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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Question Box: Coverup?

Q. Why does the Church not tell people that the Prophet Smith "translated" part of the [Book of Mormon] by looking into a hat using a seer stone? An Elder of the Quorum of the 12 Apostles wrote about this in the Ensign [the Church's monthly English-language publication], but why don't missionaries tell the whole story of the translation? It seems like the Church is hiding something.
I understand how you must feel -- betrayed to learn about something that seems so odd for the first time, but it really isn't that odd. One of the best ways to make Mormonism out to be cultish and strange is to take facts completely out of their context--just leave them standing there naked and defenseless. Learning about the process of translation is the best way to understand this fact in its context. Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a great talk about the process of translation at the Missionary Training Center, and he spoke about this process of Joseph figuring out how to translate. It does seem supernatural, but so are most of the amazing stories in the scriptures--Moses parting the Red Sea, Joshua crossing the River Jordan, marching around Jericho seven times and the walls collapsing, David slaying Goliath, Samson killing 2,000 Philistines, Christ healing people--himself rising from the dead! etc. We come to expect supernatural things from our God and His servants. Joseph's use of a seer stone or the Urim and Thummim to translate fits in with all the other miracles that have been documented in the scriptures.

The Church's curriculum department must meet the needs of all members. This means everyone from the just-baptized and uninitiated to the seasoned scholars. It's a tall order to serve milk to some and meat to others, so what generally happens is everyone mainly gets milk. I think the Church prefers that members who are prepared to get more carnivorous in their pursuit of church history and deeper doctrines learn it through independent study. But the information is readily available to those who want to know. I searched "seer stone" on and it came up with a list of links with conference talks, manuals, explanations, scriptural citations and other information.

The church isn't trying to hide anything--if it isn't spoon fed into your mouth each week at church, seek it out on your own through prayer, scripture study and other resources (like The Lord will readily teach a searching mind (see Matthew 7:7).

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Book of Mormon Evidence

Q. How do Mormons (who are very intelligent, well educated as a group) reconcile themselves to the fact that there are no historical evidences of the peoples in the Book of Mormon? -Sherry

Sherry, thank you for considering us intelligent! Your comments are welcome here any time!

Modern prophets have always encouraged us to "get all of the education that you can." The Perpetual Education Fund is in its seventh year, providing school loans to men and women in poor areas across the globe, and there are many Mormons in every professional career path from doctors, engineers, and scientists to CEOs, attorneys, and public servants. We do believe in the scientific method and most of us are very capable of holding our own in logical discussions.

And yet we still believe the Book of Mormon is the translated word of God.

You are very wise to bring this up, Sherry, because the Book of Mormon is the proverbial keystone in the archway of our religion. If it is a true document with miraculous origins, then Joseph Smith was a prophet and this Church represents the best thing to happen to humanity in thousands of years. If the book was merely dreamed up by Smith, then he was a fraud and got away with one of the biggest, most successful hoaxes ever imagined. The whole Church would crumble. It becomes even more important when we consider that this book is verifiable.

I'm also glad you asked because there actually is evidence. A large pile of it. It isn't publicized by the Church because archeology cannot change hearts and bring people to repent. If your testimony of the Church is based on something as tentative and changing as science, your faith in Christ will waver with every new discovery. In the late 1800's some of the Book of Mormon's references to animals and metals were laughably inconsistent with then-current scientific knowledge. In recent decades, more scientific discoveries have actually turned each of these accusations into stronger proof that the book could not have been written by Joseph Smith.

I don't want to get into it all here, but I'll list a few examples and let you look at Jeff Lindsay's website for a larger, more detailed collection of Book of Mormon evidence.
  • The early chapters in the Book of Mormon map out a route from Jerusalem, along the Red Sea to a city called Nahom, ending in a lush coastal location where a boat was built to sail to America. The city NHM and the paradise valley are still there today, and exist in exactly the locations on the Arabian peninsula the Book of Mormon describes. Joseph Smith had no access to such information.
  • Many leading researchers place Book of Mormon lands in Mesoamerica, just below the Yucatan peninsula. Evidence supporting this claim includes: temples, large cities, volcanic activity at around 33 AD, fortifications for war, multiple city markets, fighting wars in winter months, and many more.
  • The use of cement buildings, steel swords, buried stone boxes, and metal plates all used to seem anachronistic in the ancient world, but recent findings have turned up evidence of all these elements.
  • An ancient Middle-Eastern poetic structure called chiasmus was discovered in the Book of Mormon. The concept of chiasmus was virtually unknown in most scholarly circles in Joseph Smith's time, and if he did somehow know to include these poems, he didn't seem to realize what powerful evidence they were, failing to make any mention of them to his detractors as evidence of authenticity. No one in the Church knew about them until 1967.
  • Jacob 5 gives an amazingly detailed (and accurate) account of proper olive tree maintenance (as an allegory for the gathering of Israel). Joseph Smith had no experience with ancient olive tree cultivation, nor were there available any sources on the topic.
As I mentioned earlier, all of this is interesting and good, but will not likely cause a person to devote his or her life to discipleship with Jesus Christ, which is the book's true goal. Science is not the only path to knowledge. It is just the most objective path, and that is why it is valuable. Still, there are some things that can only be understood through personal experience (see D&C 79:116-117). We can learn many important things through the scientific method, but God does not wait for science to catch up on the most vital truths. Millions of non-Mormons have been learning this book is true for 178 years, even when the scientific evidence of the day seemed to be against them. The learning method is the same today as it was then (see Moroni 10:3-5):
  1. Read the book
  2. Remember how merciful God has been to you
  3. Ponder the message in your heart and mind
  4. Ask God if it is true
  5. Listen for the answer through the Holy Ghost
You can know, too. And you can stand with us as a member of this family of intelligent, faith-filled people.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


A large part of faith in Jesus Christ is assurance that he is there and always has been there for us. This means remembering.

It's an uphill battle, remembering. Not only are dark forces working to weaken our mental agility with mind-numbing TV fare and internet sites, but our own mortal brains purposefully forget things every night in our sleep! I bet it takes you a few seconds to recall what you had for breakfast yesterday, let alone the quietly-answered prayer from the Holy Ghost you felt two years ago. Against such odds, what hope do we have?
You can try to develop a photographic memory. Or, you can write things down. I encourage the latter. A journal is an amazing memory-extending device, like a flash drive for your brain. You might wonder about the connection between journal-keeping and worshiping God, but it is a perfectly natural relationship. In fact, most of my journal consists of events in my life that have served to strengthen my faith. When I read entries from years ago, it amazes me how much of my life has been forgotten by the very mind that lived it.

President Henry B. Eyring, a counselor to the Prophet Thomas S. Monson, recently spoke on the importance of remembering:

"I wrote down a few lines every day for years. I never missed a day no matter how tired I was or how early I would have to start the next day. Before I would write, I would ponder this question: 'Have I seen the hand of God reaching out to touch us or our children or our family today?' As I kept at it, something began to happen. As I would cast my mind over the day, I would see evidence of what God had done for one of us that I had not recognized in the busy moments of the day. As that happened, and it happened often, I realized that trying to remember had allowed God to show me what He had done." O Remember, Remember; Oct. 2007
We are commanded not just to recall what has happened to us in our lives, but to "remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts." (Moroni 10:3) This is one reason Mormons soak up family history stories. We can relive with admiration the great faith of and blessings dispensed upon the pioneers as they crossed the plains to Utah. It helps to believe in the gift of healing when you can point to an ancestor who had that ability. We can go back further and examine the righteous examples of the early Christian saints who lived by the words of Peter and Paul. And we all have a heritage leading back to Noah and Adam and Eve.

Many books of scriptures were originally journals of prophets replete with inspired writings. It would be impossible to remember the great words of Isaiah or Ezekiel or Paul if they had not been recorded with good old-fashioned pen and paper. Isn't it conceivable that your own journal will influence future generations as well?

Throughout earth's history, we can see the hand of God working in ordinary peoples' lives. By recognizing and remembering His hand in your life, you will bolster your assurance that He is watching and helping you overcome your own trials. When He speaks to you, write these experiences down. If your faith in Christ begins to waver, your journal might be the thing that buoys you up, reminding you of that time He answered an important prayer.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Testimony: How can you really know?

I gained my first witness that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is true at a very young age. I was about three or four years old and one night as I was lying in bed, my mind started wandering and speculating and the thought occurred to me, "What if my parents and church leaders are wrong? What if there really is no life after death? What then? What if they're just mistaken?" The response was immediate. No sooner had I begun to mull over this possibility than I felt an overwhelming sense of peace engulf me. I felt the reassurance of the Holy Ghost testifying to me that I needn't worry about such a possibility because such is simply not the case. My parents and teachers are correct, there is a life after death and Christ is the Savior of all mankind. Since that time, my testimony has gone through numerous fluctuations as it has grown and developed, but its essence remains the same. I know of the truthfulness of the restored gospel.

Some may find my story remarkable or unbelievable. How could a child think such adult thoughts? More importantly, how could a child come to such a conclusion as I did? Some may scoff in disbelief that one can really know such things. I'd like to share another story. This is told by Elder Boyd K. Packer, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. He says:

"I will tell you of an experience I had before I was a General Authority which affected me profoundly. I sat on a plane next to a professed atheist who pressed his disbelief in God so urgently that I bore my testimony to him. “You are wrong,” I said, “there is a God. I know He lives!”

He protested, “You don’t know. Nobody knows that! You can’t know it!” When I would not yield, the atheist, who was an attorney, asked perhaps the ultimate question on the subject of testimony. “All right,” he said in a sneering, condescending way, “you say you know. Tell me how you know.”

When I attempted to answer, even though I held advanced academic degrees, I was helpless to communicate. . . .

When I used the words Spirit and witness, the atheist responded, “I don’t know what you are talking about.” The words prayer, discernment, and faith, were equally meaningless to him. “You see,” he said, “you don’t really know. If you did, you would be able to tell me how you know" . . . .

Such an idea came into my mind and I said to the atheist, “Let me ask if you know what salt tastes like.”

“Of course I do,” was his reply.

“When did you taste salt last?”

“I just had dinner on the plane.”

“You just think you know what salt tastes like,” I said.

He insisted, “I know what salt tastes like as well as I know anything.”

“If I gave you a cup of salt and a cup of sugar and let you taste them both, could you tell the salt from the sugar?”

“Now you are getting juvenile,” was his reply. “Of course I could tell the difference. I know what salt tastes like. It is an everyday experience—I know it as well as I know anything.”

“Then,” I said, “assuming that I have never tasted salt, explain to me just what it tastes like.”

After some thought, he ventured, “Well-I-uh, it is not sweet and it is not sour.”

“You’ve told me what it isn’t, not what it is.”

After several attempts, of course, he could not do it. He could not convey, in words alone, so ordinary an experience as tasting salt. I bore testimony to him once again and said, “I know there is a God. You ridiculed that testimony and said that if I did know, I would be able to tell you exactly how I know. My friend, spiritually speaking, I have tasted salt. I am no more able to convey to you in words how this knowledge has come than you are to tell me what salt tastes like. But I say to you again, there is a God! He does live! And just because you don’t know, don’t try to tell me that I don’t know, for I do!”

The Holy Ghost testifies to the truthfulness of the gospel. The Holy Ghost can be recognized a number of ways, but let me highlight a few references from the Doctrine and Covenants.

Section 6: 22-23 says, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?"

8:2 reads, "Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart."

And section 9 verses 7-8 explain, "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right."

Everyone can know these things. If you earnestly desire to gain a testimony, be it of the Book of Mormon, the Restoration or whether the current prophetic counsel really applies to you personally, take the matter to the Lord in prayer. I know from my own experiences that God answers prayers. The Holy Ghost does testify of Truth. If you truly want to know, then study, ponder, research and pray in faith; act on that faith; believe that you will receive an answer to your prayer. It may be immediate or it may take years for you to realize that you have received a confirmation and a testimony, but your answer will come.

Suggested Reading:

Elder Boyd K. Packer, “The Candle of the Lord,” Ensign, Jan 1983, 51

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Tithing and Unpaid Clergy

Q. Do [Latter-day Saints] give part of their earnings to the church?
Yes. One of the main principles of Christ-like living is sacrifice. We give of ourselves to help lift others and for the ultimate betterment of self. Former President and Prophet Ezra Taft Benson taught,

"Sacrifice is truly the crowning test of the gospel. Men are tried and tested in this mortal probation to see if they will put first in their lives the kingdom of God. (See Matt. 6:33.) To gain eternal life, they must be willing, if called upon, to sacrifice all things for the gospel. 'If thou wilt be perfect,' Jesus said to the rich young man, 'go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.' (Matt. 19:21.)"
Sacrifice comes in many forms: serving as a missionary, providing a meal for a widow, helping a neighbor roof his house, giving voluntary service to the Church, working at a local food pantry, etc. But you asked about money, so that is where I will focus my thoughts.

What Tithing Is
We give ten percent of our income to the Lord, knowing that He truly gave us all of it to start with. ('Tithe' comes from an old word meaning 'tenth'). We are given a very specific --and shockingly reliable-- promise from Malachi:

“Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

“And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts" (see Mal. 3:8–12).

If you live the law of tithing, you will understand what it means to have blessings pouring out of heaven such that you cannot receive them all. But this is something (like all principles of the gospel) that must be lived to be understood. You can know if it's right to pay tithing by paying tithing (see John 7:17).

Where Tithing Goes
It's important to note that tithing money is sacred. It is 'consecrated,' meaning it is set apart to the Lord and must be used judiciously. The money goes toward maintaining Church operation, such as
  • Constructing temples, chapels, and other buildings.
  • Funding day-to-day Church function.
  • Funding the missionary program.
  • Preparing materials used in Church classes and organizations.
  • Performing temple work, family history, and many other important Church functions.
  • Education (Church-owned universities, seminaries, and Institutes of Religion).
You may have noted (I hope with dismay) that the list above does not include giving to the poor and the sick and widows of the world. While tithing does play a role, there are separate funds (fast offerings and humanitarian aid) that primarily fill these needs. We will talk about these other programs in upcoming articles.

Tithing does not pay Church leaders. Nobody acquires wealth at the hands of a Mormon congregation. Bishops, stake presidents, and all other leaders in the Church serve willingly without wages, aside from rich, spiritual blessings. They follow the example of King Benjamin in the Book of Mormon who taught that, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God" (see Mosiah 2:17). They support themselves by working in their chosen professions during the week. My dad is a bishop, but on weekdays he also works as a high school counselor. The bishop of my congregation in Logan, UT is an orthopedic surgeon. They both pay tithing too.

Tithing is a private matter. We do not pass around a collection plate and we do not publish last week's earnings in the bulletin. (This really shocked me when I visited a particular non-LDS church service one Sunday). We write out our tithing checks and seal them inside a gray envelope. Then we discreetly hand it or mail it to our bishop. There need not be any pomp for hefty donations nor shame for measly ones. The Lord requires the same from everyone: ten percent. Giving any more or any less is not tithing.

If you have never paid tithing, I encourage you to do it. You can obey this law even if you haven't been baptized. There is lasting satisfaction in knowing you are supporting the Lord's work and keeping His law. It is a true token of your faithfulness to Jesus Christ and the blessings that result will help you feel His love for you.