Russia’s New Proselytism Ban

For those who have not yet heard, Russia recently enacted an expansive new law against proselytism that may significantly hamper organized missionary efforts and severally curtail the freedom of members to speak about their faith to friends, and even family. This is a disturbing development for those who have deep love for the incredible Russian people. It is also another foreboding omen of increased repression and intolerance in Putin’s Russia. The First Presidency issued a very measured statement about the law, but has not yet announced concrete steps that it will take to come into compliance with the law.

Forum 18, a news service focused on religious freedom related topics, has published what appears to me to be the best description and analysis of the new law. What becomes clear when reading their analysis is how incredibly amorphous and broad the language of the law is. On an expansive reading of the law, it is possible that for Russians to even discuss their faith with their friends or neighbors without a permit will become illegal. And of course, the danger is that prosecutors and police officers in regions of Russia will take this law and use it to try to expel unfavored groups. Continue reading

Freedom and Fourth of July Fireworks

I have seen some pretty impressive firework shows in my life. In particular, I have been blown away by the craft and ingenuity on display at Disney World as music, fireworks, and narrative combine to tell incredible aerial tales.

But I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed watched fireworks more than while living in Utah. When standing at a high vantage point, one can see the simultaneous firework displays of scores of towns across the valley. And because of relatively lax laws regarding aerial fireworks, private individuals are also simultaneously launching high quality fireworks.

Individually, each of these displays cannot compare to the magic of a high quality professional display. But the collective power of the sky filled with a cacophony of colors and sounds is far greater than the power of any individual display. And because the fireworks are launched by a variety of individuals, the show lasts for much longer than a single professional one would. Continue reading

A Spark of True Nobility

This post is not directly related to the Church, but it concerns an inspiring event in U.S. History that I heard about for the first time recently on the Washington Post’s Presidential Podcast. I thought it was worth sharing on this blog because it is a story that powerfully illustrates many gospel principles. In particular, it truly affirms for me the powerful impact that one person who sees and encourages the potential in another can have. This is the story of one obscure woman, Julia Sands, who provided the moral conscience for a president. Continue reading

A People Prepared for the Restoration

One of the talks that really stood out to me in this most recent general conference was one by Elder Jairo Mazzagardi entitled “The Sacred Place of Restoration. A few weeks ago I wrote a post on my blog explaining how this talk helps us learn about the process of receiving personal revelation.

This week I have been thinking quite a bit more about the question that caused Elder Mazzagardi to struggle so much: Why did the restoration have to occur in North America when it did rather than anywhere else or at any other time in human history? He offers some answers in his talk, namely the existence of religious freedom and the confluence of religious revival and economic explosion in upstate New York. These are very significant answers, but certainly many more things could be added to that list.

I have been listening recently to free lectures on Open Yale Courses while working out or commuting. And this week I have been listening to a phenomenal course of the Civil War and Reconstruction by historian David Blight. One of the early lectures is about the “Northern World View.” Listening to this lecture gave me added insight into Elder Mazzagardi’s question. Continue reading

Rooting our Worship in the Savior

I recently had a dear friend publicly announce that she was leaving the Church. I have known about her objections and her decision for a while, but seeing her announce it was still painful.

One of her criticisms that I have also heard others mention is that she felt that teaching in the Church was not focused enough on Jesus Christ and too focused on peripheral matters such as tithing or food storage. She felt that these matters distracted from the focus on Jesus Christ and harmed her relationship with him.

Of course, there is some merit to this critique. We should always strive to do better in tying our discipleship and everything that we do to the Savior and his Atonement. Without him all of the commandments that we keep, callings we hold, and sermons we preach would be in vain. Without his grace, everything would lack efficacy and meaning. If we lose sight of that, we lose sight of the true core of the Gospel. Continue reading