage and child development.

I attended Brigham Young Univeristy, the president of BYU makes it a yearly tradition of noting when the top10 US Party Schools list is published to point out that BYU was yet again rated the #1 stone-cold sober college campus in the US. BYU and other LDS-sponsored schools are an amazing place to be educated. I will never forget waking up early each Sunday and looking out my window and seeing a flood of thousands and thousands of young men and women, all dressed up in whites shirts and ties or modest blouses and skirts streaming onto campus to attend chruch. The same classrooms which were used to teach English, Physics, History and Math during the week are used to host sacrament meetings and sunday school on Sundays. There are no parents looking over your shoulder in college, but here are these students choosing to live up to the gospel standand because of the "fire" of their own testimony buring within their hearts.

BYU also has a strict honor code and curfue. I will never forget the many occasions when the clock would strike midnight and I would excuse myself from the apartment of a particular young woman of interest only to find other young men stepping out of the apartments of other young women at that same exact moment. The group of us would then walk back to our apartments together and talk about the night's events and converation. It just felt amazing to be with so many others who were as excited to live their faith as I was.

I am now married to one very special young woman of interest that I met at BYU and we know have 3 children. We along with all of our friends choose to abstain completely from any and all sexual activity before marriage and have committed ourselves to complete fidelity within our marriages. We don't look at pornography, we do not drink alcohol, or use tobacco, or drink coffee or tea, or use any other addicting substance. Because of the standards, values, and morals of the church, I feel I have been saved from so many of the plagues which have destroyed the lives of many of my non-member associates and friends. I happily give up some of my freedoms for the good of society; for the good of others who may not be able to drink responsibly and who would then become addicted and fall.

As a father, the church cares for me by its program of home and visiting teachers. Wherever you go, 2 men and 2 woman are assigned to visit you and your wife each month. They are there for any problem that may arrise. If my wife is having a baby or sick they are ready to prepare meals for a few days or babysit the children or do anything else that is needed. These home and visiting teachers serve as the eyes and ears of the Bishop. Problems, needs, or issues get relayed back to the bishop immediately. Gossip is absolutely discouraged.

An Anchor of Faith
The church has been criticized for not evolving with the world and being more accomidating. to a few small groups such as intellectuals, feminists, and gays who feel marginalized. A few outspoken members or excommunicated complain that the chruch should change to accomidate their ideas and their lifestyle. They clainm that it is unfair that the church is so strict with its rules and doctrines and that that strictness causes them such pain and anguish. They ask how a church that claims to be Christ-like could be so insensitive. Therefore, they would have the church change to accomidate them.

But that is not how the church works for the rest of us. The church works because it doesn't change. Everything in the world is evolving and changing. The chruch of Jesus Christ stands as a lighthouse, a beacon, a light on a hill, an anchor of faith, and a firm foundation. The same teachings and doctrines that are taught in church today were taught by Joseph Smith himself. With exception of Blacks and the priesthood and polygamy there has not been a significant doctrinal or organizitional change in the church since Joseph Smith's martyrdom. And anywhere you go across the Earth, when you attend an LDS meeting you will hear preached by the members of the church the very same doctrine, and hear the very same testimony of Jesus Christ, and the Book of Mormon and of Joseph Smith. There is and will be no variation of doctrine.

Those vocal few who have been excommunicated choose to stay out of the church. They choose to hold onto their pet idealogy or their perverted sexual desire, thinking they know better than everyone else, better than scripture, better than the prophet what is God's will. But the church knows better because Christ himself is at its helm. The chruch will never accomidate certain behavior. The church didn't leave them. They left the church; but they are welcome back at any time. The church has survived and it will continue to survive because it is constant and immoveable by man. This is why the church is prophesied to fill the Earth. It is the stone Daniel saw cut out of the mountain without hands that rolled forth and grew larger and larger until it filled the Earth.