Resisting Satan’s Deception: Finding a Balance Between Indifference and Over-zealousness

Two weeks ago Elder Quentin L. Cook delivered a devotional address at BYU entitled “A Banquet of Consequences—The Cumulative Result of All Choices.”The text is unfortunately not yet available, but Elder Cook posted a summary on his Facebook page. He looked at three examples of how Satan attempts to persuade us that good is evil and evil is good.  He spoke of the word of wisdom, the family and parenthood, and of financial matters. He recently shared on Facebook what is in my mind the most memorable portion of the talk. Elder Cook spoke of an experience he had at the Holocaust Museum (in Jerusalem) with Elder Holland:

“I had a sobering experience in Jerusalem last October. We visited the Children’s Memorial Museum, which is part of the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Elder Holland and I, together with two American Jewish leaders, laid a remembrance wreath. As you move through the Children’s Memorial, the first names of the children and their age at death are announced one after another with a background of music that portrays this terrible atrocity. It is believed that over one million Jewish children were killed during the Holocaust.

As I experienced the museum, I was overcome with emotion and completely devastated. Standing outside to regain my composure, I reflected on the horror of the experience and suddenly realized that in the United States alone there are as many abortions every two years as the number of Jewish children killed in the Holocaust during the Second World War.

Now, as a lawyer, I am cognizant that the motives and intent are entirely different. Further, this is a problem that will probably not be solved by personal condemnation or judgmental accusations. With respect to the number and spacing of children, the health of the mother must be considered, and the decision should be made prayerfully by husbands and wives. Such decisions should never be judged by outsiders. Some faithful individuals are not able to have children or have the opportunity to marry. They will receive every blessing in heaven.

Nevertheless, Lucifer has supported abortion and convinced many people in a horrific paradigm shift that children represent lost opportunity and misery, instead of joy and happiness. Bringing children into the world is a sacred part of our Father in Heaven’s plan of happiness.

We are so numbed and intimidated by the immensity of the practice of abortion that many of us have pushed it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness. Clearly the adversary is attacking the value of children on many levels. We must be at the forefront of changing hearts and minds on the importance of children.”

Elder Cook’s remarks on abortion are pointed and sobering. I am not going to add much to his remarks on the substance of the abortion debate. I want to take a step back and talk about what we can learn about Satan’s tactics from this example and I hope that this discussion will be thought provoking regardless of your feelings about Elder Cook’s particular example.

Satan triumphs when good is called evil and evil good. He loves to redefine eternal truth.  And he tricks many into believing that doing evil is justified in furtherance of some other social good. However, even those who are not persuaded to redefine morality may still fall under Satan’s sway in a more subtle and pernicious fashion.

When we see widespread acceptance of an immoral belief or practice, we can become “numbed and intimidated” so that we push[] it to the back of our minds and try to keep it out of our consciousness.” Satan wins when people who understand eternal moral truths are silent or become indifferent. When we begin to assume that evil is inevitable and not worth combating, Satan triumphs. Silence in the face of wickedness is not a virtue. Complacency in the face of vice is deeply tragic. We must valiantly fight against evil and never become complacent.

Yet I was also grateful that Elder Cook spent a considerable amount of time emphasizing that the solution to the problem of abortion is  NOT “personal condemnation or judgmental accusations” – a theme elaborated upon in the full talk. Such methods are deeply counter-productive.  I believe that Satan is as pleased with vitriolic overreaction as he is with indifference. It seems to me that people of deep faith and moral convictions are most susceptible to these overreactions because of how passionately we can feel about certain moral topics. We must never forget that our goal is “changing hearts and minds.” Anything that undercuts that purpose furthers Satan’s plan.

Another takeaway for me is that methods matter. Satan proposed a plan in the divine council to solve the problem of sin and human frailty. But because his plan was based on coercion and compulsion it was rightfully rejected. Method matters just as much as the substantive outcome.  Speaking with friends of my generation, I am deeply concerned that many do not stop to think about method before proposing solutions to problems. Often, but not always, this means support for the biggest and most coercive government solution. Our zeal for change must be tempered with a realistic assessment of human nature, divine law, and the consideration of other virtues such as liberty and freedom.

Satan is a master manipulator. He is behind the current state of affairs where vast numbers of people in the great and spacious building call evil good and good evil and mock those who seek the tree of life.  But he is also pleased with those who are indifferent towards the pursuit of the tree. And, although this is not depicted in Lehi’s dream, he would also be satisfied with someone who has reached the tree but spends all his time railing against the wickedness of the building rather than partaking of the fruit. We must seek the proper balance between being zealous for righteous causes and tempering our approach with charity, the divine love of Christ.

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Part Two by Scott Hales

Book Review: Garden of Enid, Adventures of a Weird Mormon Girl, part two, by Scott Hales.

About six or seven years ago, the LDS Church did a survey of non-members, asking them their thoughts on the Mormon Church.  The responses included that we were very family oriented, honest, hard-working, and …. weird. Yes, weird.

In a Happy Valley world full of Molly Mormons and Bobby BYUs, traditional families, and a LDS chapel on every street corner,  Scott Hales brings us into a universe of stark contrasts.While many Mormons seek to be less weird in the eyes of the world, Hales creates a character that embraces weird. Her own kind of weird.  Enid is a teenager who has never met her father, lives with a severely depressed and sickly mother, and struggles with the messiness of her new-found religion. Continue reading

Learning from Muslims

Several years ago a group of professors at BYU-Idaho designed an interdisciplinary course called “Global Hotspot: Pakistan at the Crossroad of Conflict.”

Students are asked to learn and analyze issues relating to Pakistan’s history, geography, culture, languages, and religions. But the real purpose of this course is to use Pakistan as a giant case study to help students develop skills and abilities that they can use in understanding people and countries that are quite different.

Those skills include–

  • Recognizing and overcoming stereotypes in their own thinking;
  • Understanding how factors such as history, geography, and religion influence countries and individuals;
  • Identifying and appreciating strengths and weaknesses in other cultures and nations, and
  • Understanding how the nations of the world are connected.

Professor Eaton notes that we all sometimes engage in sloppy analytical thinking by casually accepting stereotypes or the assumptions of others, and we should challenge these notions.

He also thinks that respecting others while holding firm to unique beliefs is a somewhat lost art but a necessary balancing act for members of the Church to engage in. We can respect other believers of God without sacrificing our beliefs.

Join Laura Harris Hales of LDS Perspectives Podcast as she interviews Robert Eaton about understanding Pakistan and our own place in the world.

To access material mentioned in this episode, visit LDS Perspectives Podcast.

Nauvoo Untold Stories – 2017 Highlights


The first weekend in February is when Nauvoo hosts two events.

One is the Saturday recreation of the 1846 exodus, when the Mormons fleeing Illinois traveled down Parley Street to the Mississippi. The annual celebration starts in the Family Living Center (with food), then all march out to the landing in the cold. Nice words are said, then folks return to their parked cars and head home. It’s definitely something worth doing at least once.

In recent years, the Nauvoo Untold Stories Symposium is held Friday and Saturday, with evening presentations on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. It’s a great mix of folk history and cherishing the lore of the main religious and ethnic groups that have passed through Nauvoo. This year featured exploration of DNA, the Smith burial grounds, German cookies, Joseph Smith’s plans to escape Carthage, and other good stuff. Continue reading

Trump again says he wants the repeal of the Johnson amendment, which restricts politicking at church

During his campaign, Donald Trump said several times that he is against the Johnson Amendment.  This amendment, approved in 1954, takes away the tax exempt status of churches involved in politics and lobbying.

To be more precise, this story describes the Johnson amendment more fully:

Proposed by then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson (D-TX) and passed by Congress in 1954, the law prohibits tax-exempt organizations—including churches and other nonprofits—from lobbying elected officials, campaigning on behalf of a political party, and supporting or opposing candidates for office. Section 501(c)(3) of the tax code bestows tax-exempt status upon nonprofit groups as long as they don’t “participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for office.” (The “in opposition to” clause was added in 1986.)

The Johnson Amendment is now applied most scrupulously to churches and faith-based organizations, which are barred from translating their community organizing into political activism of any kind. A Southern Baptist congregation opposed to abortion, for example, is prohibited from explicitly supporting a pro-life Republican running for Congress solely because of the church’s nonprofit status.

Through the Johnson Amendment, the Internal Revenue Service exercises the power to stifle a religious organization’s right to free speech. In effect, an evangelical pastor, Orthodox rabbi, Muslim imam, or Catholic priest who wishes to urge support for a religious freedom bill or oppose Obamacare’s contraception mandate can be muzzled under federal law.

The suppressive nature of the Johnson Amendment can be traced to its origins in the 1950s—a period that the Left usually condemns as “conformist” and hostile to free speech — and Lyndon Baines Johnson, a man criticized for his low political morals. Running for re-election in 1954, then-Sen. Johnson faced a difficult challenge from his Democratic primary opponent, Dudley Dougherty, who received backing from two conservative nonprofit groups in Texas. The nonprofits churned out campaign materials calling for the election of Dougherty — much to the chagrin of Johnson. Shortly thereafter, the Texas senator urged Congress to take up a proposed change to the U.S. tax code that would prohibit outside groups—like those supporting his primary opponent—from political organizing. Aimed at punishing Sen. Johnson’s enemies, the Johnson Amendment now applies to a wide range of nonprofit organizations, including churches.

At the National Prayer Breakfast today, Trump reaffirmed he wants to “totally destroy” the Johnson amendment.  What that really means, I guess, is that he wants Congress to pass a law overturning the Johnson amendment, and he will sign it.

I think there are advantages and disadvantages to the Johnson amendment for churches.

Continue reading