Toward A True International Church

It has been more than five years since the LDS Church counted more members outside of the United States than inside. For a Church that believes it will cover the whole earth, this is good news. That does not mean that it has reached “World Religion” status by a long shot. Although making the statement with a dismissive tone, Prof. Douglas J. Davis was right when he said calling Mormonism a World Religion at this point is dubious. Nor is it likely that it will be until the Millenium (but that is a topic for later). With 7 Billion people in the world and growing, 12 million doesn’t cut it as anything beyond a deeply humbling statistic. Missionary work has a long way to go.

Despite a long road ahead, the LDS Church is taking strides toward a true international church. Too many members are getting confused between the designation of “World Religion” with numbers, political power, and social influence and “International Church” where a sizeable membership lives in different countries. It is the latter designation that Mormonism has made progress with more promise.

A few have noted a diverse crop of international located leaders have been called in the lower ranks of general officers. It is a good sign that the future might be less U.S. centric. Leaders in lower positions can be called to the highest responsibility. South America is where the largest number of new leaders are emerging. Interesting enough, Cantonese turned out to be the first non-English language spoken in General Conference by Elder Chi Hong “Sam” Wong of Hong Kong. Hardly the most represented language of the LDS Church, although the Spanish spoken by Elder Eduardo Gavarret of Uruguay is for a large portion of members.

A few years ago former general authority Elder John K. Carmack predicted someday General Conference could be held outside Utah and even the United States:

“The international church may yet become stronger than in the United States,” said Elder John K. Carmack, an emeritus general authority of the LDS Church. “I’m not a prophet, seer or revelator, but I believe this will happen.

“I can envision general conference being held in Sao Paulo or Mexico City or Manila. . .”

Now, six years later, Carmack said, “We can see the dim outlines of the benefits that surely will come to the international church. Already, a not insignificant number of our leaders in areas with the program are coming from the ranks of PEF recipients.”

Carmack said the church’s area president for northern South America recently reported that more than 10 percent of the region’s stake presidents and bishops are PEF graduates.

Brazil is the clear hot spot for the fund, followed by Mexico, Chile and Peru.

The prediction General Conference will be held outside of Utah is not particularly feasible. Salt Lake City still remains where the central resources are situated. Technology has made logistical requirements for a traveling conference unnecessary. The LDS Church, however, will continue to have speakers give talks in their own languages. English and Spanish will be the two main languages over the pulpit, with others included as the leadership desires. Of course, that means that English speakers will have to get used to reading or listening to interpreters as a large portion of LDS membership outside the U.S. already does.

This is an exciting development. It is a tremendous opportunity. As Elder Carmack said, we are close to, “where it is time to trim the parts that are peculiar to the United States and not relevant to the international church.” That means asking what are the basics of the Church in a world of multicultural and political geography.

Into the Darkness and the Light

Pondering death can be tricky. There are several emotions that are involved with the thoughts, from hope of an afterlife to the fear of pain and suffering. Hearing about a person who took their own life, was killed by actions that could have been avoided, accidents and disease, or at the hands of another is always unpleasant. The saying, “they are resting and in a better place,” can be slightly reassuring, but that doesn’t take away the fact the person is still gone. Grief felt by the survivors heals over time or destroys the soul. Those who are religious believers are not alone in facing emotional pain. All people must face death eventually.

The beauty of most religions is a faith that there is much more than this life to look forward to experience. Every good and bad time here in mortality can be worth much more than what currently can be imagined. For Christians, this idea comes from the the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ where his mortal teachings are more than morals to live by because, “if in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinth. 15:19). How precious it can be to open the scriptures and read about Angels and Visions given to mortals as a witness that our person continues long after death. Joseph Smith said, “The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out. Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God” (History of the Church, 3:295). To live by faith is life eternal.

Despite the great blessings promised with faith, everyone experiences doubt. Perhaps all that we have been taught and come to believe is not true. The alternative is absolute darkness. Once our lives are over there will be nothing. It is a scary and sobering thought. While Joseph Smith discussed a vision he had of seeing family and friends rise from the graves on the day of resurrection to once again meet and hug them, he said, “More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 295). It is hard to imagine living with the idea that first we are here conscious of existence and then some day we are not. Continue reading

The Worth of a Convert

My favorite interactions have been with those who had recently entered the waters of baptism for membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The conversations have been pure and unsullied by the life-long membership discussion of questionable doctrinal speculation. Not only that, but the faith they exhibit is often superior to many members- including my own. It is true that strong faith can also be easily shattered by things they might not have the experience dealing with. But, when they have become solid in what they believe, it is a joy to watch and listen to them in their lives. They are, after all, the backbone of the Church regardless of what life-long members might bring to the table.

It is with great sadness that I hear so often the lack of success in retaining them. There have been many reasons and excuses for this. Probably the one reason I find to be the most disturbing is the lack of fellowship – nay, lack of attention – given to those fine seedlings ready to bloom. There is no excuse for that, but too many converts (later in life) I have spoken with each have expressed disappointment at how they have been treated. It often is summed up as “second class citizens” looked on with suspicion. When asked suspicion of what, they often say it has to do with trusting their spiritual and theological capabilities. About this time my blood starts boiling! Sure they are just starting out. There is no question about that. But, that is the perfect time to learn from them, teach them in areas they need strengthening, and generally expressing appreciation for what they bring to the fellowship of Saints.

There are some quotes I would like to share to increase a convert’s faith and change long-active member’s attitudes: Continue reading

The Rapture Unleashed

See that person sitting next to you? Depending on how righteous they are, they are going to disappear. One moment they are there and the next just gone. Not just them. A whole lot of people will vanish into thin air. That isn’t the half of it, as planes and cars hurl out of control because some drivers and pilots suddenly aren’t available. This will cause many deaths, but its only the start. Those left behind will then have to endure a massive amount of guilt for, well, not getting taken. A worldwide epidemic and tyrannical government takes over among a lot of other bad things. More fun follows.

All of this is happening at a theater near you, or cable. If you dare or even care. It appears that what is known as the Rapture, or something much like it, where the good people are taken up to Heaven and leaving the rest has grabbed hold of creative types. No less than one series and two soon to be released movies are based on this religious idea. Even the non-religious are inspired. The series isn’t religious and mocks those of faith while taking up the idea as a serious plot.

The series on HBO The Leftovers is about 2 percent of the population disappearing. Those left behind, particularly in Mapleton, New York where the show takes place, turn to fear and sorrow over what might have happened. A group known as Guilty Remnants sulk and fret over the loss and abandonment issues, forming a type of cult. Meanwhile, a former religious leader who now publishes a conspiracy newspaper grapples with the reason he didn’t go with those who were taken away. Trying to put the pieces together, both of what happened and the aftermath, is the town chief of police who works on maintaining law and order. The religious nature of the disappearances are only one possible explanation explored by the series. It could also be aliens, among other things. Be aware that this is an adult show by a cable channel not devoted to family friendly entertainment.

Two other productions are both movies put out by big money companies. The most talked about, Left Behind, stars Nicolas Cage, the hit and miss actor whose very presence can create a film’s buzz if not save it from disaster. It also stars Lea Thompson of Back to the Future and Some Kind of Wonderful fame. The movie is based on the popular book series of the same name, and is a film reboot of sorts. The other movie, The Remaining is a low budget, but still mainstreamed, treatment of the Rapture event. Described as a horror drama, it has pleased some from the Evangelical religious community. Filmed in the found footage tradition of The Blair Witch and Cloverfield, it follows a recently married couple who must live through the tribulations. This means lots of hysterical people and hand held unsteady camera work. Why the sudden creative interest in this topic is anyone’s guess. Continue reading

The Order of the Relief Society

This is the final in a series about Mormon Priesthood theology and development. The others can be read here, here, and here although this one is about the Relief Society. No discussion about the Priesthood is complete without a mention of this organization of women.relief society logo true blue

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone, regardless of birth and station in life. A person does not even have to belong to the Church for the atonement to help in repentance and answers to prayers. The formation by the Lord of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to have an authorized organization to spread the Gospel and administer the ordinances of Salvation and Exaltation. Church is where the Priesthood is gathered for administration of those ordinances that include baptism and Temple work. For Mormonism, those who do not have the Priesthood are without authorization to administer those ordinances. For believers, Joseph Smith restored the ancient covenants and authority that had been lost since the time of the Apostles. No person or group can claim having the Priesthood unless they can prove an unbroken line directly to Joseph Smith and those he ordained. A revelation to those already in authority or a visit by angels are the only ways those who were not allowed the Priesthood can receive it. What the Lord takes, He can give. What He gives can be taken away, such as Israel in the days of Moses. The Priesthood is forever. Any mortal person’s right to it is not.

When the Priesthood was given to Joseph Smith, the Lord gave it to men and not women. The Scriptures and history indicates it has been that way from the days of Adam and Eve. Men have been tasked with leading the Church and giving the ordinances. It is an awesome responsibility that has not always been appreciated. Sad experience has proven that not all men are worthy of wielding such a precious and powerful tool. Other than the Lord Jesus Christ, no one on Earth is perfect. That is why there is a need for the atonement. Both men and women can partake of this divine gift and prepare for greater blessings. Women may not have the Priesthood as currently understood, but the Lord has provided them with their own authority and responsibility to work along side the Priesthood structure. The Relief Society is much more than a gathering of women in Church. Fully utilized, it can be a powerful influence for good, or as Emma Smith put it, “something extraordinary.” Continue reading