Come Follow Me: Alma 17-22

My blog post for Come Follow Me: Alma 17-22.

I discuss the missionary experiences for Ammon and his companions among the Lamanites. I compare the missionary efforts of Ammon and Aaron, to see how we can better improve our own member missionary work.

New thinking on Ammon and the flocks of Lamoni. What kind of flocks? Also, how does Ammon’s fight at the waters of Sebus compare to an ancient Egyptian battle in Canaan?

Black and White

This post is about the current discussion of race in America. But I’m not talking about two different races in the title. I’m talking about the way that some people want to see the world, as divided between those who are either completely good or completely bad.

When I was in college, I studied Jean Anouilh‘s play, Antigone. This was an 1944 version of the classic tale of how the daughter of Oedipus defiantly buries her two dead brothers against the orders of King Créon. The 1944 Antigone insists on seeing all things as either wholly right or wholly wrong, expressed in the original production by her wardrobe consisting of only white and black. Her refusal to yield results in her beloved and her mother dying, as well as her own execution.

In the 1944 play, Antigone tragically only realizes that some situations are neither wholly black nor white after all is destroyed. Jean Anouilh symbolized this by portraying Antigone dying with a multi-colored belt.

King Créon ends the play in conversation with a young page who is awed by the power of his ruler. In response, Créon says, “It would be better to never be king… [but] I must put one foot in front of the other, like a laborer at the doorway to the beginning of their day.”

All too many are now acting like Jean Anouilh’s Antigone, proclaiming that every past life and each current act ought to be judged according to their narrow interpretation of right and wrong.

The past is not black and white. There were nuances and difficult, heart-wrenching decisions to be made. Nor is it clear that moderns eager to destroy/deface icons of the past are acting based on an accurate understanding of past events.

Back to Jean Anouilh – his was a great feat, to produce a play under Nazi occupation of France that (properly understood) was a biting critique of Nazi rule.

Idealism unencumbered by humility or wisdom was arguably the great flaw of Hitler’s regime. Let us neither be guilty of the same, nor let us lash out of those so guilty and in so doing become also guilty of the same (as depicted in Eugene Ionesco‘s play, Rhinoceros).

Breathe. Love. Forgive. And live justly.

Elder Bednar’s important comments today on religious freedom and COVID-19

Elder Bednar spoke today at during the Religious Freedom Annual Review on the importance of religious freedom. The apostle’s remarks, were streamed live Wednesday morning during the Religious Freedom Annual Review, hosted by the Brigham Young University Law School. This year’s conference is being held online due to the pandemic.

Here are some highlights from the LDS newsroom:

Elder Bednar warned there is a danger in limiting a religious organization’s right to gather. “Gathering, in short, is at the core of faith and religion. Indeed, if the faithful are not gathering, sooner or later they will begin to scatter. And because gathering lies at the very heart of religion, the right to gather lies at the very heart of religious freedom.”

When the pandemic hit, congregations of many faiths around the world canceled worship services and other activities to abide by government restrictions for large group gatherings to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I believe it is vital for us to recognize that the sweeping governmental restrictions that were placed on religious gatherings at the outset of the COVID-19 crisis truly were extraordinary,” Elder Bednar explained. “No other event in our lifetime—and perhaps no other event since the founding of this nation—has caused quite this kind of widespread disruption of religious gatherings and worship.” 

Four Personal Reflections

Elder Bednar offered four personal reflections on the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic:

  • Government power can never be unlimited.
  • Religious freedom is paramount among our fundamental rights.
  • Religious freedom is fragile.
  • In a time of crisis, sensitive tools are necessary to balance demands of religious liberty with the just interests of society.
Elder Bednar - BYU Law Conference
Elder Bednar - BYU Law Conference

In North America, Elder Bednar pointed out, jurisdictions deemed services related to alcohol, animals and marijuana as essential, while the services of religious organizations were classified as nonessential, even when those activities could be safely conducted.

The senior Church leader cited examples in one state where Catholic priests were barred from anointing a parishioner with holy oil in the performance of last rites, even if that person did not have COVID-19. In the same state, Latter-day Saints were not allowed to perform baptisms. 

“The power of government must have limits,” asserted Elder Bednar.

“This time of restriction and confinement has confirmed for me that no freedom is more important than religious freedom,” said the senior leader of the global faith. “Protecting a person’s physical health from the coronavirus is, of course, important, but so is a person’s spiritual health.”

Elder Bednar continued, “While believers and their religious organizations must be good citizens in a time of crisis, never again can we allow government officials to treat the exercise of religion as simply nonessential. Never again must the fundamental right to worship God be trivialized below the ability to buy gasoline.”

Elder Bednar said the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates the fragility of religious freedom and the need to shore it up.

“In our understandable desire to combat COVID-19, we, too, as a society may have forgotten something about who we are and what is most precious,” he concluded. “Now is the time for us to heed the wake-up call, to remember and to act.”

Book Review: The Writings of Oliver Olney

Book Review: The Writings of Oliver Olney April 1842 to Feb 1843, edited by Richard G. Moore

The Writings of Oliver Olney: April 1842 to February 1843 — Nauvoo, Illinois

In this fascinating volume, Richard G. Moore gathers and organizes the writings of the apostate Oliver Olney. Olney was an early convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He married the sister of Luke and Lyman Johnson (two of the original 12 apostles). He was very active in Church service and was serving a mission when his wife died in 1841 in Nauvoo.

According to Moore, this seemed to be a tipping point for Olney, for he left the Church over various issues, including polygamy and concluding that Joseph Smith was a fallen prophet. What makes Olney special is that he wrote about his secret meetings with the Ancients of Days, a group of deceased prophets (including Adam) that directed him in restoring the fallen church.

In fact, in the April 1, 1842 Times and Seasons newspaper, Joseph Smith wrote:

“We have also had brethren and sisters that have had written revelations, and have
started forward to lead this church. Such was a young boy in Kirtland—Isaac
Russell of Mo. and Gladden Bishop, and Oliver Olney of Nauvoo. . . . Mr. Olney
has also been tried by the high council, and disfellowshiped because he would not
have his writings tested by the word of God; evidently proving that he loves darkness
rather than light because his deeds are evil.”

Olney would soon be excommunicated, but continued attending meetings, mostly to spy on what Joseph Smith and the other Church leaders were up to. In his writings, Olney discusses being called as the new prophet by the Ancients of Days and his dedicating of the Nauvoo temple, the Nauvoo House (both still under construction), and the little house where he met with the Ancients of Days a block away from the temple.

The saga continues, as Olney planned on preparing to create a reformed Latter-day Saint church. His plans included calling new apostles (which included some of the apostles faithful to Joseph Smith), and using the Nauvoo temple and other buildings to bring the gospel to all the world. How these would fall into his hands, he doesn’t say.

Moore did an excellent job in editing the papers that Olney had in a variety of folders. His introduction prepares us well for the writings of this apostate prophet. Olney’s writings are in their original spelling, so the word “see” is spelled, “se.” It sometimes took me a few moments to figure out his spelling, but I was able to quickly pick up on the flow. There is no punctuation, including no periods, but that also did not affect the readability of the writings. There are times when Olney must have copied some of his thoughts and ideas, perhaps to share with others, and so you’ll occasionally notice you are rereading some of the contents.

The vast majority of history I’ve read about the early Church and Joseph Smith has been positive. This is one of the few writings I’ve engaged with, where there is a clear animosity towards Joseph and Hyrum Smith. Others who started restoration churches normally were very fond of the prophet Joseph (including his own son Joseph Smith 3). In stark contrast is considering Joseph as a fallen prophet, someone who allowed pride and wickedness to cause him to be rejected of God, ready to be replaced via a series of revelation by the Ancients of Days.

It also is a fascinating read to learn about Olney’s visions. Most Latter-day Saints today would consider him either deceived by demons or delusional. After reading Olney’s writings, I tend to lean towards him being a bit delusional. It makes me wonder how his later life turned out, as he realized his visions did not come to pass. He never started a reformed church. He never was given the temple or other buildings to move his calling forward. He never gained followers.

While most history books on Nauvoo focus on the successes of building a city while under the oppression of outside forces and secret polygamy that caused several, including Joseph’s counselor William Law, to break off and seek Joseph’s destruction, this is one of the first personal insights into someone believing he was called as the new prophet. Unlike Brighan Young, James Strang or Sidney Rigdon, who believed they were Joseph’s legitimate successor, Olney believed he was Joseph’s replacement.

The Writings of Oliver Olney help us to see inside the mind of one apostate. While it is a sad story, it presents us with a new angle in understanding the underlying turmoil and struggles Joseph Smith dealt with constantly. Not only was Olney angry with Joseph over issues like polygamy, but he was receiving visions of his own that Joseph denounced. Perhaps it can help us understand those who fall away today, whether it is caused by frustration with church history, doctrine, or some experience that leads them elsewhere.

Available June 9 at:

Kofford Books