Monday, September 28, 2009

Freemasonry and Mormons

After my recent post about The Lost Symbol, I have been researching again into the relationship between the Freemasonry movement and early Mormon history where the two intersected in Nauvoo, Illinois.  It seems many of the readers of this page are unaware of the connection, and this post will attempt to illuminate the relationship more clearly.

A comment to an article about a new DVD release from the History Channel about Freemasonry that appeared over the weekend in the Deseret Morning News caught my eye.  The comment is typical of many who were unaware of the early history of the Church:  "I'd like to learn about LDS leaders and Masonry. Can someone on this list recommend some good books on why LDS leaders became Masons? I've been searching and haven't been able to find anything. Thank you."

Here is an excellent article in Wikipedia about the history of Freemasonry for those who are interested.  The true origins of Freemasonry are shrouded, and cannot be completely verified, and here the similarities between Freemasonry and Mormonism radically depart when compared to Joseph Smith's own autobiographical history and assertions of divine revelation freely given since the early 1800s.  It is highly unlikely that Freemasonry's origins can be accurately traced back to Solomon's Temple, as some have believed and purported, some critics using that supposition as the basis for their opposition to Freemasonry  being anti-Islamic and favoring construction of the future Jewish Temple on the site of the Dome of the Rock (more on that later).  Not even Freemasons make such claims, but the linkage continues to be asserted by some who oppose Freemasonry simply on the grounds that their rituals and beliefs contradict their own.

Freemasonry has a long and tortured history of critics who have attacked its secretive nature almost from its inception.  The most likely explanations of the origins of Freemasonry can be traced to Scotland in the late 1500s, arising from the construction trade guilds that flourished there.  Grand Lodges were established first in Scotland, Ireland, then England in the 1700s, later spreading throughout Europe.

After the Revolutionary War in America, Grand Lodges soon appeared in all the states.  George Washington was the Grand Master of the Virginia Lodge, and many of the Founding Fathers, signers of the Declaration of Independence and subsequently the Constitution were Freemasons in good standing in various lodges.

The introduction of Freemasonry in Nauvoo had both political and religious implications. When Illinois Grand Master Abraham Jonas visited Nauvoo on March 15, 1842, to install the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge, he inaugurated an unintended era of difficulty with other Illinois Freemasons and introduced to Nauvoo ancient rituals bearing some similarity to the LDS temple ordinances.  Google searches on the topics will yield ample results.

Much has been made of the intersection of Freemasonry and the early Church history in Nauvoo, Illinois.  The meteoric rise in population in that city is well documented as immigrants from Europe flooded in from the British Isles where Freemasonry florished, accounting for the mutual attraction.  Nauvoo was reclaimed from a swampy disease-infested bend in the river (formerly Commerce, Illinois) into a safe and thriving religious community in a matter of five short years.  At one point Nauvoo's population totaled more than 30,000, making it even larger in those days than Chicago.  It is not surprising that a Grand Lodge was established in Nauvoo, nor that the leaders of the Church were attracted to it.  The Church leaders reached out for understanding and support from whatever quarter they could find it, and such seems to be the case in the establishment of the lodge in Nauvoo.

Regular Masonic procedure calls for an existing lodge to sponsor each new proposed lodge. Early in the summer of 1841, several Latter-day Saints who were Masons, including Lucius N. Scovil, a key figure in Nauvoo Freemasonry, asked Bodley Lodge No. 1, in Quincy, Illinois, to request that the Illinois Grand Lodge appoint certain individuals as officers of a Nauvoo lodge. Indicating that the persons named were unknown in Quincy as Masons, the lodge returned the letter with instructions for further action.

Less than a year later, Nauvoo had a lodge without the normal sponsorship. Grand Master Abraham Jonas (a Jewish Mason) apparently waived the rule and granted Nauvoo a "special dispensation" to organize. He also made Joseph Smith and his counselor, Sidney Rigdon, "Masons at sight," accelerating them to the third degree designation as "Master Masons" and waiving the normal waiting period between the degrees.  Some believe that Jonas was willing to follow this course because he envisioned the growing Mormon vote supporting his own political ambitions.  Such speculation is validated in the fact of the Church's expulsion from Missouri, largely because of their abolitionist views in opposition to those who favored the continuation of slavery in Missouri.  As a large political voting bloc, the Mormons wielded influence at the polls.  Although the action may have endeared Jonas to some Latter-day Saints, it antagonized other Masons. Joseph Smith had reason to expect that the Saints might benefit from the network of friendship and support normally associated with the fraternal organization, but instead, the creation of the Nauvoo Lodge only produced more friction.

Jonas published an account of the March 15 installation of the Nauvoo Lodge in his newspaper, Columbia Advocate, and signed it merely "An Observer." "Never in my life did I witness a better dressed or more orderly and well-behaved assemblage," he wrote (HC 4:565-66).  During the installation ceremonies, held in the grove near the temple site, Joseph Smith officiated as Grand Chaplain.  That evening, with the Masons assembled in his office, the Prophet received the first degree of Freemasonry.  Nauvoo Masons then commenced weekly early morning meetings.

Confusion could logically be drawn by some not fully acquainted with early Mormon history in Nauvoo, when Joseph Smith made this entry in his journal:

Wednesday, 4.—I spent the day in the upper part of the store, that is in my private office * * * in council with General James Adams, of Springfield, Patriarch Hyrum Smith, Bishops Newel K. Whitney and George Miller, and President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards, instructing them in the principles and order of the Priesthood, attending to washings, anointings, endowments and the communication of keys pertaining to the Aaronic Priesthood, and so on to the highest order of the Melchizedek Priesthood, setting forth the order pertaining to the Ancient of Days, and all those plans and principles by which any one is enabled to secure the fullness of those blessings which have been prepared for the Church of the Firstborn, and come up and abide in the presence of the Eloheim in the eternal worlds. In this council was instituted the ancient order of things for the first time in these last days. And the communications I made to this council were of things spiritual, and to be received only by the spiritual minded: and there was nothing made known to these men but what will be made known to all the Saints of the last days, so soon as they are prepared to receive, and a proper place is prepared to communicate them, even to the weakest of the Saints; therefore let the Saints be diligent in building the Temple, and all houses which they have been, or shall hereafter be, commanded of God to build; and wait their time with patience in all meekness, faith, perseverance unto the end, knowing assuredly that all these things referred to in this council are always governed by the principle of revelation. (May 4, 1842.)  (See TPJS, 237).

Joseph was surrounded by his contemporaries in the Church, who were converted largely because of their acceptance of The Book of Mormon as evidence of the truth of Joseph's claims, and many of those same men were simultaneously members of the local Nauvoo Lodge of Freemasons.  Few if any of his closest associates were confused between the rites of Freemasonry and the temple ordinances Joseph was introducing which he claimed "are always governed by the principle of revelation."  Joseph was a revelator, not a plagiarist.

I found this corroborating insight from Richard Bushman's 2005 biography, Joseph Smith, Rough Stone Rolling (see p. 449):

"Portions of the temple ritual resembled Masonic rites that Joseph had observed when a Nauvoo lodge was organized in March 1842 and that he may have heard about from Hyrum, a Mason from New York days.  The Nauvoo endowment was first bestowed just six weeks after Joseph's induction.  The similarities were marked enough for Heber Kimball to quote Joseph saying that Freemasonry 'was taken from preasthood but has become degen[e]rated.  but menny things are perfect.'  Joseph often requested revelation about things that caught his attention.  His revision of the Bible had sparked questions that resulted in revelations such as the vision of three glories.  Tensions in South Carolina brought on a revelation about coming civil war.  He had a green thumb for growing ideas from tiny seeds.  Masonic rites seem to have been one more provocation."

If there had been any trickery involved, it is likely that such proximate contemporaries would not have been easily duped by Joseph into believing Mormon temple ordinances had their origins in Freemasonry.  Those who were with him when the spirit of revelation descended upon him bore eyewitness accounts repeatedly that he could have been nothing less than he claimed to be.  Only the apostates who later left the Church raised such charges against Joseph as a plagiarist, but those who knew him best like Howard Coray, left comments in their notebooks like this one:

"The spirit descended upon him, and a measure of it upon me, insomuch that I could fully realize that God, or the Holy Ghost, was talking through him.  I never, neither before or since, have felt as I did on that occasion.  I felt so small and humble I could have freely kissed his feet."  (Howard Coray's account of how Joseph received this discourse by revelation -- see TPJS, 166-173 -- taken from his autobiography, Special Collections, BYU, reprinted in The Words of Joseph Smith, 50, note 1).

In August 1842, Bodley Lodge No. 1 protested the granting of a dispensation to the Nauvoo Lodge, resulting in a temporary suspension of activities. An investigation found that approximately three hundred Latter-day Saints had become Masons during the brief existence of the lodge, but found no irregularities warranting dissolution. The Grand Lodge not only authorized reinstatement of the Nauvoo Lodge but subsequently granted dispensations for other lodges nearby made up principally of Latter-day Saints. Eventually nearly 1,500 LDS men became associated with Illinois Freemasonry, including many members of the Church's governing priesthood bodies -- this at a time when the total number of non-LDS Masons in Illinois lodges barely reached 150.  The political ramifications were untenable in time.

As long-time rivals of Nauvoo for political and economic ascendancy, neighboring Masons feared and resisted Mormon domination of Freemasonry.  Charging the Nauvoo Lodge with balloting for more than one applicant at a time, receiving applicants into the fraternity on the basis that they reform in the future, and making Joseph Smith a Master Mason on sight, enemies forced an investigation in October 1843.  The Grand Lodge summoned Nauvoo officials to Jacksonville, Illinois.  Armed with pertinent books and papers, Lucius Scovil and Henry G. Sherwood answered the allegations.  Though the examining committee reported that everything appeared to be in order, it expressed fear that there might be something wrong, and recommended a year's suspension.  At this point, Grand Master Jonas, in an impassioned speech, declared that the books of the Nauvoo Lodge were the best-kept he had seen and stated his conviction that but for the fact that the Nauvoo Lodge was composed of Mormons, it would stand as the highest lodge in the state.  A committee was appointed to make a thorough investigation in Nauvoo.  Though the committee reported no wrongdoing, the Nauvoo Lodge was again suspended.  The injunction was later removed, but the Nauvoo Lodge continued to lack the support of its fellow Masons.

In April 1844, the Nauvoo Lodge dedicated a new Masonic hall. The restored building now stands once again in Nauvoo, dubbed in modern times as the "Cultural Hall."  By this time, the lodge had been severed from the Grand Lodge and one Illinois Mason had been expelled from his lodge for attending the dedication.  The Nauvoo Lodge continued its activities in the newly built hall until April 10, 1845, when Brigham Young advised Lucius Scovil to suspend the work of the Masons in Nauvoo.  Only a few additional meetings were held prior to the Latter-day Saints' departure for the Great Basin in 1846.

Joseph Smith participated minimally in Freemasonry and, as far as is known, attended the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge on only three occasions. Nonetheless, LDS Masons commented on his mastery of its orders, tenets, and principles and of his understanding of the allegorical symbolism of its instructions.  Some who apostatized from the Church, including John C. Bennett, later accused Joseph Smith of plagiarizing the secret rituals of Freemasonry and incorporating them into the temple ordinances.  Bennett was eventually excommunicated from the Church because of adultery, causing great personal heartache to the Prophet Joseph.  The Masons expelled Bennett from the Nauvoo Lodge, too, in subsequent years, calling into question his well-known debauchery and lack of moral turpitude.  These myths associated with Freemasonry and Mormons in Nauvoo persist nevertheless. 

Most scholars who have looked carefully at the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge agree that it was more victim than villain. All agree that widespread anti-Mormon feelings and the extensive hatred of Latter-day Saints by local rivals, and not irregularities or misconduct, caused the controversy with regard to the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo.

Those among Church members who have been initiated into secret male fraternal orders, such as in my case, Sigma Chi Fraternity, organized in 1855 at Miami of Ohio University, cannot escape the similarities between the rituals of those secret fraternal societies and the temple endowment.  Are we to assume that Sigma Chi stole its initiation ritual from Joseph Smith who predated Sigma Chi's origins?  That's about as plausible in my mind as Joseph Smith stealing his rituals from the Freemasons.  Much has been made of the similarities attaching to Freemasonry and the endowment ceremony.  However, such similarities, while interesting, do not carry the weight of authenticity, nor are they persuasive to either an objective outside observer or a devout convert.  
Joseph Smith was a true prophet of God, we stoutly and unabashedly assert.  Truth seekers routinely are attracted to his story.  Hundreds of thousands worldwide each year enter the Church through the waters of baptism by immersion for a remission of their sins.  What he received through his revelatory dictims came to him ultimately as independent from any other influences.  While these outside influences may have been factors in his overall development -- for example, his proximity to men much older and more experienced like Sidney Rigdon who had experimented with idealistic religious utopian societies -- the Prophet's development of the law of consecration certainly cannot be attributed solely to his interaction with Rigdon. 
Joseph was a pure vessel as an inexperienced young man and proved an acceptable blank canvas upon which the Lord could write His Restoration doctrines.  All the similarities between Freemasonry and Mormonism notwithstanding, there are myriads of similar arguments that arise that simply have not stood the test of time -- for example, the Spaulding manuscript theory of the origins of The Book of Mormon, the introduction of plural marriage as a way to satiate Joseph's alleged salacious sexual desires, and so forth.  When examined in depth, as many have, these criticisms usually amount to little more than the ad hominem attacks they are.  Kill the messenger, the reasoning goes, and you kill the message.  Such was not the case with Joseph Smith, and it was not the case with his Master, Jesus Christ, either.
Quoting from the Wikipedia article:
"Freemasonry explicitly and openly states that it is neither a religion nor a substitute for one. 'There is no separate Masonic God', nor a separate proper name for a deity in any branch of Freemasonry.

"Regular Freemasonry requires that its candidates believe in a Supreme Being, but the interpretation of the term is subject to the conscience of the candidate. This means that men from a wide range of faiths, including (but not limited to) Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Sikhism, Hinduism, etc. can and have become Masons.

"Since the early 19th century, in the irregular Continental European tradition (meaning irregular to those Grand Lodges in amity with the United Grand Lodge of England), a very broad interpretation has been given to a (non-dogmatic) Supreme Being; in the tradition of Baruch Spinoza and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe – or views of The Ultimate Cosmic Oneness – along with Western atheistic idealism and agnosticism.

"Freemasonry in Scandinavia, known as the Swedish Rite, on the other hand, accepts only Christians. In addition, some appendant bodies (or portions thereof) have religious requirements. These have no bearing, however, on what occurs at the lodge level."

In Utah, the current Grand Master, Loyd E. Davis, is a Mormon.  Check out their website (it's loaded with information for the layman and promotes understanding of their fraternal and social goals).  Here's a FOX13-TV story about The Lost Symbol just prior to its release, with an interview of John Liley, the Senior Grand Warden here in Utah, who describes the organization as "a social fraternity."  When the Grand Lodge on South Temple was rededicated in recent years after a renovation, public open houses were offered.  My partner, Steve Harris, and I toured the lodge (we were the only two visitors in the building at the time, and they were hard-pressed to even find us a guide to take us through the building). 

For many members of the order, Freemasonry becomes their religion, though such is not their principal aim.  I knew brothers in Sigma Chi Fraternity who likewise adopted it (what could be better than the White Cross of Sigma Chi as a lofty symbolic ideal?) as the only religion they knew, though Sigma Chi would never hold itself out as anything akin to religion. 

The animosity that historically existed between the Church and the Masons is now largely dissipated in this 150th anniversary year of the establishment of the Utah Grand Lodge.  Presently, there are 28 Masonic lodges in Utah.  Even in Illinois today, the Grand Master of one of the lodges near Nauvoo is a Mormon.  The Masons and the related Shriners are predominantly philanthropic and seek to do charitable deeds to better their communities.  It seems there is little to be gained by perpetuating the myths associated with stealing secrets and rituals from one to benefit the other.  Most Masons reject those ideas as untrue, and certainly the Church rejects those notions.  It is interesting to note in passing that the beehive (see the seal at the right) is an important symbol in Freemasonry, holding a prominent place in the lecture of the Master Mason degree, and is a symbol of industry and cooperation.

The beehive (usually displayed in an iconified "skep" design -- the domed hive) is also one of the symbols of the State of Utah.  It is associated with the honey bee, an early symbol of Mormon pioneer industry and resourcefulness.  (See "Deseret" in your Google search engine).  In this symbol usage, once again we see the overlap between Freemasons and Mormons, but the use of the symbol can be traced as far back as Egypt in ancient civilizations.  The beehive is only one of many symbols employed by Mormons and Freemasons today.

I never go to the Salt Lake Temple without taking notice of the careful craftsmanship and the precision workmanship that is in evidence throughout.  Ground was broken for the magnificent temple that is the centerpiece of Salt Lake City, on April 6, 1853.  Forty years later it was dedicated on April 6, 1893, by President Wilford W. Woodruff, successor to Brigham Young.  It is little wonder that such persistence and diligence is best illustrated by use of the beehive as a symbol emblematic of the hard work of our pioneer ancestors.  Even the doorknobs of the temple attest to this iconic symbol.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is led by living prophets who routinely reshape and reconfigure the temple ceremonies through ongoing revelation with little or no interest in preserving past practices and policies that become outmoded.  While preserving the essential elements received by revelation that cannot and will not be altered, the setting, props, foil, or backdrops, have all been altered since their first introduction and are re-arranged as current revelation is received.

Examples of dynamic revelatory changes can be seen routinely within the Church -- the reorganization of the Seventy, the granting of priesthood ordinations to all worthy males in 1978, the updated formats for the scriptures, the three-hour block meeting formats, the temple rituals, the teaching materials in every organization of the Church, the introduction of the missionary manual, Preach My Gospel, and so on.  These all represent dramatic shifts in policies and procedures, while preserving fundamental scriptural doctrines

If one believes the canon of scripture is open and revelatory experiences are ongoing, such changes are easily and readily accepted by faithful Church members.  I will never forget my father, who was serving as a mission president in the California Arcadia Mission in the late 70's, reflecting on the nature of those changes.  He told me in a phone conversation, "I went to my new three-hour block of meetings at 9:00 a.m., was served the sacrament by a newly-ordained black deacon, while sitting in my new two-piece garments and reading from my new edition of the scriptures in Sunday School class."  Notice the key word "new."  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is dynamic, ever-evolving to adapt to changing conditions in the world, and founded upon the principle that God still loves His children and will shower upon the heads of His Church the divine guidance needed to navigate in a dark mortal world. 

To those who oppose the Church, such seemingly "convenient changes" and alterations are abhorrent to their way of thinking and no explanation will suffice.  The Church's critics are never satisfied.  They attack Joseph Smith as a fraud, then when the Church alters anything they cry fraud again, conveniently slipping and tripping over the obvious contradictions in their position.

Perhaps we can best say it this way -- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints purports to be much more than a social fraternal organization like the Freemasons and Sigma Chi Fraternity, and the Freemasons and Sigma Chi have never purported to be religious organizations founded on ongoing revelation led by a true living prophet of God.

Nevertheless, the Freemasons have come in for their share of rejection and hostility from many quarters, particularly from the churches.  Perhaps there is fear Freemasonry might siphon off their members into an imitation religion, much as those same churches pounce on Mormons.  Those of us who have been to the temple can testify the true "secrets of the universe" are routinely being given away freely to anyone who's interested enough to investigate the Church's claims. 

Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:  "Someday the boldness of the people of the Church may match the boldness of the doctrines of the Church.  Right now, we are rather shy.  We don't understand how remarkable as well as plentiful those doctrines are.  They contain the answers to the most vexing and searching of all human questions.  In fact, through the 'restitution of all things,' God is actually giving away the secrets of the universe!"  (That Ye May Believe, 164, emphasis mine). 

The Mormons, by contrast to other churches, have never shared the concerns about Freemasons.  Quoting again from the Wikipedia article:

"In contrast to Catholic allegations of rationalism and naturalism, Protestant objections are more likely to be based on allegations of mysticism, occultism, and even Satanism.  Masonic scholar Albert Pike is often quoted (in some cases misquoted) by Protestant anti-Masons as an authority for the position of Masonry on these issues.  However, Pike, although undoubtedly learned, was not a spokesman for Freemasonry and was controversial among Freemasons in general, representing his personal opinion only, and furthermore an opinion grounded in the attitudes and understandings of late 19th century Southern Freemasonry of the USA alone.  Indeed his book carries in the preface a form of disclaimer from his own Grand Lodge.  No one voice has ever spoken for the whole of Freemasonry.

"Free Methodist Church founder B.T. Roberts was a vocal opponent of Freemasonry in the mid 18th century.  Roberts opposed the society on moral grounds and stated, 'The god of the lodge is not the God of the Bible.'  Roberts believed Freemasonry was a 'mystery' or 'alternate' religion and encouraged his church not to support ministers who were Freemasons.  Freedom from secret societies is one of the 'frees' the Free Methodist Church was founded upon.

"Since the founding of Freemasonry, many Bishops of the Church of England have been Freemasons, such as Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher.  In the past, few members of the Church of England would have seen any incongruity in concurrently adhering to Anglican Christianity and practicing Freemasonry.  In recent decades, however, reservations about Freemasonry have increased within Anglicanism, perhaps due to the increasing prominence of the evangelical wing of the church.  The current Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, appears to harbour some reservations about Masonic ritual, whilst being anxious to avoid causing offence to Freemasons inside and outside the Church of England.  In 2003 he felt it necessary to apologise to British Freemasons after he said that their beliefs were incompatible with Christianity and that he had barred the appointment of Freemasons to senior posts in his diocese when he was Bishop of Monmouth.

"Regular Freemasonry has traditionally not responded to these claims, beyond the often repeated statement that those Grand Lodges in amity with UGLE explicitly adhere to the principle that 'Freemasonry is not a religion, nor a substitute for religion. There is no separate 'Masonic deity', and there is no separate proper name for a deity in Freemasonry.'  In recent years, however, this has begun to change.  Many Masonic websites and publications address these criticisms specifically.

"Many Islamic anti-Masonic arguments are closely tied to both Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism, though other criticisms are made such as linking Freemasonry to Dajjal.  Some Muslim anti-Masons argue that Freemasonry promotes the interests of the Jews around the world and that one of its aims is to rebuild the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem after destroying the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  In article 28 of its Covenant, Hamas states that Freemasonry, Rotary, and other similar groups 'work in the interest of Zionism and according to its instructions …'  Many countries with a significant Muslim population do not allow Masonic establishments within their jurisdictions.  However, countries such as Turkey and Morocco have established Grand Lodges, while in countries such as Malaysia and Lebanon there are District Grand Lodges operating under a warrant from an established Grand Lodge.

"There was a time when there existed a number of lodges in Iraq as early as 1919, when the first lodge under the UGLE was opened in Basra, and later on when the country was under British Mandate just after the First World War.  However the position changed in July 1958 following the Revolution, with the abolition of the Monarchy and Iraq being declared a republic, under General Qasim.  The licences permitting lodges to meet were rescinded and later laws were introduced banning any further meetings.  This position was later reinforced under Saddam Hussein, the death penalty was 'prescribed' for those who "promote or acclaim Zionist principles, including freemasonry, or who associate [themselves] with Zionist organisations.'  With the fall of the Hussein government following the US Invasion of Iraq, a number of lodges associated with military units of the UK and UK have met and continue to meet on military bases within Iraq. In 2007, Land Air and Sea Lodge, No. 1, was granted a charter by the Grand Lodge of New York for the benefit of US servicemen serving in Iraq. Whilst this lodge is now dark there are proposals to re-activate it."

One final note in passing.  Nothing could be more repugnant to a modern radical Muslim extremist today than everything Sigma Chi Fraternity stands for, utilizing as it does nearly all the symbols of the Christian Crusades -- the White Cross, the motto "In Hoc Signo Vinces" (in this sign you will conquer), the white rose, the Norman Shield, the patron saint Constantine, and all the other reprehensible reminders of their defeat in earlier centuries.  Now the radicalized world of Islam is front and center on the world's political stage, determined to destroy all these ancient Christian, Jewish and Masonic symbols that seem to stand in their path leading to world domination, even asserting a denial of the Holocaust.  Through this modern maze of varied symbolic representations, Dan Brown weaves a brilliantly conceived plot line that capitalizes once again by pitting competing forces against one another in a tour de force novel destined to outsell all its predecessors.  I think I'd better get that novel written soon about Sigma Chi and the Crusades before Brown steals that idea for his next one. 

CONCLUSION:  The so-called "controversy" between the Freemasons and the Mormons is largely a toothless tiger that offers little credible evidence of being much more than modern mythology.  Dan Brown's new book, The Lost Symbol, will no doubt revive these old specious claims and counterclaims, but as John Liley adequately stated in his interview with FOX13 TV, there's really no such thing as negative publicity for Freemasonry.  Anything that gets people to sit up and pay attention to their linkage with the establishment of Washington D.C. as the seat of our government is a good thing. The cornerstone ceremony of the U.S. Capitol Building was a Masonic ritual presided over by the first U.S. President, George Washington, in 1793.  There is circumstantial evidence that the procedures used by George Washington were completely Masonic in origin.  The contemporary newspaper accounts reported specifically that corn, wine, and oil were placed on the cornerstone after it was set in place. Also, the Alexandria-Washington Lodge #22 has a wooden triangle and T-square from the 1793 ceremonies, which must have been used to symbolically "try the stone."  In an earlier post last month I reminded readers that George Washington and all the signers of the Declaration of Independence appeared to Wilford W. Woodruff in the St. George Temple and requested that proxy temple ordinances be performed for each of them, which he did.  I submit the former Freemasons among them embraced the temple ordinances offered to them wholeheartedly in the spirit world and were anxious to have that work done on their behalf.  Brown's book will do nothing to alter the historical facts blended with his fiction as he reaps millions in profits associated with his accounts of symbology largely lost in today's modern world.

Your comments are welcomed.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Senator Orrin Hatch -- basketball fan

In case you missed it --

On Sepember 14, 2009, Senator Orrin Hatch gave a speech on the Senate Floor about the Utah Jazz Hall of Famers -- Jerry Sloan and John Stockton.  It wasn't just a little footnote in the Senate record.  He had a lot to say about them:

"Mr. President, I rise today to speak about a matter of great prominence to the people of my state. This past Friday, in Springfield, Massachusetts, Jerry Sloan and John Stockton were inducted into The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This is a well-deserved honor and I wanted to take a few moments to congratulate them both.

"As any fan of professional basketball can tell you, the Energy Solutions Arena in Salt Lake City is widely considered one of the most difficult places for visiting teams to play. Now, some have tried to blame this on the city's high elevation, but, if you've ever been to a game there, you know very well that it's because of the Jazz fans.

"You see, due to its relatively small population, Utah has only one major sports franchise - the Jazz. And, there were times when people thought that this small market would not be able to sustain even a single NBA team. But, for more than two decades, the Jazz have enjoyed one of the most loyal and supportive fan bases of any team in professional sports. This is due in no small part to the careers of both John Stockton and Jerry Sloan.

"John Stockton grew up in Spokane, Washington and played basketball at both Gonzaga Prep and Gonzaga University in his hometown. He was a relative unknown when he moved into the professional ranks, picked by the Jazz in the middle of the first round of the 1984 draft and initially relegated to a reserve role on the team. But, after three seasons, he became the full-time starter at the point guard position and went on to have one of the most prolific careers in basketball history.

"Over the course of his career, he accumulated numerous honors. He was selected to play in the NBA All Star game ten times. He played on the 1992 and 1996 Olympic teams - the first two Olympic squads to include professional players - winning gold medals in both years. He was selected to the All-NBA First Team twice, the All-NBA Second Team six times, the All-NBA Third Team three times, and the NBA All-Defensive Second Team five times. In 1996, the NBA celebrated its 50th anniversary by selecting the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. Of course, John Stockton was honored on this list as well.

"Though the accomplishment of winning an NBA championship eluded him, Stockton did lead the Jazz to two consecutive NBA Finals appearances in 1997 and 1998. John Stockton was immortalized in the first of those seasons when, in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals, he scored the last 9 points for the Jazz, including a last-second three pointer to send the Jazz to the Finals for the first time. This was probably the most memorable moment of Stockton's career and the history of the Jazz franchise and it is still replayed in montages of great sports moments.

"It's impossible to talk about John Stockton without mentioning Karl Malone. Together, these two formed one of the game's legendary 1-2 punches. Together, they became the league's models of consistency, commitment, and success. The two played 18 seasons and an NBA record 1,412 regular-season games together as teammates. Due to their collaborative efforts, Malone finished his career as the second-highest scorer in NBA history and Stockton holds the all-time career assist record.

"Let's talk about that assist record for a moment. In the 63-year history of the NBA, only four players have career assist totals of over 10,000. Stockton finished his career with 15,806 assists. Mark Jackson, number two on the list, collected 10,334 assists - 5,483 fewer than Stockton.

"But, the raw numbers don't do this record justice, Mr. President. To put it in perspective, only 37 players have dished out 5,483 or moreassists in their entire careers. Indeed, just getting that many assists over a whole career would put you in pretty elite company - and that's the difference between John Stockton's total and that of the guy who's next in line.

"This record is among the truly unbreakable records in all of sports - and it isn't the only one held by John Stockton. He also holds the career record in steals, also by a considerable margin. He holds the NBA record for the most seasons and consecutive games played with one team, and is third in total games played.

"John Stockton's success on the floor was matched only by his consistency. He missed only 22 games during his career, 18 of them came in one season. In 17 of his 19 seasons in the NBA, he played in every single game. Overall, he played in 1,504 of 1,526 possible games. These are Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken-type numbers.

"Stockton will always be remembered for his no-nonsense approach to the game, his hard-nosed defense, his matchless work ethic, and his quiet, unassuming personality. His unflashy, fundamentally-sound style of play earned him the respect of John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach, who once said that John Stockton was the only NBA player he'd pay money to see.

"Stockton retired in 2003 and returned home to Spokane. While other NBA greats have sought careers in broadcasting and coaching after their careers were over, so far, John has been content to stay at home with his family. This comes as no surprise to those who know him.

"Guiding John through most of his NBA career, was coach Jerry Sloan, who, once again, is also being inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sloan's careers as both a player and a coach have been characterized by his unyielding toughness and an unmatched drive to compete.

"Jerry was born and raised in McLeansboro, Illinois and played his college career at the University of Evansville. He played one season in the NBA for the Baltimore Bullets before being selected by the Chicago Bulls in the expansion draft. In fact, he was the team's first player, earning him the nickname "The Original Bull." Sloan quickly became known for his tenacity on defense and he led the expansion team to the playoffs in its first season.

"He had an exceptional career as a player. He played in two All-Star Games, was named to the NBA All-Defensive First Team four times and the All-Defensive Second team twice. He also led the Bulls to the playoffs on various occasions and helped them to win the franchise's only division title prior to the Michael Jordan era. After his playing career was cut short by knee injuries, the Bulls retired Sloan's No. 4 jersey, the first jersey retirement in the team's history.

"Immediately after his retirement, he became part of the Bull's coaching staff, starting out as a scout, eventually working his way up to head coach, a position he held for three seasons. A few years later, he joined the Jazz coaching staff as an assistant to another Utah sports icon, Frank Layden. In 1988, when Layden's health forced him to retire, Jerry was named head coach of the Jazz, a position he has held ever since.

"Coach Sloan just finished his 20th season as coach of the Jazz, a milestone that, in today's sports world, is almost unthinkable. Over the course of his Jazz tenure, literally hundreds of coaching changes have taken place throughout the NBA. In a league that has had a number of great coaches in its history, none have coached for the same team as long as Jerry Sloan.

"This extends to other sports as well. Currently, Sloan is the longest-tenured coach in any major professional sport.

"There are a number of reasons to explain his longevity. The most obvious is that he's been successful. He's currently fourth on the list for all-time coaching wins - though he holds the record for most wins with one team. In 17 out of the 20 seasons his been in Utah, the Jazz have been in the playoffs, the only absences coming in transitional years after the departures of John Stockton and Karl Malone.

"Another reason Sloan has been able to stick around is his consistent, no-nonsense approach to the game. Over time, teams have changed strategies to become flashier in order to cater to younger fans and the new era of players, many of whom have been self-centered prima donnas. Throughout that time, Coach Sloan has been a model of consistency, placing premiums on discipline and hard work among his players. The result has been a franchise that, for over two decades, has competed at a high level.

"In many ways, Stockton and Sloan were alike and their strengths complimented each other. Neither one will claim to have been able to be successful without the other.

"Currently, there is a huge statue of John Stockton in front of the Energy Solutions arena alongside a statute of Karl Malone. Chances are, in 20 or 30 years when Jerry Sloan finally decides to hang it up, they'll want to build a monument to him as well. Neither of these gentlemen would actively seek such limelight, but few are as deserving.

"Once again, I'd like to extend my congratulations to both John Stockton and Jerry Sloan for this great honor and to thank them for their contributions to the Utah community."

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Apotheosis of Washington

I've just finished reading Dan Brown's latest thriller, The Lost Symbol . I'll try not to be a spoiler if you like total surprises, but the themes of the book, particularly at the end were more than satisfying to me -- they confirmed resoundingly that the Prophet Joseph Smith got it right way back in the early 1800s. 

The book features, once again, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon (played by Tom Hanks in the movie adaptations of The Da Vinci Code and Angels & Demons).  The new novel will no doubt become an instant boost to tourism in Washington D.C., since the nation's capitol is the setting in a fast-paced rescue mission that weaves in history and the ancient symbols associated with Freemasonry.  Few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at this writing will grasp the symbiotic interplay between the Church and Freemasonry, but it is well-documented elsewhere and can be gleaned with even a slight modicum of research.  Joseph Smith and Brigham Young started the Masonic Lodge in Nauvoo, for instance.  At his death in Carthage Jail, Joseph shouted out the Masonic distress signal to his tormentors among the black-faced mob, many of whom were Masons.

It was immediately apparent to me after reading the book that central to this book's themes is the transcendent and central doctrine of the Restoration that man may become like God one day in the eternal realms that lie ahead after this life.  Brown introduces us to a new discipline known as "noetic science" that merges science with the ancient religious mysteries, while discussing Masonry symbols as only he can do.  And beware -- it's a page turner you won't want to put down once you begin.

There was much worldwide discussion that ensued after he published Angels & Demons, which explored the relationship between science and religion.  The Da Vinci Code was controversial as it asserted the nature of the historical versus the divine Jesus. Now in this latest novel, The Lost Symbol delves into the relationship between God and mankind.  If you're like me you'll be resonating by the end.  It may be a startling conclusion to the general reader, but the Latter-day Saint will find it harmonic and consistent with every hope and particle of faith one possesses.

Robert Langdon early in the rolicking good ride in The Lost Symbol looks up from inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building, and sees the 1865 painting by Constantino Brumidi, The Apotheosis of Washington. The ancient Greek word "apotheosis" has no common single-word equivalent in English; it indicates the event of a human being becoming a god. (Brown fleshes it all out for you in the last page of Chapter 20, and all of Chapter 21, in The Lost Symbol).

Throughout the novel, one of the subplots is that the leading female character in this story, Dr. Katherine Solomon, is engaged in research involving a field called "noetic science." I confess this was a new introduction for me, something I've never heard about.  You can learn more here and here.  In the novel, we learn that she has uncovered a variety of paranormal, even godlike capacities in the human mind -- capacities that can be developed even in this world.  It smacks of some New Age psycobabble at first blush, but there are some very interesting experiments described in the book, including measuring the tangible weight of the spirit at death (see pp. 394-5). 

New Age or not, Joseph Smith received this revelation in 1843, which was pretty radical thinking for his day and time:  "There is no such thing as immaterial matter.  All spirit is matter, but it is more fine or pure, and can only be discerned by purer eyes; we cannot see it; but when our bodies are purified we shall see that it is all matter."  (D&C 131:7-8).

Here are some samples of the words Brown puts into the mouths of his characters:

"Meaning. . . if enough people begin thinking the same thing, then the gravitational force of that thought becomes tangible. . . and it exerts actual force."  Katherine winked.  "And it can have a measurable effect in our physical world."  (p. 76).

Even more exciting, her character asserts:  "God is plural, because the minds of man are plural.  What I am saying is this. . . two heads are bettrer than one. . . and yet two heads are not twice better, they are many, many times better.  Multiple minds working in unison magnify a thought's effect. . . exponentially.  This is the inherent power of prayer groups, healing circles, singing in unison, and worshipping en masse.  The idea of universal consciousness is no ethereal New Age concept.  It is hard-core scientific reality. . . and harnessing it has the potential to transform our world.  This is the underlying discovery of Noetic Science."  (See Chapter 133, 504-505, italics original).

"Clearly.  And much, much more.  There are symbols all over this room [the Capitol Rotunda] that reflect a belief in the Ancient Mysteries."
"Secret wisdom,"Sato said with more than a hint of sarcasm in her voice.  "Knowledge that lets men acquire godlike powers?"
"Yes, ma'am."
"That hardly fits with the Christian underpinnings of this country."
"So it would seem, but it's true.  This transformation of man into God is called apotheosis.  Whether or not you're aware of it, this theme -- transforming man into god -- is the core element in this Rotunda's symbolism. . . "
"Ma'am," Langdon said, "the largest painting in this building is called The Apotheosis of Washington.  And it clearly depicts George Washington being transformed into a god."  (p. 84, italics original).

"Even the Bible concurs," Bellamy said.  "If we accept, as Genesis tells us, that 'God created man in his own image,' then we also must accept what this implies -- that mankind was not created inferior to God.  In Luke 17:20 we are told, 'The kingdom of God is within you.'"
"I'm sorry, but I don't know any Christians who consider themselves God's equal."
"Of course not," Bellamy said, his tone hardening.  "Because most Christians want it both ways.  They want to be able to proudly declare they are believers in the Bible and yet simply ignore those parts they find too difficult or too inconvienent to believe."  (p. 194, italics original).

"I've learned never to close my mind to an idea simply because it seems miraculous."  (p. 211, italics original).

Langdon knew the dean was correct.  The famous Hermetic aphorism -- Know ye not that ye are gods? -- was one of the pillars of the Ancient Mysteries.  As above, so below. . . Man created in God's image. . . Apotheosis.  This persistent message of man's own divinity -- of his hidden potential -- was the recurring theme in the ancient texts of countless traditions.  Even the Holy Bible cried out in Psalms 82:6:  Ye are gods!
"Professor," the old man said, "I realize that you, like many educated people, live trapped between two worlds -- one foot in the spiritual, one foot in the physical.  Your heart yearns to believe. . . but your intellect refuses to permit it.  As an academic, you would be wise to learn from the great minds of history."  He paused and cleared his throat.  "If I'm remembering correctly, one of the greatest minds ever to live proclaimed: "That which is impenetrable to us really exists.  Behind the secrets of nature remains something sublte, intangible, and inexplicable.  Veneration for this force beyond anything that we can comprehend is my religion.'"
"Who said that?" Langdon said.  "Gandhi?"
"No," Katherine interjected.  "Albert Einstein."  (p. 308, italics original).

Much later, at the conclusion of The Lost Symbol (Chapter 133 and the Epilogue), Robert Langdon is taught some fascinating philosophical, religious, and spiritual concepts by Dr. Solomon. One of these concepts is the idea that the destiny and birthright of human beings is to take on the role of divine Creators. Here's a sample of their discussion in Chapter 133, with Dr. Solomon speaking:

". . . We've been reading the Bible too literally. We learn that God created us in his image, but it's not our physical bodies that resemble God, it's our minds. . . [O]nce we realize that we are truly created in the Creator's image, we will start to understand that we, too, must be Creators. When we understand this fact, the doors will burst wide open for human potential.
. . . Langdon gazed up again at the image of The Apotheosis of Washington -- the symbolic ascent of man to deity. The created. . . becoming the Creator.  (p. 501).

Langdon then reflects on the Hebrew word Elohim:

"Elohim," he repeated. "The Hebrew word for God in the Old Testament! I've always wondered about it."
Katherine gave a knowing smile. "Yes. The word is plural.". . .
"God is plural," Katherine whispered, "because the minds of man are plural." (p. 505, italics original).

In essence, Katherine Solomon is teaching Robert Langdon the ideas that (a) human beings have the potential within them to develop into gods, and (b) such a development would result in a plurality of gods. The "Lost Symbol" (here's the spoiler -- look away) is that the potential to become a God is a symbol for the highest potential of mankind.

To a Latter-day Saint the doctrine of exaltation has a familiar ring.  The making and the keeping of sacred temple covenants lead us along a path culminating in exaltation:

"Then shall they be gods, because they have no end; therefore shall they be from everlasting to everlasting, because they continue; then shall they be above all, because all things are subject unto them. Then shall they be gods, because they have all power, and the angels are subject unto them." (D&C 132:20).

Families are perpetuated into the eternities when sealed by authoritative priesthood keys held by men in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here on earth.  As gods someday, the heirs of the highest degree of the Celestial Kingdom will create and populate worlds for themselves. To so obtain is to have the realization of the highest potential within us -- to literally become as God is, and to live the kind of life He lives. It is to have the literal fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant (see Abraham 2:8-13).

Of course, one cannot expect that Dan Brown would get it absolutely right.  For instance, Brown's characters have the notion that humanity made in the image of God is figurative ("it's our minds" that resemble God, as Dr. Solomon says).  However, we know from the Restoration scriptures that humans resemble God both mentally and physically -- God the Father and God the Son have corporeal bodies of glorified flesh and bone in whose image we are made.

What is potentially very exciting for Latter-day Saints who are anxious to engage their fellow beings, however, is that the doctrine of exaltation is now being reflected in a novel that is almost guaranteed to be a global best seller.  If you love missionary work and the tantalizing delight to separate fact from fiction, this new book posits a golden opportunity to teach correct principles.  Everyone you know is a likely reader of The Lost Symbol.

What really caught my eye in reading the book however, was Joseph Smith's declarative teachings about the plurality of gods.  That Robert Langdon's insight as a fictional character in a blockbuster novel could capture it so well was exhilarating to me.  Joseph Smith said it this way in a sermon in the grove east of the Nauvoo Temple on June 16, 1844, only eleven days before he was martyred:

"Paul says there are Gods many and Lords many; and that makes a plurality of Gods, in spite of the whims of all men. . . I have it from God, and get over it if you can. . . I will show from the Hebrew Bible that I am correct, and the first word shows a plurality of Gods. . .  An unlearned boy must give you a little Hebrew. Berosheit baurau Eloheim ait aushamayeen vehau auraits, rendered by King James' translators, 'In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.'. . . Eloheim is from the word Eloi, God, in the singular number; and by adding the word heim, it renders it Gods. It [that is, Genesis 1:1] read first, 'In the beginning the head of the Gods brought forth the Gods,' or, as others have translated it, 'The head of the Gods called the Gods together'. . . In the very beginning the Bible shows there is a plurality of Gods beyond the power of refutation." (TPJS, 371-372, italics original).

Further, Joseph Smith taught boldly and publicly in the last three months of his life this pearl of wisdom in what later came to called "The King Follett Discourse" (April 7, 1844):

"God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret. If the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,--I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form--like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man. . . These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God himself, the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did; and I will show it from the Bible. (TPJS, 345-6, italics original).

Was it inadvertant or purposeful that Dan Brown incorporated the Restoration exaltation doctrine into his latest book?

KSL-TV reported that Dan Brown visited Temple Square in 2004 and again in 2006.  During his 2004 visit, Brown was specifically interested in what seemed to him the Masonic-like symbols on the Salt Lake Temple:  "He was. . . very interested in the symbology on the Mormon temple. . . the pentacles and the suns and the moons and the stars and all that.  So, I gather his primary interest was to. . . see the Mormon embellishment of Masonry as it exists, in his mind. . ."  (No secret here -- the LDS temples are part and parcel of the doctrine of exaltation).  In 2006, as reported on TV, Brown was granted access to parts of the Church's historical archives.

So, purposeful or accidental, like it or not, the doctrine of exaltation will now be front and center in millions of future conversations with avid Brown readers.  This doctrine is as old as the Garden of Eden story, and we assert that Adam and Eve were the first couple sealed by priesthood authority with a covenant and a promise that they could someday become as the Gods (see Abraham 5:7-19; Moses 3:15-25).  Every couple since the Garden of Eden, living or dead, because of restored priesthood keys of authority in these last days has that same godlike potentiality.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been announcing to the world since April 6, 1830, that this hidden knowledge -- this ancient mystery of man's potential to be as God is -- was once lost and is now restored to honest truth seekers the world over. The so-called "Lost Symbol" in Brown's novel has been found and is universally available to all.

Despite our missionary exertions, however, the vast majority of Christian churches are shocked and abhorred by the very whiff of the doctrine of exaltation. Our Church is routinely condemned as a cult, or dismissed as non-Christian heretics by many detractors.

Now, Dan Brown, whether knowingly or unwittingly hands us an unexpected and much-welcomed opportunity.

The Lost Symbol will open a non-threatening dialogue between the members of the Church and their friends about the doctrine of exaltation.  It's a fictional novel that will give members of the Church everywhere an entree into questions like, "What if God really does intend to exalt all His children?" "What if our highest collective expression of human achievement really might be to become as God is?" "What if our becoming gods isn't really so far-fetched?" Public discourse about this revealed doctrine so central to Mormonism could be very exciting if we are well-prepared to seize these opportunities, much as the Mitt Romney 2008 presidential candidacy provided unsolicited conversations.

Some readers may remember the big fuss that Brown's earlier novel, The Da Vinci Code, caused. The back story in The Da Vinci Code was the unimaginable and (to some) reprehensible notion that Jesus might have married Mary Magdalene and had descendants.  Once again, Joseph Smith hinted as much when he declared: "If a man gets a fullness of the priesthood of God he has to get it in the same way that Jesus Christ obtained it, and that was by keeping all the commandments and obeying all the ordinances of the house of the Lord."  (TPJS, 308, emphasis mine).

It seems, in every particular, that Joseph Smith got there long before Dan Brown did. Brown has made millions in profits and shaken the very foundations, it would seem, of modern Christianity, while Joseph Smith who was God's prophet and suffered a martyr's death for his assertions of revealed truth died a pauper. The obvious word play with prophets and profits needs no further illumination.

In the aftermath of The Da Vinci Code there were many books, articles and symposia mounted to refute his seemingly contrarian views. However, I'll just bet there were some readers who may have concluded, "Jesus was married? Well, why not? Works for me." I'll bet there were even members of the Church who had never entertained the thought of Christ's marriage before the book came out, and have concluded since that the idea is at least consistent with the principles of exaltation.

We are now perched on the possibility that "a great awakening" may be in the offing.  Some shudder at the word "apocalypse," associating with it end of the world scenarios that are scary.  Actually, "apocalypse" literally means "lifting of the veil," or "revelation."  There are many in my experience outside our Church who are very anxious to discuss religion freely and openly, having cast aside many false ideas they once embraced.  They are looking for the very truths Joseph Smith had revealed to him.  They just don't know it yet.

Joseph learned and wrote from the wintry depths of his Lberty Jail prison temple:

"For there are many yet on the earth among all sects, parties, and denominations, who are blinded by the subtle craftiness of men, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, and who are only kept from the truth because they know not where to find it -- Therefore, that we should waste and wear out our lives in bringing to light all the hidden things of darkness, wherein we know them; and they are truly manifest from heaven -- These should then be attended to with great earnestness.  Let no man count them as small things; for there is much which lieth in futurity, pertaining to the saints, which depends upon these things.  You know, brethren, that a very large ship is benefited very much by a very small helm in the time of a storm, by being kept workways with the wind and the waves.  Therefore, dearly beloved brethren, let us cheerfully do all things that lie in our power; and then may we stand still, with the utmost assurance, to see the salvation of God, and for his arm to be revealed." (D&C 123:12-17).

Between Liberty and Carthage Jails, Joseph was exuberant and confident of who he was and what he was all about (see D&C 128:22-25):

Brethren, shall we not go on in so great a cause? Go forward and not backward. Courage, brethren; and on, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad. Let the earth break forth into singing. Let the dead speak forth anthems of eternal praise to the King Immanuel, who hath ordained, before the world was, that which would enable us to redeem them out of their prison; for the prisoners shall go free.
Let the mountains shout for joy, and all ye valleys cry aloud; and all ye seas and dry lands tell the wonders of your Eternal King! And ye rivers, and brooks, and rills, flow down with gladness. Let the woods and all the trees of the field praise the Lord; and ye solid rocks weep for joy! And let the sun, moon, and the morning stars sing together, and let all the sons of God shout for joy! And let the eternal creations declare his name forever and ever! And again I say, how glorious is the voice we hear from heaven, proclaiming in our ears, glory, and salvation, and honor, and immortality, and eternal life; kingdoms, principalities, and powers!
Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand; and who can abide the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appeareth? For he is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap; and he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. Let us, therefore, as a church and a people, and as Latter-day Saints, offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness; and let us present in his holy temple, when it is finished, a book containing the records of our dead, which shall be worthy of all acceptation.
Brethren, I have many things to say to you on the subject; but shall now close for the present, and continue the subject another time. I am, as ever, your humble servant and never deviating friend,

JOSEPH SMITH (letter dated at Nauvoo, Illinois, September 6, 1842).

I'm not trying to sell books -- Brown doesn't need my help -- but I have an idea that Joseph Smith might have embraced such fictional accounts of true doctrine. Why? Because he would have known members of the Church endowed with the gift of the Holy Ghost could open doors with this tool of a worldwide best-seller that will spark gospel conversations. Can we do less? If George Washington could be considered as a candidate for apotheosis, then why not you, and why not everyone you come in contact with? Open your mouths when the opportunities present themselves, as they surely will. You know how to separate truth from fiction. Carpe diem!!

The Doctrine of the Divine Sonship

Back in June, I wrote to Andrew about my ongoing discussions with a man who is a member of the Vineyard Church in nearby Park City.  Andrew is in the Ohio Columbus Mission where the Vineyard Church has several large congregations.  Today, son-in-law Clark sent me an e-mail saying he was having a hard time finding any information about this doctrine.  So in response, here's the letter I wrote to Andrew on June 18, 2009:

Dear Andrew:

I meant to say more about the Vineyard guy from Park City in my e-mail, but ran out of time. We met again this week. Our topic was "the nature of the Godhead." He, of course, is mired in the doctrine of the Trinity, which isn't really "doctrine," but needless to say it was an interesting discussion.

I turned every point of conversation (and I did it repeatedly throughout the night) back to the Prophet Joseph and his experience in the grove. I told him all the ideas about what God is or isn't don't amount to squat compared to the experience of Joseph in the grove.

If Joseph saw what he said he saw, if he did what he said he did, then it's a game changer. If you're just going to reject him out of hand as a tool of the devil, and one who introduced, as Paul warned, "another gospel," then so be it.

But what I said to our friend was, "You are obviously interested in Mormonism or you wouldn't be here talking to us, and you are obviously a sincere seeker of truth (I hope that's true, and for now I'm giving him the benefit of the doubt). You will not be able to meet with us much longer without having the curiosity to get down on your knees and ask God to tell you whether or not Joseph Smith is a grand and elaborate hoax, or if he's the genuine article. I'm going to do something I've never done before, and it's a little unorthodox, but I make no apology for doing it. Here's a copy of Preach My Gospel, which you can now obtain at any LDS bookstore or download it off the Church's website. Normally, Kerry would refer you to the missionaries and that would be the end of it, except for being involved during their teaching process. However, you are unique, and I'm making a gift of the Mormon missionary playbook so you can examine everything straight from the source without having to put it through a filter of any kind. We publish our message to the world without apology."

Needless to say, he was stunned and amazed. He will now be quickly discerned as sincere or just trying to unravel us.

It was a fun night. I asked him my three questions about Christ (I think I sent that to you), and his response was as predicted. When I taught him that Christ was the LITERAL Son of God, sired and conceived in the same way we are, it blew his mind, and he was on the verge of meltdown. Kerry tried to smooth it over, saying that he'd never heard that, and I had to gently tell Kerry that the teaching was correct, and I read to them five statements from the prophets that explicitly teach the doctrine. It was pretty obvious that I struck a raw nerve with what is correctly called "the doctrine of the Divine Sonship."

To our friend the "virgin birth" is a great and holy mystery that cannot be explained. To us, however, it is a simple matter that is explainable and supports the true identity of the Father and the Son, as they revealed themselves to the Prophet in the grove.

I love missionary work. I love the Prophet Joseph Smith. Either people will humble themselves and ask God about the Restoration and the veracity of Joseph Smith's audacious claims, or they won't. If they reject Joseph, they reject Jesus. The irony is that people like our friend proclaim their love for Jesus, but we are the true believers because we believe so much more about him without excuses for what we believe. When you know it, you testify boldly, and you don't leave any doubt in anyone's mind about where you stand.

There's no pussy-footing around with the way I teach people the gospel -- I don't have time to waste on nuances or political correctness. It's either true as it stands and you love the truth and will embrace it, or you are too bigoted and close-minded to entertain the thought that God might have actually appeared to a 14 year-old boy and given him directions on how to commence the Restoration of all lost truths. Which will it be? Are you sincere, or are you too closed off? Your choice.

Anyway, I was bold and I think I kind of took Kerry's breath away while I was teaching. Jim, however, seemed to be absorbing it all, and again was amazed that I wasn't pulling any punches. I said at one point, "This doctrine of the literal creation of Jesus Christ by His Father and a virgin mortal girl, is quoted extensively throughout all the anti-Mormon attacks with which I am familiar. The doctrine of the Divine Sonship is true and correct. It is inescapable that we believe it and have taught it throughout our literature and the sermons of our past leaders. There can be little doubt about it."

Kerry seemed to accept it with my explanation, but he admitted again after Jim left that he had never heard it stated as directly as I stated it ever before -- even my reference to calling it the doctrine of the Divine Sonship. We have much to do, I fear, in teaching the members of the Church what we really believe.

Here's a clear-cut declaration of the doctrine from President Joseph F. Smith. Notice, he explains it in terms the little children in the audience can understand, but for some reason we are loathe to entertain the idea in our minds today. It's just too weird to think of a God having sex with one of His spirit daughters -- too literal for our taste in our sophisticated twenty-first century minds, I guess. But anyway, here's the quote:

"You all know that your fathers are indeed your fathers and that your mothers are indeed your mothers you all know that don't you? You cannot deny it. Now, we are told in scriptures that Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God in the flesh. Well, now for the benefit of the older ones, how are children begotten? I answer just as Jesus Christ was begotten of his father. The Christian denominations believe that Christ was begotten not of God but of the spirit that overshadowed his mother. This is nonsense. Why will not the world receive the truth? Why will they not believe the Father when he says that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son? Why will they try to explain this truth away and make mystery of it?

"Now if God is a man, a glorious perfected man-that is, perfect in all his glorious attributes, and infinite in power, there never will come a time when God the Father will not have power to extend His dominion and His Glory. He is the maker of Heaven and the Earth, on which we dwell, for He made this earth by his word and by his power. How did he make it? He called the elements that are invisible to our eyes. He formed the earth on which we dwell, and has formed millions of worlds, and they are peopled with his children, for there is no end to his dominions and the worlds he has created cannot be numbered unto man.

"Now, little boys and girls, when you are confronted by infidels in the world who know nothing of how Christ was begotten, you can say he was born just as the infidel was begotten and born, so was Christ begotten by his Father, who is also our Father-the Father of our spirits-and he was born of his mother Mary.

"The difference between Jesus Christ and other men is this: Our fathers in the flesh are mortal men, who are subject unto death; but the Father of Jesus Christ in the flesh is the God of Heaven. Therefore Jesus, as he declared, received the power of life from his Father and was never subject unto death but had life in himself as his father had life in himself. Because of this power he overcame death and the grave and became master of the resurrection and the means of salvation to us all.

"Shall we as Latter-day Saints deny the truth and then claim that God made man in his likeness in the beginning? Shall we come under the impression that God possesses the power of creation, and yet did not literally create? He is not without his companion any more than I am without my companion, the mother of my children.

"These are truths and I wish they could be instilled into the hearts of these little children so that they will not be tossed about by every wind of doctrine and be confused by the teachers of atheism. Now, by and by you will be able to understand this far better than you can today. Some of us grandparents find it difficult to conceive the truth we want to think of something marvelous. We want to try to make it appear that God does not do things in the right way, or that he has another way of doing things than what we know, we must come down to the simple fact that God Almighty was the Father of His Son Jesus Christ. Mary, the virgin girl, who had never known mortal man, was his mother. God by her begot His son Jesus Christ, and He was born into the world with power and intelligence like that of His Father." (Messages of the First Presidency, 4:329-30).

I'll send this to you in a letter, as well as this e-mail. It appears you went off line while I've been writing. I got sidetracked while I was writing earlier, then when I got back to it you had already posted your messages.

Much love,


Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Inexhaustible Gospel

Several years ago, our daughter Melanie served as a full-time missionary for the Church in the New Hampshire Manchester mission. Her first companion was Ashli Sorenson. They were like peas in the same pod. To this day they remain close friends.

This weekend, Ashli was sealed to her husband in the Salt Lake Temple. I've always loved that word "sealed," because it embodies so much more than "married to." Sealed has the ring of permanence -- something that will endure the grave, sin, disease, misfortune and everything else that mortality serves up. Of course, to make the sealing valid for eternity we must live the gospel and there must be a seal applied. And that "seal of approval" is what we also refer to as being "sealed by the Holy Spirit of Promise." (See D&C 132:7). All the ordinances of salvation are conditional -- they are "iffy" promises based upon our faithfulness in honoring the covenants we have entered into with Heavenly Father.

While these two missionaries were serving together, they began teaching Patti and John, an older couple. They spent months together, growing closer, bonding and having one spiritual experience after another, but John and Patti declined the invitations to be baptized. As Christmas drew near that year, I even wrote them a letter testifying to them that the gospel was the path leading toward eternal life and they could be immeasurably blessed if they entered the waters of baptism together.

Time marched on, until both missionaries were released and returned home to their native Utah. We learned through the girls that Patti had contracted cancer. John patiently and lovingly cared for her, but despite his ministrations and many, many prayers of faith Patti died.

Melanie was married by then, Ashli was still searching for her eternal companion, then it was learned by Ashli on a trip back to her mission that John had met Christina, a widow. They met at the Baptist Church. They became good friends. They began travelling and being with one another. When Ashli's sealing date was set, invitations went out to John and Christina.

This weekend we had the joy and privilege of spending some time with John and Christina. John had quit smoking cold turkey just before making the trip to Utah. Christina's father had warm and affectionate feelings for his trips to Utah in years past. Patsy and I had the opportunity to meet them for the first time at Ashli's reception on Thursday night, then take them with us to stay overnight in our parents' condominium in Salt Lake. All that night, they plied us with questions about the Mormons, Salt Lake, Temple Square, and so on. Melanie was to join us, but her flight was cancelled, so we talked and answered their questions all night.

The next morning our Q&A continued until we left to pick up Melanie at the airport. Patti's former sister-in-law, Norma, and her daughter Cindy, members of the Church, drove up from American Fork and met us for lunch at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. Everyone had a chance to visit, get acquainted and renew friendships again.

Simultaneously, a few months previously, Ashli and Norma and Melanie began having thoughts about Patti. Norma approached John and asked for his permission to have her temple work done. John agreed. By proxy, Melanie did the baptism for Patti, Ashli performed the initiatory ceremony, and this week Norma will be doing the endowment for Patti in the Manti Temple.

As we escorted John and Christina around Temple Square while Ashli's sealing was being done on Friday, we spent most of our time in the North Visitor's Center in fulfillment of Christina's desire to view the magnificent Thorvaldsen replica of the Christus statue standing in the second floor rotunda of that building. We walked past all the scenes in the life of the Savior portrayed by the artists, then up the spiral ramp leading into the room where the Christus stands.

I reminisced with them about standing in that room as a tour guide on Temple Square and giving a tour 40 years ago on July 20, 1969, at the precise moment Neal Armstrong had stepped out of the lunar lander onto the surface of the moon. As we stood in that setting looking back through space at planet Earth, it was a moment frozen in time I have never forgotten. Christ was the Creator of the universe, I testified to John and Christina, and He overcame death and hell to preserve our happiness and joy in eternity if we are faithful.

As we were exiting the rotunda area, noting her cross around her neck, I commented to Christina that many ask why the Mormons don't seem to value the cross. I explained, pointing to the statue of Christ, "We do not devalue the crucifixion and His suffering on the cross. We simply choose to emphasize that He is the Living Christ." To which she responded touching her cross with a smile, "Yes, and that's why there is no Christ on my cross -- I know that He is risen!"

We took them through the Church's presentation about eternal families and how important temple covenants are in sealing families together forever under the authority of the priesthood. Both John and Christina believe they will see and be with their respective spouses again. That simple belief is the universal hope of all who have loved and lost loved ones in death. It is the eternal theme of love -- that love doesn't die at the side of the grave, even though marriages performed without priesthood authority always end in "until death do you part."

The sweet sister who accompanied us through the presentation was Sister Larsen. On her third mission she suffered a stroke. The doctors and her mission president advised her to return home. "No," she insisted, "I have a little nine-year-old grand-daughter praying for me that I'll be good as new. I can't go home now and destroy that little girl's faith. I'll be fine." She survived the heart attack that produced the stroke, then later breast cancer, chemotherapy and six stents. She and her husband are now serving their fourth mission -- this one on Temple Square. She bore witness of her faith and her absolute certainty of the plan of happiness. It was my impression that John and Christina were deeply moved by her witness and her faith.

We reunited with the wedding party at the east doors of the temple for pictures. John and Christina went on to the dinner that was planned later that evening while Patsy and I tended our grand-daughter, Eliza, back at the condo.

They spent another night with Melanie at the condo with Grandma and Harold, then Melanie left Saturday to return home. John and Christina departed this morning after spending all day together roaming around Temple Square -- they couldn't quite get enough. I explained to them what they were feeling was the power of the Holy Ghost bearing witness of the truths taught there.

For each son and daughter of God there is an inexhaustible supply of gospel goodness, hope and abundance of spirit, as evidenced by these words of scripture from The Book of Mormon:

Behold, he sendeth an invitation unto all men, for the arms of mercy are extended towards them, and he saith: Repent, and I will receive you.
Yea, he saith: Come unto me and ye shall partake of the fruit of the tree of life; yea, ye shall eat and drink of the bread and the waters of life freely.
(See Alma 5:33-34).

Norma, as we were parting, expressed concern that her sister-in-law Patti might not accept the vicarious work that was being done for her, to which I gave her assurance in the words of Lorenzo Snow and Wilford W. Woodruff:

"I believe, strongly too, that when the Gospel is preached to the spirits in prison, the success attending that preaching will be far greater than that attending the preaching of our Elders in this life. I believe there will be very few indeed of those spirits who will not gladly receive the Gospel when it is carried to them. The circumstances there will be a thousand times more favorable." (Lorenzo Snow, CR October 6, 1893).

"So it will be with your fathers. There will be very few, if any, who will not accept the Gospel. . . The fathers of this people will embrace the Gospel." (Wilford W. Woodruff, Collected Discourses, 5 vols., 4, April 8, 1894).

None of us will live long enough to be filled totally in this life with the inexhaustible supply of the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whether we come in at the gate of baptism in the first hour or the eleventh hour, it matters not, only that we come, and come we will either in this life or the next. And when we come, early or late, we will always be filled and our thirst will be quenched. It is then that the promise to the Samaritan woman at the well in the heat of the day will be fulfilled -- we will never hunger nor thirst again. (See John 4).

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Buffet says worst is behind us

Warren Buffet has always been, for me, a voice of reason and encouragement in the wilderness of financial negativity. On the heels of remarks from Fed Chairman, Ben Bernanke earlier this week, Buffet has echoed the sentiment and believes we are on the road to a slow but measurable recovery. Housing is also showing signs of recovery.

For those unfamiliar with Buffet, he is called "The Oracle of Omaha." He has amassed a billionaire's fortune, but still lives in his modest frame home in Omaha from which he oversees the vast holdings of Berkshire Hathaway. Together with Microsoft founder Bill Gates and their wives, the vast majority of their fortunes have been locked away in charitable trusts that will perpetuate long after they are all gone.

"I think the odds are very much against getting significantly worse. It's sort of plateaued at the — at the bottom right now," Buffett said to CNBC. But he said things could get worse if there were some new catastrophe like the September 11 terrorist attacks.

There are those in the world today who would have us believe the bottom is more likely to fall out from under us. I can cite a long list of people in my lifetime whose predictions of mass calamity have proven less than spectacular. The pessimists are always symbolized best to me by people like Howard Ruff (remember Ruff Times?). The good times actually outlived Howard Ruff's viability. I first met him when he was a broken and sad spectre after his fifteen minutes of fame had been extinguished. There are a number of evangelicals who examine the Book of Revelation, and are constantly updating their dire predictions too, like Hal Lindsey (remember The Late Great Planet Earth back in the 70s?). Since the 70s, Lindsey continues to revise and extend his doomsday scenarios. He always comes to mind as emblematic of that class of doomsdayers. It's a very long list -- avoid their ilk at all costs.

I suppose one day they will all finally be right and the end will come, but based on all I see and can assimilate, those predictions are still premature.

The Oracle of Omaha's comments followed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's statement Tuesday that the worst recession since the 1930s is "very likely over."

"A year ago, Buffett said the nation was facing an economic Pearl Harbor, and this week, he commended some of the heroes of the nation's economic war. Buffett said the heroes include Bernanke, former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and current Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

"Buffett said it's easy to look back at the crisis now and find things that might have been done differently, but the important part is that the nation came through the crisis and appears to be on the path to recovery.

"Buffett's Berkshire owns more than 60 subsidiaries including insurance, clothing, furniture, jewelry and candy companies, restaurants, natural-gas and corporate jet firms and has major investments in such companies as Coca-Cola Co. and Wells Fargo & Co."

Just be careful out there. Filter out all the noise and listen to, search for and learn from independent voices like Buffet's. I guarantee the shrill rants from the far right or the far left are not the best source for truth in your life. What is "fair and balanced," is not a judgment Fox News should be making for you. Neither is an extreme left-wing government-sponsored takeover of health care. You'll do better with your own assessment if it is reasoned and well-researched. Keep an eye on what the majority of Americans are thinking and feeling. The majority, even if a slim one, of Americans usually get it right, and like the political spectrum the majority that usually gets it right doesn't live on the extreme east or west coasts -- they're in the middle known by the elitists as the "flyover zone!" (See Mosiah 29 again).

Find hope, find peace and keep planting your cherry trees -- you do have a future!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Racism, Politics and Mormons

It was reported today by CNN that former President Jimmy Carter has jumped on the racist denunciation bandwagon. Criticize President Obama, and somehow you're a racist these days. Wow, talk about being racially sensitive! Of course, there are racists out there, but come on -- to disagree with policy decisions is being racist? I don't think so. I'm always grateful, by the way, that President Carter got it right on the "Are Mormons Christian?" question. He denounced religious bigots who said they aren't.

But on the question before us today, President Carter is for the most part wrong. The most serious political charge that can be leveled at a politician -- and really, anyone -- in society today is the label racist. Carter and others who delight in playing the "race card" are usually doing it to promote their perceived political agenda as champions at all costs of the racial minorities. Seldom do the charges against political critics of black folks hold up, however.

Joe Wilson, the Congressman whose outburst"You lie!" hurled at President Obama in the joint session last week has also produced cries of racism among his foes, including Maureen Dowd, NY Times columnist. Her allegations were so outrageous they aren't even worth repeating, but they certainly boosted her readership for one day.

To disagree on a policy level, one should not be slapped with a racist label just because President Obama is a black man. The policy debate over reforming health care is a legitimate discussion, seldom laced with racial overtones in my following of the debate. What we have, boiled down to its essence, is a wide-ranging difference of opinions. Whether the differences in opinion can be successfully translated into racial bias is really a stretch of the imagination. I do not pretend in saying this that racism is dead in America -- far from it in isolated pockets of wrong-headed America. I know it exists not just in theory, but in practice. However, in the context of this latest debate over health care reform I have not detected it, even if President Carter asserts it.

Funniest quote I heard today was from a NY Congressman, Anthony Weiner (D): "Looking for bipartisan support for health care reform in Washington today is like watching little children running around in search of unicorns."

I'm also aware that Glenn Beck used reverse logic in asserting Obama was racist himself. Appropriately, Beck lost sponsors over it. I can separate bad policy from race, and it is my humble opinion that the vast majority of Americans who are vocalizing their annoyance with a single-payer proposal on the table can too. Bad policy is bad policy -- it's color blind.

For decades the Mormons were accused of racial bias in withholding priesthood ordinations from those of black ancestry. My sons and daughter who have served missions for the Church in recent years have encountered lingering questions about the Church's policy with regard to blacks. The revelation announcing priesthood ordinations for all worthy males in the Church was received in 1978. Despite that policy reversal, there are still charges of racial bias in the Church today. I have personally heard horrible racial epithets hurled unmercifully at blacks, even in the sacred precincts of the temples among aged white male members of the Church who are serving there. I suppose their boyhood traditions die hard. It's always a contradiction to hear those words coming from the mouths of the Lord's servants, but I digress.

In 2002, one of our sons was serving his mission in Brazil. He had a black native Brazilian companion, and they often discussed the blacks and the priesthood. It came up routinely in their proselyting efforts, and since then the question persists in more recent years.

Dear Joe:

You said Elder Geandro asked about the blacks and the priesthood. Your answer was a good one – that the Lord decided when it was time. With the 1978 announcement of the revelation, the “day of the Gentiles” closed, and the day when the gospel could be taken without restriction to all the nations of the earth commenced. Of course in Christ’s time the gospel was taught exclusively among the Jews, then later when Paul came along he received a revelation (later authorized by Peter, the head of the Church) that the gospel should be taken also to the Gentiles.

It’s interesting that this question would come up right now. I recently discussed it with the people who are producing the new docu-drama on Grandfather Lee’s life. I have been asked it many times before as well. The question is usually posed to me this way: “Do you think if President Lee had lived longer that he would have received the revelation on the blacks being able to hold the priesthood?” Of course, we’ll never know for sure, but I always answer that the keys of the kingdom reside in The Quorum of the Twelve. Those keys in their fullness lie dormant in each Apostle until he becomes the senior Apostle, at which time the others lay their hands on his head and confer all the keys upon one man – the senior member of the Quorum. So, one could argue that regardless of who the senior Apostle is at the time the progress of the Church would be the same regardless of the leader. That’s what I believe. President Lee, while not naturally inclined toward an empathetic position with regard to the blacks not holding the priesthood to the degree that President Kimball was because of his work among the Lamanites, President Lee was a pragmatic problem solver. I believe personally that he would have seen the need to expand the work among the blacks, and would have sought for direction much as President Kimball eventually did. The question was before The Quorum of the Twelve dating back to the administration of President McKay. I believe the Apostles collectively waited patiently on the Lord for the right time, and conversely, the Church and the blacks had some growing up to do too. So the revelation came precisely when the Lord decreed -- at the right time. If one does not accept living prophets and dynamic revelation, then no explanation will suffice.

There are no simple answers to this question about the blacks and the priesthood. But to fully understand it to the degree that anyone can understand it, you have to divide the history of black membership in the Church into two periods – the era from 1830 to June 1978, and the period since then.

HISTORY. Though few in number, blacks have been attracted to the Church since its organization. Early converts (such as Elijah Abel) joined during the 1830s; others (such as Jane Manning James) joined after the Saints moved to Illinois. Among those who came to Utah as pioneers were Green Flake, who drove Brigham Young's wagon into the Salt Lake Valley, and Samuel Chambers, who joined in Virginia as a slave and went west after being freed. Throughout the twentieth century, small numbers of blacks continued to join the Church, such as the Sargent family of Carolina County, Virginia, who joined in 1906; Len and Mary Hope, who joined in Alabama during the 1920s; Ruffin Bridgeforth, a railroad worker in Utah, converted in 1953; and Helvecio Martins, a black Brazilian businessman, baptized in 1972 (he became a General Authority in 1990). These members remained committed to their testimonies and Church activities even though during this period prior to 1978, black members could not hold the priesthood or participate in temple ordinances.

The reasons for these restrictions have not been revealed. I guess that’s the simplest answer. Church leaders and members have explained them in different ways over time, hence the confusion that has ensued. Was the practice of restricting blacks from the priesthood a commandment, or merely a policy? My answer to that question is that if there is no clear revelation in this dispensation that one can point to that specifically prohibits blacks from the holding the priesthood (and there isn’t such a revelation except as noted below) then it must be a policy. The priesthood is eternal – it is without beginning of days and end of years. That is the eternal doctrine that never changes – that God delegates his authority and power to men on the earth, and that God recognizes all things that are done in the name of the priesthood because of His priesthood authority delegated to men. Although several blacks were ordained to the priesthood in the 1830s, there is no evidence that Joseph Smith authorized new ordinations in the 1840s, and between 1847 and 1852, Church leaders maintained that blacks should be denied the priesthood because of their lineage. According to the book of Abraham (now part of The Pearl of Great Price), the descendants of Cain were to be denied the priesthood of God (see Abraham 1:23-26). Some Latter-day Saints, including Elder Bruce R. McConkie, theorized (and later admitted he was wrong) that blacks would be restricted throughout mortality. As early as 1852, however, Brigham Young said that the "time will come when they will have the privilege of all we have the privilege of and more" (Brigham Young Papers, Church Archives, Feb. 5, 1852), and increasingly in the 1960s, Presidents of the Church taught that denial of entry to the priesthood was a current commandment of God, but would not prevent blacks from eventually possessing all eternal blessings.

Missionaries avoided proselytizing blacks, and General Authorities decided not to send missionaries to Africa, much of the Caribbean, or other regions inhabited by large populations of blacks. Before World War II, only German-speaking missionaries were sent to Brazil, where they sought out German immigrants. When government war regulations curtailed proselytizing among Germans, missionary work was expanded to include Portuguese-speaking Brazilians. Determining genealogically who was to be granted and who denied the priesthood became increasingly a sensitive and complex issue.

President McKay's humanitarian impulse, even in controversial areas of Church policy, was demonstrated during a mission tour of South Africa in 1954. There he was reminded of the difficulties involved with the Church's policy of not allowing blacks or people with black ancestry to hold the priesthood. At that time, to be ordained, members in South Africa had to trace their ancestral lines beyond the continent of Africa because of the high possibility of black ancestry. President McKay listened with great empathy to those whose inability to trace their genealogy kept them from bearing the priesthood, and he felt inspired to modify the policy so that the genealogical test would not apply.

During the civil rights era in the United States, denial of the priesthood to blacks drew increasing criticism, culminating in athletic boycotts of Brigham Young University, threatened lawsuits, and public condemnation of the Church in the late 1960s. I remember that mob violence broke out one year at a basketball game in Laramie, Wyoming, causing the game to be suspended and the arena to be evacuated. Grandfather Lee was, of course, in the First Presidency in the late sixties, and had been the third most senior Apostle to whom all the other leaders looked for direction when President McKay and President Smith were so aged. He did the only thing he could do with growing responsibility and no authority -- he took a hard line backing and defending the Church’s position during those years, at the same time seeking the input of his Brethren among the Twelve. When questioned about the Church and blacks, Church officials following his lead stoically maintained that removal of the priesthood restriction would require revelation from God, and were not a matter of mere policy changes by men.

RECENT DEVELOPMENTS. On June 9, 1978, President Spencer W. Kimball announced the revelation that all worthy males could hold the priesthood (see Doctrine and Covenants: Declaration 2). Ironically, Elder McConkie became the most vocal of the General Authorities as an advocate for the revelation, despite his earlier assertions. Following the 1978 priesthood revelation, proselytizing was expanded worldwide to include people of African descent. Between 1977 and 1987, Church membership grew from 3,969,000 to 6,440,000, an increase of 62 percent. Because LDS membership records do not identify race, it is impossible to measure accurately the growth of black membership, except in areas where people are largely or exclusively of African descent. In the Caribbean, excepting Puerto Rico, membership grew from 836 to 18,614 and in Brazil from 51,000 to 250,000 during that decade. Granting the priesthood to worthy males of all racial backgrounds is the primary reason that the work has flourished in Brazil in the post-1978 revelation era. Imagine having to do genealogical research to determine the percentage of “black blood” in each prospective convert! How many people would join the Church under those conditions? It’s hard enough just to get them married and to get them to give up cigarettes. Because of the practical nature of the problem, that is why I believe that eventually President Lee would have sought the same revelation that President Kimball did, though perhaps with different motivations. As I said, President Lee would have been more pragmatic, while President Kimball would have been more empathetic, but the result would have been the same.

In other areas of Latin America, such as Colombia and Venezuela, increasing numbers of blacks also joined the Church. In Europe, blacks, including African immigrants to Portugal, joined the Church. Moreover, in Ghana, Nigeria, and throughout west and central Africa, missionary work expanded at a phenomenal rate. Excluding South Africa, where the membership was predominantly white, membership grew from 136 in 1977 to 14,347 in 1988, almost all in West Africa.

Black Latter-day Saints are a non-homogeneous mix of various "kindreds, tongues, and peoples" emerging from thousands of years of unprecedented religious and cultural exclusions. As with LDS Afro-Americans, many black members outside the United States encounter contrasting circumstances of full ecclesiastical involvement, on the one hand, and general Church ignorance of their respective cultures, on the other hand. Local leaders and members (primarily white Latter-day Saints) often lack a good working knowledge of black members' needs, concerns, and circumstances. Despite the 1978 priesthood revelation and expanded missionary work among blacks, unexplored challenges to their growth and retention remain in counterpoint to their happiness with priesthood inclusion.

(Much of this material, except my own comments came from Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 1-4 vols., edited by Daniel H. Ludlow [New York: Macmillan, 1992], p. 127).

Hope that helps. Love, DAD

CONCLUSION: In recent weeks, President Thomas S. Monson, along with Elder Dallin H. Oaks, were in the White House for a meeting with President Obama. It is safe to say that the meeting (while details were not disclosed) was at the very least a symbolic and significant event when they presented President Obama with his family tree based upon archival retrieval from the Church's vast genealogical library. Yes, there have been restrictions historically to holding the priesthood, but not since June 9, 1978. The full unity and fellowship of the members of the Church has always been the goal without regard to racial ethnicity, however, long before then: "If ye are not one, ye are not mine," saith the Lord. (D&C 38:27). That revelation was received in 1831!