Why The Book of Mormon

Why (Study) The Book of Mormon?

By Ken K. Gourdin

In the recently concluded General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, President Thomas S. Monson promised that members of the Church would be blessed if they will undertake a serious study one of the Church’s foundation Scriptures, the Book of Mormon. I responded in part:

Joseph Smith reported, “I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith (2007) 64, History of the Church 4:461) I take Brother Joseph’s “most correct” comment to mean that the Book of Mormon teaches the most correct principles in the clearest manner. As clearly as the Gospel is taught in many places in the Holy Bible, many of its more opaque concepts and precepts are elucidated much more clearly in the Book of Mormon.

As for “get[ting] nearer to God by abiding by its precepts,” who wouldn’t want to do that? I take a John 7:17 approach to such an invitation: Christ said, “If any man will do His will, he will know of the doctrine, whether it be of God or whether I speak of myself,” and I think that’s true of any man claiming to speak on God’s behalf, including (and especially, in many respects) Joseph Smith. And as for being the keystone of our religion, Dictionary.com (s.v. “keystone” http://www.dictionary.com/browse/keystone) and last accessed April 10, 2017) defines “keystone” as “the wedge-shaped piece at the summit of an arch, regarded as holding the other pieces in place,” and “something on which other things depend.” The Book of Mormon is the keystone of our religion in both of these senses.

President Ezra Taft Benson called the Book of Mormon “one of the most siginficant gifts given to the world in modern times” (General Conference, October 1986, “The Book of Mormon—Keystone of Our Religion”). President Benson goes on to say that the Lord Himself impressed upon us the importance of the Book of Mormon:

“By His own mouth He has borne witness (1) that it is true (D&C 17:6), (2) that it contains the truth and His words (D&C 19:26), (3) that it was translated by power from on high (D&C 20:8), (4) that it contains the fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ (D&C 20:9, D&C 42:12), (5) that it was given by inspiration and confirmed by the ministering of angels (D&C 20:10), (6) that it gives evidence that the holy scriptures are true (D&C 20:11), and (7) that those who receive it in faith shall receive eternal life (D&C 20:14).”

(Id.) Further, President Benson says that the Book of Mormon’s importance can be seen in where its coming forth occurred in the overall timetable of events comprising the restoration of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, noting that only Joseph Smith’s vision of the Father and the Son preceeded it (Id.) President Benson also notes that the Lord condemned the early Saints for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, quoting Doctrine and Covenants 84:54-57:

54 And your minds in times past have been darkened because of unbelief, and because you have treated lightly the things you have received—

55 Which vanity and unbelief have brought the whole church under condemnation.

56 And this condemnation resteth upon the children of Zion, even all.

57 And they shall remain under this condemnation until they repent and remember the new covenant, even the Book of Mormon and the former commandments which I have given them, not only to say, but to do according to that which I have written[.]

President Benson goes on to ask, if the Saints of the Restoration were condemned for treating the Book of Mormon lightly, whether we are under any less condemnation in our day if we do the same (Id.). I think the very fact that President Benson asks the question indicates that, no, we are under no less condemnation than were they if we treat the Book of Mormon lightly.

Regarding Joseph Smith calling the Book of Mormon the keystone of our religion, President Benson goes on to say that “a keystone is the central stone in an arch. It holds all the other stones in place and if [it is] removed, the arch crumbles.” (Id.) He goes on to cite three ways in which the Book of Mormon is “the keystone of our religion”: “It is the keystone in our witness of Christ. It is the keystone of our doctrine. It is the keystone of testimony.”

The Book of Mormon “is the keystone of our witness of Christ,” President Benson says, because “[i]t bears witness of His reality with power and clarity.” It is the keystone of our doctrine because “in the Book of Mormon we will find the fulness of those doctrines required for our salvation. And they are taught plainly and simply so that even children can learn the ways of salvation and exaltation.” And the Book of Mormon is the keystone of testimony because if the Book of Mormon were not true, then Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling is not divine, his claim to restored priesthood keys is fraudulent, and the restoration fails in toto. (See id.)

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ERISA and Charities

Should Charitable, Church-Run Organizations Be Subject to ERISA?  A “Yes” Answer Would Affect Their Ability to Carry Out Their Charitable Missions by Subjecting Them to Prohibitive Costs 

By Ken K. Gourdin

Salt Lake City’s Deseret News recently carried coverage from the Religion News Service’s Lauren Markoe about a “sleeper” United States Supreme Court case, Stapleton v. St. Peter’s Healthcare System, which has been scheduled for oral argument.  For Markoe’s coverage as carried by the News, see the following address (this and all other links accessed April 2, 2017):

http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865676523/Religiously-affiliated-hospital-pensions-at-the-center-of-Supreme-Court-case.html.

For the brief of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty as amicus curiae, see here:

http://www.becketlaw.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/Becket-SCOTUS-Merits-Amicus-Brief-in-Advocate-Health.pdf.

The case concerns ERISA, the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act, from which churches are exempt.  The question the Court will examine is to whether the exemption covers such church-sponsored institutions as hospitals.  Ruling that charitable, church-run organizations are subject to the Act would impose prohibitive costs upon them.

The article quotes Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund Eric Baxter, who notes:

To read the law [ERISA] as if it applies the exemption only to houses of worship wrongly separates hospitals and other religiously affiliated nonprofits from the faith that inspires them, said Baxter.

“Churches aren’t just organizations that conduct worship,” he said. “Churches go out and serve the [neediest] among us and they shouldn’t be penalized because they preach on Sunday and practice it during the week.”

After quoting the foregoing from Mr. Baxter, I responded:

Yes.  Free exercise of religion involves much more than simply being allowed to do and to say what one wishes within the walls of one’s holy place on one’s holy day.  Courts seem to have forgotten that in recent decades.  Let’s hope that in this case, the Court remembers

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Following the Holy Spirit & Happily-Ever-After Endings

On Following the Holy Spirit, and on Tidy, “Happily-Ever-After” Endings

By Ken K. Gourdin

Another poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion asks, essentially, what if someone follows a prompting that he perceives to be from the Holy Spirit, and doesn’t get a “happily-ever-after” ending? In response, I posted a slightly-altered excerpt from Morris Albert’s classic “Feelings” (Eunice Harper Higgins rendition, from the television show “Mama’s Family”): “Feeluns, nuthin’ more than feeluns, tryin’ to ferget mah feelins of the Spirit. Feeluns! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Feeluns! Whoa, whoa, whoa! Feeluns!”

Then I replied:

Frankly, I think the opening poster may have a point, to a point.  I doubt I would have undertaken the educational and attempted/intended/hoped-for career path that I have undertaken to this point without receiving what I felt at the time (and still do, misadventures and detours notwithstanding) was inspiration from the Spirit to do so.

I’ve written many times of undergoing two failed operations and waiting on an operating table to be put to sleep for a third operation, all within a span of 27 months, and receiving an unmistakeable impression that, ample reason for caution (if not for pessimism)  notwithstanding, when I awoke after this operation, it would be to the best possible outcome; and then of undergoing two more operations, the three later operations occurring within a span of about seventeen months, with similar results.

Why did the first two operations fail, setting me back physically, in some ways, permanently?  Why couldn’t they have been successful?  I dunno. :huh::unknw: Why was I more-or-less impelled along a certain career path, only to come full circle, now having had a job for about the last 20 months that is similar to the one I had for more than two years before I (after a couple of other detours) finally decided to try to escape by biting the bullet and applying to law school?  I dunno. :huh::unknw: 

It’s abundantly clear to me … since my last full-time job before starting law school, the job I got when I took a leave of absence from law school (because I still wasn’t sure about biting that bullet), and the job I have now have all involved answering phones, all day, every day (well, with respect to the job I have now, that’s mostly true: as much consternation as I might experience talking to customers, there’s another aspect of my job that involves mere transcription rather than two-way communication, and I like that even less) … that, sure, I could have avoided law school altogether (as long as I didn’t mind answering phones for the rest of my life. :rolleyes: )

All of this, after having received what I perceived as fairly clear (not unmistakeable, but fairly clear) direction to pursue a law degree (not “direction” in a “lack of free will/agency” sense, but that’s another discussion for another day); then, attending the temple and doing initiatories for the first time since I had received my own endowment nearly 20 years previously and after my application to the Bar had been denied, and having a particular passage (which talks about wielding a certain instrument in defense of certain values; if you have a temple recommend and you wonder what I’m talking about, go do initiatories and then PM me) strike me with unusual force; then, shortly before quitting my other most recent full time job in order to escape the wrath of She Who Could Not Possibly Be Pleased Yet Still Must Be Obeyed, attending an endowment session and sitting in a waiting room on a hot day after perspiring on the short walk into the temple with the air conditioning running full blast and feeling a distinct warm feeling (no, it wasn’t about whether I should quit the job or not …)

The only things that I keep coming back to are: (1) “Ken, don’t forget how you felt on an operating table on January 24 and February 14, 1984, and on June 7, 1985, respectively”; and (2) Whether I am ever licensed or not, whether I ever practice law (or do something else besides answer phones) or not, I would rather have a law degree than not have one.

I don’t know why things didn’t work out differently on October 23, 1981 and on June 23, 1982: essentially, I was the same person then as I was before the later three operations.  I don’t know why it seems I’m destined to answer phones, law degree notwithstanding.

Aren’t things supposed to work out better when one follows what he perceives to be the Spirit?  Isn’t the end of the story supposed to be, “And it came to pass that he followed the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and he lived happily ever after”?  Isn’t following the Spirit supposed to lead to less protracted stories with tidier endings?  Well …

Apparently not.  Ken, don’t forget how you felt on January 24 and February 14, 1984, and on June 7, 1985.

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LDS and Gender Identity

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints files Amicus Curiae Brief in Gender-Conflict Facilities Case: Might Something Other Than Mere Bias—Mere Bigotry—Underlie the Church’s Position? Yes; Here’s Why

By Ken K. Gourdin

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has come out in opposition to policies and laws which allow people to use a restroom which corresponds to their gender rather than to their outward biology. The Church of Jesus Christ has filed a brief as amicus curiae (sorry for the fancy Latin; occupational hazard: Amicus curiae means “friend of the court,” a brief filed by a party which, although it may not be a named party—e.g., plaintiff or defendant—in a particular case, has the same or similar interests in the case as a named party). See here for the brief, last accessed March 26, 2017: http://www.scotusblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/16-273-amicus-petitioner-major_religious_organizations.pdf. When another poster at Mormon Dialogue and Discussion asked how who uses what washroom has any impact on religious liberty, I responded:

Perhaps it doesn’t, at least, not directly.  However, there are various things which proponents of gay marriage, of allowing people to use facilities which correspond to their gender identity rather than to their biology, and so on, want those who don’t favor those things to ignore: Gay marriage, laws relating to gender identity (i.e., who uses which washroom), and so on, are Trojan horses for obliterating traditional marriage and for obliterating any legal distinction between men and women.  Such changes are not consistent with the doctrine of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which holds that men and women have divinely-appointed roles, that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, and that gender is an essential characteristic of premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

Obergefell v. Hodges, [576 U.S. _____] the decision of the United States Supreme Court which legalized gay marriage nationwide, will eventually have a pernicious effect, not only on the traditional family, but on religious liberty, as well: Although the Constitution’s Free Exercise clause states that “government shall make no law … abridging the free exercise [of religion],” the magnanimous grant of the Obergefell majority (consistent with the Court’s ongoing erosion of religious liberty which extends back more than a quarter-century (at least) to Employment Division v. Smith, a decision disfavoring the purportedly-religious practice of use of peyote as a religious sacrament in favor of allowing the government to impose restrictions upon purportedly-religious practice as long as those restrictions are of “general applicability” and as long as they only pose an “incidental burden,” whatever those phrases mean) that the devout may continue to “believe” and to “teach” as they wish with respect to chastity and to traditional marriage, is more narrow than the Constitution’s Free Exercise clause.

Allowing one to use a washroom which corresponds to his/her gender identity rather than to his/her biology ==> Eventually, no legal distinction between men and women; No legal distinction between men and women ==> No reason for allegedly-outmoded religious restrictions on chastity or on who should marry whom; No religious restrictions on chastity or on who should marry whom ==> No reason for allegedly-outmoded religiously motivated segregation between the sexes in student housing at faith-sponsored schools (or for limiting married student housing to opposite-sex married couples), along with a whole host of other completely common-sense gender-based policies. Yes, those who warn of the slippery slope are seen as less erudite by the illuminati who consider themselves more erudite legally and logically, but I doubt God cares.

When another poster opined that “[t]his is really not an issue of religion,” I responded:

Maybe not, but how that issue is addressed sure as heck can have more than an incidental impact on a religion which teaches that marriage between a man and a woman is ordained of God, that sex outside of marriage is wrong, and that gender is an essential characteristic of premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. [See The Family: A Proclamation to the World, available at the following address and last accessed March 26, 2017: https://www.lds.org/topics/family-proclamation?lang=eng&old=true.]

Another poster responded, “My take is that gender dysphoria is hellish enough … [Ellipses in original.] If we’re Christlike, we’ll try to help those individuals or at least not worsen everyday life for them.” I responded:

I’m puzzled as to why the best solution to the problem, though (at least according to those who are politically correct) is to put non-gender-conflicted children in a tough, embarrassing spot (there are so many adjectives I  could use here!) by allowing gender-conflicted children to use facilities which do not correspond to their outward biology.  We could simply offer single-use-at-a-time restrooms, but … no-no … that might hurt someone’s feelings.  I don’t have children, but I can’t imagine any parent being OK with putting their non-gender-conflicted child in such a tough (again, so many adjectives apply!) spot.

The poster whose inquiry prompted my first response then chimed back in, “So they have to build a new washroom? [No big deal.]” I responded:

You obviously don’t understand: Having a single-use-at-a-time washroom for gender-conflicted people/children might hurt the little darlings’ tender feelings. No, no. The only solution to the problem is to make everyone else uncomfortable by allowing those few who do face such conflict to use facilities which do not correspond to their outward biology.

Get with the program!

Another poster, who is much more sanguine than I am about the future of religious liberty in light of government coercion with respect to issues such as allowing the gender-conflicted to use facilities which correspond to their gender rather than to their outward biology, opined:

No one is going to force you to allow gays to use your restroom or the restrooms of your church building. Law makers always make exceptions for religious organizations that are acting as religious organizations. Laws won’t affect a church project or practice when “its purpose is the inculcation of religious beliefs.”

I responded:

I admire your sanguineness that the devout, their faiths, and associated institutions need not worry about any of the prospects I discussed in my foregoing post. I hope you’re right. For reasons I have already explained, however, I do not share your optimism, and I find your bare ipse dixit that things will work out … unconvincing … to say the least.

To another poster who opined that opposition by the Church of Jesus Christ to measures which blur gender lines (such as those under discussion here) is a waste of time, I responded:

As has already been noted, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is less concerned with who uses which restroom that it is with the ongoing overall effort to eliminate any gender-based legal distinctions. You obviously don’t agree that eliminating such distinctions is a problem; fine. However, even if you disagree that it’s a problem, for a Church which teaches that, ideally, men and women fulfill respective roles “by Divine Design” and that gender “is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose,” it’s certainly not logically inconsistent for such a Church to advocate positions which are consistent with that belief and to oppose those which are not.

Another poster questioned whether the positions of the Church of Jesus Christ should call into question its tax-exempt status. I replied:

To the best of my knowledge (though I welcome correction if I’m wrong) an organization adopting a particular position with respect to legislation, and urging its members to adopt a particular position with respect to legislation, does not violate the regulation you quoted.  The regulation would only be violated if leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ, were to say (e.g.), “We urge members to contact their local legislator for the purpose of persuading (or of dissuading) that legislator to vote for the measure under discussion.”

In any case, the Internal Revenue Service has been winking and nodding for decades at clergy who openly endorse or oppose candidates directly from the pulpit. It would be inconsistent (to say the least) for the IRS to announce that it now will pursue legal action against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for alleged activities which violate its tax exempt status, yet to continue to ignore churches and clergy who openly endorse or oppose candidates.

And since presidential executive orders have the force of legislation but do not go through the legislative process in which it is verboten for churches to participate, surely, you’re not suggesting that churches would simply need to shut up and suck it up if a president were to get a wild hair and order his Department of Education to start allowing students whose gender identity doesn’t match their outward biology to begin using restrooms based on the former rather than the latter, are you?

But of course, not to worry: That would never happen: https://greatgourdini.wordpress.com/2016/08/24/obama-gender-student-facilities-rule/. Would it?  :huh::unsure::unknw: 

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Basketball v. Life

Is Karl Malone’s Absence from the Recent Reunion of the Utah Jazz 1997 NBA Finals Team A “Slight”? Basketball is Just Basketball: Life is Life

By Ken K. Gourdin

The Utah Jazz recently had a 20-year reunion of their 1997 NBA Finals team, but, notably, their most notable player from that era, Karl Malone, was absent. Doug Robinson, sportswriter for Salt Lake City’s Deseret News, was much in arms at the supposed “slight.” Didn’t Mr. Malone owe it to his former teammates, to former team executives and coaches, and, most importantly, to fans, to see to it that his schedule permitted his attendance?

If [another poster] is correct that Mr. Malone made a prior commitment to someone else well in advance of the festivities planned by the Jazz (however worthy those festivities might be) [purportedly, the festivities that preempted his attendance were related to a low-income housing project with which he is involved in his home state of Louisiana], I’m glad he honored his commitment. Basketball is a great game. It (especially Jazz basketball) has provided me (and others, I’m sure) with indelible memories. But, silly T-shirt slogans to the contrary notwithstanding, it ain’t life. Basketball is just basketball. Why wasn’t Mr. Malone more up-front about his conflicting commitment? If he had described it in detail, surely, the “Karl-has-always been-all-about-Karl” crowd would simply have used it as more evidence of his alleged tendency toward self-promotion and self-centeredness. “Do not your alms before men …”

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Appropriate, Satisfying Confusion

A Word About “Appropriate,” “Satisfying” Confusion

By Ken K. Gourdin

Some time ago, BYU’s Dan Peterson, who blogs on Sic et non at Patheos and who specializes in the area, had a word about the terms “Near East” and “Middle East,” which seem, largely, to be interchangeable, and the term used simply depends on the preference of one’s interlocutor.

After his elucidation of the matter, Professor Peterson said he hoped he had helped readers of the blog. His comments are in quotation marks, and my responses follow:

“I hope that clarifies things.”

Alas, it doesn’t.

“Or, at least, that it confuses you in an appropriate and satisfying way.”

Now this, it does. This, it does. I am appropriately and satisfyingly confused! And since confusion about various aspects of my life is my default state, I’ve hit upon a metaphor for life (although I’m sure you weren’t intending this post to be taken to quite these lengths): Since it seems that I’m destined to be confused about various aspects of my life regardless, I might as well, at least, be “appropriately” and “satisfyingly” confused!

I’m reminded of the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthians: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair;

“Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9.

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Youth, Religion, and Disaffection

A Conversation About Youth Disaffection from Religion

By Ken K. Gourdin

In a thread about youth disaffection, both from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and from religion in general, I wrote:

For what little my input (as a non-parent) may be worth, I don’t want to be seen as trying to put lipstick on the pig of youth disaffection and dissociation from religion. Yes, it is a serious problem, for parents in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as for those of other denominations. That said, the Church of Jesus Christ and its leaders ought not be too eager to “solve” the problem by acceding to the direction of the prevailing winds on social issues. The Church is what it is precisely because of its willingness to take what are seen as unpopular stands on those issues. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it,” wrote the writer of Proverbs [. This scripture, of course, says nothing about a temporary departure or detour from the path when one is young.

We should reach out to those who become disaffected, with minds open enough to realize that if we saw the world as they do, if we gave utmost priority to the things that they do, likely, we would make the same decisions that they make and have made. At the same time, we should continue to have open arms and open hearts, ready and willing to welcome them back, if-and-when they choose to return. Whatever misgivings they may have about the unwillingness of the Church of Jesus Christ to compromise on fundamental, core doctrine, they may well realize that the only safe place, not only spiritually speaking but also, in a large sense, physically speaking, is among their fellow Saints. But if the Church of Jesus Christ compromises too much after the fashion of the world, there will be no safe place left for them to return to.

Later in the thread, I wrote that I feel that part of the key to retaining youth in full fellowship with the Church of Jesus Christ is full and effective implementation of the Church’s Sunday School youth curriculum, Come Follow Me. For more information on that curriculum, see here (this and all other links last accessed March 21, 2017): https://www.lds.org/youth/learn?lang=eng.

Those who are hardest to love are, whether they want to admit it or not, those who are most desperately in need of that love. More than one General Conference address has featured the miracle that happens when a teacher takes a genuine interest in a hard-to-love student and actually ministers to that student in a leaving-the-ninety-and-nine-and-seeking-the-one sense. And it sounds to me as though your ward “gets it”: It’s extremely difficult for one to demonstrate genuine love, interest, care, and concern for one’s students if one confines one’s interactions with them to asking “canned” questions from a lesson manual, or even by sticking slavishly to an outline of the sort provided in Come, Follow Me. I think one completely misses the boat if he says, regarding Come, Follow Me, [Sigh!] “Same ol’, same ol’!” Come, Follow Me miracles aren’t based on the “black letter” words on the page: They’re based on “between the lines” Spirit-led learning by teachers, and among teachers and students. The miracles happen outside of class, and inside of class based on what one has done to prepare (using the “Sunday School” answers) by studying one’s scriptures, praying about what one has studied to know how it applies specifically to his students in particular, and to one specific student, praying for his students by name, (as you mentioned) holding teacher councils to discuss effective teaching/ministering ideas and what to do about challenging students and situations, and so on. That kind of preparation leads to interactions in which the Spirit whispers to one “in the very hour, in the very moment” what he should say and do [see, e.g., Doctrine and Covenants 24:6 and 100:6].

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