Thursday, July 16, 2009

False claim about ACLU

I received an e-mail from a friend today passing on a message, variants of which have apparently been circulating for years, claiming the ACLU wants to remove cross-shaped grave markers and end prayer in the military. I replied as follows (plus I've added here some biblical references I used in responding to some websites publishing the same "information"--such websites mainly belong to conservative Christians but also include one run by KKK sympathisers):

Thank you for thinking of me when you sent this. I do pray for those in military service, many of whom put themselves unselfishly in harm’s way and are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice, as some of them, unfortunately, are called on to do.

Happily, the ACLU has NOT filed suit to have military cross-shaped headstones removed. As far as I know the other suit (to end prayer completely) is also a complete fiction. For information on this false rumor, see (Snopes tracks down and evaluates all sorts of rumors, including, for instance, the rumor that the LDS Church owns the Coca-Cola company: ).

I’m sure there are many other ways to verify the falsity of these rumors. (For instance, see , , and --this last one including information from the ACLU itself, from the Department of Veterans Affairs, and from the American Battle Monuments Commission.)

I will not be passing the e-mail message on to others for two reasons. First, I believe it’s wrong to knowingly present false information as if it were true—and I am confident in this case that the information is false.

Secondly, the reference to “the retched [wretched] ACLU and our new administration” does not seem to me to express a Christlike attitude (see ). The reference to our president and to an entire branch of our national government seems to me inappropriate given the 12th Article of Faith and especially Doctrine and Covenants section 134, verses 5 and 6 (“We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside. . . . We believe that every man should be honored in his station, rulers and magistrates as such. . . ."). [See also 1 Peter 2:13-14 & 17, & Romans 13:1-7. Also Exodus 22:28, Eccl. 10:20, Acts 23:5, 1 Tim. 2:1-3, etc.]

It also seems to me to contradict the attitude President Monson and other Church leaders have invited us to take (see , , and ).

Thank you, though, for the reminder of the need for and the power of prayer.

Instruments of the Lord's Peace

I've referred people to this General Conference address so often that I've decided to include it in its entirety as a blog post. The original can be found inThe Ensign May 2006 or online at

Instruments of the Lord’s Peace

Elder Robert S. Wood
Of the Seventy

Robert S. Wood, “Instruments of the Lord’s Peace,” Ensign, May 2006, 93–95

Have we who have taken upon us the name of Christ slipped unknowingly into patterns of slander, evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping?


I have a friend who is a member of a political panel that is seen each week on national television. Explaining her role, she said, “We are encouraged to speak before thinking!” We appear to be living in an era in which many are speaking without thinking, encouraging emotional reactions rather than thoughtful responses. Whether it be on the national or international stage, in personal relations or in politics, at home or in the public forum, voices grow ever more strident, and giving and taking offense appear to be chosen rather than inadvertent.

The Lord has warned that from the beginning and throughout history, Satan would stir up people’s hearts to anger. 1 In the Book of Mormon, Laman set a pattern of so murmuring as to stir anger, to stoke rage, and to incite murder. 2 Time and again in the Book of Mormon, we find deluded and wicked men inciting rage and provoking conflict. In the days of Captain Moroni, the apostate Amalickiah inspired “the hearts of the Lamanites against the people of Nephi.” 3 Amulon and the wicked priests of Noah; Nehor; Korihor; and Zoram the apostate (the dishonor roll goes on throughout the Book of Mormon) were agitators who inspired distrust, fueled controversy, and deepened hatreds.

In speaking to Enoch, the Lord indicated that both the time of His birth and the time preceding His Second Coming would be “days of wickedness and vengeance.” 4 And the Lord has said that in the last days, wrath shall be poured out upon the earth without mixture. 5Wrath is defined both as the righteous indignation of God and as the very human instances of impetuous ardor and deep or violent anger. The former arises from the concern of a loving Father whose children are often “without affection, and they hate their own blood,” 6 whereas the latter wrath arises from a people “without order and without mercy, … strong in their perversion.” 7 I fear the earth is experiencing both wraths, and I suspect the divine wrath is very much provoked by those who are stirring up the hearts of men to wickedness, slander, and violent hatreds.

The first casualties of human wrath are truth and understanding. James counseled that we be “swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” 8 As Enoch observed, God’s throne is one of peace, justice, and truth. 9 Whether they be false friends or unrighteous teachers, artists or entertainers, commentators or letter writers to local newspapers, seekers of power or wealth, beware of those who stir us up to such anger that calm reflection and charitable feelings are suppressed.

Alma at the waters of Mormon invited those who would enter into a covenant relationship with God to stand as witnesses of God and to bear one another’s burdens. 10 As those who have indeed entered into a sacred covenant, we must remain true to the way, the truth, and the life, who is Jesus Christ.

Have we who have taken upon us the name of Christ slipped unknowingly into patterns of slander, evil speaking, and bitter stereotyping? Have personal or partisan or business or religious differences been translated into a kind of demonizing of those of different views? Do we pause to understand the seemingly different positions of others and seek, where possible, common ground?

I recall that as a graduate student I wrote a critique of an important political philosopher. It was clear that I disagreed with him. My professor told me that my paper was good, but not good enough. Before you launch into your criticism, she said, you must first present the strongest case for the position you are opposing, one that the philosopher himself could accept. I redid the paper. I still had important differences with the philosopher, but I understood him better, and I saw the strengths and virtues, as well as limitations, of his belief. I learned a lesson that I’ve applied across the spectrum of my life.

General Andrew Jackson, as he walked along the line at the Battle of New Orleans, said to his men, “Gentlemen, elevate your guns a little lower!” I think many of us need to elevate our “guns” a little lower. On the other hand, we need to raise the level of private and public discourse. We should avoid caricaturing the positions of others, constructing “straw men,” if you will, and casting unwarranted aspersions on their motivations and character. We need, as the Lord counseled, to uphold honest, wise, and good men and women wherever they are found and to recognize that there are “among all sects, parties, and denominations” those who are “kept from the truth [of the gospel] because they know not where to find it.” 11 Would we hide that light because we have entered into the culture of slander, of stereotyping, of giving and seeking offense?

It is far too easy sometimes to fall into a spirit of mockery and cynicism in dealing with those of contrary views. We demoralize or demean so as to bring others or their ideas in contempt. It is a primary tool of those who occupy the large and spacious building that Father Lehi saw in vision. 12 Jude, the brother of Christ, warned that “there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts. These be they who separate themselves, sensual, having not the Spirit.” 13

Closely related to mockery is a spirit of cynicism. Cynics are disposed to find and to catch at fault. Implicitly or explicitly, they display a sneering disbelief in sincerity and rectitude. Isaiah spoke of those who “watch for iniquity” and “make a man an offender for a word, and lay a snare for him that reproveth in the gate, and turn aside the just for a thing of nought.” 14 In this regard, the Lord has counseled in latter days that we “cease to find fault one with another” and “above all things, clothe [ourselves] with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” 15

President George Albert Smith observed, “There is nothing in the world more deleterious or harmful to the human family than hatred, prejudice, suspicion, and the attitude that some people have toward their fellows, of unkindness.” 16 In matters of politics, he warned, “Whenever your politics cause you to speak unkindly of your brethren, know this, that you are upon dangerous ground.” 17 Speaking of the great mission of the latter-day kingdom, he counseled: “This is not a militant church to which we belong. This is a church that holds out peace to the world. It is not our duty to go into the world and find fault with others, neither to criticize men because they do not understand. But it is our privilege, in kindness and love, to go among them and divide with them the truth that the Lord has revealed in this latter day.” 18

The Lord has constituted us as a people for a special mission. As He told Enoch in ancient times, the day in which we live would be one of darkness, but it would also be a time when righteousness would come down from heaven, and truth would be sent forth out of the earth to bear, once more, testimony of Christ and His atoning mission. As with a flood, that message would sweep the world, and the Lord’s elect would be gathered out from the four quarters of the earth. 19 Wherever we live in the world, we have been molded as a people to be the instruments of the Lord’s peace. In the words of Peter, we have been claimed by God for His own, to proclaim the triumph of Him “who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: Which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God.” 20 We cannot afford to be caught up in a world prone to give and to take offense. Rather, as the Lord revealed to both Paul and Mormon, we must neither envy nor be puffed up in pride. We are not easily provoked, nor do we behave unseemly. We rejoice not in iniquity but in the truth. Surely this is the pure love of Christ which we represent. 21

In a world beset by wrath, the prophet of our day, President Gordon B. Hinckley, has counseled: “Now, there is much that we can and must do in these perilous times. We can give our opinions on the merit of the situation as we see it, but never let us become a party to words or works of evil concerning our brothers and sisters in various nations on one side or the other. Political differences never justify hatred or ill will. I hope that the Lord’s people may be at peace one with another during times of trouble, regardless of what loyalties they may have to different governments or parties.” 22

As true witnesses of Christ in the latter days, let us not fall into the darkness so that, in the words of Peter, we “cannot see afar off,” but let us be fruitful in the testimony of Christ and His restored gospel, in thought, in speech, in deed. 23 God lives. Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life. Joseph Smith, the great prophet of the Restoration, was the instrument by which we have been constituted as a people, led even today by a prophet of God, President Gordon B. Hinckley. Let us daily renew in our hearts the pure love of Christ and overcome with our Master the darkness of the world.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


3. Alma 48:1.

5. See D&C 115:6.

9. See Moses 7:31.

10. See Mosiah 18:8–10.

11. D&C 123:12; see also D&C 98:10.

16. Sayings of a Saint, sel. Alice K. Chase (1952), 30.

17. In Conference Report, Apr. 1914, 12.

18. In Conference Report, Apr. 1935, 44.

19. See Moses 7:62.

22. “War and Peace,” Liahona and Ensign, May 2003, 80.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Heaven and hell

[This is my comment on a post found on Times and Seasons:]

C. S. Lewis has many intriguing things to say about this topic--or rather this cluster of interrelated topics: why there's a hell, whether it's eternal, whether redemption from hell is possible, what essentially life in heaven and hell might mean, whether heaven includes or allows for association with friends and family, how different heaven might be from life as we know it here, etc. My comment can only scratch the surface of what he has to say (which of course I look at with the coloring and emphasis provided by my Latter-day Saint point of view). I'll give here just a few tidbits.

On family in the afterlife: Besides questioning and deflecting hope of family reunions in the afterlife, Lewis also apparently longed for such a possibility. He wrote in The Four Loves: “We may hope that the resurrection of the body means also the resurrection of what may be called our ‘greater body’; the general fabric of our earthly life with its affections and relationships. But only on a condition . . . : nothing can enter there which cannot become heavenly.” (In LDS terms, a truly celestial marriage could only be a marriage that had become truly celestial.)

On our “small-minded expectations”: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us. . . . We are far too easily pleased” (“The Weight of Glory”).

How different heaven might be from life as we know it here: By what Lewis calls “transposition,” all (perhaps) that is familiar to us might continue but be transformed and lifted to transcendence. We may “be hardly more surprised by hitherto unimagined differences than by hitherto unsuspected similarities. . . . When I know as I am known I . . . shall see how the transcendent reality either excludes and repels [the categories/concepts/realities I’m familiar with], or how unimaginably it assimilates and loads [them] with significance. Had we not better wait?”--i.e., wait and see. (All this is from “Modern Theology and Biblical Criticism”; see also “Transposition” and much of Miracles.)

On the same question from LDS sources, I just read a verse the other day that blew me away, though I’ve read it many times before: “For since the beginning of the world have not men heard nor perceived by the ear, neither hath any eye seen, O God, besides thee, how great things thou hast prepared for him that waiteth for thee” (D&C 133:45). So we hope for something far beyond our present capacity to imagine. Yet Joseph Smith also noted the similarities: “that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory, which glory we do not now enjoy” (D&C 130:2).

On “second chances” with implications for friends and family (this is me now, though Lewis has things to say on this as well): If God is love and if that love is essentially and supremely an absolutely unqualified concern for the welfare of others, then desiring the salvation of all (“not willing that any should perish” [2 Peter 3:9]) is part of what it means to be godly. (By the way, one of my favorite definitions of hell is from The Brothers Karamazov: “the torment of no longer being able to love.”)

Given God’s power and love, I believe that all will eventually have as many blessings as they can possibly (which among other things means “willingly”) receive. Any sort of permanent hell would thus require a person’s firm, knowing, and irrevocable choice (I believe this view is supported both by the scriptures and, as it happens, by Lewis). Or perhaps a permanent hell might also result as a person, through a series of choices, undergoes such a change of nature as to be unable any longer (ever) to choose to allow God's redeeming and transforming power to operate. (This last sentence is packed with all sorts of assumptions and speculations--but it does for me hint at what it might mean to be unredeemable.)

Short of these terrible possibilities, both the scriptures and the Spirit suggest to me that there's ALWAYS hope. John H. Groberg gave a talk on that theme that repeats the phrase "there's always hope" 40 times ( I endorse that view and would add, the story’s not over yet and won’t be for quite a while.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A comment on biblical criticism

[Comment on something found here:]

I truly enjoyed this paper--it's well written, well thought out, and wonderfully informative--and would have given it an A myself. (I teach English at BYU but have dabbled in biblical studies on the side--see the following for some of my efforts: and

By the way, I agree with you that the status of the Johannine comma has little relevance theologically. I also agree with those who suggest that the Book of Mormon's authenticity is not seriously threatened by its use of textually questionable language from the KJV. That "problem" can be quite easily accounted for. In fact, yesterday I ran into an at least marginally parallel problem in the New Testament (see

One other thing: There's a chance you may know of my wife Margaret, a major blogger at By Common Consent and formerly at Times and Seasons.