Beards are Back . . . in Church!

Those who wear beards must be rebelling against something, because a clean cut look represents conservative and productive lives. They are not following the LDS leadership’s example. About 15 years ago that would have been the argument, and not without some truth from the past. Like all fads of fashion the times have changed. Beards are no longer grown to make a clear statement. For most of those who grow one today it is about physical comfort and convenience, if not the look. Beards may not be widespread, but a lot of faithful Mormons are growing them when they wouldn’t have not too long ago. And that is just fine.

Despite Joseph Smith as the founding prophet never having a beard, prophets for generations who followed him had one. In fact, there are prophets that could be recognized by their beards alone. Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff had chin beards without mustaches. Lorenzo Snow and Joseph F. Smith had long flowing beards. Heber J. Grant and George Albert Smith had relatively short facial hair. There were even times and places where having a beard was required by missionaries because it represented maturity.

It wasn’t until the clean shaven President David O. Mckay that beards started going out of fashion for LDS leaders. His lack of a beard was a conscious choice. He wanted to make a statement about leaving the pioneer past and go forward into the future. That future in the 1950s was the neat, professional, and respectable businessman look. The “unkempt” look of a hairy face was out, even if only one generation ago they were signs of maturity. For the post-WWII years a suit and a tie with a shaved face meant achieving the American dream. After more than 100 years of persecution and living in the wilderness, the LDS Church had come out to join respectable society. Continue reading

The Millennial Generation Troubles

According to some, Millennials are leaving the LDS Church in large numbers. How different the numbers are to past generations is never explored. One hint to exaggeration is how high the retention rate remains compared to other similar religious organizations. Probably even more problematic is the focus on the United States, hardly the last place humans exist. By many counts other countries are expanding in number of Mormons, or at least remaining level. The building of Temples and meeting houses testifies to the strengths. They cost money and are dependent on how many members are active. Certainly there are places that are struggling, but many times this is more than offset by the growth of other areas.

Still, there are challenges for the younger generation that haven’t existed to the same extent before. As is usually the case, cultural forces prose a threat to faith. The biggest concern is the rise of “Nones” who reject organized religion in favor of whatever they consider more important. Often times its hard to know what reasons they have, because they are both diverse and not quick to give explanations.

Working off of responses to Calling All Millennials by taking them seriously, the future doesn’t look too bright. In fact, the hope is these are not actually representative. Assuming they are, then civilization itself in in danger of falling apart. It is perhaps the most “look at me, what about me” generation that has ever existed. Social Media has not alleviated the suspicion the future is filled with selfish and shallow people. They have always existed, but the numbers who are influencing the rest of society is growing.

Some representative comments include:

Religion, especially Christianity, traditionally focused on a solution to being lost or sinful. Yet it’s those concerns of sin and alienation from God that also just don’t seem to be a drive with more and more people.

This is backed up with:

Ideology, we don’t really see ourselves as fundamentally flawed/broken/sinful people in need of salvation. I don’t really know what seeing myself as a “child of God” is supposed to practically mean. We may have problems or issues, but they don’t seem like issues in need of divine assistance. It seems like issues we can work out among ourselves . . .

After making a troubling list of grievances, Greg in the comments said:

Finally, I disagree with Clark who says you can’t have a growing church and a challenging one. You simply have to let go of the idea that it’s the role of the institution to make things challenging for believers. Believers should be the ones who rise to greater and greater challenges of their own free will and choice. In the Mormon church you’re either all in or all out, but it’s possible to provide different levels and opportunities for people who are in different places in their lives.

What impression comes out of this is not too kind. Millennials are lazy, self-important, anti-social, know it all’s who don’t take personal responsibility. This generation has become sociopaths bent on destroying all that is good. Harsh conclusion I know, but even they sometimes recognize how out in left field things have become. Continue reading

When the Temple Helps: Bound by Family Ties

ancestral-treeGoing to the temple is about more than the ritual and theological discourse. They are of course essential, because without them there would be no temple experience. Yet, the only reason a believer can return is out of obligation to people who have died. That means researching genealogy. Preferably the LDS Church leadership wants us to locate our own ancestors. Spiritual and temporal blessings can accompany the process of searching, locating, indexing, and doing the temple work for deceased individuals. The more involved at the start, the greater the satisfaction. For some it gives the same feeling as helping a living person become converted to the gospel.

Nothing has ever been easy about the work. When Joseph Smith first taught the gospel doctrine of baptism for the dead, members rushed to the banks of the Mississippi River and immersed themselves in behalf of any deceased relative that came to mind. They didn’t even consider if doing so for the opposite gender was appropriate. All they knew was a great mission of salvation had opened up and they were excited to participate. Joseph Smith had to pull them back and explain (Doctrine and Covenants 127:5-8) that it had to be done in an orderly fashion accompanied by written records:

5 And again, I give unto you a word in relation to the baptism for your dead.

6 Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you concerning your dead: When any of you are baptized for your dead, let there be a recorder, and let him be eye-witness of your baptisms; let him hear with his ears, that he may testify of a truth, saith the Lord;

7 That in all your recordings it may be arecorded in heaven; whatsoever you bbind on earth, may be bound in heaven; whatsoever you loose on earth, may be loosed in heaven;

8 For I am about to restore many things to the earth, pertaining to the priesthood, saith the Lord of Hosts.

He also explained in revelation that a Temple had to be built for the baptisms, and other works of salvation, to continue. Because there was not yet one on the earth, they would be accepted without for a short time.

Work in behalf of the dead is so important that the first message of the gospel by the Angel Moroni to Joseph Smith contained a repeated quote on the subject. As reported by Joseph Smith, “And again, he quoted the fifth verse thus: Behold, I will reveal unto you the Priesthood, by the hand of Elijah the prophet, before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. He also quoted the next verse differently: And he shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers. If it were not so, the whole earth would be utterly wasted at his coming” (Joseph Smith—History 1:38–39). Once the doctrine of temple work was revealed and the keys delivered by Elijah, the quotes were explained more in-depth (Doctrine and Covenants 128:15,18):

15 And now, my dearly beloved brethren and sisters, let me assure you that these are principles in relation to the dead and the living that cannot be lightly passed over, as pertaining to our salvation. For their salvation is necessary and essential to our salvation, as Paul says concerning the fathers—that they without us cannot be made perfect—neither can we without our dead be made perfect . . .

18 I might have rendered a plainer translation to this, but it is sufficiently plain to suit my purpose as it stands. It is sufficient to know, in this case, that the earth will be smitten with a curse unless there is a welding link of some kind or other between the fathers and the children, upon some subject or other—and behold what is that subject? It is the baptism for the dead. For we without them cannot be made perfect; neither can they without us be made perfect. Neither can they nor we be made perfect without those who have died in the gospel also; for it is necessary in the ushering in of the dispensation of the fulness of times, which dispensation is now beginning to usher in, that a whole and complete and perfect union, and welding together of dispensations, and keys, and powers, and glories should take place, and be revealed from the days of Adam even to the present time. And not only this, but those things which never have been revealed from the foundation of the world, but have been kept hid from the wise and prudent, shall be revealed unto babes and sucklings in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times.

Many today continue to gain comfort from knowing those who pass from this life can still receive the ordinances of the gospel. A member of the LDS Church who participates in genealogical work can have greater appreciation for the temple. They will learn more about their families and feel better about themselves. The spirit of Elijah will become real for them as they search out and do temple work for their ancestors. Continue reading

Mormons can be Awesome!

Too much time and attention has been spent discussing the negatives of Mormons. With the way some people talk, even among those who consider themselves believers, the LDS Church has serious trouble keeping members active. Statistics are interpreted to imply that an unsustainable number of young adults are dropping out or going inactive. Despite the admitted higher than hoped for numbers who leave, the remaining are actually above average for religious participation. There has also been steady growth, with some returning later in life. The bad news is not all bad.

In the spirit of the more positive side of Mormonism, here are some members who have awesome achievements and testimonies. They are an inspiration for those struggling or asking if there are still any good members to have as role models. A very long list could be possible, but a sample is sufficient. These are members who have expressed faith in the Gospel while pursuing what they love, with noteworthy results. The future is brighter than the pessimists assume.

Jenn Blosil has not made it big yet, but as the last Mormon on “American Idol” she is on her way. Her personality and musical style is quirky and uneven. Yet, there is something about her that cannot be ignored. To put it simply, she stands out from others. Her testimony of the gospel and love for music are equally strong.

Jenn served a mission to New York like the second person on this list. Continue reading

Bigger than Life Prophet: Review of John Turner’s B.Y. Biography

BYPPDuring his life, Brigham Young was among the most hated and feared men. Even some of those who supported him didn’t always get along with his irascible personality. National newspapers often portrayed him as a portly womanizer on the verge of destroying the progress of a modernizing civilization. International opinion agreed, although they saw him as the result of an upstart and untamed United States. The Mormons, along with Brigham Young, were seen as a force to be reckoned with or an unspecified moral doom would be the result. Many generations later he is still mocked and derided with the same images started in Eastern newspapers. Among current Mormons his image is rough, but strong as his statues in Utah. Both believers and detractors have made him into an legendary icon of opposing saint and sinner visions.

The biographer John G. Turner hoped with his book to slice through the competing images of a man who was either a hero who built half the Western U.S., or committed every crime imaginable. Like most things Mormon it wouldn’t be an easy task. Turner believed Stanley P. Hirshson’s The Lion of the Lord relied too heavily on Eastern newspaper accounts, and Leonard J. Arrington’s Brigham Young: American Moses slanted too positive as a loyal follower of the religion. He wanted to use more first hand accounts and reminiscences to build a better biography that accepted both the good and the bad about the man. With some reservations the book succeeded.

Stylistically it reads almost like a companion to Richard L. Bushman’s Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling by giving the participants benefit of the doubt through their own words. Nothing seems to have been written to try and undermine or explain away spiritual experiences. There are some differences in subject treatment. Turner doesn’t focus as much on the theological developments and teachings, except where there is a direct connection to events. He uses theology to try and understand why Brigham Young or his followers behaved a certain way, while Bushman sometimes went off on a theological or philosophical tangent. In no way does this take away from the whole of the book, but sometimes it can feel like unexplored gaps remain. Considering that the biographer is a non-Mormon it probably is for the best. Even if he has a decent and mostly unobjectionable understanding of Mormon theology. Very few Mormon readers should be offended by doctrinal treatments, although certainly have a few disagreements with interpretations. Continue reading