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.

Continue reading

Some great Kindle Bible commentaries on sale

Here are a couple very good books on sale right now ($1.99 each).

Commentary on the Torah by [Friedman, Richard Elliott]

Commentary on the Torah, by Richard Elliott Friedman

from Amazon description: In this groundbreaking and insightful new commentary, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars unveils the unity and continuity of the Torah for the modern reader. Richard Elliott Friedman, the bestselling author of Who Wrote the Bible?, integrates the most recent discoveries in biblical archaeology and research with the fruits of years of experience studying and teaching the Bible to illuminate the straightforward meaning of the text — “to shed new light on the Torah and, more important, to open windows through which it sheds its light on us.”

Friedman is a leading Jewish Scholar on the Torah. He wrote, “Who Wrote the Bible?”, one of the best works on the Documentary Hypothesis for laymen. He will help us reach back to the early Jewish understanding of scripture, allowing us to see it in a new light.


How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels by [Wright, N. T.]

How God Became King, by N.T. Wright

From the Amazon description:

“Despite centuries of intense and heavy industry expended on the study of all sorts of features of the gospels,” Wright writes, “we have often managed to miss the main thing that they, all four of them, are most eager to tell us. What we need is not just a bitof fine-tuning, an adjustment here and there. We need a fundamental rethink about what the gospels are trying to tell us.”

What Wright offers is an opportunity to confront these powerful texts afresh, as if we are encountering them for the first time. How God Became King reveals the surprising, unexpected, and shocking news of the gospels: this is the story of a new king, a new kind of king, a king who has changed everything, and a king who invites us to be part of his new world.

N.T, Wright is one of the leading scholars today on the New Testament. He is the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England. His writings are innovative, and do not toe the Anglican or standard Protestant line, but he discusses concepts as given by scripture and other evidence.


General Conference changes

In a message sent to Church leadership, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles announced changes for future general conferences. The following letter is to be read in sacrament meetings throughout the world:

“In the spirit of reducing and simplifying the work of the Church and the demands made upon leaders and members, we are pleased to announce that the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve has decided to modify the general conference meeting schedule.

“Beginning in April 2018, the general women’s session will no longer be held on the Saturday preceding the other sessions of general conference. Rather, the general priesthood and general women’s sessions will each be held annually, with the general priesthood session being in April and the general women’s session being in October. These meetings will originate from the Conference Center on Saturday evening following the morning and afternoon sessions of the conference.

“The sesson times of general conference will not change.”

Stop expecting other Church members to be perfect

This post is aimed at people who have left the Church or are thinking of leaving the Church.

This post is going to be unusual and not what you usually read at Mormon blogs.

Here is my plea:  “Stop expecting other Church members to be perfect.  Nobody is perfect.  No Church member believes he or she is perfect.  We all know that we are ALL imperfect.  And this means that occasionally, for reasons beyond our control, we may say something tactless or mean-spirited or intolerant or judgmental.  And the reason we may do this is that we are not perfect.”

I am asking people who have left the Church or who are thinking of leaving to have charity and love for those of us (yes, that includes me) who are imperfect.  And because we are imperfect, we will not always interact with you the way you would like us to.

I will be frank:  it is a bit unfair of you to expect other people to deal with you perfectly when you know that is an impossibility.  Nobody can read your mind.  And even if we spent hours upon hours in training trying to become more tactful, it is extremely likely that we will still say or do something imperfectly.  And we would probably say something you find offensive, or hurtful or intolerant or judgmental — even if we did not intend to.

Here is the thing about mortality:  the people around us, especially those in the Church, are both A)well-intentioned but B)flawed.  Just about every active member around you *wants* you to stay at church.  If you have ever attended a bishopric meeting or a ward council meeting, one of the primary subjects being discussed is:  how do we help sister or brother so-and-so feel more welcome at church?  So, the point I am making is that people are trying, in their imperfect way, to help you feel more comfortable in the Gospel.

But again I must be frank:  articles like this one seem to miss an important point.  They miss that everybody is accountable for their actions, include those who decide to take offense at something an imperfect person does or says.

Continue reading

Weinstein: A Parallel

Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Harvey Weinstein attend EIF’s Women’s Cancer Research Fund Honors Melissa Etheridge at SAKS FIFTH AVENUE’s “Unforgettable Evening” at Regent Beverly Wilshire on March 1, 2006 in Beverly Hills, CA. Billy Farrell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Many will have heard about emerging reports that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein has raped, molested, and otherwise abused females for decades. Weinstein prominence was such that he had been granted a lifetime membership in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, by which he had been awarded a best-picture Oscar for Shakespeare in Love in 1999.

Weinstein’s reported modus operandi was distinctive. Weinstein would claim he had an important opportunity to discuss with a female actor. When the woman arrived in his room, Weinstein, inappropriate clad (or unclad), would proceed to demand sexual favors. If the favors were not immediately forthcoming, Weinstein would threaten to destroy the woman’s career and/or take liberties by force. Any attempts made by the women to retaliate were quashed by various means.

One of those decrying Weinstein for the reported abuse is Tom Hanks, who has been a Vice President in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences since 2005.

Now imagine that instead of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences we were talking about the Nauvoo-era Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Instead of Tom Hanks, we have Joseph Smith as a ranking leader in the organization. Instead of Harvey Weinstein as an important member of the leadership, we have Dr. John Bennett.

Scandal Honored Leader Reprobate (per leader)
Hollywood 2017 Tom Hanks Harvey Weinstein
Mormonism 1842 Joseph Smith Dr. Bennett

Continue reading