Mormons have peculiar views on religious freedom

Recently, a devout member of another confession that I deeply admire (whom I have chosen not to identify) gave a talk about religious freedom. In that talk, he described a battle between believers and invidious government bureaucrats who are seeking to exercise total control over ever aspect of the believer’s life. His remarks were substantially similar to conservative blogger Erick Erickson who in a wide-spread post entitled “You Will Be Made to Care” wrote that “[t]he secular left in America has its own religion — the state. Worship of the state and the self cannot tolerate dissent or competition, and therefore is moving aggressively to shut down, silence, and drive from the town square any competing ideas.”

Having spent the past several weeks preparing to teach a lesson on religious freedom at Church, it struck me how that rhetoric and perspective differed from the teachings of leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are often seen as fellow travelers in the battle for religious freedom. But while we often fight the same battles, we Mormons truly have a peculiar take on religious freedom.

Ending the Culture War

So often, when members of other faiths speak of religious freedom, it is described as a war launched against believers by non-believers. Hence, the well-renowned Catholic lawyer Phyllis Schlafly titled her book criticizing the Obama Administration “No Higher Power: Obama’s War on Religious Freedom.” Such martial rhetoric is pervasive.

To be sure, leaders of the LDS Church will often use sharp rhetoric. For instance, Elder Cook explained that “[t]here has always been an ongoing battle between people of faith and those who would purge religion and God from public life.” And the Church’s site on religious freedom speaks of an “assault” on people of faith.

Yet, our leaders have called for a “case-fire” in the culture wars over religious freedom. And along with that “cease-fire” has come a very deliberate and pronounced effort to avoid demonizing and creating false caricatures of those we disagree with.

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Book Review: The Encore: A Memoir in Three Parts

If you have heard nothing about Charity Tilemann Dick and her remarkable story, stop right now and listen to the song below. I promise it is worth it.

Charity truly has an angelic voice and a powerful spirit when she sings. But her story is unlike that of any other opera singer I know of. When Charity was a student at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Hungary, she was diagnosed with Pulminary Hypertension, a rare lung disorder. A few years later, her lungs began to fail and she underwent a double-lung transplant which she miraculously survived. She began the grueling process of relearning to sing. But after a few years her body began to reject her new lungs. She then underwent a second double-lung transplant. She once again learned to sing and the song you listened to was recorded with her third set of lungs.

With that riveting summary I could simply recommend that you check out Charity’s incredible memoir “The Encore: A Memoir in Three Acts.” I could also recommend that you look at all of the incredible press coverage the book has received. But I want to explain why this book was one of the most poignant and life affirming books I have ever read.

Or I should say listened to. Although I am partial to reading, in this case the audiobook may be the superior format for the book. It is read by the author which helps to convey the emotion far more powerfully. But more importantly, each chapter of the audiobook is accompanied by Charity’s incredible singing. For each chapter, Charity has selected music that fits with the story and hearing her sing conveys the miraculous nature of the story in an indelible fashion. The audiobook is worth the price of admission simply for a stunning version of Amazing Grace, inspired by a moment when Charity sang it to a nurse at the Cleveland Clinic while awaiting her second lung transplant. It will bring you to tears.

One might expect the recipient of two lung transplants to be depressed or pessimistic. But Charity’s deep faith and incredible optimism are what will stick with you long after the book finishes. Throughout her long ordeal, Charity never relinquishes her deeply rooted testimony that there is a loving Heavenly Father and that he is in charge of her life’s direction. For a book written for a secular and primarily non-LDS audience, this book is also remarkably full of Charity’s testimony of the restored gospel. Throughout the book, Charity intersperses moving prayers to her heavenly father, and her belief in the eternal nature of her family. She does this in a wholly natural fashion. She simply cannot help but share the faith that brought her through her illness. One moment stands out in particular. At one of her darkest moments when she had to decide whether to press forward with her second lung transplant, Charity received a Priesthood blessing promising her that she would live. Her willingness to rely on the promises of the Lord were inspiring and deeply faith promoting

For a book on such a serious subject, The Encore is also remarkably funny. I laughed almost constantly. For instance, at point when first in the hospital, Charity describes the guilty pleasure of sneaking a burrito after dieting and avoiding salty foods for months. And you will never look at Diet Sprite the same way after hearing how she longed for it after her first transplant. And her various travails as she prepared for her wedding hit close to home and was hilarious. You will find yourself laughing far more than you expected.

The book is also a remarkable love story. Charity falls in love with Yonatan Doron, even though the two at first glance have little in common. She at first resists his advances because she is certain she is dying and does not want to burden him. But he stands by her side unrelentingly. Their love is moving and inspiring. I especially loved how the book handled their mixed faith relationship. Charity is LDS (though she comes from a very well known Jewish-American line, as her grandfather was Holocaust survivor and Congressman Tom Lantos), and Yonatan is Jewish. Cultural differences and differences of understanding nearly tear them apart. Yet, despite their various trials, the two overcome their differences and share an eternal and enduring bond.

Finally, this book is not a whitewashed story. Charity describes in vivid detail her own imperfections, doubts, and struggles as well as those around her. For instance, her mother heroically stood by her side for years, but Charity also describes how difficult that process was for her mother and how they vociferously disagreed about the best course of care. Another portion of the book at struck me involved Charity’s relationship with one of her first doctors. That doctor offered her very negative advice and urged her never to sing again. At first, Charity had bitter feelings towards that doctor. In her widely watched TEDMED talk after her first transplant, Charity criticized that doctor’s attitude. But after that doctor soon suffered from her own lung defect. Charity came to know her and realized that the doctor was acting our of a loving over protectiveness rather than pessimism. And in turn Charity gave that doctor hope. That story exemplifies Charity’s growth throughout her story, as she comes to deeply appreciate the love and efforts of others in her care even though they do so imperfectly.

On a personal note, I met Charity in the summer of 2015 as I was living in the Washington D.C. because some of her siblings were in my ward. Even though it was brief, our encounter left a deep impression on me. You cannot interact with Charity for any length of time without coming away edified and strengthened. She is one of those rare individuals with the faith to be healed, and not to be healed. But more importantly, she understands that how we live is much more important than whether we survive. This book will similarly edify you and strengthen your belief in the beauty of life and in God’s power to work miracles in your life. I cannot recommend this book any more highly.

 

Why I Believe – Fireside with Thurl Bailey

Tonight, I attended a phenomenal devotional entitled “Why I Believe” at the D.C. Temple Visitor’s Center. Thurl Bailey, a former Utah Jazz player and convert to the LDS Church, was the featured speaker alone with his wife Sindi. Two recent converts to the Church also spoke about their conversion.

Thurl’s story was particularly memorable for a couple of reasons. Thurl first spoke about his childhood and his decision to pursue a career in basketball. Even though he was over 6 foot tall at the time (now he is 6’11), he didn’t make the team the first two times. That coach told him that he had no future in basketball. Luckily Thurl persisted and tried for a third time with a different coach. That coach put him on the team and offered to mentor Thurl one on one because he saw that he had great potential. Thurl spoke about how Heavenly Father sees us with the same kind of great potential. He also spoke about those who had given him their full trust such as his wife.

Second, Sindi spoke extensively about their marriage and courtship. Her parents refused to meet Thurl and staged an intervention where they forced her to choose between them and Thurl (Thurl is African American while Sindi is white and from Southern Utah). They then cut off contact with her for five years. It was sad to hear about that degree of bigotry and intolerance. But fortunately, the Lord eventually softened their heart. And when Thurl was baptized his father in law performed the ordinance.

Third, Thurl spent a manner of years attending Church but not being baptized. His wife was loving and supportive throughout that time. Then, Thurl felt prompted to take an opportunity in Italy even though he didn’t know why. While there, alone for a time, Thurl felt prompted to call the missionaries to come visit him because he was lonely and wanted to speak to fellow English speakers. The Mission President came as well, and really connected with Thurl and was able to answer his concerns in a way that no one had before. The timing was right and the Lord had led him to where he could be converted.

Finally, Thurl spoke of a particularly meaningful experience that occurred right around that time. He would frequently cross the Border into Switzerland, and on each trip the border patrol asked him three questions: 1) Where are you coming from?; 2) What is your purpose here?; and 3) What is your destination? On one occasion, those questions pierced deep into Thurl’s soul and he stopped at the side of the road and pondered them. He realized that the Gospel gave him answers to those question he could not get anywhere else. I really appreciated his story and his powerful testimony of the restored Gospel.

Visions of the Spirit World

Although it happened back in Feburary, until yesterday I hadn’t seen President Russell M. Nelson and Sister Wendy Nelson’s wonderful joint address to the RootsTech conference. President Nelson shared a remarkable story from his family history. This weekend Elder Kopischke of the Seventy came to our Stake Conference and he quoted the story at length while speaking of the importance of Family History and Temple Work. I offer the story with the caveat, of course, that it is not canonized revelation and does not supplant D&C 138 in any way.

I wanted to tell the family about my Grandfather Nelson and the precious gift he gave to us. His name is Andrew Clarence Nelson. They called him A. C. He died when my father was 17 years old, so I never knew my Grandfather Nelson. He’s the only one of my four grandparents I did not know. When my Grandfather A. C. Nelson was a young husband and father, just 27 years old, his father died. Then, about three months later, his father, now deceased, came to visit him. The date of that visit was the night of April 6, 1891. Grandfather Nelson was so impressed by his father’s visit that he wrote the experience in his own journal for his family and his friends. …

Listen to my grandfather’s words about that sacred experience:

“I was in bed when Father entered the room. He came and sat on the side of the bed. He said, ‘Well, my son, as I had a few spare minutes I received permission to come and see you for a few minutes. I am feeling well, my son, and have had very much to do since I died.’

“‘What have you been doing since you died, Father?’

“‘I’ve been traveling together with Apostle Erastus Snow ever since I died. That is, since three days after I died. I received my commission to preach the gospel. You cannot imagine, my son, how many spirits there are in the spirit world that have not yet received the gospel. But many are receiving it, and a great work is being accomplished. Many are anxiously looking forth to their friends who are still living to administer for them in the temples. I’ve been very busy preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.’

“‘Father, can you see us at all times, and do you know what we’re doing?’

“‘Oh, no, my son. I have something else to do. I cannot go when and where I please. There is just as much and much more order here in the spirit world than in the other world. I have been assigned work to do, and it must be performed.’

“‘We intend to go to the temple and get sealed to you, Father, as soon as we can.’

“‘That, my son, is partly what I came to see you about. We will yet make a family and live throughout eternity.’

“‘Father, is it natural to die?’

“‘It is just as natural to die as it is to be born, or for you to pass out of that door.’ And here he pointed at the door. ‘When I told the folks that I could not last long, it turned dark and I could not see anything for a few minutes. Then the first thing I could see was a number of spirits in the spirit world. The paper you gave me, my son, is dated wrong. But it makes no particular difference. Correct records are kept here.'” …

“‘Father, is the gospel as taught by this Church true?’

“‘My son, do you see that picture?’ Pointing to a picture of the First Presidency of the Church hanging on the wall.

“‘Yes, I see it.’

“‘Just as sure as you see that picture, just as sure is the gospel true. The gospel of Jesus Christ has within it the power of saving every man and woman that will obey it, and in no other way can they ever obtain salvation in the kingdom of God. My son, always cling to the gospel. Be humble, be prayerful, be submissive to the priesthood, be true, be faithful to the covenants you have made with God. Never do anything that would displease God. Oh, what a blessing is the gospel. My son, be a good boy.'”

There is much I could say about that incredible vision. But I will only add a few thoughts. First, I love how this deceased father cares so much about his son and his family. That eternal love is the essence of the Gospel. Second, I love his declaration that “we will yet” make an eternal family. It is never too late to seal and family together for eternity thanks to Heavenly Father’s plan. As someone whose father passed away quite recently, that thought brings me a lot of comfort. Third, the spirit world is organized after the pattern of this world. This may be a source of discomfort for those who chafe at Church organization on this earth, but to me it suggests that God has a plan and is not leaving anything to chance. There is a systematic effort to teach the vast number of spirits in the spirit world.

Elder Kopischke added his testimony that deceased sisters are also lanolin dilligently on the other side of the veil. I imagine my mother, preaching the Gospel to her ancestors and those who have not yet heard of it. That thought fills me with such gratitude. Even though she died more than a decade ago, I can sense that we are co-laborers in the work of the Lord. I am grateful for the Plan of Salvation and for the remarkable vision and President Nelson’s willingness to share it with the world.

#LDSConf General Conference – 1 Apr ’17 – Priesthood Session

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf will be conducting this Session. President Thomas S. Monson presides.

Music is provided by a Priesthood Choir of YSA from Holliday and Murray Utah

President Uchtdorf : Welcome to Priesthood Session

Choir: Rise Up O Man of God

Opening Prayer: Vern P. Stanfill of the Seventy:

“We pray that our hearts may be changed, that we may use this moment to minister unto others.”

Choir: Jesus Once of Humble Birth

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