#LDSconf 186th Semiannual Conference, General Priesthood Session

October 2016 Priesthood Session

Choir from stakes in West Valley City and Magna Utah (including my former stake!)

President Eyring presiding

Hymn– Ye Elders of Israel (A really nice rendition!)

Prayer– Paul B. Piper of the 70

Hymn   Love at Home

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

A single sister (Molly) came home from work and found her basement covered in water.  She and a friend began moping. Then her home teachers showed up. But they said “we see that you are busy and we do not want to intrude…” and they left.

Home teaching is our first duty to watch over others. We are told about it and given guilt trips, but still can’t get our numbers to an acceptable level. Changing demographics make it difficult to successfully visit the homes of others. There are also limited numbers of priesthood holders, long distance, cost of transportation, long work weeks. And there are cultural taboos and safety issue. So this is a complex problem.

When possible, a month visit is still the ideal that the Church will strive for. But because it is not always possible, the First Presidency wrote in December 2001 and gave inspired counsel. In some locations home teaching every month may not be possible. Leaders should do their best to use the resources that they have available to watch over and strengthen each member.

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The Founders, the Constitution, and the Plan of Salvation

This weekend, the nation celebrated Constitution Day in honor of the ratification of that divinely inspired charter of liberty. For members of the Church in Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and parts of Maryland, this was a particularly auspicious weekend to celebrate. After a lengthy open house, the Philadelphia temple was dedicated today.

In light of the hallowed history of this great city, Elder Christofferson and President Eyring during the dedicatory sessions both reflected on the founding and its role in the restoration. Elder Christofferson in particular linked the events that took place in Philadelphia from 1776 to 1789 to the unfolding of the restoration in a profound fashion. He first mentioned that the truths contained in the declaration of independence were “central to the plan of salvation.” Then, he emphasized that had there been no constitution, there also would have been no restoration.

President Eyring then acknowledged the likely presence of many of those founders in the temple today. He reflected on their appearance in the St. George temple petitioning for their ordinances to be performed, and joked that they now likely “qualified for a temple recommend.”  As he said this, I felt a special spirit echoing the truth of his words. I knew that these men had fought for godly ideals and that they were now cheering the construction and dedication of this great temple.  President Eyring prayed that those ideals and liberties would be secured and that the United states could continue to be a bastion for freedom and a stronghold for the Church.

I loved these remarks. The ideals of the declaration truly are part of God’s plan of salvation as Elder Christofferson suggested: In particular, the equality of all men (and women) in the sight of God, the idea that we have unalienable and God given rights, and the ideal that government is based on the consent of the governed. These were radical truths when put to paper hundreds of years ago. They remain radical today. But they are also eternal truths that predate this Republic or even republican governance on the earth.

It is fitting that a portrait of the great men from the constitutional convention stands at the entrance to the temple. Though they were imperfect, these men designed a perfectible system which grabbed hold of eternal and perfect truths. I am grateful for them and for their efforts.

Not Simply a Mass Delusion

University of Utah Professor Gregory A. Clark wrote an op-ed in the Salt Lake Tribune attacking organized religion generally and the Catholic Church’s decision to elevate Mother Theresa to Sainthood. Reading his anti-religious screed brought back memories of arguments that I once embraced as an atheist. In particular, Professor Clark argues that God either does not exist or he is a cruel being not worthy of worship.

“Apparently, Mother Teresa hates amputees. Either that, or God does. He’ll routinely regrow limbs for salamanders. But for people? Meh. Not so much.

Primitive superstitious beliefs are not reason to rejoice. Mass self-delusion is not reason to rejoice. Rejecting reality is not reason to rejoice.

They are reason to mourn.”

The problem of theodicy or the existence of evil continues to confront and challenge religion. It is difficult to explain how God can allow human suffering—and even worse, this suffering is selective and inconsistent. Prayers seem to be arbitrarily answered or ignored.

But I wish Professor Clark could open his heart to the teachings of the restored Gospel. So many of the doctrines of the restoration address these very same concerns. In light of our knowledge of the plan of salvation, the love of God can be reconciled with the suffering that we witness in this life. Continue reading

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