Friday, August 17, 2018


Yesterday (August 16, 2018), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced a new policy: the media and all members are to stop using the word “Mormon” when referring to the church and its members. In response, some in the media whose memories stretch far enough back, sighed, “Oh, here we go again!”

In 2000, leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued the exact same directive: stop calling us “the Mormon Church” and stop calling our members, “Mormons.” Of course, no one listened.

Around that same time, the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints changed its name to Community of Christ. The denomination wanted the end, once and for all, any connection in the public’s mind to the church in Utah, Mormons or Mormonism.

Of course, the nickname “Mormon” was coined within the first year or so of the religious movement’s birth in upstate New York in 1830. This was several years before the term “Latter Day Saint” was coined, or the name of the original “Church of Christ” was changed to “Church of the Latter-Day Saints.” The name “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” was adopted later in the 1830s, while the body that called itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (note the hyphenated words in the name) was not legally organized until several years after the death of Joseph Smith. So, before there were “Latter Day-saints” or even “Latter Day Saints,” there were “Mormons.”

Doesn’t anyone want to be called a “Mormon” anymore?

I certainly can understand why many do not. Since around 1850, the word “Mormon” has been conflated with the Utah-based institution that called itself “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” As far as public relations are concerned, that organization got off on the wrong foot when, in 1852, it announced to the world that it not only practiced polygamy, but considered it divinely-mandated and superior to monogamy. (Even today, that institution is burdened by its continual recognition of “eternal” polygamous marriages as well as the inclusion in its scripture of a section commanding the practice.) The murder of over 100 innocent men, women and children by the institution's top local leaders in southern Utah on September 11, 1857 (the Mountain Meadows Massacre) was—and remains--a public relations nightmare. (One historian has correctly observed that following the massacre, and for the remainder of the nineteenth century, to be called a Mormon was akin to being called a Muslim terrorist today.)

In modern times, the corporation that now owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” has made one public relations blunder after another. These include: its embrace of a 120-year-old racist theology and policy targeted against all people of African ancestry (neither of which were rescinded until 1978); its “successes” in defeating the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s and overturning same-sex marriage in California in 2008, and—most recently—its policy against blessing or baptizing the children of same-sex couples. (Jesus Christ said, “Suffer the little children to come unto me.” The Utah-based corporation claiming to be his sole representative on earth says, “Not so fast, Kids.”)

Seeing how the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” has—by its actions, policies and theology—caused the word “Mormon” to become synonymous with homophobia, racism, sexism, pharisaical religious attitudes and Right-wing politics, it is perfectly understandable that it now wishes to distance itself from the name.

Please, please, please do!

You—the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints"—and all of you who are associated with that corporation do not deserve the name “Mormon.” Give it up—I beg of you! Dear members, if ever you have heeded the council of your so-called “Lord’s Anointed,” I beseech you, do so now, and immediately cease and desist from calling yourselves Mormons once and for all!

I, for one, will continue to identify as Mormon—though, in 2007, I dissolved my relationship with the Utah-based corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In the 1830s and early 1840s, the label “Mormon” had very different connotations that it had after the murder of Joseph Smith. Were Mormons seen a weird, odd, unorthodox, troublesome to established Protestant norms? Yes—without a doubt. But in a newborn Republic that encoded freedom of and from religion in its constitution, those Protestant norms needed to be challenged and, if people so chose, completely rejected. This was a period when the majority of Americans saw the Mormons as victims of violence, not perpetrators of violence (as they would in the 1850s, when the Utah institution hijacked the label and began preaching Blood Atonement.) Before that time, Mormons were laughed at for having emerged from the folk religion of the American frontier—with all of its weirdness, superstition, quaintness and…well…fun. (Re-read “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” if you want to better understand the American frontier folk religion that actually birthed Mormonism.)

My dear Latter-day Saints— (we can all agree that is what you are to be called now, right?)—please begin immediately to correct people when they mistakenly refer to you as “Mormon.” If you must, feign being insulted when they in ignorance apply the name to you. If I could have but one gift this coming Christmas Season, it would be that by December 25,no one would associate the word “Mormon” with the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.”

In short, my dear Latter-day Saints, I am sick and tired of having my family, friends and associates assume that I am one of you, or that I have any association with the Utah-based corporation that owns the aforementioned trademark.

Let me share some reasons why I am proud to be a Mormon, but have no desire to be mistaken for a Latter-day Saint:

Early Mormons eagerly explored all the newest trends and fades in religious thought, spirituality, science and pseudo-science, mysticism, etc.—and when they found an idea that resonated with their convictions, they incorporated it into their evolving theology. On the other hand, Latter-day Saints view any new idea with suspicion, withholding all opinions until the leaders of the corporation that owns the trademark “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” have issued their opinion, at which time those Saints form an echo chamber. I find echoes irksome, and so, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

The early Mormons distrusted American Christianity. Joseph Smith confessed he couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to hoot and holler at revivals and camp meetings—even when he wanted to. Eliza R. Snow declared that when she attended Christian services, she couldn’t humiliate herself by declaring that she was a naturally-corrupt sinner worthy of nothing but damnation by a just and righteous God. In contrast, Latter-day Saints worry constantly that others don’t see them as Christians, while fear of God’s judgement seem to be constantly on their minds. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Though Mormons at first thought of Jesus as being God incarnate (the orthodox Christian view), they quickly dropped the doctrine of the Trinity, questioned and offered wild speculations about a literal Virgin birth, stopped focusing on the Atonement, began putting more emphasis on how Christ was similar to the rest of humanity and envisioning how humanity could become equally divine not only with Christ but with God. Latter-day Saints have retreated from all of these ideas, and embrace a neo-orthodox theology that in many of its fundamentals differs little from mainline Protestantism. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saints.

Early Mormons accepted “The Book of Mormon” as scripture while knowing little to nothing about its origins. When, at a Mormon conference in the early 1830s, Hyrum Smith asked Joseph Smith to share the details of the book’s origin with those assembled, Joseph refused, saying the details were unimportant. Latter-day Saints, however, think the details are very important, and belief in later gold plate narratives is a central tenant of their religion. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons knew nothing about any “First Vision” in 1820—because that story hadn’t yet been written, and wouldn’t be widely known until the early twentieth century. If you were to talk about Joseph Smith’s “Vision” to an early Mormon, they’d assume you were referring to “The Vision” of the three degrees of glory in D&C 76. Latter-day Saints believe their faith began in 1820 when Joseph had a vision of the Father and the Son; the historicity of this event is a central tenant of their faith. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons rejected salvation by grace because in the new theological paradigm they constructed, the focus was on Eternal Progression by one’s efforts. Latter-day Saints think of “salvation” in much the same way as do Catholics and Protestants. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Mormons rejected the idea of Hell and embraced universal salvation—within everyone inheriting some degree of glory. Latter-day Saints believe in three degrees of glory, but most still believe in the existence of Hell as traditionally imagined by Catholics and Protestants. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons believed that humans and Gods shared a common nature. Latter-day Saints concentrate on how humans are different from God —and any talk of Gods (plural) rattles them.(They insist, after all, that they are Christians—and Christians are monotheists.) So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons believed that one’s spirit was eternal, uncreated and “co-equal with God.” Latter-day Saints, since their adoption of polygamy in 1852, have taught that one’s spirit is sexually begotten by Heavenly Parents—thus making heterosexual marriage central to their now-convoluted neo-orthodox theology. So, call me a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons held that marriages were to always be performed openly as public ceremonies in accordance with local law. Since 1852, Latter-day Saints have performed their marriages hidden from the view of not only the general public, but also from the eyes of those church and family members who their leaders label “unworthy.” So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons had but three offices in their initial church organization: elder, priest and teacher. Latter-day Saints have—well, just look at a flow chart of their organization and try to make sense of it. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons governed their churches by Common Consent, with decisions being made democratically from the bottom up. The Twelve Apostles had no church-wide authority but merely oversaw the Mormon missionary program. Church authority was local, with the local Stake High Council being the highest authority. The Latter-day Saints, since the time of Brigham Young, have embraced a pyramid structure—with all authority flowing down from a Church President, through the Twelve Apostles, then General Authorities, and so on to the local level. When Latter-day Saints talk of Common Consent, they mean the right to affirm whatever the leaders at the top have already decided. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons didn’t excommunicate people for a difference of opinion. Joseph Smith thought doing so was too similar to the practices the Methodist societies of his youth: one accepted Methodists beliefs, or one was booted from membership. Latter-day Saints are so famous for booting out members for differences of opinions, that they could market a line of footwear for the occasion. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons sympathized with the poor and the outcast; Latter-day Saints admire the wealthy and affluent. So, I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons embraced life here and now as good. They sought to build Zion and the Kingdom of God here on earth. They believed that this earth would eventually be clothed in Celestial Glory. Latter-day Saints focus on leaving this world, which they tend to view with much the same negativity as do Evangelical Christians; they aspire ti “enter the Celestial Kingdom” or “return to the presence of our Heavenly Father” after they die. So, because I really like life here on earth and thoroughly enjoy the daily routine of waking up, eating and drinking, working, engaging with friends and family, having sex, reading, writing, learning—not to mention my fondness for more mundane things such as breathing and aging—and because I believe God likes these things, too—I am a Mormon—not a Latter-day Saint.

Early Mormons took the Word of Wisdom as advise, not as a commandment: most continued to drink coffee, tea, beer and alcohol. (Joseph Smith even installed a bar in his Nauvoo home and hired Porter Rockwell to be his bar tender—until tea-totaling Emma told him that either the bar went or she would leave with the children.) Latter-day Saints consider the Word of Wisdom to be a commandment (despite the fact that their own scripture declares explicitly that it is not), and obedience to it is required for full participation in their church. So, I am a Mormon (a coffee drinker with a fondness for margaritas)—not a Latter-day Saint.

The list of why I am a Mormon--not a Latter-day Saint—could go on, but I think I have made my point. If you don’t think I have, then I’m sorry to have wasted your time. I’ll sign off with but one small request: please, please, please call me a Mormon--not a Latter-day Saint!

Thursday, September 21, 2017

SEPTEMBER 21, 1823 ....AND NOW

September 21st could be thought of as the birthday of Mormonism.

For nearly two centuries stories have been circulated about events that millions of people around the world believe took place on Sunday night, September 21, 1823 in a small log home near Palmyra, New York.
The first stories were told among members of Joseph and Lucy Mack Smith’s family. Within two years, some details of those stories leaked out and were circulated among certain neighbors of the Smiths. Over the next few years, rumor, speculation, superstition and religious enthusiasm led to the telling of conflicting stories—some greeted as evidence of Divine intervention in human history, some seen as omens of darker supernatural powers at work, and others cited as proof of a great fraud being perpetrated on the gullible.

In the confusing swirl of conflicting stories about the events of September 21, 1823, a new religious tradition was born that quickly grew beyond the expectations of most people. As that movement spread beyond upstate New York into Ohio, Missouri and Illinois, its leaders tried to bring clarity to the chaotic stew from which their faith sprang. In short, they tried to create an official origin story for their religion.

They made several attempts. In each of these origin stories, details were added that conflicted with those found in earlier versions but which supported recent innovations in the faith’s theology and organizational structure. Each of these later retellings became more miraculous and majestic—presenting a cosmic struggle between the forces of Divine goodness and Satanic evil. When the movement splintered into competing denominations in the late1840’s, some relegated these later stories to history books while others canonized them as scripture.

Reform Mormons tend to think that greater spiritual value is found not in trying to prove or disprove the historicity of these later “official” histories, but in returning to the earlier versions of the story—the ones closer in time to 1823—and looking for the elements of those stories that might speak to the spiritual concerns of people living today.

One of the earliest detailed accounts of Sunday night, September 21, 1823, was written by Mormonism’s co-founder, Oliver Cowdery in a letter dated September 7, 1834--and published in the October 1834 issue of “Latter Day Saints’ Messenger and Advocate.”

Oliver wrote that on that the night of September 21, 1823, teenage Joseph Smith was not even sure if God existed. The teenager called “upon the Lord in secret” for an answer to the question: “If a Supreme Being did exist, to have an assurance that he was accepted of him.”

To understand why 17-year-old Joseph Smith doubted the existence of God, one needn’t look any farther than his parents. His father, Joseph Smith Senior, was a Universalist who rejected any theology that relegated any portion of humanity to a burning Hell for all eternity. Joseph Senior has no use for organized religion, and expressed his spirituality in terms of folklore and folk magic. In contrast, young Joseph’s mother Lucy Mack Smith embraced a more Calvinistic faith: she was deeply afraid that she, her husband and children might face eternal damnation—that they needed to secure their Christian salvation. The religious differences between Joseph Smith’s parents were profound, and they undermined any sense of unity and stability in the life of the family. It does not take much effort to imagine that discussions of religious differences in the Smith household might have easily escalated into powerful arguments that could have caused the teenage Joseph to be critical of religion generally and of traditional notions of God specifically.

According to Oliver, the teenage Joseph Smith “was unusually wrought up on the subject that had so long agitated his mind—his heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his soul was so lost to everything of a temporal nature, that earth had lost its charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind of messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God.”

Oliver Cowdery wrote that near midnight, after Joseph’s brothers had fallen asleep, “while continuing to prayer for a manifestation, on a sudden a light like that of day, only of a purer and far more glorious appearance and brightness, burst into the room.” Joseph later told Oliver that it seemed to him “as though the house was filled with consuming and unquenchable fire.” At first the appearance of such luminous splendor “occasioned a shock or sensation, visible to the extremities of the body,” but that was soon followed by a “calmness and serenity of mind, and an overwhelming rapture of joy that surpassed understanding.”

In a moment, a personage stood before Joseph floating in mid-air. Although the room had previously been filled with light, Oliver wrote, there seemed to be an “additional glory surrounding or accompanying the personage, which shone with an increased degree of brilliancy.” Though the countenance of the messenger was “as lightening,” it was of such a “pleasant, innocent and glorious appearance,” that all fear was banished from the boy’s heart and “nothing but calmness pervaded Joseph’s soul.”

The turning point in Cowdery’s story comes when Joseph, laying in his bed and wondering if God even exists, desires to know if the God—whose existence he questions—finds him acceptable.

How many people find themselves in that situation? Raised in a particular faith, they find themselves unsure of everything they were taught to believe—even the existence of God. And yet, at the same time, though unsure if God does exist, they still want to know that they are loved and accepted if God does exist.

According to Oliver’s account, while Joseph was in the midst of this conflicted state of mind, light began filling the room, bringing with it a calm and a glory that banished all fears. This sets into motion miraculous events which three years later leads to a new book of scripture and the opening of the scriptural cannon.

According to various stories told about the coming forth of that new scripture, for the next four years (1824, 1825, 1826 and 1827) September 21st became a day for Joseph Smith to re-evaluate the previous year of his life, to meditate on lessons learned, to repent and prepare for the future he felt God had in store for him. In this way, it was similar to the High Holy Days in Judaism—which coincidentally takes place every year during this same week in September. The process of honestly accessing one’s life and spiritual state, of accepting doubts, repenting of sins is essential in order to prepare for the revelation of further Light in our lives.

And so, on the night of September 21st, Reform Mormons try to take a deeper look at where they are relative to their spiritual and ethical progression. They contemplate the events of the previous year and what might be in the year to come. If they have doubts about God—or any other belief or idea related to their faith—they try to confront these doubts openly, honestly and with integrity. Just as one needn’t stay married to one’s current beliefs, one needn’t be divorced from one’s doubts. Beliefs and doubts can both fuel one’s Eternal Progression. The goal is not to get to somewhere else by virtue of believing “the right things,” but to become the type of human being whose personifies the Divine. Accepting doubts, being able to live with ambiguity, repenting of those things that we honestly, within ourselves, believe are wrong (as opposed to those things that traditions, institutions and others insist are wrong)—being able to do all of these things may not only bring a profound sense of peace, they can also open our eyes to the Light that will lead us into the future.

Monday, September 11, 2017

REMEMBERING 9/11 ... 1857

Can a community born of faith in the loftiest of ideals, descend into hatred, intolerance, murder and terror? Can a people who embraced a prophetic tradition—who gathered together because they were keenly aware of the injustice, hard heartedness and self-righteousness in the world become so zealous that they move beyond merely embodying the attitudes that they once decried, to embracing barbarism?

The answer is yes, and no people should be more aware of that truth than those belonging to the Mormon religious tradition. Mormonism is, after all, a tradition that originally sprang from the embrace of “The Book of Mormon.” Before the earliest believers had any fully formed explanation of the book’s origins, they had in their hands the book itself. That book told a story that spoke to their experiences and reflected their understanding of human nature and the world in which they lived.

“The Book of Mormon” told the story of two ancient peoples—both descended from a prophet who saw the corruption of the society in which he lived, and fled with his wife and children to a distant land. There, separated from his kinsmen, the prophet hoped that his children and their descendants would live as a free, just, godly and virtuous people. But from the beginning of the story, all of his children engaged in violence, jealously and division.

The prophet’s descendants divided themselves into two distinct civilizations—neither of which were purely just or virtuous, and both of which embraced violence and war when they felt threatened. In each of these two cultures there arose divinely-called prophets and leaders—and in each, there arose charlatans, demagogues, war-mongers and tyrants. For six hundred years, these two cultures not only warred with one another, but were each internally divided ethnically, religiously and politically. Each cultural was blinded by the belief that its enmity with the other was either rationally or divinely justified. Brought to the brink of destruction not only by violence but by catastrophic natural disasters at the time of Jesus’s crucifixion, they were visited by the resurrected Christ who taught them the principles embodied in the Biblical Sermon on the Mount. After six centuries of ethnic division, demagogy, social injustice and war, the two civilizations come together as one people and lived in peace for over a century. The reason for—and the key to—this lasting peace were the pure and simple principles taught by Jesus: love your enemy, pray for those who despitefully use you, turn the other cheek, bless those who curse you, go the extra mile, bear one another's burdens, avoid being sanctimonious.

After a century, prosperity, pride, self-righteousness and contentiousness took root within the people. Ancient grievances were revived, and people divided themselves along ethnic lines. Both descended into barbarism, with one civilization becoming even more sadistic than the other. That civilization—which, through most the story, had the stronger prophetic tradition—was eventually annihilated by the other.

“The Book of Mormon” was cautionary tale for the people who first read it—first and second-generation Americans who were still insecure with the personal liberties their newly formed Republic guaranteed them. These first readers were cautious regarding potential abuses of power by civic as well as ecclesiastical authorities and institutions. They embraced the “pure and simple Gospel of Christ”—which could best be summarized as putting love and charity above all else.

It is one of the supreme ironies in American history, that the largest community of Mormons would, in the 1840s, as a result of persecution and political intrigue, leave the United States, settle in the Rocky Mountains and desert southwest, and there turn inward on itself—instituting an internal “reformation” in which the choice was either unquestioning obedience to ecclesiastical authorities, or punishment—including death (so-called “Blood Atonement”) for blasphemy and apostacy. The theocratic government established in Utah Territory bought its Mormon population in direct conflict with the principles of the United States Constitution. It was soon assumed that military conflict between Utah territorial militias and Federal troops was inevitable.

During this period—in the late summer of 1857—a wagon train made up of Americans primarily from Arkansas and Missouri was making its way to California, through southern Utah. Twenty-five years earlier, Missouri had been the central gathering place for Mormons, but religious persecutions there had ended with a massacre of Mormons at a settlement called Haun’s Mil, and an extermination notice signed by the Governor of Missouri—the only such order ever issued by a U.S. governor against U.S. citizens. The memories of those persecutions and the resentments had only festered among the Mormons seeking to pioneer the harsh desert southwest. The California-bound wagon train wandered into what could now be described as a “perfect storm” for tragedy.

Led by the Mormon Priesthood High Council of Cedar City, Utah, the local militia attacked the wagon train in a spot called Mountain Meadows. After a conflict lasting several days, on September 11, 1857, the wagon train surrendered to the militia after being assured that they would be escorted to safety. Having given up their weapons, the men, women and children of the wagon train formed a long line and, escorted by Mormon militia men, they began to walk out of Mountain Meadows. Suddenly given the signal, each Mormon militia man turned on the man, woman or child nearest him. Within minutes, over 100 men, women and children—aged 8 and older—lay massacred in Mountain Meadows. Their mutilated bodies were left unburied for weeks.

This event—the Mountain Meadows Massacre—was the worst case of domestic terrorism in U.S. history until the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. What is so tragic and ironic, is that the perpetrators of the massacre were themselves the victims of earlier religious persecutions and massacre.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that the worst act of domestic terrorism in U.S. history would be perpetrated on September 11, 2001—144 years to the day since the Mountain Meadows Massacre. As with the terrorism of 9/11/1857, the terrorism of 9/11/2001 was perpetrated by religious zealots who clung to memories of and resentments regarding earlier persecutions that their religious communities had suffered.
Reform Mormons embrace 9/11 as a Day of Remembrance. The two terrorist acts that took place on this day—in 2001 and in 1857—are taken as warnings of what can happen when a community clings to grievances of past wrongs, and assumes that they have either a rational or a divinely-mandated license to avenge those wrongs.

Reform Mormons turn to the story told by “The Book of Mormon” for guidance. They realize that no community is immune to bitterness, to fantasies of vengeance for wrongs suffered, and to the intoxicating but deadly illusion that violence against one’s enemies is divinely sanctioned.

On 9/11, Reform Mormons seek to remember that despite wrongs and injustices suffered, they have committed themselves to emulating the character of God as revealed in the character of Jesus. That character is embodied in the principles found in Biblical Sermon on the Mount and in “The Book of Mormon’s” Sermon at the Nephite Temple:

“Behold, it is written, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;
but I say unto you, that ye shall not resist evil.
Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other…
Love your enemies, bless them that curse you,
so good to them that hate you,
and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you;
that ye may be the children of your Father who is in heaven;
for He makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good…
Old things are done away with, and all things have become new.
Therefore, I would that ye should be perfect even as I, or your Father who is in heaven is perfect."

(See III Nephi 12: 38—48 [LDS Edition] / III Nephi 6: 84—92 [COC Authorized Version]

Friday, December 23, 2016


The land into which Jesus was born burned with Messianic expectations. Prayers for a long-promised national deliverer arose constantly from homes, synagogues and the great Temple in Jerusalem. A nation which had for over six centuries been divided, humiliated and dominated by foreign powers awaited God’s anointed deliverer who would restore national honor, integrity, piety and power. The coming of this national redeemer would be a joyful event for the people—a momentous event that would be witnessed by all the nations of the earth. At least that was the populist belief of the time given the common interpretation of scriptural passages such as this:

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news,
who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices; together they shout for joy.
When the LORD returns to Zion, they will see it with their own eyes.
Burst into songs of joy together, you ruins of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people,
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God."
(Isaiah 52:7-10)

The central reason why most believers in these scriptures rejected Jesus as God’s Messiah—His Anointed—was that his birth, life and death (and even the claims of his resurrection) met none of the expectations that the vast majority of the people had for their long-hoped-for redeemer.

In the decades and centuries following Jesus’s earthly ministry, those who did embrace him as the Messiah passed along stories and created traditions that commemorated his birth as a miraculous, earth-shaking event.

Thus, Christmas is celebrated by erecting Nativity scenes, singing glorious carols, and retelling stories of singing angelic hosts filling the night skies above shepherds in their fields; of Wise Men on camels following a blazing star from Persia to Bethlehem; of ancient Americans falling to their knees as the skies above them remain bright for a day, a night and day in recognition of the Savior’s birth.

There are two things that these stories have in common.

All of these stories involve great lights: the star of the east; a day, a night and a day as if they were one day; bright angelic host filling the night sky.

And all of these stories involve humans looking heavenward for signs of the Messiah’s birth.

Whether these particular stories are historical or legendary is of little importance to our discussion here. If they are indeed historical, they happened to only a handful of people in the Middle East or to an ancient America civilization that had no contact with the rest of the world. The fact remains that the rest of the human family—including those living in the small town where Jesus was born—had no idea that a Messiah had been born.

No one was looking earthward. No one was looking down.

With all of the reading of scripture that took place daily in synagogues and communities throughout the Roman Empire; all of the anticipation, all of the talking, bickering, debating, speculating and theorizing about the Messiah which consumed the faithful of that day—no one thought to look for the Lord’s Anointed in a dark stable, lying in a manger.

Certainly if (as the Gospel According to Luke testifies) Mary gave birth to Jesus in overcrowded Bethlehem during the taking of a national census, it would stand to reason that others in the crowded inn and adjoining stable would have been aware of the event. Others would have heard the newborn Jesus crying. Others would have passed the babe in the manger. Even with no heralding angles or stars rising in the east, Jesus was not born in isolation, in secret or even in the privacy of a home.

And yet as far as our traditions tell us, not a single soul in closest proximity to the newborn babe had the slightest inkling that their Messiah had come—that the child was “Emmanuel”—meaning “God with us.” The populist notions of national pride and power, the certainty that national and sectarian interests were the measure of God’s interests, the testimonies delivered by the multitudes asserting that they already knew the truth regarding the ways in which God operated—all of these combined to blind people to the way in which redemption, salvation, restoration, peace and the reign of God were being brought into the world.

For those who accepted Jesus as the Messiah—the Christ—God had entered the world quietly, undermining not only popular beliefs about how He operates but also undermining all traditional, orthodox assumptions about the very nature of the Divine’s relationship with humanity.

In Jesus’s day, as in our own, people were looking for blinding beams of glory streaming from the heaven, for the bright flash of a national deliverer’s sword, for the glowing radiance of thrones, crowns, riches and royal opulence.

No one thought of looking for the Light in the countenance of the weakest of humans—a seemingly ordinary infant asleep among the animals in a common stable.

As Phillip Brooks wrote his immortal 1868 Christmas carol:

“How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is given!
So God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of His heaven.
No ear may hear His coming,
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him still,
The dear Christ enters in.”

How much time and energy have I spent looking heavenward for signs and wonders rather than looking at the world around me, in the faces and lives of others?

How have my experiences of God undermined the expectations I had based on my religious upbringing?

SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT: This Christmas Season bring up the above questions in conversations with family members or friends.

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make your ideas understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

For more information on Reform Mormonism visit

Thursday, December 22, 2016



“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels,
but do not have love,
I am only a resounding gong
or a clanging cymbal.

If I have the gift of prophecy
and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge,
and if I have a faith that can move mountains,
but do not have love,
I am nothing.

If I give all I possess to the poor
and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,
but do not have love,
I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It does not dishonor others,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.

Love never fails.

But where there are prophecies, they will cease;
where there are tongues, they will be stilled;
where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child,
I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child.
When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.

For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;
then we shall see face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.

But the greatest of these is love.”
(I Corinthians 13)

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


In even the darkest times, the promised advent of Christ’s Light offers us a reason to rejoice. For despite the chaos, despair and violence of the current age, the vision of a future age in which these things have no place has long inspired prophets and poets throughout history.

Anciently the defeated and dispersed Children of Israel were encouraged by their prophets to never lose sight of a joyous future age that would be ushered in by a coming Messiah:

“The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom;
it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to it,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
they will see the glory of the Lord,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the feeble hands,
steady the knees that give way;
say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, do not fear;
your God will come,
he will come with vengeance;
with divine retribution
he will come to save you.”
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.
The burning sand will become a pool,
the thirsty ground bubbling springs.
In the haunts where jackals once lay,
grass and reeds and papyrus will grow.
And a highway will be there;
it will be called the Way of Holiness;
it will be for those who walk on that Way.
The unclean will not journey on it;
wicked fools will not go about on it.
No lion will be there,
nor any ravenous beast;
they will not be found there.
But only the redeemed will walk there,
and those the Lord has rescued will return.
They will enter Zion with singing;
everlasting joy will crown their heads.
Gladness and joy will overtake them,
and sorrow and sighing will flee away.”
(Isaiah 35:1-10)

In early nineteenth century America, another prophet, while illegally imprisoned for months in a small Missouri jail, cast his thoughts forward to that same future time, envisioning how the dead would be restored to the living in an eternal joyful union. Rather than give in to feelings of gloom and despair because of current injustices and suffering, this prophet encouraged his brothers and sisters to press forward with joy:

“Now, what do we hear in the gospel which we have received?
A voice of gladness!
A voice of mercy from heaven;
and a voice of truth out of the earth;
glad tidings for the dead;
a voice of gladness for the living and the dead;
glad tidings of great joy…
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…
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 appears?
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. “
(Doctrine & Covenants 128: 19, 22, 23-24)

Though the past year may have had its fill of disappointments, hurts and anger, let us pay renewed attention to the prophetic voices found in scripture. Let us learn from the things we may have suffered and then let us release that pain, allowing it to recede into the darkness of the past. As Christmas approaches, let us rejoice in the coming of Christ’s Light into a world in need of healing and restoration—for as the scripture testify, we are that we might have joy! (See II Nephi 2:25)

Thursday, December 15, 2016


In a world that is often darkened by war, violence and injustices, the human family has clung to the hope for a future time of peace.

Too often peace is mistakenly seen only as the absence of war and social unrest. But history is filled with examples of so-called peaceful ages that were nevertheless filled with injustice and suffering. The Roman Empire—into which Jesus and his first followers were born—prided itself on maintaining peace (the Pax Romana). This “peace” was narrowly defined as putting down any rebellion and social unrest; silencing critics and dissenters; imposing strict social order while quickly and severely punishing any who dared break the law. It was assumed then—as indeed, it is often assumed now—that peace can be imposed; that violence and the threat violent punishment can bring about and maintain peace.

The ancient prophetic writings of the Israelites put forth a vision of peaceful age that would be brought about by a future Messiah—and this vision was embraced centuries later by those who followed Jesus. The most famous example from these prophetic writings is found in the Book of Isaiah:

“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might; the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together; and a little child will lead them. The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. In that day, the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.’ (Isaiah 11:1—10)

At first glance, the vision seems to maintain the same ideas regarding peace that are found elsewhere in the history of the ancient world—namely, that a messianic individual (the “shoot” or stem that will come up from “the stump of Jessie”) will appear and impose peace by force.

But even as this vision concentrates on the work of this one messianic individual, there are some differences. When he appears, he will not judge by what he sees and hears, but with the spirits of knowledge and wisdom he will be able to discern the true condition of the poor and the needy; and so, his judgments will be rooted in righteousness; he will act justly.

This expands the concept of peace beyond just the absence of violence, war, crime and social unrest: the concept of peace is broadened to include justice—and justice for the weakest and least influential people in society.

The concept of peace is further expanded to include a change in natural inclinations themselves: animals that instinctively attack each other are envisioned as living peacefully side by side with each other—and with human beings.
Can the transformation of such seemingly natural instincts and inclinations, be imposed from without by someone—even by the powerful messianic figure envisioned in this prophecy?

Certainly many people anciently thought so—which is why the majority of those who clung to Isaiah’s prophecy rejected Jesus of Nazareth as their long-awaited Messiah. Simply put, though he may have been seen a just, wise and merciful, he was executed as a common criminal by the Roman Empire. Indeed, he was executed in a manner (crucifixion) that was reserved for political enemies of the state. After his execution the world apparently continued on in darkness, with a constant stream of wars, violence, crimes and injustices. The wolf, the lion and the lamb were still not living peacefully side by side.

Perhaps Peace is not something that can be imposed upon us but is something which we must actively pursue —as is suggested by this scripture:

“Therefore, renounce war and proclaim peace…” (Doctrine & Covenants 98:16)

Perhaps we must first renounce war—a powerful act of faith in itself, since we live in a world in which physical power and the threat of physical attack are the foundation of all human law and government.

But renouncing war—even refusing to participate in war—will have a limited effect on bringing about the kind of peace imagined without this:

“And above all things, clothe yourselves with the bond of charity, as with a mantle, which is the bond of perfectness and peace.” (Doctrine & Covenants 88:125)

While this scripture speaks of clothing oneself with charity (Love), what is referred to is actually an internal process—an inward change. Charity—Love—comes from within a person. Merely going through the actions of loving others, will have a limited effect on the world. To honestly cultivate genuine love for others opens our minds so that we—like the messianic figure of Isaiah’s prophecy—do not judge by appearances. Instead we open ourselves upon to the spirit of wisdom and a greater probability of judging righteously.

This internal, spiritual process can enlighten our minds—even when we are dealing with those who threaten us, harm us or unjustly use us.

“…make proposals for peace unto those who have smitten you, according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good.” (Doctrine & Covenants 105:40)

The Peaceable Kingdom envisioned by Isaiah will come about with the Advent of Christ’s Light in our hearts.

How narrow or broad is your idea of “Peace?”
How has your idea of “Peace” changed during the course of your life? What things have influenced that change?
Can the “Peace” envisioned in scripture be imposed by outside forces—even by God? If your answer is “yes”—why? If your answer is “no”—why?

SHARING FOOD FOR THOUGHT: In your conversations with three different family members or friends bring up this question:

How is Peace related to Justice? How is it related to Love?

Don’t argue; don’t attempt to convince or convert one another to any particular idea. Just discuss your thoughts openly and honestly. Seek to understand one another first and then try to make sure your ideas are understood. The objective is to create a bond between yourself and the other person in which such ideas can be expressed openly and without fear; in which each person can be true to what they believe while still feeling respected by the other person. The objective is to strengthen the sense of community between you and others.

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