Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Doctrinal Questions from the Youth (cont.)

Patriarchal Blessings:

How does one become a Patriarch?

First, the word “patriarch” means father. There are “natural” patriarchs in the Church and “ordained” patriarchs. An ordained patriarch holds the office of patriarch in the Melchizedek Priesthood – referred to as an "evangelical minister" in the revelation (see D&C 107:39) – and gives patriarchal blessings to worthy members of the Church. He is selected as needed in the stakes throughout the Church by revelation to the Apostles as they visit among the stakes.  [After this was written, stake presidents were designated to submit names for patriarchs to the First Presidency and the Twelve for approval.]

The duties of a patriarch include providing blessings for members living within the boundaries of their stakes. A “natural” patriarch is one who has entered into the patriarchal order of celestial marriage in the temple, receiving for himself and his wife and their children the blessings of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and thereby becoming a natural patriarch to his posterity.

Joseph Smith, Sr., was ordained as the Patriarch to the Church by the Prophet Joseph Smith on December 18, 1833. (HC 4:190). In that capacity, he gave hundreds of blessings and much good counsel to the Saints during his lifetime. From that time forth after his death a presiding Patriarch to the Church was selected from among Father Smith’s descendants. The Patriarch to the Church, like the Apostles and members of the First Presidency, was sustained as a prophet, seer and revelator.

Eldred G. Smith [see right, still living] was the last man to serve as the Patriarch to the Church, when the office was discontinued.

What should I do to prepare for my patriarchal blessing?

Your bishop will give excellent counsel as to how you may prepare to receive a patriarchal blessing. When you decide that you are ready, the bishop will interview you and discuss it with you in detail. He will explain that this blessing is different than normal priesthood blessings, because this blessing happens only once in your life.

The stake patriarch who gives you your blessing will declare your lineage, naming the tribe of Israel to which you belong. It is usually recorded electronically, then written down, and a copy will be retained in the archives of the Church for future reference in case you lose the original. He will also explain that it is sacred and personal, and is usually not shared with anyone else because it applies only to you. No doubt he will encourage you to prepare for your patriarchal blessing by suggesting that you fast in order to prepare your mind for the spiritual experience that you will receive.

What kind of blessing can one expect from a patriarchal blessing?

The First Presidency (David O. McKay, Stephen L. Richards, J. Reuben Clark, Jr.), in a letter to all stake presidents, dated June 28, 1957, gave the following definition and explanation: "Patriarchal blessings contemplate an inspired declaration of the lineage of the recipient, and also where so moved upon by the Spirit, an inspired and prophetic statement of the life mission of the recipient, together with such blessings, cautions, and admonitions as the patriarch may be prompted to give for the accomplishment of such life's mission, it being always made clear that the realization of all promised blessings is conditioned upon faithfulness to the gospel of our Lord, whose servant the patriarch is. All such blessings are recorded and generally only one such blessing should be adequate for each persons life. The sacred nature of the patriarchal blessing must of necessity urge all patriarchs to most earnest solicitation of divine guidance for their prophetic utterances and superior wisdom for cautions and admonitions." (As cited in Mormon Doctrine, 558).

How can a patriarchal blessing help me throughout my life?

President Thomas S. Monson has answered this question. He said: “The same Lord who provided a Liahona to Lehi provides for you and for me today a rare and valuable gift to give direction to our lives, to mark the hazards to our safety, and to chart the way, even safe passage — not to a promised land, but to our heavenly home. The gift to which I refer is known as your patriarchal blessing. Every worthy member of the Church is entitled to receive such a precious and priceless personal treasure. . . Your patriarchal blessing is yours and yours alone. It may be brief or lengthy, simple or profound. Length and language do not a patriarchal blessing make. It is the Spirit that conveys the true meaning. Your blessing is not to be folded neatly and tucked away. It is not to be framed or published. Rather, it is to be read. It is to be loved. It is to be followed. Your patriarchal blessing will see you through the darkest night. It will guide you through life’s dangers.” (Ensign, Nov. 1986, 65-66).

Church Policies and Practices:

What is the most important thing for a missionary to know before he/she leaves?

There are many answers to this one, and they will differ depending on whom you ask. Here’s my answer: To know how to recognize the Spirit of the Holy Ghost in your life.

Each of our missionary sons [and later a daughter -- seven in all] has asked me this question, and I always tell them the same thing. Missionaries must rely totally upon the Spirit of the Holy Ghost for direction. They enter an environment in the mission field where there is no longer anyone telling them what to do – no parents, no teachers, no bishops, no one except the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.

They must learn to speak the language of angels:

Angels speak by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore, they speak the words of Christ. Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do. . . if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do. (2 Nephi 32:3-5).

Remember that the iron rod alongside the path in Lehi’s dream was a representation of the word of God. (1 Nephi 11:25). As you feast upon the words of Christ in the scriptures you will discover the Spirit, then you will invite the Spirit to be with you always by immersing yourself in the scriptures.

Soon after being sustained as President of the Church, President Ezra Taft Benson said “that one of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders [and I would add missionaries] is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles that are found therein. There are few other efforts that will bring greater dividends to your calling. There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve.” (“The Power of the Word,” Ensign, May 1986).

Why don’t we kneel when we pray in church?

In Moroni 4:2, we learn that the priests who administered the sacrament in Moroni’s day “did kneel down with the church” when they administered the emblems of the Lord’s atonement. Today this practice of the Church is not observed for reasons that are mostly obscure and insignificant. Practices of the modern Church should be contrasted and differentiated from doctrines. The doctrines of the Church are eternal and unchangeable. But practices and policies change routinely, such as the change in the consolidated meeting schedule, changes in the published scriptures, changes in the temple endowment, changes in the temple garment design, changes in who may hold the priesthood and so forth.

The doctrine in this case is prayer – and we are commanded to pray often. Whether we kneel, bow our heads, close our eyes, pray vocally or silently there is no difference. We are encouraged, and have even been taught by the Savior to kneel when we pray (see 3 Nephi 17, for example). But in public Church meetings it is customary now for us to remain seated while others pray (the priests who kneel, and others who stand at the pulpit) on behalf of all present.

The “pop” question – can we or can’t we drink soda with caffeine in it?

Here are the promises the Lord makes to those who observe the Word of Wisdom:

All saints who remember to keep and do these sayings, walking in obedience to the commandments, shall receive health in their navel and marrow to their bones; and shall find wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures; and shall run and not be weary, and shall walk and not faint. And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them.” (D&C 89:18-21).

This revelation was given “for a principle with a promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints” (verse 3).

My first reaction to this question was that you can drink anything you please. There are no caffeine policeman at work in the Church to check up on people and report them to the bishops if they catch them drinking Coke, Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew or Pepsi.

Having said that, I have never heard a Church leader advocate the benefits of caffeine. BYU serves no caffeine drinks on campus. Neither does the cafeteria in the Church administration building, or any other cafeteria in a Church-owned and operated building, including the temples. The General Authorities have never altered the Word of Wisdom in D&C 89. It has stood the test of time.

All you really need to know is that the Lord gave this revelation “in consequence of the evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” (verse 4).

Manufacturers of caffeine drinks put caffeine in their products for only one reason – caffeine is addictive and harmful to the human body, and they want to enslave you to their products to ensure future sales. Their marketing strategy works.

The “law” of the revelation is simply stated – “wine, strong drinks (interpreted to mean alcoholic beverages), tobacco, and hot drinks” (interpreted to mean tea and coffee) are forbidden. These are the only substances mentioned.

Meat is to be used “sparingly.” We are encouraged to use wholesome herbs, fruits and grains.

The “spirit” of the revelation should be obvious – don’t take any harmful substance into your body knowingly and willingly, because your body is the temple of Spirit of the Holy Ghost, and your own spirit that God created. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Corinthians 6:16; D&C 93:35).

The revelation does not specifically mention heroin, cocaine or marijuana either, so this is just one of those questions that the Lord trusts you to answer for yourselves.

Why do Mormons always act like we are better than everybody else just because they are of different religions or even the same religion, but do some things that are not acceptable to the “holy ones?” We always seem to judge people. Why do we do this, when Christ told us not to, even if some people do certain things? What do you think the atonement is for? They can be forgiven. It really bugs me when we think we’re better than other people, or we judge them.

We can do no better than to follow the example and the counsel of the Prophet, President Gordon B. Hinckley, who has admonished the Church repeatedly to be tolerant and forgiving of our neighbors, while not surrendering our values. Most recently in his dedicatory prayer of the Conference Center, he offered this plea:

We invoke Thy blessings upon this community and this state. This is the area to which Thy people came seeking asylum from the oppression they had known. Now this has become a great cosmopolitan society to which people from all over the nation and the entire world have gathered. May all who live here and all who come here recognize a community environment that is unique and attractive. May we of Thy Church be hospitable and gracious. May we maintain the standards and practices for which we are known and accord to others the privilege of worshiping who, “where, or what they may” (Articles of Faith 11).
Bless us to reach out as good neighbors and be helpful to all. May we lift up the hands and strengthen the faltering knees of any in distress. May we all live together in peace with appreciation and respect one for another. (Ensign, November 2000).

No, Mormons are not “better” than anyone else. In fact, some I have known are worse than most non-members. Ted Bundy was an infamous Mormon who was eventually executed for his serial murders. Mark Hoffman is spending a life term in the state penitentiary for murder. So we have plenty of bad Mormons out there.

The underlying gospel principle here involved is what Amulek taught, a thought already alluded to in your question: “All mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened [all means all – even the Mormons]; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made.” (Alma 34:9).

Alma taught that our greatest need as fallen mortals was to be born again. “Marvel not that all mankind, yea, men and women, all nations, kindreds, tongues and people [that sounds to me like it includes all the Mormons too], must be born again; yea, born of God, changed from their carnal and fallen state, to a state of righteousness, being redeemed of God, becoming his sons and daughters.” (Mosiah 26:25).

One final observation – it feels like the tone of this question is filled with anger, as though the one asking the question seems to have felt the sting of harsh judgments by others referred to as the “holy ones.” Sometimes leaders of the Church, seeking what is in the best long-term interest and well-being of the youth of the Church, offer guidance and counsel that may feel more like a harsh punishment or judgment than loving concern. That counsel might have come even as recently as the last conference when the Prophet specified the Church’s position on tattoos, pierced body parts, drug use and “rave” parties. The invitation of our leaders to us in those instances is not to condemn them or reject their wisdom for making a judgment about what is harmful to us, but rather to get in tune with the Spirit and obey.

It would seem that the hardest work we do in this life is to overcome our “natural man.” King Benjamin said:

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticiings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father. (Mosiah 3:19).

Sometimes it takes great patience and faith to obey the counsel of our leaders, especially when it applies directly to us. Then we avoid being the one offering the harsh judgments of our leaders.

How does the Church feel about interracial marriage?

Since 1978, the Church has extended all the blessings of the priesthood and the temple to everyone, “without regard for race or color.” (See Official Declaration 2). Nevertheless, every church I know anything about, including our Church, has routinely discouraged interracial marriage. The reasons are usually practical, not religious. Marriage, even on the best of days, is hard work. To complicate all the pressures that come to bear on a marriage with different cultural expectations and customs simply adds to the factors that tend to break marriages down over time.

While the couple might be very successful at managing their marriage between them, even making all the necessary concessions to ensure success in their marriage, it is often the children of interracial couples who suffer most. Skin color in our “more liberated society” today does not seem to be as dominant a factor as cultural background. Where there are vast cultural differences, for example in a marriage where the wife comes from Korea and the husband comes from America, there are greater obstacles than skin color. These children are trapped between two worlds, having to decide one way or the other which path culturally they will pursue in their adult lives.

However, the world is changing. If Tiger Woods can become the poster child for the successful product of an interracial marriage, perhaps there is even more cause for hope in the years ahead!  [Interestingly, I gave this answer referencing Tiger Woods back in 2000 -- now he's a "poster child" for something else.]

Despite the discouragement by Church leaders to interracial marriages, there are many exceptions. Many couples I know have adopted children of color and cultural backgrounds different than their own and have helped their children successfully transition into happy and fulfilling marriages in a culture different than the one from which they sprang.

It seems to me that the most important factor for success in marriage is that the two partners are equally yoked in their conversion to the gospel, their commitment to each other and to the Lord. I have observed many couples who have been able to overcome racial and cultural differences in their marriages and succeed because their faith in the gospel transcended every other consideration. In those cases, I see no difference between successful interracial marriages and marriages between two individuals of the same race.

What happens when someone objects to a sustaining?

Whenever anyone is asked to hold an office or fulfill a calling in the Church, that person is sustained by the congregation from which the person is called to serve. They must be called by those who have the proper authority, and sustained, or voted on, in an appropriate meeting, and then ordained or set apart by one who has the proper priesthood authority. This is called “common consent,” or the voice of the people. (See (D&C 41:9). This follows the instructions given in revelation: “Again I say unto you, that it shall not be given to any one to go forth to preach my gospel, or to build up my church, except he be ordained by some one who has authority, and it is known to the church that he has authority and has been regularly ordained by the heads of the church.” (D&C 42:11).

Notice, there are two requirements: First, we must receive authority from someone who has it and has been ordained by the heads of the Church. Next, it must be known in the Church that he has the authority.

The sustaining in the priesthood and the setting apart to other offices in the Church are done openly where it can be known to the Church who has authority, as the scriptures require. There is great safety to the Church in having the names of those called to offices in the Church presented in the proper meeting. (See D&C 20:65). Anyone who is a pretender or a deceiver will be immediately recognized by the congregation.

If someone claims to have been secretly ordained to a special calling or higher order of the priesthood, you may know immediately that the claim is false!

If someone objects and refuses to sustain a person in a particular office, the presiding priesthood authorities  note the objection publicly in the meeting. Following the meeting, the person who has objected is invited to meet privately with their priesthood leaders to discuss their concerns. The ultimate decision about what to do with the information thus obtained still rests with the presiding priesthood authorities.

Other than the calling, what determines [who] becomes a High Priest?

Generally, high priests are ordained to that office in the Melchizedek Priesthood when they are called to serve in a presiding position in the Church, such as a bishopric, stake presidency, high priests group, or high council.

The authority of an elder with respect to Melchizedek Priesthood ordinances, however, is no less than that of a high priest. The high priests have no specific age and there is no specific number in a high priests quorum. High priests are organized into groups in wards with group leaders. The stake presidency is the presidency of the high priests quorum in the stake.

The bishop must be a high priest (see D&C 68:19; D&C 84:29; D&C 107:17, 69-73) and is designated by revelation as the presiding high priest in the ward. In this capacity, he may preside over the ward council and ward priesthood executive council meetings, where elders quorum and high priests group officers are in attendance.

While the bishop may recommend that a man be ordained an elder or high priest and verify his worthiness, the approval and ordination are under the direction of the stake presidency.

A bishop does not call, nor can he release the presidency of an elders quorum. They are under the direction of the stake presidency.


  1. Hi Brother Goates! This is Nicole Callister (formerly Foust.) I found this blog through Steve and Tina's blog. I wanted you to know how much I enjoy it, so thank you. Hope everything is well your way.

  2. Nicole -- good to hear from you. All is well! Thanks!

  3. Hi Brother

    Coming from a multi racial family myself. i would have to disagree with your answer in regards to interracial relationships. My family/parents have never had any "practical" issues when it comes raising a family becuase of race. And we are very happy in life and the gospel.

    What makes a good relationship in the gospel has nothing to do with race. As long as both people remember the LORD is the number ONE culture. And they work hard there is no reason why you cant have just as strong as a relationship as two people married from the same race. This is not just me hopefull speaking but from experience in my own life/family.

    Also where im from New Zealand none of the church leaders discourage interracial relationships. Does this happen in the USA????

    One more question i know that pre 1978 days alot of leaders were more open and explicit about avoiding interracial relationships (bruce r mcconkie one). Why is that???? is it becuase of the practical reasons you claim? or because they would not have been able to recieve full blessings in temple??

    thanks for your Q&A...

  4. I believe the inter-racial marriage discouragement from the leaders came from an earlier day before the globalization of the Church. You have stated it correctly - any marriage anchored in the gospel and the covenants will succeed when the covenants are honored and obeyed.

  5. I find your viewpoint/statements about inter-racial marriage to be dated and frankly, marrow-minded. You tie race and culture together in the same argument, yet one is genetic and another is a societal construct. People can be of different races yet be of the same culture. People can also be of the same race yet come from different cultures. I also disagree with your statement that children of a cross-cultural marriage become trapped between two worlds. Have you actually talked with any of them as adults? Rather, they often become more enlightened, tolerant, and proud of their roots. How many of those of pioneer heritage are the product of two people who came from different European cultures, but were brought together in the gospel? We talk about these unions with great pride, so culture is really not the issue. I suspect that those who discourage inter-racial marriages are not doing it on any gospel basis, rather, they are doing it born out of their own lack of racial tolerance, under the guise that it is because of a cultural concern. One observation... as a member of the church, I have seen many return missionaries in a happy marriage with a Hispanic or Asian wife. Yet the times when I have seen a marriage between a black person and a white person in the church, I have heard talk. This is a sad truth. Fortunately, this seems to be a regional thing, and not a church-wide thing, seeing as now there are more members outside of the United States than are in it. With the coming generations, I believe that this will finally be a thing of the past.

  6. Thanks for your observations. As I stated above, the living of the temple covenants will overcome whatever obstacles may exist now and in the future. No doubt my reflections on the teachings of the past are hopefully more "enlightened" today.