Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Church and Race

Find the official statement here. I quote:

The gospel of Jesus Christ is for everyone. The Book of Mormon states, “black and white, bond and free, male and female; … all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33). This is the Church’s official teaching.

People of all races have always been welcomed and baptized into the Church since its beginning. In fact, by the end of his life in 1844 Joseph Smith, the founding prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opposed slavery. During this time some black males were ordained to the priesthood. At some point the Church stopped ordaining male members of African descent, although there were a few exceptions. It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended. Church leaders sought divine guidance regarding the issue and more than three decades ago extended the priesthood to all worthy male members. The Church immediately began ordaining members to priesthood offices wherever they attended throughout the world.

The Church unequivocally condemns racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. In 2006, then Church president Gordon B. Hinckley declared that “no man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church. Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children.”

Recently, the Church has also made the following statement on this subject:

“The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine.”

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Face Cards

It is sometimes surprising to see how passionate a discussion over something as small and simple as face cards can become. I'm not sure why that is, but to make this post as clear and authoritative as possible I've split it into three sections: quotes from Church leaders, reaction and underlying principles.

Section I: Quotes

Let's start with a few that are clearly doctrine and the position of the Church:

Joseph F. Smith
While a simple game of cards in itself may be harmless, it is a fact that by immoderate repetition it ends in an infatuation for chance schemes, in habits of excess, in waste of precious time, in dulling and stupor of the mind, and in the complete destruction of religious feeling. These are serious results, evils that should and must be avoided by the Latter-day Saints. Then again, there is the grave danger that lurks in persistent card playing, which begets the spirit of gambling, of speculation and that awakens the dangerous desire to get something for nothing (President Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era, Vol. 6, August, 1903, p. 779).

Card playing is an intoxicating and therefore, in the nature of a vice. It is generally the companion of the cigaret and wine glass.....A deck of cards in the hands of a faithful servant of God is a satire upon religion...Those who thus indulge are not fit to administer in sacred ordinance...The bishops are charged with the responsibility for the evil and it is their duty to see that it is abolished...No man who is addicted to card playing should be called to act as a ward teacher.....Card playing is a game of chance and because it is a game of chance it has its tricks. It encourages tricks.... (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., pp. 328-332) .

Spencer W. Kimball
We hope faithful Latter-day Saints will not use the playing cards which are used for gambling, either with or without the gambling. As for the gambling, in connection with horse racing or games or sports, we firmly discourage such things (President Spencer W. Kimball, "God Will Not Be Mocked", October 1974 General Conference).

One's character may be determined in some measure by the quality of one's amusements. Men and women of industrious business-like, and thoughtful habits care little for frivolous pastimes, for pleasures that are sought for their own sake. It is not easy to imagine that leading men in the Church would find any pleasure that was either inspiring or helpful at the card table (President Joseph F. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed., Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1939, p. 329).

Dallin H. Oaks
One type of gambling that has been vigorously criticized by our leaders is card playing. Cards may, of course, be played without playing for money, but the relationship between card playing and gambling is so close and the practice of card playing itself partakes of so many of the disadvantages of gambling that card playing has come under condemnation regardless of whether or not gambling is involved (Dallin H. Oaks, November 1972 Ensign).

The next pair are from private writings of church leaders which may be useful for their insights but cannot officially be called doctrine:

Bruce R. McConkie
It follows that if members of the Church believe false doctrines; if they accept false educational theories; if they fall into the practices and abominations of the sectarians; if they use tea, coffee, tobacco or liquor; if they fail to pay an honest tithing; if they find fault with the Lord's anointed; if they play cards; if they do anything contrary to the standards of personal righteousness required by the gospel -- then to that extent they are in personal apostasy and need to repent. Members of the Church should not belong to bridge or other type of card clubs, and they should neither play cards nor have them in their homes. By cards is meant, of course, the spotted face cards used by gamblers. To the extent that church members play cards they are out of harmony with their inspired leaders. Innocent non-gambling games played with other types of cards, except for the waste of time in many instances, are not objectionable. (Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, 2d ed., p. 113).

It must be added that relaxation from the regular duties of the day is desirable and necessary for human well-being. Wholesome games of recreation are advocated by all right-minded people. Moreover, the objections [to card playing] are not directed against the many and various card games on the market not employing the usual "playing cards." Most of these furnish innocent and wholesome recreation, and many are really instructive. It is true that they may be played to excess, but in fact it seldom happens. This is true even when such cards are used in games imitating those with 'playing cards.' It is true that such cards may be used for gambling purposes, but in fact it is almost never done. The pall of evil seems to rest upon the 'playing cards' handed down to us from antiquity (John A. Widtsoe, Evidences and Reconciliations, Murray & Gee, 1943, pp. 218-19).

And finally, here are a few that I found quoted online but without verifiable sources.

It has been observed through centuries of experience that the habit of card playing becomes fixed upon a person and increases until he feels that a day without a game of cards is incomplete. After an afternoon or evening at card-playing, nothing has been changed, no new knowledge, thoughts, or visions have come, no new hopes or aspirations have been generated, except for another opportunity to waste precious hours. It leads nowhere; it is a dead-end road. Dull and deadly is a life which does not seek to immerse itself in the rapidly moving stream of new and increasing knowledge and power. Time is required to ‘keep up with the times.’ We dare not waste time on pastimes that starve the soul. ~Elder John A. Widtsoe

The Church, as a church, requests its members not to play cards. ~ President Heber J. Grant

Burn up playing cards if you have any. ~ President Brigham Young

Let all chance games be banished from our families. ~ President Joseph F. Smith

Section II: Reaction

There is no shortage of clarity on the issue of face cards from past church leaders. They've provided several reasons to avoid using face cards. The bottom line is, regardless of how you or I feel about face cards, our decision to use or abstain from using face cards is simply one more chance to follow and sustain the prophet or to fall short of our covenants to do so. For something that seems as trivial or even as silly as face cards, this is some heavy stuff. The strong language in the quotes above made that abundantly clear.

Interestingly, my experience suggests the most common reactions to teachings such as these on playing cards tends to be emotionally charged in one of two directions. One is the guilty or perhaps just overwhelmed approach. People in this group say things like, "I've got a lot of bigger things to worry about before I think about face cards". They're probably right, but that's beside the point. These people begin their comments with a confession and usually share a story of how they played cards growing up or on their mission or in some other way so that they're now immune from any negative consequences.

The second emotionally charged response is to mock. This group tries to minimize the importance of the teaching by saying things like, "this is only for uptight Mormons; it's really not a big deal". Like the first group, these people know that changing the cards they play with is easy to do, but they choose not to anyway.

A third, much less charged response is to accept and follow. I liked the logic of one blogger I found who had this to say:

It seems silly you know? Are times different now?  Are face cards not as threatening as they were then?  I don't know.  But I know this.  If it's another way that I can bring the Spirit in more fully to my home then sign me up!!!

These three responses are the same responses that come out in discussions about movies, modesty, coffee and tea, earrings, full church block attendance, etc. As a group, these topics and others like them find common ground in a desire to be 'normal', or like the rest of the world.

Section III: Principles

Of course, the doctrine regarding the righteous man or woman's place in the world is also well established, and it doesn't leave a lot of room for conformity. A few scriptures spring to mind:

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other ; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24.

For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord. Mosiah 3:19.

Behold, I, the Lord, who was crucified for the sins of the world, give unto you a commandment that you shall forsake the world. Doctrine and Covenants 53:2.

I give not unto you that ye shall live after the manner of the world. Doctrine and Covenants 93:13.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Revelation 3:16.

So here we are. It seems like such a minor thing, at least in the context the world has given us. Perhaps it is not unlike when the children of Israel were bitten by serpents and only had to look to be healed. Because of the easiness of the task, many perished (1 Nephi 17:41). The decision is left up to us. We choose to obey or not to obey. We decide how important the prophets' words are in our lives.

Our decision may depend some on our view of commandments and counsel in general. If we believe that the guidelines and prophetic teachings in the church are restrictive or somehow an attempt to control our behavior, we misunderstand them. God cannot break his own laws. Rather, just as a conversation with a billionaire would leave us with some tips for wealth-building success, the commandments of God are necessary steps to a successful life from a loving Heavenly Father who has achieved the greatest success life can bring. Obedience to his counsel will bring happiness, prosperity and exaltation.

The leaders of the church have highlighted the negative effects of playing cards. The scriptures teach that we should not live the way the world lives. Both sources are inspired by God, who knows best how to achieve success in life. Then the question comes: Is it really going to make a difference whether we use face cards or some other kind of cards?

Well, I don't know. But I'll tell you this: I'm willing to bet on it.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nephi's Purpose

The different writers in the Book of Mormon offer many different reasons for contributing to the ancient record. Its editor-in-chief, Mormon, wrote that the Book of Mormon was written as a second witness to the Bible (Mormon 7:8-10). The title page includes many reasons, including reminding men of the great things God has done and "to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that Jesus is the Christ".

Nephi, the first author in the Book of Mormon, explains one of his purposes in writing in the very first chapter of the book. After relating how his father was called, served and rejected as a prophet-- along with numerous others called of God in Jerusalem-- he states:

But behold, I, Nephi, will show unto you that the tender mercies of the Lord are over all those whom he hath chosen, because of their faith, to make them mighty even unto the power of deliverance.

There are many messages in this single sentence. One is the message of a merciful god. Another might be that we are chosen and extended mercy based upon our faithfulness. Still another may be that we can become mighty if we have faith and the grace of God.

A message that stands out to me in this passage is the role of agency in our path to deliverance. Even with faith and the grace of God, Nephi aims to show us through his experiences that we are not automatically delivered but rather given the strength and power necessary to bring about deliverance. In other words, though God may give us strength, we must still choose how that strength is used. God will not force our salvation. Though God may give us insight, we must choose to use that insight to build our testimonies. Though God may extend tender mercies without number, it is our decision to take action and make our goals reality.

Nephi exemplifies this principle throughout his life. The Lord preserved his brothers from the hands of Laban, but Nephi had to choose to make another attempt to get the plates. The Lord guided Nephi through his encounters with Laban and with Zoram, but Nephi had to choose to obey the spirit. He gave Nephi power to expound the truth to his brothers, but Nephi had to choose to open his mouth even when it angered them. The Lord taught Nephi how to build a ship that could cross the ocean, but Nephi had to construct the tools, make the bellows and build the ship.

When times got tough, Nephi chose to remember the tender mercies he had received and gather strength from the memory of them. When his heart groaned inside, he responded resoundingly: "I know in whom I have trusted. My God hath been my support; he hath led me through mine afflictions...filled me with his love...confounded mine enemies...heard my cry...[and] given me knowledge... O then, if I have seen so great things, if the Lord in his condescension unto the children of men hath visited men in so much mercy, why should my heart weep and my soul linger in the valley of sorrow, and my flesh waste away, and my strength slacken, because of mine afflictions?" (2 Nephi 4:17-35).

Like Nephi, it is given to us to choose. Each of us may experience the tender mercies of the Lord in our lives. How do we respond? Do we remember the prompting to spend more time with the kids when the boss asks if we can work more overtime this week? When we cannot see what lies ahead do we trust that God will see us through? Are we willing to share the testimonies God has given us and remember the special experiences that helped it grow?

Whatever tender mercies the Lord has blessed us with, the full benefit of God's grace often relies upon our righteous use of agency. We must choose to use the many tools he has given us to allow our experiences to buoy up our spirits and those around us. If we will do so, we can become mighty, as Nephi was mighty, to not only the power of deliverance but also to the ultimate goal of deliverance itself. We can be free from sin and death and return to live with our Heavenly Father through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Reaching that destination requires working together with the Lord and a great deal of his grace, but it is possible if we will choose that path.

This is the message of agency and empowerment that inspired Nephi to make his record in the Book of Mormon. His efforts were guided by the Lord and his words are true. With prayerful study, I hope that Nephi's reason for writing may also become our reason for reading-- that through the guidance of the scriptures we may have the opportunity to act in faith and be numbered among the mighty.