Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Truth and Tolerance: Elder Dallin H. Oaks

I think this is a very timely talk by Elder Oaks.


Truth and Tolerance

CES Devotional for Young Adults, September 2011, 2011
CES Devotional for Young Adults • September 11, 2011 • Brigham Young University
My dear young brothers and sisters, Kristen and I feel privileged to be with you on this significant occasion. We meet on 9/11, the 10th anniversary of an event that has profoundly influenced our lives and thinking and will do so for many years to come. It is forever associated with the Twin Towers.
I have felt impressed to speak this evening about another set of twins, the twin ideas of Truth and Tolerance. These subjects were not chosen because they are uniquely your concern as young adults, like the dating, hanging out, and marriage I described to this audience some years ago. My treatment of truth and tolerance will invite you to consider and to teach these twin subjects because they are vital to the rising generation, in which you are the senior members.

We Believe in Absolute Truth

First: Truth. We believe in absolute truth, including the existence of God and the right and wrong established by His commandments. We sing:
Tho the heavens depart and the earth’s fountains burst,
Truth, the sum of existence, will weather the worst,
Eternal, unchanged, evermore.1
In the words of President Joseph F. Smith: “We believe in all truth, no matter to what subject it may refer. No sect or religious denomination in the world possesses a single principle of truth that we do not accept or that we will reject. We are willing to receive all truth, from whatever source it may come; for truth will stand, truth will endure.”2
The existence and nature of truth is one of the fundamental questions of mortal life. Jesus told the Roman governor Pilate that He came into the world to “bear witness unto the truth.” “What is truth?” that unbeliever responded (see John 18:37–38). In earlier times the Savior had declared, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). In modern revelation He declared: “Truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C 93:24).
My young brothers and sisters, we know that the existence of God and the existence of absolute truth are fundamental to life on this earth, whether they are believed or not. We also know that evil exists and that some things are simply, seriously, and everlastingly wrong. You whom I address shun evil and seek truth. I salute you for your righteous actions and your righteous desires. As an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, I seek to help you make right choices in a world that is increasingly polarized between belief and disbelief, between good and evil.
Shocking reports of large-scale thievery and lying in civilized societies in the last two months suggest a moral vacuum in which many have little sense of right and wrong. Last month’s widespread rioting and pillaging in Britain and the scandalous, widespread cheating by teachers on state-mandated tests in elementary and middle schools in Atlanta, Georgia, have caused many to wonder whether we are losing the moral foundation Western countries have received from their Judeo-Christian heritage.3

Beware of Moral Relativism

It is well to worry about our moral foundation. We live in a world where more and more persons of influence are teaching and acting out a belief that there is no absolute right and wrong, that all authority and all rules of behavior are man-made choices that can prevail over the commandments of God. Many even question whether there is a God.
The philosophy of moral relativism, which holds that each person is free to choose for himself what is right and wrong, is becoming the unofficial creed for many in America and other Western nations. At the extreme level, evil acts that used to be localized and covered up like a boil are now legalized and paraded like a banner. Persuaded by this philosophy, many of the rising generation—youth and young adults—are caught up in self-serving pleasures, pagan painting and piercing of body parts, foul language, revealing attire, pornography, dishonesty, and degrading sexual indulgence.
On the foundation belief in right and wrong, there is an alarming contrast between the older and the younger generations. According to survey data of two decades ago, “79 percent of American adults [believed] that ‘there are clear guidelines about what’s good and evil that apply to everyone regardless of the situation.’”4 In contrast, a more recent poll of college seniors suggests that “three-quarters of [them] believe that the difference between right and wrong is relative.”5
Many religious leaders teach the existence of God as the Ultimate Lawgiver, by whose action certain behavior is absolutely right and true and certain other behavior is absolutely wrong and untrue.6 Bible and Book of Mormon prophets foresaw this time, when men would be “lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God” (2 Timothy 3:4) and, indeed, when men would deny God (see Jude 1:42 Nephi 28:5Moroni 7:17D&C 29:22).
In this troubled circumstance, we who believe in God and the corollary truth of absolute right and wrong have the challenge of living in a godless and increasingly amoral world. In this circumstance, all of us—and especially you of the rising generation—have a duty to stand up and speak up to affirm that God exists and that there are absolute truths His commandments establish. In doing so, we Latter-day Saints rely on the truth we sing in the hymn I quoted earlier:
The pillar of truth will endure to the last,
And its firm-rooted bulwarks outstand the rude blast
And the wreck of the fell tyrant’s hopes.7
As I face this audience of committed young people, I know that some of you may be wondering why I am speaking about what is obvious to you and what, you might assume, is obvious to others. Recall the survey data I mentioned earlier, suggesting that about three-quarters of all college seniors believe the difference between right and wrong is relative.
I have chosen to speak about truth because teachers in schools, colleges, and universities are teaching and practicing relative morality. This is shaping the attitudes of many young Americans who are taking their places as the teachers of our children and the shapers of public attitudes through the media and popular entertainment. This philosophy of moral relativism denies what millions of believing Christians, Jews, and Muslims consider fundamental, and this denial creates serious problems for all of us. What believers should do about this introduces the second of my twin subjects: Tolerance.

Tolerance

Tolerance is defined as a friendly and fair attitude toward unfamiliar opinions and practices or toward the persons who hold or practice them. As modern transportation and communication have brought all of us into closer proximity to different peoples and different ideas, we have greater need for tolerance. When I was a young adult, about 60 years ago, it was only in books and magazines that most Americans were exposed to great differences in cultures, values, and peoples. Now we experience such differences in television and the Internet, through travel, and often in personal interactions in our neighborhoods and the marketplace.
This greater exposure to diversity both enriches our lives and complicates them. We are enriched by associations with different peoples, which remind us of the wonderful diversity of the children of God. But diversities in cultures and values also challenge us to identify what can be embraced as consistent with our gospel culture and values and what cannot. In this way diversity increases the potential for conflict and requires us to be more thoughtful about the nature of tolerance. What is tolerance, when does it apply, and when does it not apply?
This is a harder question for those who affirm the existence of God and absolute truth than for those who believe in moral relativism. The weaker one’s belief in God and the fewer one’s moral absolutes, the fewer the occasions when the ideas or practices of others will confront one with the challenge to be tolerant. For example, an atheist has no need to decide what kinds and occasions of profanity or blasphemy can be tolerated and what kinds should be confronted. Persons who don’t believe in God or in absolute truth in moral matters can see themselves as the most tolerant of persons. For them, almost anything goes. “You do your thing, and I’ll do my thing” is the popular description. This belief system can tolerate almost any behavior and almost any persons. Unfortunately, some who believe in moral relativism seem to have difficulty tolerating those who insist that there is a God who should be respected and certain moral absolutes that should be observed.

Three Absolute Truths for Tolerance

I will say no more about the tolerance or intolerance of nonbelievers. I am speaking to an audience of Latter-day Saints who believe in God and in absolute truth. What does tolerance mean to us and to other believers, and what are our special challenges in applying it?
I begin with three absolute truths. I express them as an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ, but I believe that most of these ideas are shared by believers generally.
First, all persons are brothers and sisters under God, taught within their various religions to love and do good to one another. President Gordon B. Hinckley expressed this idea for Latter-day Saints: “Each of us [from various religious denominations] believes in the fatherhood of God, although we may differ in our interpretations of Him. Each of us is part of a great family, the human family, sons and daughters of God, and therefore brothers and sisters. We must work harder to build mutual respect, an attitude of forbearance, with tolerance one for another regardless of the doctrines and philosophies which we may espouse.”8
Note that President Hinckley spoke of “mutual respect” as well as tolerance. Speaking at BYU a decade later, a Muslim scholar, Dr. Alwi Shihab, an Indonesian, elaborated that idea in these words: “To tolerate something is to learn to live with it, even when you think it is wrong and downright evil. … We must go, I believe, beyond tolerance if we are to achieve harmony in our world.”
Relying on the teachings of the Quran, Dr. Shihab continued: “We must respect this God-given dignity in every human being, even in our enemies. For the goal of all human relations—whether they are religious, social, political, or economic—ought to be cooperation and mutual respect.”9
Living together with mutual respect for one another’s differences is a challenge in today’s world. However—and here I express a second absolute truth—this living with differences is what the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us we must do.
The kingdom of God is like a leaven, Jesus taught (see Matthew 13:33). A leaven—yeast—is hidden away in the larger mass until the whole is leavened, which means raised by its influence. Our Savior also taught that His followers will have tribulation in the world, that their numbers and dominions will be small (see 1 Nephi 14:12), and that they will be hated because they are not of the world (see John 17:14). But that is our role. We are called to live with other children of God who do not share our faith or our values and who do not have the covenant obligations we have assumed. So it was that, at the conclusion of His ministry, Jesus prayed to the Father, “Not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). We are to be in the world, but not of the world.
Since followers of Jesus Christ are commanded to be a leaven—not to be taken out of the world, but to remain in it—we must seek tolerance from those who hate us for not being of the world. As part of this, we will sometimes need to challenge laws that would impair our freedom to practice our faiths, doing so in reliance on our constitutional rights to the free exercise of religion. As described by an attorney supporting a Lutheran school in a case now before the United States Supreme Court, the big concern is “the ability of people of all faiths to work out their relationship with God and one another without the government looking over their shoulder.”10 That is why we need understanding and support—including your understanding and support—when we must contend for religious freedom.
We must also practice tolerance and respect toward others. As the Apostle Paul taught, Christians should “follow after the things which make for peace” (Romans 14:19) and, as much as possible, “live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). Consequently, we should be alert to honor the good we should see in all people and in many opinions and practices that differ from our own. As the Book of Mormon teaches:
“All things which are good cometh of God. …
“… Wherefore, every thing which inviteth and enticeth to do good, and to love God, and to serve him, is inspired of God.
“Wherefore, take heed … that ye do not judge … that which is good and of God to be of the devil” (Moroni 7:12–14).
That approach to differences will yield tolerance and also respect.
Our tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs does not cause us to abandon our commitment to the truths we understand and the covenants we have made. That is a third absolute truth: We do not abandon the truth and our covenants. We are cast as combatants in the war between truth and error. There is no middle ground. We must stand up for truth, even while we practice tolerance and respect for beliefs and ideas different from our own and for the people who hold them.
While we must practice tolerance and respect for others and their beliefs, including their constitutional freedom to explain and advocate their positions, we are not required to respect and tolerate wrong behavior. Our duty to truth requires us to seek relief from some behavior that is wrong. This is easy to see when it involves extreme behaviors that most believers and nonbelievers recognize as wrong or unacceptable. For example, we must all deplore murder or other terrorist behavior, even when done by extremists in the name of religion. And we must all oppose violence and thievery.

The Two-Sided Coin of Tolerance and Truth

As to less extreme behaviors, where even believers disagree on whether or not they are wrong, the nature and extent of what we should tolerate is much more difficult to define. Thus, a thoughtful LDS woman wrote me about her concern that “the world’s definition of ‘tolerance’ seems to be increasingly used in relation to tolerating wicked lifestyles.” She asked how the Lord would define “tolerance.”11
President Boyd K. Packer gave an inspired introduction to this subject. Speaking to an audience of institute students three years ago, he said: “The word tolerance does not stand alone. It requires an object and a response to qualify it as a virtue. … Tolerance is often demanded but seldom returned. Beware of the word tolerance. It is a very unstable virtue.”12
This inspired caution reminds us that for persons who believe in absolute truth, tolerance for behavior is like a two-sided coin. Tolerance, or respect, is on one side of the coin, but truth is always on the other. You cannot possess or use the coin of tolerance without being conscious of both sides.
Our Savior applied this principle. When He faced the woman taken in adultery, Jesus spoke the comforting words of tolerance: “Neither do I condemn thee.” Then, as He sent her away, He spoke the commanding words of truth: “Go, and sin no more” (John 8:11). We should all be edified and strengthened by this example of speaking both tolerance and truth: kindness in the communication, but firmness in the truth.

Facing Profanity, Cohabitation, and Sabbath Breaking with Truth and Tolerance

Let us consider how to apply that example to some other behaviors. Another thoughtful LDS member wrote:
“In Mosiah 18:9 Alma tells us that when we are baptized we covenant ‘to stand as “witnesses” of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in.’ … What does this scripture mean for our day and how can it be applied by Latter-day Saints?
“Living in the mission field, I often hear the name of the Lord taken in vain, and I also have acquaintances who tell me that they are living with their boyfriends. I have found that observance of the Sabbath is almost obsolete. How can I keep my covenant to stand as a witness and not offend these people?”13
Profanity, cohabitation, and Sabbath breaking—excellent examples to illustrate how Latter-day Saints might balance their competing duties to truth and tolerance in their own lives in these difficult circumstances.
I begin with our personal conduct, including the teaching of our children. In applying the sometimes competing demands of truth and tolerance in these three behaviors and many others, we should not be tolerant with ourselves. We should be ruled by the demands of truth. We should be strong in keeping the commandments and our covenants, and we should repent and improve when we fall short.
As President Thomas S. Monson taught us in the conference where he was sustained as our prophet: “My young friends, be strong. … The face of sin today often wears the mask of tolerance. Do not be deceived; behind that fa├žade is heartache, unhappiness, and pain. You know what is right and what is wrong, and no disguise, however appealing, can change that. The character of transgression remains the same. If your so-called friends urge you to do anything you know to be wrong, you be the one to make a stand for right, even if you stand alone.”14
Similarly, with our children and others we have a duty to teach—such as in our Church callings—our duty to truth is paramount. Of course, teaching efforts only bear fruit through the agency of others, so they must always be done with love, patience, and persuasion.
I turn now to the obligations of truth and tolerance in our personal relations with associates who use profanity in our presence, who live with a partner out of wedlock, or who do not observe the Sabbath day appropriately. How should we react toward and communicate with them?
Our obligation to tolerance means that none of these behaviors—or others we consider deviations from the truth—should ever cause us to react with hateful communications or unkind actions. But our obligation to truth has its own set of requirements and its own set of blessings. When we “speak every man truth with his neighbour” (Ephesians 4:25), and when we “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) as the Apostle Paul taught, we are acting as servants of the Lord Jesus Christ, doing His work. Angels will stand with us, and He will send His Holy Spirit to guide us.
In this sensitive matter we should first consider whether or the extent to which we should communicate to our associates what we know to be true about their behavior. In most cases this decision can depend on how directly we are personally affected by it.
Profanity consistently used in our presence is an appropriate cause for us to communicate the fact that this is offensive to us. Profanity used out of our presence by nonbelievers probably would not be an occasion for us to confront the offenders.
Cohabitation we know to be a serious sin in which Latter-day Saints must not engage, whatever the circumstances. When practiced by those around us, it can be private behavior or something we are asked to condone, sponsor, or facilitate. In the balance between truth and tolerance, tolerance can be dominant where the behavior does not involve us personally. If the cohabitation does involve us personally, we should be governed by our duty to truth. For example, it is one thing to ignore serious sins when they are private; it is quite another thing to be asked to sponsor or impliedly endorse them, such as by housing them in our own homes.
On Sabbath observance, Latter-day Saints know that we are taught to observe the Sabbath day in a different way than many other Christians. Most of us are troubled by packed shopping centers and other commercial activities on the Sabbath. Perhaps we should explain our belief that our observance of the Sabbath, including our partaking of the sacrament, restores us spiritually and makes us better people for the rest of the week. Then, to other believers, we might express appreciation for the fact that we share common ground on what is most vital because each of us believes in God and in the existence of absolute truth, even though we differ in our definitions of these fundamentals. Beyond that, we should remember the Savior’s teaching that we should avoid contention (see 3 Nephi 11:29–30) and that our example and our preaching should “be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness” (D&C 38:41).
In all of this we should not presume to judge our neighbors or associates on the ultimate effect of their behaviors. That judgment is the Lord’s, not ours. Even He refrained from a final mortal judgment of the woman taken in adultery. Tolerance requires a similar refraining in our judgment of others.

Four Principles of Truth and Tolerance When Seeking Government Action

Having discussed the balancing of truth and tolerance in our personal behavior and in our relations with associates, I come to a different and more difficult circumstance. When believers enter the public square to try to influence the making or the administration of laws motivated by their beliefs, they should apply some different principles.
As young adults, you may wonder why I am speaking to you about the principles we should follow when we seek government action, such as by the legislature. You might say, “That is a matter for senior Church authorities to handle.” I describe these principles to you young adults because you are current members and future leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ, and you will need to decide these kinds of questions sooner than you think. You will need to understand how our efforts in the public square are informed by the balance between truth and tolerance.
Whether or how we might seek to obtain laws that would compel or influence behavior that we deem desirable because of our belief in God and His commandments is too large a subject for adequate treatment in the concluding few minutes of my talk. I will, therefore, limit myself to describing four paramount principles that should govern such an effort.
First, when believers in Jesus Christ take their views of truth into the public square, they must seek the inspiration of the Lord to be selective and wise in choosing which true principles they seek to promote by law or executive action. Generally, they should refrain from seeking laws or administrative action to facilitate beliefs that are distinctive to believers, such as the enforcement of acts of worship, even by implication. Believers can be less cautious in seeking government action that would serve principles broader than merely facilitating the practice of their beliefs, such as laws concerning public health, safety, and morals.
In any event, as defenders of the faith, believers can and must seek laws that will preserve religious freedom. Along with the ascendancy of moral relativism, the United States is experiencing a disturbing reduction in overall public esteem for religion. Once an accepted part of American life, religion is now suspect in the minds of many. To them it has become something that must prove its legitimacy as a part of our public life. Some influential voices even question the extent to which our constitution should protect the free exercise of religion, including the right to practice and preach religious principles.
This is a vital matter on which we who believe in a Supreme Being who has established absolute right and wrong in human behavior must unite to insist on our time-honored constitutional rights to exercise our religion, to vote our consciences on public issues, and to participate in elections and debates in the public square and in the halls of justice. In doing so we stand with angels. We must also stand shoulder to shoulder with other believers to preserve and strengthen the freedom to advocate and practice our religious beliefs, whatever they are. For this purpose we must walk together on the same path in order to secure our freedom to pursue our separate ways when that is necessary according to our separate beliefs. Guided by heaven in this righteous cause, our words will be sweet and find place in the hearts of many.
Second, when believers seek to promote their positions in the public square, their methods and their advocacy should always be tolerant of the opinions and positions of others who do not share their beliefs. We should not add to the extremism that divides our society. As believers, we must always speak with love and show patience, understanding, and compassion toward our adversaries. Christian believers are under command to love their neighbors (seeLuke 10:27), to forgive (see Matthew 18:21–35), and to do good to those who despitefully use them (see Matthew 5:44). They should always remember the Savior’s teaching that we “bless them that curse [us], do good to them that hate [us], and pray for them which despitefully use [us], and persecute [us]” (Matthew 5:44).
As believers, we should also frame our arguments and positions in ways that contribute to the reasoned discussion and accommodation that are essential to democratic government in a pluralistic society. By this means we will contribute to the civility that is essential to preserve our civilization.
Third, believers should not be deterred by the familiar charge that they are trying to legislate morality. Many areas of the law are based on Judeo-Christian morality and have been for centuries. Our civilization is based on morality and cannot exist without it. As John Adams declared: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”15
Fourth, believers should not shrink from seeking laws to maintain public conditions or policies that assist them in practicing the requirements of their faith where those conditions or policies are also favorable to the public health, safety, or morals. For example, even though religious beliefs are behind many criminal laws, and some family laws, such laws have a long-standing history of appropriateness in democratic societies. But where believers are in the majority, they should always be sensitive to the views of the minority.
We Latter-day Saints are sometimes accused of being self-righteous and intolerant of others, especially where we are in the majority or where others are in the majority and our beliefs cause us to oppose them. Surely Latter-day Saints do need to be more wise and skillful in explaining and pursuing our views and in exercising our influence when we have it.
That is the spirit of the two-sided coin of truth and tolerance. President Thomas S. Monson has provided an excellent example of the practice of these twin virtues. Throughout his life he has been exemplary in reaching out and working with the members and leaders of other faiths in cooperative efforts on matters of common interest and in the Christian fellowship and concern that have no denominational boundaries.16
Finally, the spirit of our balance of truth and tolerance is applied in these words of President Gordon B. Hinckley: “Let us reach out to those in our community who are not of our faith. Let us be good neighbors, kind and generous and gracious. Let us be involved in good community causes. There may be situations, there will be situations, where, with serious moral issues involved, we cannot bend on matters of principle. But in such instances we can politely disagree without being disagreeable. We can acknowledge the sincerity of those whose positions we cannot accept. We can speak of principles rather than personalities.”17

The Gift to Know and the Gift to Believe

I close with this assurance and this testimony:
The Bible teaches that one of the functions of a prophet is to be a “watchman” to warn Israel (see Ezekiel 3:1733:7). In revelation the Lord added this parable for modern Zion: “Set … a watchman upon the tower,” who will “[see] the enemy while he [is] yet afar off” and give warning to save the “vineyard from the hands of the destroyer” (D&C 101:45, 54).
I have spoken to you as one of those watchmen on the subject the Spirit has assigned me. I assure you that my message is true. If you have doubts about this, or if you have questions about how to apply these principles in your own life, I urge you to seek guidance from the same source.
On the broader question being widely agitated by the atheists of our day, I proclaim my knowledge that God lives! His creations witness His existence, and His servants hear and proclaim His voice. Modern revelation teaches that some have the gift “to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, … crucified for the sins of the world,” and that it is given to others “to believe on their words” (D&C 46:13–14). As one who knows, I invite you to believe on my words.
I testify of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the vineyard. He is our Savior, and He reaches out to each of us with the timeless invitation to receive His peace by learning of Him and by walking in His way (see D&C 19:23):
“Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
“Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
“For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

    Notes

  1.   1. 
    “Oh Say, What Is Truth?” Hymns, no. 272.
  2.   2. 
    Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. (1939), 1.
  3.   3. 
    See “Anarchy in the UK,” The Economist, Aug. 13, 2011, 14; Patrick Jonsson, “Is the US a Nation of Liars?” The Christian Science Monitor, July 25, 2011, 20.
  4.   4. 
    Stephen L. Carter, The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion (1993), 225.
  5.   5. 
    “Campus Confidential,” The Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2002, W11.
  6.   6. 
    See, for example, John Paul II: The Encyclicals in Everyday Language, 3rd ed., ed. Joseph G. Donders (2005), 210–13; Harold Kushner, Who Needs God (1989), 83–84.
  7.   7. 
    “Oh Say, What Is Truth?” Hymns, no. 272.
  8.   8. 
    Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley (1997), 665.
  9.   9. 
    Alwi Shihab, Building Bridges to Harmony Through Understanding (forum address at Brigham Young University, Oct. 10, 2006), http://speeches.byu.edu/reader/reader.php?id=11324.
  10.   10. 
    Eric Rassbach, quoted in William McGurn, “Religion and the Cult of Tolerance,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16, 2011, A11.
  11.   11. 
    Letter to Dallin H. Oaks, May 14, 1998.
  12.   12. 
    Boyd K. Packer, “Be Not Afraid” (address at the Ogden Institute of Religion, Nov. 16, 2008), 5; see also Bruce D. Porter, “Defending the Family in a Troubled World,” Ensign, June 2011, 12–18.
  13.   13. 
    Letter to Dallin H. Oaks, Dec. 22, 1987.
  14.   14. 
    Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Apr. 2008, 66; or Ensign, May 2008, 65.
  15.   15. 
    John Adams, from an address to officers of the militia of Massachusetts, Oct. 11, 1798, in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, ed. Charles Francis Adams, 10 vols. (1856), 9:229.
  16.   16. 
    See Heidi S. Swinton, To the Rescue: The Biography of Thomas S. Monson (2010), especially chapters 25 and 28 and pages 462–63.
  17.   17. 
    Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 662.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Making a Case for Repentance

I woke up about 4:30 this morning thinking about the topic of the importance of repentance.  Through the years I've written this blog, I have had many conversations with people about this topic.  The trend in Christianity today is to believe that repentance isn't necessary; that belief in Jesus Christ is sufficient.  I would like to make the case for the need for, and blessing of repentance.

To understand why repentance is crucial, we must first understand the nature of God, and our relationship to Him.  Once we understand who He is, and who we are, we will begin to appreciate repentance, and why it is so important.  I have a friend who told me that her family believes that it is a "slap in the face of Jesus" to say that we need repentance.  Somehow they believe that it takes away from His atonement.  But to really understand what repentance means, is to understand why it is crucial in the plan of salvation.

WHAT IT MEANS TO BE GOD

To understand repentance, we must first understand what the word "God " means.  Inherent in this word is the understanding that God is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowing (omniscient), merciful, kind, and just. To cease to be any of these things would be a contradiction of the very meaning of "God".  God has many other godly traits, some of which I will discuss further.

WE ARE CHILDREN OF GOD

An important teaching to understand is that we are the literal spirit children of God.  "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God:  And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together."  Romans 8:16,17  As our parent, God wants us to grow and develop and to become more like Him.  What parent would give rules to a child and then not expect them to keep them?  And what parent would not give consequences for disobedience?  Because He is our Heavenly Father, God wants us to become better people.    Repentance is essential for us to change and overcome our weaknesses of character.  

GOD GIVES LAWS, REWARDS, AND PUNISHMENTS

From the beginning of time, God has given commandments.  He has also established that there will be a punishment for sin.  If there were no punishment, then the law would not be able to be enforced.    In the Book of Mormon, this principle is explained;  "And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement—  
And if ye shall say there is no law, ye shall also say there is no sin. If ye shall say there is no sin, ye shall also say there is no righteousness. And if there be no righteousness there be no happiness. And if there be no righteousness nor happiness there be no punishment nor misery. And if these things are not there is no God. And if there is no God we are not, neither the earth; for there could have been no creation of things, neither to act nor to be acted upon; wherefore, all things must have vanished away."  2 Nephi 2:10. 13

GOD IS JUST

One of the key points about the nature of God is found in the Book of Mormon, "...the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance."  Alma 45:16  If God permits sin, any any degree, He ceases to be just.  Justice requires a penalty for sin.  Some may say that Jesus Christ already paid that penalty, and that no more is required of us.  But by wiping out the sin, with no expectations for repentance on our part, Christ's atonement would not help us to overcome the personality traits that caused us to sin in the first place.  So requiring repentance is actually more just, and more merciful.  

GOD IS MERCIFUL

Repentance not only allows us the chance to change, it helps us to learn to overcome the traits that caused us to sin in the first place.  Without this process of change, we could not learn to overcome our weaknesses.  Repentance, therefore, makes Christ's atonement merciful.  Christ has already paid the price for the sin, but we must access it through repentance.  By repenting, and truly changing, we become better creatures, and are less likely to sin again.  This is a gospel of improvement.  This is a gospel that helps us to become more like God.  If we were allowed to simply follow along and sin, but be forgiven without any consequence, then we would not change, and God's plan for our growth would be frustrated.  True mercy happens when we are allowed the chance to change.


GOD IS THE SAME YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND FOREVER.

Another trait of God is that He is constant.  In the Book of Mormon we read, "For do we not read that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and in him there is no variableness neither shadow of changing?"  Mormon 9:9  We can always count on God to fulfill His promises.  We can always count on God to remain unchanging in the way He treats us.

God has always given commandments, and has always expected us to obey them.  If we are obedient, we will be rewarded in heaven.  If we are not obedient, we must suffer the punishment.  

In the Book of Mormon, the prophet Alma gives a discourse about the subject of repentance, with relation to justice and mercy.  I will quote only a part here:



"20 ... if there was no law given against sin men would not be afraid to sin.
 21 And if there was no law given, if men sinned what could justice do, or mercy either, for they would have no claim upon the creature?
 22 But there is a law given, and a punishment affixed, and a repentance granted; which repentance, mercy claimeth; otherwise, justice claimeth the creature and executeth the law, and the law inflicteth the punishment; if not so, the works of justice would be destroyed, and God would cease to be God.
 23 But God ceaseth not to be God, and mercy claimeth the penitent, and mercy cometh because of the atonement; and the atonement bringeth to pass the resurrection of the dead; and the resurrection of the dead bringeth back men into the presence of God; and thus they are restored into his presence, to be judged according to their works, according to the law and justice.
 24 For behold, justice exerciseth all his demands, and also mercy claimeth all which is her own; and thus, none but the truly penitent are saved.
 25 What, do ye suppose that mercy can rob justice? I say unto you, Nay; not one whit. If so, God would cease to be God."  Alma 42:20-25
Repentance does not take away from the great atonement that was made for us.  In fact, repentance; the opportunity to rid ourselves of sin, is part of the great mercy of the atonement of Jesus Christ.
The prophet Alma further taught;
"15 And thus he shall bring salvation to all those who shall believe on his name; this being the intent of this last sacrifice, to bring about the bowels of mercy, which overpowereth justice, and bringeth about means unto men that they may have faith unto repentance.
 16 And thus mercy can satisfy the demands of justice, and encircles them in the arms of safety, while he that exercises no faith unto repentance is exposed to the whole law of the demands of justice; therefore only unto him that has faith unto repentance is brought about the great and eternal plan of redemption.
 17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to callupon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;"  Alma 34:15-17
I am thankful for the gift of the atonement, which includes the gift of repentance.   I am thankful for the Savior who was the only sinless one worthy to pay the price for the sins of mankind.  I am thankful for a just and merciful God who gave us this wonderful plan of salvation that allows us the chance to repent, and helps us to become more like Him, so that we can qualify to live with Him again some day.



Monday, March 18, 2013

The "Mormon Effect" by Mike Jensen


Although this article is political in nature, I thought that the writer did such a great job of explaining our beliefs that I wanted to share it.  It was shared by the "Federalist Press".

The “Mormon Effect”

Reprinted from “SMART MORMONS,” By Mike Jensen, January 22, 2013
During the 2012 presidential campaign, that awesomely deep well of perpetual wisdom, Alec Baldwin, proclaimed that if Barack Obama were not black, his vote total would have been 20 percent higher.
mormon_templePeople of real intelligence realize that the opposite was probably true: if he had been white, his vote total would have been 20 percent lower. The African-American voting bloc combined with enough whites suffering from liberal guilt guaranteed a higher vote total for Obama.
The truth of the matter is, if Mitt Romney had not been a Mormon, his vote total might very well have been significantly higher.
In fact, according to a Gallop poll released in June of last year, while 4 percent of people said they would not vote for a black president, a full 22 percent said they would not vote for a Mormon. In fact, only atheists and gays ranked higher.
So Baldwin probably had it backwards, which he usually does, so that comes as no surprise.
What did come as a surprise to me is why people would have such negative views of Mormons. I have known lots of them in my life, and in most cases they have been hard-working, kind, generous family-oriented people—just the kind of people this country used to value (and maybe that’s the problem right there.)
Mormons have intrigued me ever since Mike Huckabee back in 2007 claimed that Mormons believe that Jesus and Satan are brothers. With the recent election over, I decided to check out Mormons a bit more.
My hope in doing this was to explain to readers who Mormons are and whether or not 22 percent of the people were justified in opposing having a Mormon president.
But instead I’m going to share an intriguing bit of Mormon theology I learned that I think makes them perhaps the most politically wise human beings on the planet. Ironically, this story stems from that Huckabee quote about the relationship between Jesus and the devil, but the lesson to be learned is one that, regardless of our political or religious views, we would all be wise to consider.
So here’s what I learned: Mormons, unlike most other Christian sects, believe that all humans lived a life before mortality. They call this the pre-existence or pre-earth life. At birth a veil is placed over our minds so that we don’t remember it (you’ll see why in a minute).
In this pre-earth life, we were all in the presence of God as His spirit children. Jesus was there—the first-born of God’s spirit children, and a leader in the councils in Heaven. Lucifer was also there, and was another leader among the children of God. He was called a “son of the morning.”
At some point in this existence, the Father called all of His children together to explain how things worked. All of His children would have to leave His presence and come to earth for a period of testing. The goal was to see if we would live a righteous life even when we had to live by faith, as we would no longer be able to remember God or heaven (that’s the reason for the veil).
If we would live a righteous life, we would be given the opportunity to return and live with God forever. Otherwise we would forfeit that chance, because no unclean thing can live in God’s presence. However, God knew that we would all make mistakes, so he would provide a Savior for the world. This Savior would live a sinless life, and because of that, he would qualify to pay for the sins of the world through what would be called the “Atonement.” If people would sincerely repent of their sins, then the Atonement would essentially erase their sins, and they could still return and live with God. The Father called for volunteers to be this savior, and two stepped forward: Jesus and Lucifer.
mormon_conferenceLucifer said that he would be the savior and he would force everybody to live righteously, thus guaranteeing that all of God’s spirit children would return to Him in heaven [and he, Lucifer would receive all the credit/glory]. Jesus said that He would follow the Father’s plan and allow God’s children their free agency [and all the glory would go to God]. They could choose for themselves whether to live righteously and take advantage of the Atonement or whether to live in sin and forfeit the opportunity to return and live with God.
God rejected Lucifer’s plan, causing Lucifer to rebel and declare war on God. One-third of God’s spirit children joined Lucifer in this rebellion. In the end, the rebellion failed and Lucifer and his followers were cast out of heaven. They came to earth without bodies and now, continuing the war they started in heaven, they tempt men to do evil to one another and lose out on the chance to return to God. [Luke 10:18; Revelation 12:9; Isaiah 14:12]
PAY ATTENTION HERE; THIS IS THE GOOD PART
Now, any traditional Christians reading this will see similarities to their own belief system. Most traditional Christians believe that Lucifer lived in heaven as an angel, but then declared war on God and was cast out. However, the causes for that war are not necessarily clear in traditional Christian theology.
That is where Mormon theology is so intriguing. For Mormons, the greatest of all battles, the war in heaven, was fought over LIBERTY—or as they call it, “free agency.”Lucifer wanted to take it away, while God demanded that humans have it.
Although a Mormon might balk at my making comparisons between their religious beliefs and modern politics (and as I said earlier, every Mormon I’ve ever known was a very good person, so I apologize to any I offend), I see a direct correlation here. For a Mormon, the battle for liberty is not unique to this life; it is the core battle of the ages. Lucifer lost the war in heaven (he really thought he could beat God?), but the war continues on earth. So seeing the government become more and more tyrannical is not just a political concern; it’s a fundamental, eternal concern.
I’m inspired by this Mormon theological idea: God intended for humans to be free to make our own choices and live with the consequences of those choices. The Founding Fathers of this country said essentially the same thing in the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evidence, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
My study of Mormonism has not only given me newfound respect for this people and their religion; it has also made me evaluate my own attitude towards the liberty that seems to be slipping through all of our fingers. Is this just something that is nice to have, and for which I thank the Founding Fathers? Or is it really something that is endowed by God, and that He expects me to fight for. According to Mormon theology, I already fought for this once. The fact that I’m here says that I was on God’s side in the war in heaven, and fought for liberty.
A Mormon might ask, why should any of us be less willing to fight for it here than we were there?