Friday, 13 December 2013

Christmas is for everyone, even Christians

Back in the early 2000's the annual war on Christmas was a fairly new thing.  In 2004 I wrote an article about it that was published in the Canada Free Press and eventually got picked up by  It's a little dated of course but I still think it is worth reading so here it is again.
December 2, 2004

Christmas is for everyone, even Christians

Some 2000 years ago, in a small, unimportant corner of the world, a baby was born. His mother lovingly wrapped him in swaddling clothes and gently laid him in a manger. Some people today want to figuratively drop that same child into the nearest dumpster and walk away.

Take a stroll through the local shopping mall and try to spot the word 'Christmas'. Listen to how rarely the staff will greet customers with 'Merry Christmas', and notice how few advertising campaigns use the word. If you want a real challenge, try to find any kind of reference to the nativity in a public school's 'Holiday' Concert. In some schools, even Jingle Bells is on the verge of being banned.

The motive might be to avoid offending some religiously intolerant person, but the result is open hostility towards Christianity. The deliberate removal of 'Christmas' from public language is a cold shoulder of disrespect that tells believers they are only tolerated if they stay quiet. George Orwell was correct when he wrote that language shapes our thoughts. Replacing 'Merry Christmas' with 'Happy holidays', or 'Christmas tree' with 'holiday tree', or 'Christmas cards' with 'special occasion cards' changes how we think of those items in a way that lessens their value, and that causes far more offence than it cures.

Treating the word 'Christmas' like it is a profanity is an insult, especially when Ramadan and Kwanza get more and more positive media attention every year. No effort is made to suppress the customs of those celebrations and you don't find the media suggesting that they are based on a myth or a lie. Double standards like this are not the way to bring joy to the world.

The fear that merely mentioning the word 'Christmas' is going to offend the multicultural masses is largely false. The number of non-Christians claiming to be personally offended by hearing the proper name for the holiday comes to approximately zero and it actually isn't that hard to find Jewish, Muslim and non-religious families that enthusiastically celebrate Christmas as a cultural holiday.

Although they don't have to, non-Christians can find good reasons to celebrate Christ's birth if they look for them. Western democracy itself is a direct result of the Christian faith of America's Founding Fathers. Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Jefferson and so very many others were openly Christian. It was the teachings of Christ, separated from the dogma of a specific sect, which formed the ideological base for the American constitution and Bill of Rights. As President John Quincy Adams said, the creation of the United States of America "laid the corner stone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity."

The ideas found in the American constitution can be spotted in the charter of every free nation in the world today. Americans, Canadians, Israelis, Europeans, Russians, the Afghani schoolgirl learning to read, the Iraqi mother registering to vote, and so many others all have a reason to be glad that Christ was born.

There are more reasons though. In the First World War British and German troops didn't lay down their guns on Christmas morning to play soccer and exchange gifts with each other because they were afraid of getting coal in their stocking. They were touched by something deeper, and so too are many others every Christmas season, regardless of religion. Anyone known to be in need has to put up a pretty good fight to avoid receiving a portion of the generosity Christmas brings out in everyone.
Christmas with Christ prompts us to be better people, to put aside differences, forgive past hurts, change old habits and help those we can. He called on us to not just alter our public behaviour, but to purify all our deeds and even our thoughts, to love our enemies, and treat others as we would have them treat us. He made the world a better place, but too much of that would be lost if December 25th became a day to party just because we like parties.

Christ's teachings continue to shape the world, and that probably has more to do with the drive to strike out His name than anything else. President Bush's faith is no secret, and no sham either. He was returned to office by voters who, Christian or not, hold Christian values dear. Small wonder then that the blue states' post-election temper tantrum has joined the parade of politically correct yuletide insanity.

Target, a retail chain well connected with the Democrats, banned the Salvation Army from their storefronts. In Denver, where Kerry picked up 70% of the vote, a church group was kept out of the annual parade because they were going to sing Christmas hymns and shout 'Merry Christmas' to the crowds. Both Time Magazine and Newsweek, known for their liberal leanings, are running cover stories that paint the record of Christ's birth as a myth. They are comfortable with using His name to deride the red states as 'Jesusland', but not to give credit for Christmas where it's due.

There is probably no religious holiday as inclusive as Christmas. You don't need faith that Christ is the King of kings to embrace 'peace on earth, good will towards men,' nor do you need to believe that wise men sought Him before you exchange gifts with those close to you. It is a holiday open to anyone who wants to join in and people who claim they cherish tolerance and diversity should be among the most vocal promoters and defenders of Christmas.

Each year since has had it's share of stories of people objecting to the celebration of Christ's birth.  This year we have examples like the bus driver forbidden to a Santa suit as he has done in years past, children told they can't sing Christmas carols outside a grocery store.  But there seems to be less of these kinds of stories than in the past, and in the two mentioned above there were happy endings.  The bus driver eventually got permission, and it appears that it was just an employee of the store trying to stop them, not store policy.  While shopping I've heard Christmas music, really carols like Away in a Manger etc. playing in the background, and it is nice to see others coming to the defense of Christmas as well like this statement made recently in Canada's Parliment by a non-Christian MP.

There is much wrong in the world of course, but it's nice to feel that something out there is actually getting better.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

When religous freedom is lost

Continued from: The Importance of Religious Freedom,

Mormon folklore has long held that in the last days the persecution faced by members of the Church will exceed what the early Saints faced in Joseph Smith's day.  True or not, we do know that the principle of freedom of religion which should shield people from religious persecution is at risk.  How then are faithful Latter-Day Saints to react when that liberty is not just at risk, but actually lost?

The examples we have in the scriptures and the history of the Church show there are a number of possibilities.  While we will need the guidance of a prophet as well as personal revelation to know what road to take, we should be aware of the possibilities

After his conversion, the prophet Alma and his followers were driven out into the wilderness by King Noah.  Eventually, they were conqued by the Lamanites who made Amulon, one of King Noah's priests, a ruler over them.  Amulon used them as slaves and put to death anybody seen praying.  The people of Alma submitted to these injustices, limiting their prayers to secret prayers in their hearts.  God in turn blessed them with strength to bear the burdens placed on them, and eventually delivered them from bondage (see Mosiah 24)

In Church history, there were many times where the early Saints submitted to unjust treatment.  Probably the biggest example of this was over the issue of polygamy.  Things had gotten to the point where it became a choice between submission, or revolution.  President Wilford Woodruff saw in vision exactly what would happen if the Church did not submit, and he was willing to go down that road as well, except God instead released the Church from the obligation of practicing it, allowing them to submit in the matter so that the work could go forward. (see Official Declaration 1)

Through the missionary efforts of Ammon, many Lamanites came to accept the gospel and repent of their sins.  This did not sit well with the other Lamanites and Nephite dissenters who repeatedly attacked them, killing many.  While initially their submission to these attacks resulted in the conversion of more Lamanites, eventually their existence became threatened.  At this point they fled their homeland and joined with the Nephites, who gave them the land of Jershon where they could live under Nephite protection. (see Alma 23-27)

Likewise, after much persecution the early Saints left for the Utah territory where they could live in peace for a time and grow in numbers.

Civil Disobedience
Consider the story of Daniel and the Lion's Den.  King Darius was convinced to make a binding decree that for the next 30 days, anybody who prayed or petitioned any God other than the king would be cast into a den of lions.  

In Dan 6:10 we read:
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime.
This was an act of deliberate civil disobedience.  Daniel knew what the law was.  He could have just prayed secretly in his heart, he could have hidden himself away to pray in secret, he could have just waited 30 days.  Instead he carried on exactly as before, making no effort to comply and no effort to conceal his disobedience.  If it was wrong for Daniel to do this, would God have still saved him when he was cast into the Lion's den?  I think not.

Civil Disobendience was also used by several members of the Church, including General Authorities, when the government passed laws against polygamy.  The Church held these laws as an affront to their religious freedom (and the American constitution) and chose to obey God rather than man.  Several of them spent time in jail for refusing to disobey God.  Only when God withdrew the obligation to practice polygamy did they submit.

An important point to note in these and other examples of legitimate civil disobedience is that there is no effort to avoid the consequences by denying there was any disobedience or trying to find some kind of technicality to escape punishment.

Captain Moroni led the Nephite armies in a long war against the Lamanites.  If the Lamanites won the war, it would be the end of religious liberty for the Nephites and the end of the church among all the decedents of Lehi.  When Captain Moroni found he was not receiving the support he needed from his government, he wrote to Pahoran, the Chief Judge.  In the letter we read this:

25 And except ye grant mine epistle, and come out and show unto me a true spirit of freedom, and strive to strengthen and fortify our armies, and grant unto them food for their support, behold I will leave a part of my freemen to maintain this part of our land, and I will leave the strength and the blessings of God upon them, that none other power can operate against them—
26 And this because of their exceeding faith, and their patience in their tribulations—
27 And I will come unto you, and if there be any among you that has a desire for freedom, yea, if there be even a spark of freedom remaining, behold I will stir up insurrections among you, even until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct. (Alma 60:25-27)
Think about that.  Captain Moroni, the guy who if we were all like him it would shake the foundations of hell was telling his government that he would violently overthrow them if that is what had to be done to preserve their liberty.

A similar situation existed with the American Revolution.  Captain Moroni didn't need to overthrow his government, but the American colonies did.  The founding Fathers of the USA were in fact traitors to the king of England.  From modern day revelation we know what the did was right in God's eyes.

78 That every man may act in doctrine and principle pertaining to futurity, according to the moral agency which I have given unto him, that every man may be accountable for his own sins in the day of judgment.
79 Therefore, it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.
80 And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood. (D&C 101:78-80)

Divine Intervention
This is God's option, not ours, but we should be aware of it.

We tend not to look at the story of the Exodus in terms of religious freedom, but more in terms of personal freedom from slavery.  If we do that however we are missing part of the picture.  Look at how the first meeting Moses had with Pharaoh's began:

 And afterward Moses and Aaron went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.
 And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.
 And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God; (see Gen. 5:1-3)

Pharaoh of course refused to allow the children of Israel to worship God, and what followed was an outpouring of  plagues and curses unlike anything known in history.  A similar situation took place in the Book of Mormon with the people in the city of Ammonihah.  After those who converted to the gospel were either cast into the fire or driven out of the city, and Alma and Amulek were imprisoned and persecuted further, God brought down the prison killing their tormentors and leaving them unharmed.  Soon after every living soul in the city was killed in a Laminate attack.

Other examples exist, but for now this is sufficient to outline what kind of responses are justifiable when faced with losing one's freedom of religion.

Just because something may be justified doesn't mean that it is the wisest option, or the option God would approve.  If Alma's followers responded to Ammulon's infringement of their rights with civil disobedience, they would have all been killed.  If the founding Fathers of the American Constitution submitted to the king, there would not have been a land of freedom for the gospel to be restored in.

I have no doubt that both as a people and as individuals we well face situations where our religious liberty is taken from us in at least some degree.  We are told to be good citizens of our nations and to follow the counsel of the 12th Article of Faith.  It is always the wise course to follow the prophet, and we also need to have the spirit with us to help in our own individual situation. In the end the gospel will fill the earth, and Christ will come again, so be prepared, and also be of good cheer.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

The Importance of Religious Freedom

It isn't hard to notice that the church has put a lot of emphasis on supporting religious freedom over the past several months.  The most visible sign has been the Support Religious Freedom Facebook page, which strives to build bridges with all faith groups to rally support for religious liberty.

On top of that the ongoing efforts of Elder Dallin H. Oaks has earned recognition by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty who awarded him the the Canterbury Medal which honors individuals who show 'courage in the defense of religious freedom'.  If you check the Newsroom on the subject, you'll see there are several links to talks by General Authorities and others on the importance of maintaining this freedom in society.

The principle is not new to Latter-Day Saints of course; we've held religious liberty as critical from the start of the Church.  In the early days of the church, many Federal, State, and local leaders failed again and again to protect the Saints from having their religious liberty violated over and over.

Many times government authorities were directly involved in the persecutions the Saints faced, even to the point of making it legal to kill a person just for being a Mormon.  Even though the Church was founded in a land that enshrined religious liberty in it's constitution, they were still forced to flee to the Utah Territory for their own safety.  There they were able to grow in numbers and establish themselves and gather their strength for a time, but even after that the government showed it had both the will and the power to persecute the Saints and violate their rights even further using polygamy as its justification to deny citizens their rights and freedom, and even dis-incorporate the church temporarily.

This history plays a big role in creating a deep commitment among Mormons to maintaining religious liberty, but for at least the last 65 years it hasn't been something many Mormons have had to fight to maintain.  It was a value we shared with society.  Times have changed though, and if we don't fight for it, we are very likely to lose it.

The primary threat against religious liberty (as I see it) is the world's view that upholding God's standards on marriage and the family is evil.  I talked about this at length before and won't go over it again.  Coupled with this however is a militant atheism that arrogantly presumes any person holding any kind of faith in any kind of God is mentally weak or unbalanced, comparable to an adult who still believes in Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.  And also it seem more and more common that people confuse freedom from religion with freedom of religion.  This leads them to think that it is perfectly OK to force a person to act contrary to their conscience in the workplace or public arena, and only within the walls of their home can they really practice their faith.

Requiring a Catholic pharmacist to dispense medication they object to on moral grounds is no different than requiring an atheist to say a public prayer in Christ's name.  Both are wrong, both are violations of religious freedom.

In  D&C 134 verse 2 it states:
We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.

Here is the real reason why freedom of religion is vital.  Any government that will not uphold it sows the seeds of their own destruction.

The reason for that lies in the very nature of faith. Upholding religious liberty avoids putting somebody in the position of having to choose between their loyalty to God and their loyalty to the state.  If  somebody`s devotion to God is second to their devotion to the state, then the state is in fact their god.  Those who put their devotion to God first (as it should be) will put the commands of God before the commands of the state, and the result is conflict that has the potential to become violence and turn into civil unrest.  Religion has often been blamed for most of the wars of history.  The truth is that a lack of respect for religious freedom was at the root of those wars.

Also, freedom of religion is directly linked to freedom of speech and freedom of association.  If religious beliefs are used to justify limits on other freedoms, why stop there?  It is a short hop to making certain political viewpoints justification for the same treatment.

But what should we, as Latter-Day Saints do if (when?) we find ourselves caught in such a dilemma between God and government?  There are a number of examples in scripture and church history that are very instructive on this and I will write about these in my next post. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Thoughts on General Conference.

I always look forward to listening to the prophets and apostles of God at General Conference.  I listen for the messages that are specifically suited for my own life, but I also listen for repeated messages and themes as a way of discerning the state of the world at large.  A kind of reverse engineering of the inspiration that was given so I can get an idea of where things are headed.  (Go back and review the October 2008 General Conference assuming they knew Obama was going to become President)  Here are the messages I noticed being repeated and what I think it means:

Missionary Work
Right off the bat the announcement of the church reaching the 15 million members mark was followed up with instruction from the prophet himself that members need to step up and meet the challenge of hastening the work of salvation.  Other speakers repeated the plea. 

To my mind, 'hastening the work' is a nice way of saying that we are near the end of the marathon, time is short, so it is time to move into a sprint to the finish.  Hence the change in the age of service was made making the missionary program rapidly increase in size in a single year.  I won't be too surprised if soon sisters will have the option of serving for a full two years as well.

Marriage and Motherhood
The emphasis on the importance of marriage and women fulfilling their traditional roles as mothers came up again and again, also warnings against the politically correct ideas that would push women to put family aside for career or abandon femininity and traditional gender roles for popularity and acceptance.  There were times I was sure I could hear a legion of feminist Mormon housewives grinding their teeth. 

I think it is fair to conclude that true daughter-of-God womanhood is increasingly unpopular with the world and the women and youth of the church are at risk of being influenced by that.  The Lord`s ideas of valuing each of his children without reference to what status or role they play and the divinely appointed roles of men and women laid out in the gospel run counter to the world`s focus on status and what constitutes gender equality.  The recent push by some activists for the ordination of women shows these worldly ideas have attracted some members.

Faith in the face of uncertainty
Elder Uchtdorf's 'Come join with us' talk ties directly in with Elder Holland's 'Lord, I believe' talk in April.  Both were messages directed at those members who are struggling to understand or come to terms with aspects of the gospel or church history that they find difficult.  I expect that the need for this arises from the increased attacks against the church as it's profile has risen due to current events.  Also as the world drifts further away from accepting gospel principles a larger and larger gap is opening up between the church and the secular world.  That gap can be hard to deal with and pose a challenge to one`s faith, especially for a youth or new member.

Elder Uchtdorf's statement that church members and leaders have at time made mistakes seemed to make a lot of waves in some circles.  The New York Times trumpeted the headline: A Top Mormon Leader Acknowledges the Church ‘Made Mistakes’ when that isn`t what he said at all, and every activist member latched onto it jumping to the conclusion that they are right to point fingers, accuse or attack the church, and lobby for whatever their pet issue is.

Nevertheless, there are many people who have honest struggles to come to grips with things they find hard, and what Elders Uchtdorf and Holland said serves to shield them from unrighteous judgement and encourage them to press on and reach the point where their faith is stronger and their understanding better. 

Nothing they said undermines the divinely inspired doctrines of the church or it's policies.  It was not a license to try and sort through and cherry pick what you think the church is right about and reject what you think the church may be wrong about.  It was a call to forgive those who have failed to live up the level of Christlike behavior the church promotes.  Rather than leave the church when a Bishop or other leader slips up in some way, forgive their weakness as you would wish your weaknesses forgiven.

Legal does not mean moral, and religious liberty must be upheld
Another recurring message was the constancy of the Lord's moral standards, even when the world standards change.  I think same sex marriage was specifically mentioned but I could be mistaken on that, but still the vibe I got from this was that we are going to face living in a world where same sex marriage is legalized, and we will need to be prepared to stick to our moral guns in that environment.

Together with that were references to standing up and fighting to preserve religious liberty, and even be prepared to endure infringements on that right.  As I pointed out before, same sex marriage and religious freedom are not compatible with each other.  I think this is the motivation behind the church`s big thrust in defending religious liberty.  I`ll have more to say on religious liberty in another post soon.

Other thoughts
Elder Holland's talk in support of those struggling with mental illness was a moving act of compassion that is very welcome.  Challenges of this nature have touched the lives of some people close to my heart and I know they (and I) were very grateful for the message.

I chose to watch the Priesthood session at home with my eternal companion.  Our 10 year old son sat and watch with us too.  Now they both know the prophet told me to make sure I do my home teaching.  I suppose this is a good thing.  I need to go make some appointments now...

Monday, 9 September 2013

War and more war

A big chunk of the Book of Mormon has to do with recounting the wars between the Nephites and the Lamanites.  In fact the last 17 chapters of Alma is about little else.  Many pages are used to describe the various battles that took place over the span of a few years, where in other places decades are given only a single verse. 

Given that the Book of Mormon is a compilation of the parts of Nephite history that would be important for us to know about, it is fair to assume that this focus on war indicates that war would play a big part in the history of the world in the latter days, and clearly it does.  It also provides us with an example of how a righteous army and army leaders would conduct themselves during war times.

One theme that is repeated often in Alma is that the Nephites are justified in going to war for the sake of defending their liberty, including their religious liberty.

Alma 43
47 And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites contending with the Lamanites, to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.
 Alma 48
 14 Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.
Alma 61
10 And now, behold, we will resist wickedness even unto bloodshed. We would not shed the blood of the Lamanites if they would stay in their own land.
11 We would not shed the blood of our brethren if they would not rise up in rebellion and take the sword against us.
 12 We would subject ourselves to the yoke of bondage if it were requisite with the justice of God, or if he should command us so to do.
 13 But behold he doth not command us that we shall subject ourselves to our enemies, but that we should put our trust in him, and he will deliver us.
 14 Therefore, my beloved brother, Moroni, let us resist evil, and whatsoever evil we cannot resist with our words, yea, such as rebellions and dissensions, let us resist them with our swords, that we may retain our freedom, that we may rejoice in the great privilege of our church, and in the cause of our Redeemer and our God.
As American troops moved into Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein from power, President Hinckley recounted much of this in his 'War and Peace' General Conference talk and also said: 
"It is clear from these and other writings that there are times and circumstances when nations are justified, in fact have an obligation, to fight for family, for liberty, and against tyranny, threat, and oppression."
Whatever flaws there may have been with the execution of the war in Iraq, the end result is that the people Iraqi people have more liberty than before and are are free from the brutal dictatorship of Hussein and his sons.

In Syria things are not quite the same.  Syria is no paradise of liberty and has one of the worst records for upholding human rights in all the world.  While that makes it easy to quickly sympathize with people who are trying to overthrow the government there, not all change is for the better.

The rebels are not striving to bring democracy and freedom and safety to their country, they seek power to impose their own dictatorship, one that could also likely turn oil-rich Syria into a source of massive international terrorism.  Videos can easily be found on Youtube showing the rebels (deeply connected with terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda) acting in a manner that fits in well with the war atrocities recorded in Moroni 9.  Their barbaric actions make the speculation that they used chemical weapons on their own people to draw the USA into the fight to help them win credible.  This is not a battle between good and evil, this is a case of the wicked destroying the wicked.

That is something we've seen in the Book of Mormon before as well, both at the end of the Nephite and the Jaredite civilizations.  In those cases, the prophet of the day chose to stay out of it, and it would seem to make sense for the USA to follow that path here as well.

There is no freedom to defend or establish here and you can't join the fight without joining up with the bad guys. There is nothing for the US to gain from supporting the rebels, and there will be no benefit to the Syrian people either should they win in the end.  Humanitarian aid for non-combatants is fine, but taking sides isn't going to serve a purpose.  Egypt has already been destabilized thanks in part to US meddling.  I would hope they would learn from that and think twice before making the same mistakes in Syria, but I'm not going to count on it.

Friday, 16 August 2013

How the Internet is like the railroad.

Recently the New York Times published an article highlighting the disaffection of one time Area Authority Hans Mattsson from the church.  The structure was typical; present Mattsson as a solid Mormon cloistered from the real world who 'discovers' a bunch of things that shake his faith, prop up his concerns to make them sound as legitimate as possible, and try to portray his story as some kind of growing tend sure to doom the Mormon church.

The implied message of the article is that the Church can't stop members from finding 'the truth' about their faith online, and so the Internet will undermine the church.  This really is no differnt then in ages past when they said that once Joseph Smith was dead, Mormonism would die, or that when the railroad reached Utah, Mormonism would die.

Well, we survived all of those events.  Actually we thrived in spite of them (or because of them) and so it already is with the internet.  Everything in that article portrayed as something that should shake a Mormon's faith is already countered online.  FAIR-LDS one such place where Mattsson could find all the answers he wants if he would look, and their Wiki is a one stop clearing house of answers to pretty much every accusation ever hurled at the church.

The Church can stand up to scrutiny and has nothing to run away from.  Back in 1998 Mormon critics Carl Mosser and Paul Owen admitted that when it came to scholarly debates on Mormonism, Evangelicals were 'Losing the Battle and Not Knowing It'  The momentum has not shifted in the 15 years since then.

Combating anti-Mormon accusation is a very small part of how the Internet is a blessing to the church.  At the ward level the internet has vastly expanded communication between members and between leaders.  Apps like LDSTools and GospelLibrary bless individual members daily.  Online resources like, YouTube channels, Facebook pages, etc. are a growing missionary resource, and the recently announced changes to missionary work are going to transform proselyting as we know it today.

Going back to Mattsson, I find it very odd that a man who is rather older than I am, grew up in the church as I did but was unaware of things I clearly recall being covered in Seminary and discussed at other times, including on my mission.  There will always be disaffected members however who either don't avail themselves of the resources available to them, or worse who fall into apostacy through sin and seek to cover their transgressions by undermining the church so their departure looks virtuous.    I'm not saying Mattsson falls into that category, all I know about him is what is in that article, but I do know that there are people who do that.  There will also always be those all too happy to try and turn one Mormon's crisis of faith into a trend if they can.

I think really there are two questions that we can use to evaluate ourselves spiritually.  How hard is it for God to get you onto the straight and narrow path, and how easy is it for Satan to pull you off after you get on.  Those of us who got on the path without a big struggle can sometimes be the easiest to pull off.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Nephi and George Zimmerman

Something to ponder:

Nephi  the son of Helaman

George Zimmerman
Corrupt judges stirred the people up to anger against Nephi for his speaking out against the evil in his society.
The Department of Justice (which is obligated to presume George Zimmerman innocent until proven guilty) helped organize and manage rallies against Zimmerman, stirring the people up against him and calling for his imprisonment, or worse.
Nephi had witnesses who attested to his innocence, but because others concocted a theory that he was part of some conspiracy they had no evidence even existed, he was brought before the judges.
Zimmerman had evidence supporting his claim to self defense and others who attested to his good character.  The Sanford Police Department found no grounds to arrest him, even when the case was turned over to the State Attorney's office for review they also concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge Zimmerman.  Only later under political and media pressure was Zimmerman charged and brought to trial.
Zimmerman's defense in court was not an attempt to muddy the waters and claim reasonable doubt, he set out to prove that things happened as he said they did. After considering the evidence and testimony on both sides the jury ruled him not guilty even when they were told they could consider lesser changes.
Some believed Nephi told the truth about himself, there arose a great division among the people.
Some defend the verdict as correct, but there are ongoing protests, including violent threats and efforts to find some other ways to jail Zimmerman.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Gay marriage or religious freedom, pick one.

The fact that the judicial and executive branches of government combined to thwart the will of people is disturbing, but perhaps even worse than that is how this ruling will impact the free exercise of religion in the years to come.  It lays the groundwork for religious persecution under the guise of defending human or civil rights.

If you read the majority decision, you find there are many places where the motives of those who support DOMA are characterized in a negative way. Speaking for the majority, Justice Kennedy deemed that the Defence of Marriage Act "seeks to injure", represents a "desire to harm" and is "motivated by an improper animus or impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages."

In other words, they are declaring that (in the opinion of the court) there are no legitimate grounds for opposition to same sex marriage other than bigotry and hatred.  I find this is a rather amazing conclusion since I don't think there was any testimony or evidence on this topic presented to the US Supreme Court.

The ruling appears to be based on their personal politics, heavily influenced by the popular media culture.  It is clearly not based on fact, evidence and law.  The blindfold is off lady justice, and her thumb is on the scale to tip it to where she wants it to be.

This ruling legitimizes demonizing the majority of the population for their political and religious views as a pretext to denying them the right to enact laws that represent their will.  As Justice Scalia put it in his objection:
In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to "disparage," "injure," "degrade," "demean," and "humiliate" our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.
 The long term impact of this ruling may prove to be very serious for all Latter-Day Saints and those of other faiths who uphold traditional marriage.  Religious freedom includes the right to live your life in harmony with your faith without penalty or persecution, it includes the right to express that faith in public and in private, to share your faith with others, seek converts, teach it to your children.  For this reason the constitution forbids a religious test for public office, and churches are left largely immune to the coercive taxation powers of the state.

With this ruling however, religions that teach same sex relations are a sin and same sex marriage is an affront to God may soon find themselves looked on by the government and the media as a modern day version of the KKK.

If government views opposing same sex marriage as opposing a human or civil right, then how can the government justify allowing people the freedom to oppose it?  This ruling opens the door to restricting missionary efforts, threatening churches with a loss of their tax-exempt status, revoking charitable status and tax exemptions given to churches, indoctrinating children in the public schools to support gay marriage and reject their parent's faith, even to intruding into the home to 'protect' children from parents who want to raise them in their faith.  It lays the ground work for making a person's faith a factor in getting hired, or being promoted, or even in keeping the job they have.  It provides the tools to exclude Mormons and others from public office either through attacks made in the media, or by requiring acceptance of same sex marriage as a condition.

Sound extreme?  Orson Scott Card was recently tapped to write Adventures of Superman for DC Comics.  The announcement unleashed a storm of protest ONLY because he is known to be an opponent of same sex marriage.  The illustrator quit rather than work with him, and DC Comics has put the story he wrote on hold.  His novel 'Enders Game' has long been something science fiction fans have wanted to see on the silver screen, but now that it is about to happen it too is being met with protests and organised boycotts only because of his views.

In another example: Department of Justice employees have been asked to verbally express support for gay marriage warning that “Silence will be interpreted as disapproval.”

If society will not toleration having somebody opposed to same sex marriage as a comic book writer, do you really think they will tolerate somebody like that as an elected official, school teacher, police officer, or judge?  It may be wise to look at what has happened in Canada.

Canada made same sex marriage legal in 2005 and the effort to make same sex marriage legal was already underway before the 2004 election.  At the start of the election, the Canada Customs and Revenue Agency met with religious leaders opposed to same-sex marriage. These leaders were warned that taking a stand on the issue would be viewed as a partisan act that would endanger their tax-exempt status.

Once it was made legal after the election, Marriage Commissioners ( those who perform civil marriages) were required to perform same sex marriage regardless of their faith or conscience, even when there were many other Marriage Commissioners equally available who were willing to do so.  Province by province, several Marriage Commissioners resigned or took early retirement rather than betray their conscience. 

Chris Kempling, a Canadian high school teacher and guidance counselor was forced out of his career over letters to the editor he wrote on his own time where he expressed his opposition to the homosexual agenda.  There was never any complaint or issue with his work, no student felt they were discriminated against by him, yet he was suspended and later stripped of his credentials while the court told him that restrictions on his freedom of speech and freedom of religion were justified.

When same sex marriage is viewed as being a civil or human right, it runs into direct conflict with freedom of religion.  With religion cast as old, outdated, foolish, bigoted, hypocritical etc. etc. the will of public officials to defend it is weak, as is their understanding of religious freedom in the first place.  They will (for now) draw the line at forcing churches to perform same sex marriages, but that is far too narrow and limited, and in time that too may become too unpopular.

President Martin Van Buren once told Joseph Smith "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you" in regards to the persecution faced by the Saints.  We know that the time just before the second coming will also be a time of persecution, and it appears that this issue will be the driving force behind it.

What will you do when the day comes that your employment, promotion, and reputation among your peers depends on accepting same sex marriage?  When you, your spouse, and your children are shunned as pariahs in society, or worse?  I expect the message from the government then will be "Your cause is not just and we won't do anything for you.".

My hope is that the Church will be refined by such persecution to the point where we can truly found the City of Zion as a refuge, but time will show what the Lord has in store, and it will be very good for those who weather the storm.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Gay Marriage or Democracy, pick one.

I can't say that I'm surprised that the US Supreme Court has ruled to strike down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act.  Words like 'marriage' and 'spouse' in all existing and future Federal laws will now be taken as meaning either a same-sex or a traditional marriage or spouse.

In my mind, when it comes to things like hospital visitation rights, insurance, etc., it shouldn't matter what kind of relationship it is.   I would say it shouldn't need to be a marriage of any kind.  Why does there have to be a sexual relationship to give somebody that standing in your life?  I have two sisters who for several years shared an apartment before either of them married. Why not allow them to grant each other (if they want) a legal status that would allow them to better look after each other for the time they shared living accommodations?

In other areas, such as adoption, I think it is a great disservice to the child to deprive them of having a parent of each gender.  And how this change will play into the interaction between church and state (seeing as the wall of separation is not holding up so well) has yet to be seen.  I expect it to be used as a wedge to further attack that wall.  I would not be surprised to see the day where government pressure is brought to bear against churches that hold a position similar to ours.  More on that next time.

What should be more alarming than the effect of removing Section 3 is what precedents were set along the way to that ruling. 

Californian voters were given a choice, Proposition 8, and they had a free and fair election.  The Church came in heavily in favor of the proposition to ban gay marriage and became a target of angry gay activists in the aftermath of the vote.  So far everything is going along democratically, (except for the vandalism).

When the predictable legal challenges came, California’s Governor and the Attorney General refused to defend the proposition even though it was their duty to do so.  Other private groups were allowed to step in, but the U.S. District Court of Northern California ruled these groups had no standing to act before the court in defense of the proposition.  The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision, and so now has the USSC.  On top of this, in 2011 the Obama administration decided that it would no longer defend DOMA, even though it too had an obligation to do so.  Section 3 was not struck down on because of what is in it, but because those constitutionally and legally obligated to defend it sat on their hands.  For all the lip service Obama has given to supporting traditional marriage, his actions show his heart was never in those words.

The end result is a precedent where any ballot initiative or federal law can be invalidated by the State or Federal government by following the same process.  The whole concept of having a ballot initiative is nullified, increasing the power of the State government over people's lives.  The oath of a President to uphold the laws of the United States likewise become meaningless when the President and pick and choose what laws he upholds and what laws he throws under the bus.  Troubling indeed.

The second big area of concern is with the majority decision itself.  The ruling of the majority relies largely on denigrating the motives and character of the proposition and the groups defending it rather than dealing with the facts and the law.  The conclusion was that Section 3 only existed for the purpose to "disparage", "injure", "degrade", "demean" and "humiliate" homosexuals.  Where is the evidence that this was the motive and reason?  Where is the testimony to back this claim up?  Nowhere, it wasn't the topic under examination.

So it seems now that if you demonize a group thoroughly enough, you can get the courts to ignore the merits of their position. The majority has simply accepted the false argument made over and over in the media that opposition to same-sex marriage is inherently bigoted and a violation of the rights of gay persons.

Put it together and you have the will of the people, expressed both directly in Proposition 8 and through their elected representatives in DOMA,  thwarted by the executive and the judicial branches of government.  Gay marriage or a republic based on democratic ideas.  Pick one, it doesn't look like you can have both.