Sunday, November 23, 2008

Vicarious Baptisms for Holocaust Victims

I understand that this post may be a bit untimely, seeing as how several months ago the Catholics decided to seal their genealogical records to the LDS Church, and a few weeks ago Jewish Holocaust survivors decided to cut off discussions with the LDS Church regarding the inadvertent baptisms of Holocause victims. In the interim, I was expecting the Church to step forward with some sort of statement or action that I could use in my post. Lacking such a statement, I nevertheless would like to briefly comment on the issue.

In my opinion, the ordinance known as baptism for the dead is a merciful ordinance that shows the extent of love by our Father in Heaven. Indeed, God is just and cannot send a person to hell simply because he or she had the misfortune of never hearing about the Savior. It is LDS doctrine that deceased beings, dwelling as spirits and awaiting the time of resurrection and judgment, are given the opportunity to hear and accept the message of the Gospel. Many on the other side will not accept Him, but God nevertheless reaches out to each of His children and implores them to follow Him. Personally, having done it several times, I can affirm that it is a marvelous and spiritual experience.

Upon reading the thousands of comments after the numerous articles that deal with the Jewish Holocaust survivors and their decistion to cut off discussions with the Church, a couple of interesting lines of thought were consistent among the readers:

1) Many were outraged that the LDS Church would have the audacity to "convert" their ancestors post-humously. Each was sure that members of the LDS Church would be equally outraged if other religious denominations attempted to post-humously "convert" their ancestors. One commentor (using quite colorful language) was sure that the LDS would vehemently object if the Pope one day declared Brigham Young or Joseph Smith flull-fledged Catholics.

As described above, the LDS practice does not "convert" the recipient, but only provides them with a correct baptism in the event they accept the Gospel in its fullest. Indeed, baptism is only the gateway and lacks the essential keys to exalt any individual.

Personally, I would be touched by the love and concern expressed by another religion that desired to do any sort of proxy ordinance that, in their minds, would ensure a better after-life for my ancestors. I venture to think that many LDS would agree. I fail to see the "disrespect" to our ancestors in an act wholly backed by the love of our fellow-man.

2) Many commentors were astounded at the attention that this is getting by other denominations and religions. In their minds, and I tend to agree, if detractors believe the LDS Church is a false religion, and its ordinances equally false, why would they care if vicarious work was performed on behalf of their ancestors? Wouldn't the outright falsity of the ordinance eliminate any need to worry whether the ordinance had any effect at all?

While we understand from 1 Pet. 3:18-20 and 4:6 that the souls in the spirit world are being taught the Gospel, they are faced with a significant dilemma: they need baptism to enter into a covenant with Christ and receive a washing away of their sins, etc., but they lack physical bodies in which to be baptized. This is why the restored Church includes the practice of baptism for the dead. The ordinance is simply a further testament to God's unending love for His children.

I would like to hear reader's comments on why other denominations or religions are so upset at an ordinance that they outright deny to be correct.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Our Constitution may be Threatened

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil, is that good men do nothing.” (Edmund Burke, Richard L. Evans Quotebook, p.88)

Latter-day Saints have long loved and cherished the United States Constitution. The Prophet Joseph Smith said that “the Constitution of the United States is a glorious standard; it is founded in the wisdom of God. It is a heavenly banner.” (TPJS, 147) The Lord declared that He “established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” (D&C 101:80) Did you catch that? The Lord established the Constitution, therefore, although not perfect, it is an inspired document.

Quite similar to how mainstream Christianity treats the scriptures, of late, in my opinion, we have been departing more and more from the Constitutional principles that have made this country so great. Unfortunately, our country is accepting the principles of socialism, our Constitution’s arch enemy, at an alarming rate. America has truly entered the “me-generation,” and has forgotten the 1960’s mantra “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” Indeed, as a result of our current nanny-state, we have bred a sense of entitlement among people that are unwilling to work for even the necessities of life.

The problem is socialism doesn’t work. It’s been tried over and over again, and has never been successful. If you’re hoping for more fairness under a socialist platform here in America, take a look at the suffering and misery in the Soviet Union, China, Cambodia and Cuba over the years . . . just to name a few. Not to mention the number of their own people each of these regimes killed; somewhere between 60 & 100 million!

Interestingly, the onslaught of socialism was seen decades ago by Elder Ezra Taft Benson:

Under policies (not just socialist) that tend to steer away from the Constitution, our freedoms may likely be at risk. For example, the Fairness Doctrine seems to be just the start of restricting our freedom of speech. [Interestingly, Elder Benson also addressed the Fairness Doctrine issue decades ago:] Next to go, our 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. All it will take is some lunatic to open fire in a school and the people will tend to see that gun restrictions may be the only way to prevent that event from repeating itself.

In sum, we may be on the verge of witnessing the fulfillment of one of Joseph Smith’s prophecies:

“Even this nation will be on the verge of crumbling to pieces and tumbling to the ground and when the Constitution is on the brink of ruin this people will be the staff upon which the nation shall lean and they shall bear the Constitution away from the very verge of destruction.” (Dated July 19, 1840, Joseph Smith Papers, LDS Church Historical Archives, Box 1, March 10, 1844.)

In an Independence Day celebration speech in the Salt Lake Tabernacle on July 4, 1854, Brigham Young commented on Joseph’s prophecy:

“Will the Constitution be destroyed? No; it will be held inviolate by this people; and, as Joseph Smith said, ‘the time will come when the destiny of the nation will hang upon a single thread. At this critical juncture, this people will step forth and save it from the threatened destruction.’ It will be so.” (Journal of Discourses 7:15 (1854)) (emphasis added)

President John Taylor also commented and declared that the Elders of Israel should “begin to understand that they have something to do with the world politically as well as religiously, that it is as much their duty to study correct political principles as well as religious, and to seek to know and comprehend the social and political interests of man, and to learn and to be able to teach that which would be best calculated to promote the interests of the world.” (Journal of Discourses 9:340 (1862))

Will the members of the Church be the only ones that will eventually uphold the Constitution? I lean towards Pres. Benson’s interpretation that all “righteous citizens” will be the saviors of Constitutional values:

“I have faith that the Constitution will be saved as prophesied by Joseph Smith. It will be saved by the righteous citizens of this nation who love and cherish freedom. It will be saved by enlightened members of this Church—among others—men and women who understand and abide the principles of the Constitution.” (President Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1987, p. 7) (emphasis added)

What is clear, however, are two things. First, our Constitutional values are in peril. We should be ever-vigilant of the changes witnessed in Washington. Second, righteous citizens clearly have responsibilities and obligations regarding these matters. Indeed, “[n]ext to being one in worshiping God, there is nothing in this world upon which this Church should be more united than in upholding and defending the Constitution of the United States!” (President David O. McKay, 1956, Instructor Magazine 91:34)

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Conscience vs. Following the Brethren

This is a tough post for me to write because I still don't know how I feel about this. Perhaps because the election has already passed, it is no longer relevant what I think. I am, of course, talking about voting on Proposition 102 in Arizona.

I consider myself a pretty reasonable person and always try to understand both sides of an issue, even if I initially don't agree with one side. I also consider myself a pretty orthodox member of the church and think it is inappropriate to criticize our leaders (we covenant not to, right?). With that in mind, I really struggled with this one. Being active on the internet, it was impossible to not notice the church's involvement on California's Prop 8. The church went so far as to provide
reasons for why it supported the respective propositions for CA and AZ. For the sake of this post and to prevent arguments over the merits, just assume that I thought that the arguments were weak.

Last Sunday, during a state-wide Stake Conference, President Packer reiterated points of his classic talk called "Follow the Brethren". He briefly mentioned the election and essentially said (paraphrasing) that if we are to follow the Brethren now, we should vote yes on Prop 102. It was rather vague and much of the talk seemed to be more about the fight in CA and less about AZ.

This post is not intended to argue the merits for or against Prop 102 (or 8 for CA readers). Instead, I ask what does one do if they do not agree with the reasoning behind the support? The church of course counsels us to vote our conscience. What if our conscience goes against President Packer's admonition? Does following my conscience mean that I do not follow the Brethren? Do not the Brethren tell us to follow our conscience? Understand, I am deeply conflicted over this and am not intending this to be critical of the Brethren.

I believe that there is safety in following the Brethren. But then I wonder if someone that was critical of the pre-1978 priesthood situation would have felt as if they didn't follow the Brethren at that time. Was that person not ultimately correct post-1978? Putting aside criticism of the Brethren (that would be inappropriate in any situation), should that person have seen himself as unsupportive of the Brethren because of that view?

Jeremy and I were going through some of these ideas earlier today over IM and so I think it helps me to put my thoughts down and solicit feedback. Again, this is not intended to argue the merits of each side. I only ask what one does when they feel that this conflicts with their conscience? I admire those who in the past were able to overcome their conscience and feelings about plural marriage and put their trust in the prophet. I wish I had that kind of faith.

(For what it's worth, when I had to decide, I came to the conclusion that I sustain the Brethren as prophets (even if I disagree) and as such, recognize that sometimes I have to sacrifice my own reasoning because they know more than me. Perhaps this was difficult for me and not for others for this particular issue. In the future, something else could be easier for me and unconscionable for someone else.)

Sunday, November 2, 2008

4 Nephi Parallels the Winding Up Scenes of the Millennium

The scriptures are clear that during the Millennium, Satan is to be bound for a time. For example, Revelation 20:3 teaches that there will likely be an initial physical binding of the adversary (maybe through priesthood power), while 1Ne 22:26 explains that his power will be severely restricted during this time as a result of the righteousness of the people. Indeed, Satan will be sealed up in the bottomless pit for a thousand years – but not forever. “When the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed” to once again deceive and gather followers from all nations to a battle in which Satan and his angels will eventually be cast off forever (see Rev. 20:7-8).

How is Satan finally loosed? After centuries of ignoring his enticements and the outward determination of the people of God not to listen to him, nor be governed by him, how does Satan once again gain a foothold in the lives of God’s children?

This is likely not an overnight transformation of the people, but a gradual decline of the righteousness of God’s people near the end of the Millennium. Satan only gains power over man through man’s exercise of his own agency. Thus, the Lord will not bind Satan and take his power from the earth while his children are willing to be governed by him.

The Book of Mormon provides an interesting illustration that may parallel this future event for us. In particular, 4 Nephi 1 gives us a sobering preview of how the bright millennial era may be brought to a close. After Christ’s visit to the descendants of Lehi in the Americas, the people entered into a millennial condition wherein they lived in a Zion-like society (see 4Ne 1:15-18). In fact, they were so righteous that they became one of the few peoples in recorded scripture that successfully lived the Law of Consecration for a time (see 4Ne 1:2-3).

The breakdown in this near-perfect society had tiny beginnings: “a small part of the people . . . revolted from the church and [had] taken upon them the name of Lamanites” (4Ne 1:20). Several years later, social classes were instituted once more and the Law of Consecration was abandoned (4Ne 1: 24-26). From that point, society disintegrated rapidly. Within the next decade:

[T]here were many churches in the land; yea, there were many churches which professed to know the Christ, and yet they did deny the more parts of his gospel, insomuch that they did receive all manner of wickedness, and did administer that which was sacred unto him to whom it had been forbidden because of unworthiness. And this church did multiply exceedingly because of iniquity, and because of the power of Satan who did get hold upon their hearts. (4Ne 1:27-28)

Thus, Satan, who had essentially been bound, was loosed again in the land because man invited him in once again. In due time, Satan's now-welcome influence caused severe unbelief, wickedness, and divisions among God’s people. In fact, the wicked eventually became more numerous than the righteous (4Ne 1:40). By the time 300 years had passed away from Christ’s visit, wickedness had spread all over the face of the land, and “there were none that were righteous save it were the disciples of Jesus” (4Ne 1:46).

In a parallel fashion, at the end of the Millennium, I believe that those present will again invite the adversary's influence into their lives, thus loosing him "for a little season" (D&C 43:31). The Lord will allow mankind to exercise their agency and worship how (and whom) they wish. As a result, leading up to the final battle, we may likely see class divisions and religious strife as those in 4 Nephi did.

This is just another parallel that I have seen from the Book of Mormon as it relates to our future events.