Thursday, February 22, 2018

What I am Reading: A Volume of Essays on the Mysterious Council of Fifty in Early Mormon History©

I recently finished reading a small volume of essays about what is called in Mormon history, “The Council of Fifty,” or “The Kingdom of God.” It is entitled The Council of Fifty: What the Records Reveal about Mormon History, edited by Matthew Grow and Eric Smith. It was published jointly by the Religious Studies Center at BYU, and Deseret Book Company in Salt Lake City in 2017. It was occasioned by the publication of heretofore unpublished and largely unseen, three volumes of minutes of The Council of Fifty, as part of the Joseph Smith Papers Project. Those working on the project “learned that notwithstanding the mystique of the Council of Fifty had gained among the historical community and the importance of the council to early Latter-day Saint, the organization itself is little known among modern Latter-day Saints.” Moreover, they felt that although the minutes were readable and gave fairly complete records of the Council’s discussions, “we knew that most individuals interested in Mormon history and theology would simply not have the time or inclination to wade through the nearly eight hundred pages” in the published version.1 Thus, this introductory volume. The essays were also intended to engage scholars about the importance of these minutes in evaluating and understanding a wide variety of issues which the Council dealt with in the critical period of 1844-1846, and beyond.

The Council of Fifty was an organization set up by Joseph Smith on 11 March 1844, composed of fifty men, three of which were not members of the Church. Joseph Smith conceived of two types of power and authority–priesthood which dealt with religious and ecclesiastical matters and civil authority which dealt with civil government. He taught that the true form of civil government was a “Theodemocracy.” That is, a civil government ruled by God through The Council of Fifty. It was to be separate from the priesthood government of the Church. Nevertheless, this combination ran against the political grain in America as it was perceived as a uniting of church and state. Though the council initially started out intending to write a new constitution  to correct it’s perceived weaknesses to protect the religious rights of minorities such as the Church suffered in Missouri and Illinois, the debates and subsequent history show that the Church-State relationship was never formally or finally worked out in Mormon thought. Eventually the Council was used by Brigham Young as a more practical organization to council, plan, and prepare for the exodus from Nauvoo and to set up a civil government once they arrived in Utah. Prior to the publication of the minutes, the purposes and activities of the Council were the subject of much speculation and controversy, but with that publication, as one contributor wrote: “some students of the Mormon past might be disappointed in the ... minutes because they do not contain salacious evidence that might bring Mormonism to its knees...” (p. 182.) 

The book has an Introduction and fifteen essays of varying length and quality. Ten of the authors either had specific assignments on the Joseph Smith Paper’s Project or work for the Church Historical Department. Virtually all of them contributed to the project. Four of the five remaining authors are professors of history at various universities and one is the co-managing editor of Utah Historical Quarterly. Historians one and all. Each author was asked to consider this question: “How do the Council of fifty minutes change our understanding of Mormon history?” It is not surprising therefore, that there is some overlap and repetition in the essays, though to the credit of the authors, it is minimal and each brought to the question unique and creative approaches though many dealt with similar issues and observations. These essays vary in scope; some paint with a broad brush, others take a micro view and concentrate on detail.

Several contributors deal with broad historical perspectives. Richard Bushman begins the collection with his “The Separatist Impulse in the Nauvoo Council of Fifty.” He refers to a strong Mormon reaction against the American government following its anemic response to the Missouri persecutions. However, as more than one author noted, the desire to separate from American hegemony was not unique to the Latter-day Saints. Richard Turley chronicles many of the injustices to which the Mormons were reacting. In a similar context, Benjamin Park looks at “The Council of Fifty and the Perils of Democratic Governance.” Nathan Oman discusses the interesting phenomenon of the council trying to write a new constitution and basically failing. Joseph taught them that they did not need a written constitution, but should govern by ongoing revelation. The last two essays are thoughtful examinations of “The Council of Fifty in Western History,” by Jedediah S. Rogers and “The Council of Fifty and the Search for Religious Liberty,” by W. Paul Reeve. Several of these essays place Mormon political thinking within the wider context of American political thought, showing nineteenth-century Mormons to be motivated by some contemporary modes of thinking while at the same time illuminating some unique aspects of Mormon political, social, and religious thought.

Collectively these essays highlight and partially illuminate the most prominent themes to be found in the Council of Fifty minutes. They include, especially during Joseph Smith’s chairmanship, discussions of Mormon thought about civil government, the relationship of church and state, and protection of religious liberty of minorities. Indeed, as several papers show, Mormon perception of the weakness of  the United States government and its leaders in dealing with injustices against the Mormons was a major catalyst behind the formation of The Council of Fifty. This became critical when Illinois revoked the charter of Nauvoo which heretofore gave the Mormons an unusual degree of civil autonomy. The minutes also show that the murders of Joseph and Hyrum brought very strong reactions against what was viewed as America’s ineffective political system. Mormon perceptions of Constitutional and organizational weakness prompted them to try to remedy the deficiencies of the Constitution with one of their own. These discussions were tinctured with important statements, especially by the Prophet Joseph, about the importance of religious liberty for all. But after Joseph’s death  philosophical and political questions gave way to Brigham Young’s more practical use of the Council. A related theme which is prominent in the minutes is the Mormon desire to proselyte the American Indians, hoping for a mass conversion and use of Indian converts to defend the kingdom of God.  

The Council of Fifty minutes also prove useful in facilitating a more complete and better analysis of a number of issues the Council was involved with such as, Joseph Smith’s presidential bid, Brigham Young’s role as chairman of the council after Joseph’s death, the differences between Joseph and Brigham’s leadership of the Council, completing the Nauvoo House and the Temple,  Lyman Wight’s attempt to set up the kingdom in Texas, and even the interesting matter of insights about record keeping derived from the minutes.  

As mentioned above the quality of the papers varies. A couple of the shorter ones seem to end abruptly with only cursory conclusions and insights or without either. The level and sophistication of historical thought and analysis differs, though all the essays are helpful, or at least evocative to the thoughtful reader. The quality of historical writing per se also varies, but is generally high.2 I can heartily recommend this volume and I believe it may be the stimulus for a number of more detailed and exhaustive studies.

Let's think together gain, soon.


1.  All quotations in this paragraph are found on page xii of the “Introduction.”

2.  I have one slight bone of contention which applies to many newer contributors to Mormon history beginning about the time of the Joseph Smith Papers project. It is what I might call “the had fault,” and the “past-tense passive fault.” In the late 1960s, I was fortunate to take a historical writing class in graduate school under the direction of Dr. Milton Backman at BYU. I vividly remember and still possess a paper which I wrote for him on which he underlined several places where I use the past-tense passive voice. He dinged me and said that the past tense active voice was much preferred in historical writing because the passive voice produces exactly that in the reader–a passive involvement and even interest. The active voice he argued, engages the reader and is more interesting as it more readily moves the narrative forwad and is less wordy. Below are some examples from the essays in this volume, with my suggested improvement, presumptuous as it may be of me to do so.

Richard Turley, Jr.: (p. 5, line 3) “...months earlier, the Smith family had buried the remains of Alvin Smith.”  Suggested change: “...months earlier, the Smith family buried the remains of Alvin Smith.”

(p. 5, line 15) “Alvin’s remains had been removed and ‘dissected.’  Such rumors had been ....”
Suggested change: “Alvin’s remains were removed and ‘dissected.”  Such rumors were....”

(p. 7, line 12) “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body had not been stolen.”
Suggest change: “Father Smith to confirm that Alvin’s body was not stolen.”
(P.S. I left a “could have” alone in the first line.

(p. 9, lines 24-25)   “The next day, the Mormons who had testified against McCarty were arrested...”
Suggest change: “The next day, the Mormon who testified against McCarty were arrested.”

(p. 3re and 2nd lines from the bottom) “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County had begun working for...”
Suggested change: “...impoverished refugees from Jackson County began working for”
P.S.  I left a “has been called” in line 27 of page 13 alone, but it may be improved too.

(p. 15, lines 9, and 13) “Governor Boggs, who had participated in the expulsion...”
Suggested change: “Governor Boggs, who participated in the expulsion...”
“...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who had suffered intense hunger...”
Suggested change: “...four hundred Saints of De Witt, who suffered hunger...”

Spencer McBride: (p. 22, lines 18, 19) “But since he felt that his followers had been denied those rights...”
Suggested change: “But since he felt that his followers were denied those rights...”

(p. 25, line 18) “Church leaders had called for members...”
Suggested change: “Church leaders called for members...”

Benjamin Park: (p. 43, line 1) “The winter of 1843-44 had been exceptionally cold...”
Suggested change: “The winter of 1843-44 was exceptionally cold....”

(p. 47, last line) “Secular democracy had brought ..."
Suggested change: “Secular democracy brought...”

Nathan Oman: (p. 60, lines 8-13) “this constitutional model had been shattered.”
Suggested change: “this constitutional model was shattered...”

“Events in Missouri had played themselves out”
Suggested change: “Events in Missouri played themselves out”

“Mormon property had been seized, Mormons had been massacred by mods...”
Suggested change: “Mormon property was seized, Mormons were massacred by mobs...”

“Mormon women had been raped...”
Suggested change: “Mormon women were raped...”

“Lilburn Boggs had issued...”
Suggested change: “Lilburn Boggs issued...”

Matthew Grow and Marilyn Bradford: (p. 113, lines 20- 22) “decisions regarding the Church’s publishing program and the Nauvoo print shop that had been made the previous day...”
Suggested change: “...that were made the previous day...”

(p. 114, lines 4-5, 6)   “The Latter-day Saints had explicitly designed the charter...”
Suggested change: “The Latter-day Saint explicitly designed the charter...”

“ provide them with protections they had lacked in Missouri,”
Suggested change: “to provide them with protections they lacked in Missouri,”

(p. 115, lines 1- 2) “When council members learned that Texas had been annexed...”
Suggested change: “When council members learned that Texas was annexed...”

(p. 115, line 16) “ they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith had been the previous year.”
Suggested change: “ they believed Joseph and Hyrum Smith were the previous year.”

(p. 115, last line) “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit had made about Mormon rhetoric...”
Suggested change: “...Young rebutted a comment that Almon Babbit made about Mormon...”

(p. 116, line 4) “...which many believed had contributed to violence...”
Suggested change: “...which many believed contributed to violence...”

(p. 116, lines 29-30)   “ of the council’s objectives had been realized...”
Suggested change: “ of the council’s objectives was realized...”

(P. 116, line 32) “ January 1845, Young had contemplated...”
Suggested change: “ January 1845, Young contemplated...”

Jeffrey Mahas: (p. 123, line 17) “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–had been baptized...”
Suggested change: “...Dana–a member of the Oneida nation–was baptized...”

(p. 125, 5th line from the bottom) “Although Brigham Young had initially called...”
Suggested change: “Althought Brigham Young initially called...”

(p. 127, lines 1 and 2) “While the missionaries had been gone, Church leaders had largely...”
Suggested change: “While the missionaries were gone, Church leaders largely...”

(p. 127, line 4) “...a select group of Church leaders had formulated a new plan...”
Suggested change: “a select group of Church leaders formulated a new plan...”

(p. 127, lines 22-23) “...alliance with American Indians, they had had little or no success...”
Suggested change: “...alliance with American Indians, they had little or no success...”

Matthew Godfrey: (p. 134, line 27) “Miller, who had been serving as a trustee...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who served as a trustee ...”

(p. 132, 3rd line from bottom) “...Lyman Wight had evidently lost...”
Suggested change: “... Lyman Wight evidently lost...”

(p. 135, line 17)   “...Woodworth claimed that he had been appointed...”
Suggsted change: “...Woodworth claimed that he was appointed...”

(p. 135, line 24) “...what Miller had done and was doing...”
Suggested change: “...what Miller did and was doing...”

(P. 135, last two lines) “...the total number of certificates that had been issued many of those had been sold...”
Suggested change: “...the total number of certificates that were issued many of those were sold...”

(p. 136, line 4)   “...asserted that Joseph Smith had told him...”
Suggested change: “... asserted that Joseph Smith told him...”

(p. 136, line 7) “...Brigham Young declared that he had spoken to Joseph Smith...”
Suggested change: “... Brigham Young declared that he spoke to (with?) Joseph Smith....”

(p. 138, line 7) “...but that may have been an exaggerated portrayal...”
Suggested change: “...but that may be an exaggerated portrayal...”

(p. 139, n. 9, line 2) “Wight had been rejected...”
Suggested change: “Wight was rejected...”

Two additional unrelated suggestions for Matt:

(p. 130, lines 8-9) “...the Nauvoo House was nowhere near completion at the time...”
Suggested change: “..the Nauvoo House was far from competition at the time...”

(p. 138, line 8) “...the house never came close to completion.”
Suggested change: “...the house was far from completion.”

Christopher Blythe: (p. 141, line 6) “...some council members believed they had been granted...”
Suggested change: “...some council members believed they were granted...”

(p. 142, line 5) “Miller had been assigned...
Suggested change: “Miller was assigned...”

(p. 146, lines 13-14)   “In April, the Twelve sent a messenger to Wight’s colony-who had already begun their trek...”
Suggested change: “ Wight’s colony-who already started (or began) their trek...”

(p. 146, lines 25-28)   “Miller, who had remained...”
Suggested change: “Miller, who remained...”

“...Wight had been expelled from ...
Suggested change: “...Wight who was expelled from”

“...when Young had revived the kingdom.”
Suggested change: “...When Young revived the kingdom.”

While on this subject, I give here two examples from Pulitzer Prize winning British author Daniel Walker Howe’s book, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848. Howe has the maddening habit of very often falling in to the “had fault” and extensive use of the past tense passive voice. But when he does not use this form of syntax his writing is superb. However, it is so extensive in this 850 page tome that I find myself wondering why the editors at Oxford did not fix it? Below are two of a huge number of examples. These are companion paragraphs dealing with the William Morgan anti-Masonic episode in American history. In this first paragraph the past tense passive voice is in bold.
“On the evening of September 12, 1826, a stonecutter named William Morgan languished in the jail of Canandaigua, New York, where he was being held for an alleged two-dollar debt. Morgan had been subject to a series of persecutions by local authorities and mysterious mobs ever since he had undertaken to publish the secret rituals of freemasonry. His home in nearby Batavia had been ransacked in search of the manuscript. An attempt to burn down the shop where his work awaited printing had been foiled. Two days earlier he and his printer had both been transported to this jail on trumped-up charges. The printer had been released by a magistrate, ....”
Compare that with the next paragraph, in the past tense active voice, highlighted in bold:
“The investigation of Morgan’s disappearance was hampered at very turn by the cover-up of strategically placed Freemasons. Although his wife and dentist identified a partly decomposed body, three inquests did not make an official finding. Juries were packed with Masonic brothers; accused conspirators fled before testifying. Eventually the sheriff of Niagara County served thirty months for his central role in the kidnapping conspiracy, but otherwise prosecutors had little to show after twenty trials. Enough came to light, however, that the public felt outrage and the Masonic Order...was badly discredited.”(pp. 265-66)
The difference in readability and interest between the two paragraphs is palpable and significant.  The first is bulky, wordy, and laborious. The second paragraph reads much easier. Readers are more engaged and the narrative moves forward readily. The differences when set side by side are stark. Howe uses the past tense passive at least half the time in this book. The alternation between the two past tense voices is so frequent that it is not only very noticeable, but it is really quite annoying. I honestly wonder how he won the Pulitzer! If Oxford editors would have helped him clean up this text to give it a more consistent voice I think his work would merit a superb rating. As it is, I’m am only left to wonder about those who made the selection.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

What I Am Reading: The Greek Orthodox View of Marriage ©

John Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, 3rd revised edition.  Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984, 131 pp.

In my ongoing study of the LDS and ancient temples, their theology, rituals, and practices, around Christmas I finished John Meyendorff’s small volume on Eastern Orthodox marriage. It is a brief but interesting history of marriage in this ancient religion. The Orthodox adhere to the canons of the first Ecumenical Councils and the teachings of some of the early church Fathers. However, despite his reputation in Western Catholicism, they have some differences with the theological giant Augustine on the subject. Marriage did not become a “sacrament” or rite in the Greek Orthodox Church until the 10th Century C.E. (See  p. 26) Like all of Christianity, church and civil marriage rites had a great deal of mutual influence on each other, especially in eastern orthodoxy. As always in the early churches, politics and political leaders played an important role and exerted considerable influence upon marriage law, custom, and practice. Orthodoxy tries to hold true on the New Testament prohibitions of divorce and Church tradition of celibate clergy.  On the former they have gradually come to permit some divorce and remarriage. An interesting Orthodox doctrine is the idea of eternal marriage which is transformed into Christlike love.

Let's think together again, soon.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Shame on ESPN for Ruining the Rose Bowl ©

Shame on ESPN for Ruining the Rose Bowl © 

Shame on ESPN. I’ve watched the “grandaddy of them all”–the Rose Bowl-for more than 60 years.  Imagine how appalled I was to, without warning, lose the last few moments of an exciting game only to be switched to the Clemson-Alabama game which hadn't started yet.  While the Rose Bowl was concluding in a tie and went on to two overtimes, we were forced to watch inane talking heads about the Clemson-Alabama rivalry and its similarity to that of Muhammad Ali and George Foreman fights, and to lengthy commercials. It was one of the most egregious and insensitive-to-viewer-interest actions I’ve seen from ESPN. And one more thing.  What’s with the split screen? It was terrible too. The technocrats at ESPN are caught up too much in their technological toys and appealing to the new young technologically oriented crowd.It all ruined my traditional New Years Day watching the Rose Bowl.  Throw the ESPN technological bums out!

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, November 3, 2017

What I've Been Reading: Entry # 1©

What I’ve Been Reading Recently: Entry # 1© 


This article begins a new series for this blog. There is a great deal of interest in reading among Latter-day Saints generally and I sense it is popular among many Americas as well. [When we took the “Metro” into Washington from Falls Church, Va., a year ago I was amazed at how many commuters were reading and/or carrying a book with them; the same on our recent cruise in the western Caribbean.] Many celebrities such as Bill Gates post what they have been reading and make recommendations. Mostly they talk about books. I’m not even a celebrity in my own home, so it is probably presumptuous on my part to think anyone may be interested in what I read. But I benefit from those lists of what others read; I often find items I did not know of and perhaps may never have encountered. So, I hope something here may interest you too. 

This series will discuss some books, but will also review some of the articles, speeches, and talks I’ve been reading.  Most but not all of it will be of a religious nature, primarily about Mormonism. I also have a dedicated plan to read about the temple the rest of my life, so many entries here will be about the temple, ancient and modern, its doctrines, principles, and practices.  With the ease of finding any book and many articles on the Internet, some of the items in this list will be old, some new.

Articles will be in quotes “ ”, with the title of the journal, magazine, or book where it is found in italics. Book titles are also in italics.

I will also make some sort of recommendation regarding each item listed. Please leave a question or comment if you are so inclined.


1.  John P. Kaminski, ed., The Quotable Jefferson, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 2006. 

This is not a regular size book.  It is 4.5 x 7.5 inches in size and about an inch thick. It is an excellent collection of some of Jefferson’s greatest statements on a myriad of subjects. Kaminski’s primary source is the acclaimed Princeton University’s modern edition of Jefferson’s papers. He used other collections of Jefferson’s writings as well. The quotations in the book fall into four large categories. The largest which constitutes the bulk of the book has quotations on nearly five hundred topics.Two, three, and four respectively are quotations by Jefferson about his contemporaries; descriptions of Jefferson by his contemporaries; and, descriptions of Jefferson by himself.
Jefferson was not only a “Renaissance Man” in the sense of the breadth of his interests and knowledge, but he was also a very wise man–a quality not greatly abundant or valued in our modern world. In addition, as most Americans know, he was extremely articulate in expressing his ideas and opinions. Jefferson had many souls, but this collection shows him to possess the soul of Sophia, and of a poet, of a patriot, of culture, of nobility and sensitivity.  Jefferson will stir your soul and your mind.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.  

2.  M. Russell Ballard, Yesterday, Today and Forever: Timeless Gospel Messages with Insights from his Grandfathers Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

This book contains some messages gathered from talks Elder Ballard has given in his thirty-eight years of service as a General Authority. He supplements them with words from two grandfathers who were also general authorities–Melvin J. Ballard and Hyrum Mack Smith. The latter is not well known among the Saints.  He was the brother of Joseph Fielding Smith, but died early in his ministry. He was every bit the scriptorian as his brother and because of his early death the Church suffered a great loss. He was the co-author of the legendary Doctrine and Covenants Commentary, that was considered a standard on the level of Talmage’s Jesus the Christ and Articles of Faith. It is largely overlooked today.
I have not checked to see if these “messages” are taken verbatim from Elder Ballard's talks, or reworked into chapters for this book, but my sense is the latter. Eleven chapters cover as many topics, all of which are oriented in one way or another to encourage church members to be faithful and live the gospel. I particularly enjoyed chapter 8 on the law of sacrifice. I was also pleased to find this statement in chapter 1: “As you know, the sacrament is a renewal and a reminder of all our covenants with the Lord, not just those made a baptism.” He offers some practical and important advice about studying the scriptures on page 37; setting boundaries in the use of electronic devices and the Internet on p. 43; concerns about the use of electronic devices on Sunday, belittling or ridiculing others, gossip, joking about sacred things and vulgarity and coarseness about human sexuality on p. 48. He sensitively addressed the issue of referring to Christ as our “Elder Brother,” in chapter 5 and explains why it is an inadequate description of our relationship with the Savior. Chapter 6 is about women in the Church and the power and authority which they possess–something both men and women should understand. The chapter also contains important advice to the youth, warning them about Satan’s distortion of attitudes about gender and roles, marriage and family. This chapter is worth the price of the book.
This book is not the normal collection of general authority talks. The quotations from his grandfathers found on almost every page add a significant element. Even if you think you heard all of Elder Ballard’s conference address, reading this book provides a much needed and motivating review, generously supplemented with companion teachings from two other great general authorities.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.

3.  Joel R. White,  “Baptized on Account of the Dead”: The Meaning of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in Its Context,” Journal of Biblical Literature, 116, no. 3 (Autumn 1997): 487-499. 

There are a multitude of interpretations of 1 Cor. 15:29 which speaks of “baptism of the dead.” One study says 40, another 200! The author says most ignore the context of the verses. He identifies several problems of interpretation and proposes to resolve them. One of the most critical is his argument that the literal notion of baptism for the dead is “at odds with [Paul’s] entire theology,” especially about baptism. He offers a whole new interpretation which he claims is based on the “context” of the pages within the chapter and the book, and which he says resolves the problems of interpreting the meaning of the verse. The context is a conflict among Corinthian disciples about who baptized them.  Therefore, “the dead” refers to the apostles not to all the dead.  It seems like a strained interpretation to me. It was difficult to follow the technicalities and I did not find the argument convincing.

Recommendation: Not highly recommended except  for the theologically inclined, or the specialist.  

4.  Dennis D.  Sylva. “The Meaning and Function of Acts 7:46-50,” Journal of Biblical Literature 106, no. 2 (1987): 261-75. 
Luke’s characterization of Stephen’s speech about the temple in Acts 7:46-50 is understood in three main ways by scholars and students: 1) as a thesis for the replacement of the temple; 2) a rejection of the temple; and 3) Jesus’s/God’s transcendence of the temple. Sylva favors the latter. He discusses the arguments against the first two theories, then turns his attention to the establishment of the transcendent thesis on pp. 265-67. The account in Acts deals with a sequence of four items and it turns out that these are the same four things in the same sequence mentioned in Solomon’s dedication of the temple in 1 Kgs 8 and 2 Chr. 6. Section IV on the function of Acts 7:46-50 deals with three problems in the text that have not previously been accounted for by those who advocate the transcendence thesis. This is a good approach, but the technicalities of word use such as found on pages 263-4, 267, and 270-1 are almost beyond the non specialist. Stephan’s emphasis on the law of Moses and the temple are the two foci of Jewish emphasis. Sylva shows an important connection between Mark 14:15 and the Acts 7 passage. He also deals with the relationship of Acts 7:46-50, with verses 51-53. A footnote on Luke’s apparent efforts to soften Mark’s criticisms of the temple is especially interesting and helpful. The essay concludes with a lengthy and difficult discussion of Stephen’s criticisms of the Jews for resisting the Holy Ghost. 

Recommendation: Recommended with reservations that this article is primarily for the specialist or those who have great interest in the portrayal of the temple in the Gospels.

5.  Russell Stevenson, “History of D&C 4,” in D&C 4: A Lifetime of Study and Discipleship, Salt Lake City, UT: Eborn Books, 2017, 5-26.
I do not know Russell Stevenson, but this article leads me to believe that he is a freshman scholar. He has some interesting ideas but is not very adept at explicating them. He begins the essay saying that this section of the Doctrine and Covenants “is also pregnant with temple allusions and doctrinal developments that would only become apparent in Joseph Smith’s later years.” Though I agree with him, this is an enthusiastic exaggeration in so far as what he produced in this article.The crux of the temple related material in section 4 concerns the initial list of our attributes which the Saints are exhorted to “remember”–temperance, patience, humility, diligence, which are later expanded by adding faith, virtue, knowledge, brotherly kindness, godliness, and charity–all apparently from 2 Peter 1:5-8. Stevenson is unclear why this addition takes place, but he finds the “pregnant” nature of the section wrapped up in the fact that later in Joseph’s life he made 2 Peter 1's exhortation to make your calling and election sure a major goal of the gospel and a temple ordinance. While this indeed is an important insight related to the temple, it is the only one that Stevenson calls attention to, so the plural “pregnant with temple allusions” seems an overstatement.

Recommendation: Recommended.

6.  Dana M. Pike. “Obadiah 1:21: Context, Text, Interpretation, and Application,” in Prophets & Prophecies of the Old Testament, The 46th Annual Brigham Young University Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, 47- 78, eds., Aaron P. Schade, Brian M. Hauglid, and Kerry Muhlestein, Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2017.

While Latter-day Saints have used this verse which speaks of “saviors on Mt. Zion” since the days of Joseph Smith in reference to temple work for the dead, a detailed study of the text, its context, and the validity of its interpretation have not been undertaken by Mormon scholars. Pike begins to fill this gap and discusses several problems of interpretation due to ambiguities and peculiarities in the text.  There are also problems with  various interpretations through history because of questions about the historical context and interpretive issues such as the meaning of the phrases “the day of the Lord,” and “Mt. Zion”. However, he concludes that it is highly unlikely that Obadiah was speaking of temple ordinances when he made this statement. Joseph Smith’s use of the passage is more likely to be his application of this passage to his circumstances in introducing the temple ordinances, than it is an authoritative prophetic interpretation of the original intent of Obadiah. Peter did the same thing with a passage from Joel, and Pike argues that therefore this is a legitimate use of the scripture. It has a contemporary meaning to the author, but subsequent generations may apply it to local times and circumstances.

Recommendation: Recommended.

7.  Wendy Watson Nelson.  “Love and Marriage,” address at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, 8 January 2017, Brigham Young University.  
Available online at:    

Sister Nelson accompanied her husband Elder Russell M. Nelson to this Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults and spoke briefly. Her remarks were thought provoking, and perhaps to some even controversial.  She gave four truths about love and marriage. 1) “Truths about love and marriage are brought to you by the Holy Ghost from our Heavenly Father. He decreed marriage to be an irreplaceable component of His plan of happiness.The Spirit is the messenger of these truths. I urge you to seek to understand them.” In contrast Satan promotes lies about love and marriage. 2) “Personal purity is the key to true love.The more pure your thoughts and feelings, your words and actions, the greater your capacity to give and receive true love.” 3) “As an important part of the expression of their love, the Lord wants a husband and wife to partake of the wonders and joys of marital intimacy.” It is ordained by, commanded and commended by Him because it draws a husband and wife closer together and to the Lord. 4) “For true marital intimacy, the Holy Ghost needs to be involved. It is simply not possible to have the kind of intimate experiences outside of marriage that you can have within because the Spirit will not be present.” Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Ghost will increase, enlarge, expand, and purify “all the natural passions and affections.” Satan does just the opposite.  She gives a nice list of about eight contrasts between worldly and Spirit blessed marital intimacy.

Recommendation: Recommended, requires some spiritual maturity to appreciate the message.

8.  Neal Rappleye, “With the Tongue of Angels’: Angelic Speech as a Form of Deification,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 303-23.

This article gives considerable evidence which suggests that the Book of Mormon construct of “speaking with the tongue of angels” is likely referring to the “breaching [of] the veil to enter into the Lord’s presence, becoming divine, and thereby joining the divine council.” The author takes us to the background context of Nephi’s use of the phrase. He points out that at the same time this phrase shows up in his discourses, Nephi was building a temple and this proximity suggests to Rappleye “that Nephi’s record of “the more sacred things” may have been made in connection with the newly built temple.”Moreover, Nephi mentions  mysteries which commonly refer to imitations rites connected to temples or sacred space. Thus the temple seems to be at the heart of Nephi’s small plates project.Rappleye also shows an important connection between the temple and entrance into the divine council and goes on to show how the account of Lehi’s call exhibits many elements of of typical accounts of prophetic ascent to the divine council. Interestingly, once a prophet enters the heavenly body, he is usually sent back to teach the mysteries he has learned to his people–speaking the words of Christ as an angel might. Nephi’s own vision also contains at least six significant elements of traditional ascent literature and becomes his personal experience of interacting with an angel and being authorized to speak for God. The call of Isaiah found in chapter 6 of his book also conforms to the notion that prophets raised to and entering into the council then speak for God.  Isaiah’s lips need to be cleansed before he could do so. At Ezekiel’s call he ate a book given him so he was empowered to speak to the house of Israel. And additional important sidelight of this ascension and passing through the veil and being authorized to speak is symbolic of deification of the prophet or individual, which in Nephi’s view was to be available to all who would spiritually qualify.

Recommendation: Recommended, especially for those interested in the Temple.

9.  Dallin H. Oaks, Life’s Lessons Learned: Personal Reflections, Salt Lake City, Deseret Book, 2011.

For me this was a surprising little book. Elder Oaks looms large in my mind as a scholar and intellect, as well as an Apostle. Years ago I read the book, Carthage Conspiracy, which he co-authored with historian Marvin Hill.  It was a scholarly and detailed study of the trial of those who were accused of murdering Joseph and Hyrum Smith. I’ve also found some of his conference and other talks detailed and often deep. So, the simplicity, plainness, and homespun nature of this book caught me off guard. It is divided into three parts dealing with lessons of life learned up to 1971; part 2 lessons learned while he presided over BYU and served in the Utah Supreme Court; part 3, lessons learned as a general authority from 1984 to the present. The “lessons” cover a wide range of topics. For example, temple teachings, influence of family histories, the law as a blunt instrument, worldly wisdom leads to revelation, assigning reasons to revelation, goal setting, leadership, unselfish service, the meaning of “real intent” refusing requests, tithing blessings, principles vs. perfection, caution about sharing spiritual experiences, the death of a spouse and second marriage.One will find in this gem many ideas and principles which will enlighten and provoke thought.In some places I wanted more explanation and commentary, but Elder Oaks is expeditious in this book and generally leaves the simple lessons to speak for themselves.

Recommendation: Highly recommended.

10-.  A. Keith Thompson, “Joseph Smith and the Doctrine of Sealing,” Interpreter: A Journal of Mormon Scripture 21 (2016): 1-21.

This article uses a statement by Brian Hales, the Church’s authority on plural marriage, to the effect that the primary evidence we have for Joseph’s temple theology is in D&C 132 and a few statements in William Clayton’s journal as a straw man for the thesis that the idea of sealing authority was introduced to Joseph Smith in both the First Vision and the first visits of the angel Moroni to him three years later. In the First Vision stress was placed on “having the form of godliness but denying the power thereof” which Thompson argues began Joseph’s interest in the relationship between authority and godliness. Moroni stressed passages from the book of Malachi which emphasized Elijah’s mission to reveal the priesthood, plant the promises to the fathers in the hearts of the children, and turn the hearts of the children to the fathers–an important set up for later and greater understanding of this power. These teachings were followed up by an important statement made to the Prophet by John the Baptist when the Aaronic Priesthood was restored that the Aaronic Priesthood would not be taken from the earth until the sons of Levi offer and offering in righteousness to the Lord. Thompson argues that though Joseph Smith may not have understood the theological implications of these important temple-related statements, nevertheless, they laid a foundation for temple work and sealing in particular.  Joseph continued to be interested in these ideas and subsequent revelations moved him line by line and precept by precept toward the full temple doctrine. There are important and helpful insights in this article on the first and third of these ideas, but the second one has received considerable treatment and is not a new discovery by Thompson. Indeed, that section is the most lengthy and offers the least new material in the way of ideas and insights.

Recommendation: Recommended.

Let's think together again, soon.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Contrast Between Worldly and Spirit-enhanced Marital Intimacy©

This morning I got around to reading the talks by Elder Russell M. Nelson and his wife Wendy at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults at BYU in January 2017. I was particularly interested in sister Nelson’s remarks.(1) As a marriage and family therapist and professor for twenty-five years, she gave the young adults “four truths about love and marriage.” I commend the entire talk to you, but I am reproducing #4 here which contrasts the difference between worldly sex and spirit-enhanced marital intimacy. She builds her ideas on a statement from Elder Parley P. Pratt who said the Holy Ghost “increases, enlarges, expands, and purifies all the natural passions and affections, and adapts them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use.”(2) She concentrates on the effects of the Spirit on our passion and affections, but I would also stress the last part of his statement, that the Spirit will adapt them by the gift of wisdom to their lawful use.” Obviously there are unlawful uses of the passions and affections and according to Elder Pratt it is one of the Spirit's roles to help us adapt them to a lawful use before God. All that sister Nelson says below is consistent with these wonderful insights from Elder Pratt. Enjoy!

Truth #4: For true marital intimacy, the Holy Ghost needs to be involved. It is simply not possible to have the kind of intimate experiences outside of marriage that you can have within because the Spirit will not be present. 
Elder Parley P. Pratt taught that the Holy Ghost has the ability to increase, enlarge, expand, and purify “all the natural passions and affections.” Just imagine: He can purify your feelings! Therefore, anything that invites the Spirit into your life, and into the life of your spouse and your marriage, will increase your ability to experience marital intimacy. It really is as simple, and as profound, as that! 
On the other hand, anything that offends the Spirit will decrease your ability to be one with your spouse. Things such as anger, lust, unforgiveness, contention, immorality, and unrepented sin will reduce your attempt for marital intimacy to be something that is nothing more than a sexual experience. 
So, to recap: While worldly sex is under the influence of the world and the adversary and involves carnal, sensual, and devilish passions, God-ordained marital intimacy is under the influence of the Spirit and involves Spirit-enhanced and purified passions. The truth is, the more pure you are, the more marvelous your marital intimacy will be. 
With worldly sex, anything goes. With marital intimacy, exquisite care is taken to avoid anything and everything—from language to music to movies—that offends the Spirit, your spirit, or your spouse’s. 
While worldly sex is lustful and kills love, marital intimacy generates more love. 
Worldly sex degrades men and women and their bodies, while marital intimacy honors men and women and celebrates the body as one of the great prizes of mortal life. 
With worldly sex, individuals can feel used, abused, and ultimately more lonely. With marital intimacy, spouses feel more united and loved, more nurtured and understood. 
Worldly sex ravages and eventually ruins relationships. Marital intimacy strengthens marriages. It supports, heals, and hallows the lives of spouses and their marriage. 
Worldly sex has been likened to the toot of a flute, while marital intimacy has been likened to the grandeur of an entire orchestra. 
Worldly sex becomes a total obsession because it never fulfills its promises. God-ordained marital intimacy is glorious and will continue eternally for covenant-keeping husbands and wives. 
In short, marital intimacy endorsed by the Spirit is blessed by the Lord and is sanctifying.
Let's think together again, soon.


1.  Wendy Watson Nelson,  “Love and Marriage,” address at the Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, 8 January 2017, Brigham Young University. Available online at: 

2.  The entire statement of Elder Pratt is highly recommended. It is found in Parley P. Pratt, Key To the Science of Theology, (4th ed.), pp. 96-97.    

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Lord's Work Is On The March – Despite the Opposition of Hell©

I still have a bit of the teacher in me.  In today’s blog I share something very precious and important with you.

A Modern Apostle Teaches an Important Principle

How do you react when you read a statistic like, 41 percent of all births in the United States in 2013 were to unmarried women, compared to 18 percent just 35 years earlier?(1) Or, how about the fact that there are now more than 43 million refugees worldwide who are displaced from their homes because of conflict and persecution? If you are like me, first they sicken you, then they discourage you. It is really easy to think that this world is going to hell in a hand basket. Two weeks ago, though, I read something that changed my perspective and gave me great hope.

Neil Andersen, one of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke to a devotional assembly at the “Education Week” held at BYU in August 2015. The title of his remarks was, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous.” I don’t remember how I stumbled upon this extraordinary talk or why I had not come across it earlier, but it changed my life. After reviewing the two statistics above and several others, Elder Andersen said he had come to teach those attending Education Week an important principle. It is: As evil increases in the world the Lord provides a compensating spiritual power for the righteous. He stressed it three times. Here are his statements:
As we find our way in a world less attentive to the commandments of God, we will certainly be prayerful, but we need not be overly alarmed. The Lord will bless His Saints with the added spiritual power necessary to meet the challenges of our day.  
Here is my major theme this morning: As evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory spiritual power for the righteous. As the world slides from its spiritual moorings, the Lord prepares the way for those who seek Him, offering them greater assurance, greater confirmation, and greater confidence in the spiritual direction they are traveling.The gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a brighter light in the emerging twilight.
My brothers and sisters, as evil increases in the world, there is a compensatory power, an additional spiritual endowment, a revelatory gift for the righteous. 
This added blessing of spiritual power does not settle upon us just because we are part of this generation. It is willingly offered to us; it is eagerly put before us.But as with all spiritual gifts, it requires our desiring it, pursuing it, and living worthy of receiving it.
I emphasize once again: As evil increases in the world, the Lord does not leave us on the same footing.In a world that would diminish or discard or impair belief, there is an added spiritual power for those who are willing to set their course on increasing their faith in Jesus Christ.
Members of the Church sustain Elder Andersen as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” I believe he proved himself as such in this address. He taught the Education Week attendees a vitally important principle and thereby gave the entire Church a “prophetic perspective” that it sorely needs today. As he said above, this perspective will give us “greater assurance, greater confirmation, and grater confidence” in the spiritual direction we are traveling.

Four Examples of the Principle

Elder Anderson then went on to gives three examples of things transpiring in the Church which “reveal the Lord’s hand at work in bringing more spiritual power to His Saints.” They are so important that at the risk of the length of this article I am including the relevant excerpts for each one. His first example involved the youth of the Church. He reminded his audience of the challenge which was given to the Church youth in 2013 to go to the temple and do baptisms for the dead, but to bring as many names of their own dead which they have found by research as baptism they perform. His commentary follows:
It has only been in the last few years that technology has allowed us to link our generations more completely. A year and a half ago we gave the challenge to the youth to bring as many names to the temple as baptisms they perform in the temple.
...the youth of the Church have responded by the thousands and tens of thousands, and names submitted by youth have more than doubled since the challenge was issued only eighteen months ago. As the hearts of the children have turned to their fathers, the youth have been given an added gift of spiritual power. If you have not seen this yet in the youth, go to and read of their experiences or, better yet, talk to those youth who are in your family or who live near you.If you or members of your family have not committed yourselves to finding names from your family for your ordinances in the temple, now is the time to begin.
His second example also involved temples. He pointed out that in the 22 years he has served as a general authority the Church tripled the number of operating temples from 44 to 147. He asked why and then answered his own question:
We now have temples closer and more accessible than ever before. But in these times of commotion the Lord expects us to adjust our habits and be in His house more often.
The temple is an added gift from heaven to us. We need to embrace it with renewed dedication. Our children will need the temple even more in the years ahead. Teach them to love the temple. Help them to be ready to receive their endowment and eventually their sealing. Teach them how to prepare for these sacred ordinances and help them see how doing these ordinances will be a constant gift to them throughout their lives. As they do temple work, they will not only go through the temple but, as Brother Truman G. Madsen used to say, they will allow the temple to go through them.
The third example really surprised me. I have heard two messages from our leaders about modern technology. First, it can be a distraction and even lead us into forbidden things, therefore its use must be closely monitored and disciplined. Second, it can be a means of spreading the gospel and doing the Church great good. Elder Andersen, gives us a third and new perspective–totally new.
Our world of technology and communication, with all of its distractions, provides the third example of a compensatory spiritual blessing for the righteous. The words of the Lord’s prophet, the First Presidency, and the Quorum of the Twelve are always available to lighten our path and help show us the way. Their united voice, if followed, will help set aside the enticing voices of the world. The men who occupy these positions would claim no personal perfection, but I witness to you that as the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve prayerfully approach the Lord, He shapes our thinking and direction and reveals His will for His covenant people, and indeed for all the world.
He went on to share an example of this–the recent stress upon keeping the Sabbath Day holy. To me it became a fourth example.  He said:
In recent months the First Presidency and the Twelve have felt an undeniable direction from the Lord to declare and reemphasize the Sabbath day and the importance of worthily partaking of the sacrament. As we take the sacrament, we remember the Savior and His Atonement. We come repenting of our sins, pledging our loyalty to covenants made with Him, and hearing again the promises He makes to us. To always have His Spirit with us is a pearl of enormous value. Receiving the sacrament on Sunday is more and more like an oasis in the desert—bubbling with cool spring water, quenching our spiritual thirst and relieving our parched souls.
In summary, Elder Andersen tells us that the Church’s emphasis on youth and temple work, greater accessibility to temples, the Lord’s most recent word is available 24/7 through modern technology, and the Church’s emphasis on the Sabbath Day, are all part of the Lord’s effort to help his righteous Saints receive greater blessings and power in the day when Satan’s power has greatly increased. The question is, have we as Church members had the inspiration and wisdom to see the emphasis on these things in this context? If not, has that led many to be indifferent and even lazy in following the counsel of the brethren? It doesn’t really do us any good for the Lord to provide the help we often feel we need in the face of Satan’s onslaught if we don’t recognize it or take advantage of it.

Many, Many More Examples of the Principle

Another important insight Elder Andersen gave in this talk, is that these are only three or four examples of “many, many, more.” “As we recognize and embrace them, he said, “they heighten our spiritual sensitivities, offering greater assurance and confidence.The precious gift of the Holy Ghost becomes a stronger beacon, and we more clearly see those things that are unseen.” As I suspect Elder Andersen intended, that set me to thinking about what those “many, many more” things the Lord is giving us as compensating power against Satan are.

This perspective changes a lot of things. One is what I get out of General Conference. On Friday evening, before I fell asleep I read two conference talks from the April 2016 General Conference, one by Elder Ballard and one by Elder Nelson, President of the Quorum of the Twelve. To my surprise and joy both of these addresses discussed helps the Lord is giving us in what some describe as “the day of Satan’s power.”  

Family Councils

Elder Ballard talked about Family Councils. He said he has devoted much of his ministry to teaching the Church the value of governing the Church by councils and has even written a book on the subject and recently updated a second edition. Yet, he said, he had not discussed with the Church the most important council of all–the family council. He couched his counsel in the following context:
A family council, when conducted with love and with Christlike attributes, will counter the impact of modern technology that often distracts us from spending quality time with each other and also tends to bring evil right into our homes.(2)
He also said:
Now, brothers and sisters, there was a time when the walls of our homes provided all the defense we needed against outside intrusions and influences. We locked the doors, closed the windows; we shut the gates; and we felt safe, secure, and protected in our own little refuge from the outside world.
Those days are now gone. The physical walls, doors, fences, and gates of our homes cannot prevent unseen invasion from the Internet, the Wi-Fi, the mobile phones, the networks. They can penetrate our homes with just a few clicks and keystrokes.
Fortunately, the Lord has provided a way to counter the invasion of negative technology that can distract us from spending quality time with each other. He has done this by providing the council system to strengthen, protect, safeguard, and nurture our most precious relationships.(3) 
Did you hear it? The Lord has “provided a way to counter” the negative effects of modern technology! Let him who has eyes to see and ears to hear, read and listen and hearken.

Greater Power of the Priesthood in the Lives of Men and Their Families

President Nelson’s address was the very next one in that conference. He spoke in the Saturday night priesthood session to the men about “The Price of Priesthood Power.” Again note the context of his counsel:
I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood. In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.(4) 
He also spoke of the things which block the flow of priesthood power in the lives of men.
Well, brethren, in like manner, I fear that there are too many men who have been given the authority of the priesthood but who lack priesthood power because the flow of power has been blocked by sins such as laziness, dishonesty, pride, immorality, or preoccupation with things of the world.
I fear that there are too many priesthood bearers who have done little or nothing to develop their ability to access the powers of heaven. I worry about all who are impure in their thoughts, feelings, or actions or who demean their wives or children, thereby cutting off priesthood power.
I fear that too many have sadly surrendered their agency to the adversary and are saying by their conduct, “I care more about satisfying my own desires than I do about bearing the Savior’s power to bless others.”
I fear, brethren, that some among us may one day wake up and realize what power in the priesthood really is and face the deep regret that they spent far more time seeking power over others or power at work than learning to exercise fully the power of God. President George Albert Smith taught that “we are not here to wile away the hours of this life and then pass to a sphere of exaltation; but we are here to qualify ourselves day by day for the positions that our Father expects us to fill hereafter.(5)
This is a serious list of indictments of many of the brethren of the priesthood. It was to me as if this talk was an inspired addition to an address given by the then President of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder Boyd K. Packer in the April 2010 general conference, on “The Power of the Priesthood.” He too, addressed the men–the fathers of the Church. He reminded the fathers of the sacred nature of their calling:
You have the power of the priesthood directly from the Lord to protect your home. There will be times when all that stands as a shield between your family and the adversary’s mischief will be that power. You will receive direction from the Lord by way of the gift of the Holy Ghost.
The adversary is not actively disturbing our Church meetings—perhaps only occasionally. By and large we are free to assemble as we wish without much disruption. But he and those who follow him are persistent in attacking the home and the family.
I bear witness of the power of the priesthood given to the Church to protect us and guide us. And because we have that, we have no fear of the future. Fear is the opposite of faith. We move forward, certain that the Lord will watch over us, particularly in the family.(6)
Elder Packer was concerned. Every man ordained is given the authority of the priesthood. However, he said he was worried that the men of the Church did not enjoy the degree of the power of the priesthood they should. He urged the brethren to awaken and activate the power of the priesthood in their lives.
While the priesthood is presently all over the world, we call on every elder and high priest, every holder of the priesthood to stand, like Gideon’s small but powerful force of 300, in his own place.  We now must awaken in every elder and high priest, in every quorum and group, and in the father of every home the power of the priesthood of the Almighty.(7)
The authority of the priesthood is with us.  After all that we have correlated and organized, it is now our responsibility to activate the power of the priesthood in the Church.  Authority in the priesthood comes by way of ordination; power in the priesthood comes through faithful and obedient living in honoring covenants.  It is increased by exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.(8)
Elder Packer did not give more direction about how to gain this power beyond the last half of statement two above–“faithful living and honoring covenants” and by “exercising and using the priesthood in righteousness.” So, as I say, Elder Nelson’s address seemed like an inspired addition to Elder Packer’s because Elder Nelson give 6 or 7 ways men can increase the power of the priesthood in their lives. Again, at the risk of the length of this article, I believe it is very worthwhile to read what he had to say about each one.

1.   Diligently seek to be taught by the Lord.  [These remarks were preliminary to his discussion of six things to follow, but to me it was important enough to include as number 1.]
I urgently plead with each one of us to live up to our privileges as bearers of the priesthood. In a coming day, only those men who have taken their priesthood seriously, by diligently seeking to be taught by the Lord Himself, will be able to bless, guide, protect, strengthen, and heal others. Only a man who has paid the price for priesthood power will be able to bring miracles to those he loves and keep his marriage and family safe, now and throughout eternity.(9)
2.  Develop the Christlike attributes spoken of in 2 Peter 1.
What is the price to develop such priesthood power? The Savior’s senior Apostle, Peter—that same Peter who with James and John conferred the Melchizedek Priesthood upon Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery—declared qualities we should seek to “be partakers of the divine nature.
He named faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, charity, and diligence. And don’t forget humility! So I ask, how would our family members, friends, and coworkers say you and I are doing in developing these and other spiritual gifts? The more those attributes are developed, the greater will be our priesthood power.(10)
3.  Pray to know how to pray for more power!  The language of this one surprised me.  See if it surprises you too.
How else can we increase our power in the priesthood? We need to pray from our hearts. Polite recitations of past and upcoming activities, punctuated with some requests for blessings, cannot constitute the kind of communing with God that brings enduring power. Are you willing to pray to know how to pray for more power? The Lord will teach you.(11)
4.  Search the scriptures, feast on the word, and study earnestly.
Are you willing to search the scriptures and feast on the words of Christ—to study earnestly in order to have more power? If you want to see your wife’s heart melt, let her find you on the Internet studying the doctrine of Christ or reading your scriptures!(12)
5.  Worship in the temple regularly.
Are you willing to worship in the temple regularly? The Lord loves to do His own teaching in His holy house. Imagine how pleased He would be if you asked Him to teach you about priesthood keys, authority, and power as you experience the ordinances of the Melchizedek Priesthood in the holy temple. Imagine the increase in priesthood power that could be yours.(13) 
6.  Follow President Monson’s example of service to others.
Are you willing to follow President Thomas S. Monson’s example of serving others? For decades he has taken the long way home, following promptings of the Spirit to arrive on someone’s doorstep and then hear words such as, “How did you know it was the anniversary of our daughter’s death?” or “How did you know it was my birthday?”(14) 
7.  Cherish and care for your wife and embrace her counsel.
And if you truly want more priesthood power, you will cherish and care for your wife, embracing both her and her counsel.(15) 
Elder Nelson concludes this list with the following observation:
Now, if all of this sounds excessive, please consider how different our relationships with our wife, children, and associates at work would be if we were as concerned about gaining priesthood power as we are in progressing at work or increasing the balance in our bank account. If we will humbly present ourselves before the Lord and ask Him to teach us, He will show us how to increase our access to His power.(16) 

I am convinced that Elder Neil Andersen taught a true principle at BYU in August 2015. And I am also convinced there are many ways the Lord provides opportunity for compensatory spiritual power for the righteous in a day when great wickedness reigns and the polarization between the two grows wider almost by the day. This understanding has changed how I read the conference addresses–with one ear to the rail listening for clues from the Lord’s chosen servants about the Lord’s work among his people today.  I am also convinced that with this prophetic perspective we can live at this time with optimism, happiness, and great hope.   

I conclude with an amazing example of this optimism, happiness and hope from the pen of an early Latter-day Saint sister, following her expulsion from the state of Missouri. She and her compatriots were literally refugees on the banks of the Mississippi River in Quincy, Illinois. It was a time of great persecution, suffering, hunger, chaos, and the Prophet was for part of that time imprisoned in Liberty Jail. To family members she wrote two lengthy letters in February and September of 1839. The following excerpts from those letters are not only articulate and eloquent, but more importantly they constitute a remarkable statement of powerful faith, hope, and optimism. One has to ask oneself how, under the circumstances, she could possess the perspective to say, “The work of the Lord is on the march.” Read carefully and you will discern the keys.
...some, who a few months ago did seem to run well in the strait an narrow path have to our astonishment and grief forsook us and fled; our Prophet is still in jail, and many others whom we love.  To look at our situation at this present time it would seem that Zion is all destroyed, but it is not so; the work of the Lord is on the march!  
The Spirit of the Lord has rested upon me within a few months as it never did before and although I have labored hard, over the sick, night and day, yet communion with my Heavenly Father has sweetened many hours of toil and acts....
With courage bold let us stand, putting our trust in the Lord which alone will disable the power of darkness to flee before us.  Be of good cheer amidst opposition, faint not on the way.  I know the path is very narrow and straight for weary pilgrims like us, and only here and there a traveler do we find to accompany us on our journey, but the Lord will conduct us safely to the end.(17)
Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous,” address at the BYU Education Week devotional, 13 August 2015.  Available online at:

Note please that all further references and quotes by Elder Andersen come from this address.

2.  M. Russell Ballard, “Family Councils,” Ensign (May 2016): 63.

3.  Ibid, 65.

4.  Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Ensign (May 2016): 68.

5.  Ibid, pp. 67-68.

6.  Boyd K. Packer, “The Power of the Priesthood,” Ensign (May 2010): 9.

7.  Ibid, p. 8.  

8.  Ibid, p. 9.  

9.  Russell M. Nelson, “The Price of Priesthood Power,” Ensign (May 2016): 68.

10.  Ibid.

11.  Ibid.

12.  Ibid.

13.  Ibid.  

14.  Ibid, 69.

15.  Ibid.

16.  Ibid, emphasis in the original.

17.  Excerpts of letters of 24 February and 21 September 1839, from Elizabeth Haven Barlow to her family, reproduced in Ora H. Barlow, The Israel Barlow Story and Mormon Mores (Salt Lake City: Publishers Press, 1968), 143, 161-62.  See a video reenactment of this at:

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Time In Which We Come of Age©

Updated: 3 November 2017

I read something Elizabeth Dole said at a university commencement in 2015 that put into words something which I have been concerned about for the past several years. Admittedly, capturing such amorphous, fuzzy, misty thoughts floating around in my mind is not a strong suit. But ... I am pretty good at recognizing them when someone else crystallizes them in words. Here is what she said:  “In addition to the wonderful skills, traits and knowledge you have learned at Norwich [University], the time in which you came of age has shaped your perspective in a unique and profound way.”(1)  A common notion you may say. Good for you, but I have been thinking about the problems which exist because of the “generation gap” for a long time and I never quite got my finger on this button. Now I have it quite a few things come into much clearer perspective.  We most often think of our provincialism as due to the place where we were raised.  Dole suggests we may also be provincial due to the time in which we come of age.
Mrs. Dole frames this idea in a fairly positive context with a bit of a warning about growing up in the age of information and connectivity. For me her insight illuminated the potential source of a number of problems I observed as I spent my life teaching the young and experienced an ever widening gap as I grew older, but the students sitting before me were generally the same age from year to year. I have also observed the reality of her insight in my children and especially my grandchildren.
The crux of the problem I have observed is that each generation (20 years or two decades or so in length), grow up thinking that their way of seeing and thinking and feeling is the correct way to see, think, and feel. Of course, what else are they to assume? Here is where wise parents and educators come in. It is their duty to help the most recent generations learn that what they see, think, and feel is shaped by the time and place in which they come of age.  But it has not always been the way it is now, and that others growing up in another time or another place, many of whom are still alive, are shaped by their times and places too. Therefore, there are many different ways of perceiving the world, and of thinking and feeling about it. Thus, they should exercise some caution, judgment, and a modicum of humility before making too many assumptions and judgments about the relative superiority of their time and place and especially of their way of living, thinking, evaluating, and judging.
Because ... it is entirely possible that in the rapid pace of change the world is experiencing now, it is just possible, that some very good things have been forgotten, lost, or ignored in relationship to how one perceives, thinks, and feels about the world in which they live. In another commencement address Mrs. Dole pointed out that many of today’s students, (now it involves the majority of those in high school) do not know by personal experience a single thing which happened in the Twentieth Century, and many of them do not have a memory about 9/11, 2001! What they know of two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War, for example, which shaped much of the Twentieth Century, is not by personal experience, but by way of a history class and/or the Internet.

Moreover, there are many prophecies in the Bible and in Mormon scriptures as well as by modern prophets which characterize the time we live in as one in which Satan claims this earth as his dominion and as a time of especially great wickedness, ignorance, corruption, war, rebellion, loss of natural affection, degradation, conflict, loss of morality, hate, materialism, political and social strife, spiritual weakness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, just to mention a few.

For example, in 2011, Thomas S. Monson pointed out, “I've lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of socety's morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”(2) Elder Neil L. Andersen, said in 2015, “As these temptations and distractions increase and as the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes less palatable to the world, sadly we will see more among us who will lose their way.”(3)  "Chasm ... growing ever wider," and the Gospel becoming "less palatable to the world," suggest that the world today's youth are growing up in is significantly different morally than that of just a generation or two ago. It should be pointed out that today's young people have experienced at best, the smallest part of this slippage from spiritual moorings. And in many, perhaps most cases except in highly religious homes, they are unaware of those earlier spiritual moorings altogether.  Something very important has gone by the wayside almost unknown by today's generation.

The loss of many good things, secular and religious, is only one generation away. In 1961 and again in 1967, Ronald Reagan warned that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”( 4) A decade later Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of “these last days when the consummate power of evil moves against us.” Christian churches, he said, should be the bulwark against this tide. Instead, they “provide little substance” for members or clergy, which leads to the “frightening specter of empty churches and a clergy promoting causes they, above all, should resist.” He warned, “We face the frightening thought of a generation raised without any contact with the scriptures.”(5) Two generations later we are witnessing the fulfillment of that warning, and it is overlapping the Church somewhat today too.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell repeatedly called the Church’s attention to the possibility that, though the entire Church would not go into apostasy, many individuals may.(6) He cited Judges 2:10-13 where we are told that on one occasion “all that generation were gathered unto their fathers [had passed on]: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” and they forsook the Lord and began to worship other gods. There were two great losses: 1) they knew not the Lord, and 2) they knew not the “works which he had done for Israel”–that is they didn’t know the religious history of their people.

The Book of Mormon contains similar warnings. King Benjamin taught the people that without the Brass Plates of Laban which Nephi and his brethren brought with them to the New World, “we must have suffered in ignorance, even at the present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.” He said that without God’s teachings and commandments “always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.”(7) The "dwindling principle" is played out in King Benjamin’s posterity. He gave one of the most important sermons in the Book of Mormon, but we are told in Mosiah 26 that “there were many of the rising generation who could not understand Benjamin’s teachings because they were “little children” at the time the sermon was given.They did not believe what he said about the resurrection or the coming of Christ. Mormon concludes: “And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.  And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after....”(8) Individuals and societies can dwindle in unbelief because important things are not preserved and passed on.

Elder Maxwell also cited Alma 37:8 which speaks about the wisdom of God in seeing that the source records for the Book of Mormon were preserved, “for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people....” Elder Maxwell went on to elaborate:
Used effectively, the scriptures, as was done anciently, can actually enlarge “the memory of this people,” emancipating them, in a sense, from the limitations of their own time. The enlargement includes conveying the experiences of others which the current generation has not had, and in such a way as to permit its members to conceptualize, appreciate, and learn from these experiences.(9)
As Reagan said, these things are not passed on in the bloodstream. Too many young people today do not have any sense of the "limitations of their own time." They are like butterflies in a cocoon and need emancipation but do not know it. A little reflection about the present day shows the wisdom of these men temporally and spiritually. Many aspects of our freedom are under siege and the constant growth of the “nones” group of religious affiliation is only one of many indicators that secularism is relentlessly challenging and replacing Christian teachings and beliefs.

Those who educate and guide the young need this spiritual perspective as well as one borne out of the understanding and wisdom which comes from wide reading in history of all kinds--not just about political events, wars, and the elite--but also the history of science, art, culture, religion, technology, economics and other subjects.  Many biographies contribute to this widening of perspective and deepening of understanding and wisdom.

Interestingly, a day after I read Dole’s talk I came across one from Peggy Noonan that addresses the issue and provides an example with great insight–especially on the value of history and biography. She was talking about young–under 45–journalists and politicians who want to make history, but know nothing of history because all the have they got from the Internet.
They have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. They read the headline on Drudge or the Huffington Post and then jump to another site with more headlines. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is therefore superficial.  Here is the problem:  If those trying to make history have only a shallow sense of history, they will not be able to make anything good. 
They came to maturity in the internet age and have filled much of their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned, that is, through sensation, and not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. 
Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world -- of life itself. 
Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma.  The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events:  It makes your brain do work. 
But, oddly, it's work the brain wants to do. 
A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear.  Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands.  In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.(10)
Here is one more along these lines that is worth stopping to think about in this context. It is from Helen Mirren's commencement address at Tulane less than a month ago.
My parents' generation were born at the end of one World War, survived a global economic meltdown, and then fought a second World War. And of course, for their heroic efforts they were rewarded by my generation deciding to reject everything they stood for.(11)
Many examples of good things which may be lost as a result of the colloquialism and “presentism” of our personal perspectives could be given. I may do that someday when I can devote the necessary time to think them through.(12) My purpose in writing today is to heighten awareness of this issue and the problems it can create in the minds of teachers and young parents and in the minds of the young themselves. (This has to be the height of folly, doesn’t it, to think a young person–under 18 or perhaps even under 25, will read this? Alas, hope springs eternal.)  
My hope is that parents and teachers armed with this illuminating insight may take some action to help youth more properly adjust their thinking and feeling–much of which is good, even great, but some of which may be deficient because of the absence of some good things which are not present in the present!

Let’s think together again, soon.


1.  Elizabeth Dole, commencement address at Norwich University, 9 May 2015, available on the internet at:
Peggy Noonan describes the process discussed in this paragraph:  "It [reading] will change how your very mind works. And in some magical way the deep thoughts of others give a spark to, and almost give permission to, thoughts of your own that had been lurking about but never had the courage to present themselves..." See footnote 10 for reference.

2.  Thomas S. Monson, "Priesthood Power," Ensign (May 2011): 66.  He began his address to the men of the Church expressing concern about the challenges they are facing. The immediate context of the above quoted passage is:  "We have come to the earth in troubled times.  The moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an 'almost anything goes' position."

3. Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous,” devotional address for BYU Campus Education Week, 18 August 2015.  Available online at:

4.  Ronald Reagan, address to the annual meeting of the Pheonix Chamber of Commerce, 30 March 1961, you can find videos of this on Youtube; and, address, California Gubernatorial Inauguration speech, 5 January 1967. Online here:

Reagan's full quotation is: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

5.  Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1971, 10; on the Church website the talk is titled, “The Only True and Living Church,” emphasis added.  See:

6.  See: Neal a. Maxwell, “‘God Will Yet Reveal,’” Ensign, (November 1986): 52;“The Children of Christ,” Brigham Young University 1989-1990 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1990), 87; Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 1-9.

Elder Henry Eyring said an entire generation will not be lost.   Henry B. Eyring, "We Must Raise Our Sights," Address to Religious Educators at a Conference on the Book of Mormon, BYU, 14 August 2001.  It is on the Religious Studies Center website and is published in Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights,” in The Voice of My Servants: Apostolic Messages on Teaching, Learning, and Scripture, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 11-21.  This quotation is on page 1.

7. See Mosiah 1: 3-5. Compare 1 Ne. 3:19-20 showing prophetic perspective in having and preserving records, and Omni 1:17-18 which did not maintain that perspective.

8.  Mosiah 26: 1-4.

9.  Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 2, emphasis added.

10. Peggy Noonan, commencement address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 13 May 2017. Available online at:

11.  Helen Mirren, commencement address at Tulane University, 20 May 2017.  Available online at:

12.  I’m thinking here of such things as the almost universal notion in liberal universities and colleges which equates tolerance with acceptance, and promoting nearly unquestioningly the values of diversity and individualism without regard to the positive benefits of cooperation and unity. Or, what appears to be to be a near fatal loss of understanding of the values and principles accepted and espoused by the Framers of the Constitution and the devaluing of the Constitution itself. Or, the denigration of the values of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and of traditional family life. Or, the nearly total abandonment of accompanying emphasis on chastity among the sexes and fidelity in marriage.