Like the title says, I'm a Mormon. Although I will strive to be accurate in all my commentaries, you need to know that my opinions are not necessarily those of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. To read more about the church, go to the source at www.mormon.org.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mormons and Money


Increased exposure of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints due to the Romney campaign and the church’s own marketing has led to a continuing onslaught of curiosity and news stories. Many of the stories are good and most are well intentioned. However, even some of the good and well intentioned articles are filled with inaccuracies and stereotypes. Most recently, several “news” agencies have published articles relating to the church’s finances. Again, I think some of these journalists are well intentioned, while others have maliciously misrepresented the faith. There are just a few points I would like to make to help clarify the many lies and half-truths that are circulating concerning this matter.

 1.       The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints follows the law of tithing as set forth in the Old and New Testaments. This is the same law that Abraham and the Levites followed (Heb 7) and the same law for which Malachi condemned the Israelites (Mal 3:8). Mormons believe that this law has been restored and that as followers of Christ, we can freely choose to follow this commandment by paying one tenth of our income to the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 119:3).

 2.     Tithing funds are used for the operations of the church. This means they are used to construct and maintain thousands of meeting houses around the world. The funds are also used to support education around the world through the perpetual education fund, seminary programs and the church run universities. Other areas tithing funds are used are the worldwide missionary program, the building and maintenance of temples, and of course worldwide humanitarian aid.

3.       The church additionally owns for profit businesses. Most of these businesses were started out of necessity when the Mormons were isolated in Utah. They started schools, hospitals and commercial stores to meet the needs of the saints who were gathered in the western desert. Many of the businesses, like the hospitals, were sold when it was expedient, while others have been kept to further the work. Enterprises like Deseret Book further communication needs of the church while at the same time subsidize humanitarian efforts. The land and ranches are all part of the vast welfare system the church runs while at the same time they help the church prepare for a rainy day, or better put, for the coming of the Lord.

4.    All of the money the church makes is put to humanitarian work. 100%. Articles by misinformed or malicious “journalists” would have you believe that only small percentages are given as aid. This is blatantly false. That’s like saying the Red Cross gave zero of its money to charity. The Red Cross does not give its money to charity, it is a charity. The church, being a charity itself, uses its money for operating cost of the church and its welfare program and still gives money to other denominations and charities. For example, much of the money is spent by helping people in local communities pay bills and rent or by letting them shop for free at the local bishop’s storehouse (a grocery store with no register). Because this money never leaves the church, those “investigating” the charitable donations don’t count this. 

5. Mormons believe “in being subject to kings, presidents, rulers, and magistrates, in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law” (12th Article of Faith). There is no shady tax evasion going on in the church. The for-profit organizations are run openly as businesses and file all appropriate taxes and paperwork. The not-for-profit organizations follow all the laws that govern them. Those that wish to be upset at the way churches are taxed or not taxed must have that issue with all churches and it’s an issue they must resolve by talking to their legislator. One cannot single out The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for following tax law as it exists.

In conclusion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does great good with the sacred funds it receives through tithing. I have seen, first hand, how these generous offerings have blessed the lives of people in third world countries and people down the street. I have seen members of the church who have been helped and members of other faiths who have had their Christmas taken care of. Most of what is done is done quietly, with no want for recognition. Those that criticize and mischaracterize the Mormons for how they gain and use money have little knowledge of the mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Members of the church who give, have full faith that those administering the funds do so wisely with an eye single to the glory of God. In the end, we know that all the ventures of the church are for the building of His kingdom and for His glory and to further His work. 

You can view the church's official response here


Tuesday, January 31, 2012

What Do Mormons Believe About Jesus Christ?


“When Jesus came into the coasts of C├Žsarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matt 16:13-16)

Just as Peter testified of Christ’s divinity through the power of the Holy Ghost, being revealed to him by the Father, Mormons believe in the divine nature of Jesus Christ. Christ is at the center of every teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although there are countless ways that Jesus influences individual’s lives, it is easiest to talk about Mormon’s belief in Christ by describing His three distinct roles as Creator, Savior, and Mediator.

Creator
Mormons believe that Jesus Christ created the universe under the direction of the Father. As Jesus did while among mortals, He was about His Father’s business in His pre-mortal state.
During this time before His earthly ministry, Christ was referred to as Jehovah. As Jehovah, Christ was the God of the Old Testament. Truly, He was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God of Israel. Everything we have in this life was created by The Son.

Savior
Christ was born of the mortal Mary to live with and teach mankind. Inheriting mortal qualities from His earthly Mother, but maintaining his Godly nature from His Father, Jesus led a sinless life. During his mortal ministry he taught us how to best live God’s commands and showed us the path to return to Him. At the close of His life, Christ offered his perfect life as a sacrifice for all sin. He saved man from sin and from physical death. Mormons testify that Christ is the Savior of the world.

Mediator
Mormons pray to The Father in the name of Jesus Christ. We believe He is our mediator with our Heavenly Father. At the Day of Judgment we will account for our time on earth. Christ will be our advocate for us with our Heavenly Father as is only through Him that we can enter into the peace that awaits us with God.

Christ is the center of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and worship Him as such.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Baptisms for the Dead and Mormons

Misunderstanding leads to ignorance, rumors and even bigotry. The many misconceptions of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints continue to be strung across the blogosphere and even national television. Among the lesser-known doctrines of the Church of Jesus Christ, baptisms for the dead has been mischaracterized recently and taken out of context to marginalize the believers of Mormonism. In a poorly researched article, a well-known atheist recently described the belief as part of “the weird and sinister belief system of the LDS.” The casual observer may agree with this author if the doctrine is not understood. The following is a brief description of what Mormons believe in the context of baptisms for the dead.

Mormons believe that all men and women ever born on earth will live again and even be resurrected like Jesus Christ (Romans 6:5; Mosiah 6:18). We also believe that as resurrected beings, all men and women will be judged according to their works and live in a degree of glory for eternity (1Cor 15:35-44). After death and before judgment, there also exists a time when man’s spirit awaits judgment. It is during this time that Mormons believe everyone will be given the opportunity to hear the gospel (1Peter 4:6).

This unique doctrine illustrates the infinite justice and mercy of our Heavenly Father; the doctrine that regardless of circumstance on earth, the gospel will be preached to each soul so that each individual may accept or reject the message. This means any person in any time. People in China or Africa where Christianity has not been preached, great-great grandparents that never knew of Christ, every son or daughter of God will get to hear and chose the good news.

Like most Christians, Mormons believe there are certain earthly ordinances, like baptism, that must be performed in order to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the deceased await the day of judgment as spirits, those that have passed on cannot perform these ordinances for themselves. This is where Mormons follow the direction of Christ’s church as taught in the Bible by Paul and perform ordinances for those who could not and did not (1Cor 15:29).

Mormons absolutely do not believe that anyone is posthumously made a Mormon by virtue of performing the ordinance. In fact, we believe that the agency to choose that we possess here on earth will continue to exist in the eternities. This means that although a baptism may be performed in a Mormon temple for a certain ancestor, it is still up to that ancestor to decide and choose to accept the gospel.

There is nothing spooky about the ordinance. No graves are robbed and no cadavers are to be found on the premise of a Mormon temple. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints perform the baptism nearly identical to the way the ordinance is performed outside the temple. A living member stands as proxy for their ancestor that has passed on. We believe that the temple is a sacred place set aside to do work for the dead, and that is why the ordinance is not performed in the standard chapels or elsewhere.

Mormons don’t intend to offend anyone with their practice of baptizing the dead. They simply try to fulfill Elijah’s prophecy of turning "the heart of the children to their fathers” (Malachi 4:6) by giving those that have passed an opportunity to know and accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Creatures or Children of God?


I must claim ignorance as to the specific beliefs of all other religions as it pertains to the existence of man’s soul before birth. From what I gather generally, most religions recognize the creation of the soul at some point here on Earth either in the womb or at birth. I am open to be enlightened by those of other faiths as to their beliefs on the existence of the soul before life begins. It is not so much my intent to define other’s religious beliefs as it is to explain and clarify mine. 

Mormons believe that all of us existed together as spirit children of our Heavenly Father before coming to this Earth. We co-existed as literal brothers and sisters and interacted with God. God knew us as he knew Jeremiah before he was “formed in the belly” (Jerimiah 1:5). Details of day to day life in this pre-earth state aren’t readily available, but some of the major events of that life have been revealed through prophets. 

John teaches in Revelation that there was a great battle between good and evil before the Earth was (Rev 12:7). Mormons believe that this “battle” was a battle for our souls even before the world began. We believe that two plans were presented to bring us back to our Heavenly Father. One plan was presented by Lucifer. His plan was to force all mankind to choose good so that not one soul would be lost. In return for saving all of mankind, Lucifer wanted all glory. The alternative plan was that of Jesus Christ. He presented a plan of free will and offered Himself as a sacrifice for those that used free agency to sin. Christ returned all glory to The Father (Abraham 3:27-28).  When Christ’s plan was chosen, Lucifer rebelled and fell from heaven (Luke 10:18; 2 Nephi 2:17). 

Because we are here on Earth, we know we accepted Christ’s plan to come to Earth and be tested (Abraham 3:24-26). Job even tells us that we all “shouted for joy” (Job 38:7) when we accepted the plan. Here, we do not remember the events that happened before we were born. We must rely on the revelations given to prophets and the promptings of the spirit. These promptings tend to be very strong and lead people to ask, “Where did I come from?” Others wonder what it means to “return” to our Heavenly Father (Eccl 12:7). 

As Mormons, we happily share that we came from a Heavenly Family. We are literal spirit sons and daughters of a Heavenly King! Great happiness come from the knowledge that we are not mere creatures of a foreign God, but rather we have a loving Heavenly Father anxiously awaiting our return.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Where Did All These Mormons Come From?


Thirty years ago Mormonism was perceived as a strange cult out of Utah. Over the past two decades you’ve probably seen more and more Mormons all over the place. You see their missionaries, you hear about them on the news, or perhaps your neighbor or a co-worker is a Mormon. At this point you might be asking yourself, “Where did all these Mormons come from?!”

In the spring of 1820, a 14 year old farm boy named Joseph Smith from upstate New York was confused about the religious uprising in his town. He and his family read the Bible regularly, and after reading from the Epistle of James he decided to pray to God and ask Him what religion to join. Joseph went to a grove of trees to vocally pray. Upon praying, Joseph describes his experience this way:
“I saw a pillar of light exactly over my head, above the brightness of the sun, which descended gradually until it fell upon me. […]When the light rested upon me I saw two Personages, whose brightness and glory defy all description, standing above me in the air. One of them spake unto me, calling me by name and said, pointing to the other—This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!” (Pearl of Great Price, JS-H 1:16-17).
In answer to Joseph’s prayer, he received a visit from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ. After this initial visit, Joseph received divine instruction to not join any of the churches established at that time. Over time he received the authority to organize a church. The church he organized is called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or more commonly today as the Mormon Church.

The church was organized on April 6th, 1830 with only 6 members. Immediately, revelation was given to the church to send proselytizing missionaries throughout the world. Starting with only a few missionaries, the restored gospel was taken to any country that would allow missionaries. The commandment to share the gospel is still in effect today for members of the Church of Jesus Christ. Today there are over 330 missions with nearly 60,000 missionaries worldwide. Those missionaries continue to find people seeking the truth. 

The church continues to grow each year as missionaries talk to new people every day. Mormons still find themselves in obscurity when it comes to their beliefs, but not when it comes to the name of their church. If you have a question about their beliefs, track down those pesky missionaries or ask one of your Mormon friends right away, they’ll love it. 

And that is where all those Mormons come from.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Religion and Empirical Evidence

A logical person requires evidence for belief; as well they should. We would not believe atoms existed without proof through microscopes and studies of their nature. We would not believe anything outside our own experience without the confirmed experiences of others. Facts and figures need to be backed up with evidence from our own understanding. It is in this realm of empirical evidence where religion is often mocked for a lack of tested, tangible evidence. I wish to refute the idea that believers in religion and in Christ operate on “blind” faith and propose that individual experience of a believer equates to scientific, empirical evidence.

As Mormons we believe that all men, by virtue of being sons and daughters of God, have within them the light of Christ. This light of Christ can also be called the Holy Ghost or Holy Spirit. We believe the mission of the Holy Spirit is to guide men to all truth (John 16:13), to testify of Christ (1Cor 12:3), and to comfort (John 16:7). This means that regardless of religion or creed, every individual can feel the spirit in their lives when coming unto Christ and searching for truth.

When eternal truths are presented, the Holy Ghost will testify of the truthfulness through a manifestation of the Spirit. These manifestations of the Spirit are felt in a variety of ways (1Cor 12Moroni 7; Gal 5:22-23), but each is felt by the individual and is undeniable.

A spiritual experience can be just like a headache. You cannot show someone you have a headache. You don’t even know if the headache you’re experiencing is exactly like a headache someone else has. Science can explain why one happens; but even if you don’t show the scientific signs of a headache, your head still hurts! When you have a spiritual experience, you know for yourself of its reality.

Having the Spirit of the Lord testify truth to you is as real as seeing, smelling or touching. It is very much a sense that can be used as empirical evidence. Just as color would be difficult to explain to someone that was blind from birth, if you have not had a spiritual experience, it is difficult to explain. But just because someone else has not experience it or just because someone else does not understand it, this does not take away from the very real experience one can have with the Spirit.

I also want to make clear that Mormons do not have a monopoly on eternal truths or spiritual experiences. Many other people in many other religions, who seek truth and try to grow closer to God, experience and can testify of the near tangible feelings from God and His Holy Spirit. Followers of God don’t do so blindly, but with eyes wide open, having experienced God in a genuine way.

(For fun, click here to check out some famous scientists that are Mormons!)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mormons and Grace

Grace is an integral part of Christian theology. Believers in Christ come together in agreement that all men are in a fallen state and can only be made whole by the merits of our Savior, Jesus Christ. In my interaction with people of various faiths I am often confronted with a common concern that Mormons do not join with the Christian community in the need for grace. In fact, The Church of Jesus Christ does focus so much on works, that at times it is easy for even members of the faith to be confused about the doctrine of grace. I wish to dispel that misconception and explain some thoughts on Mormons and grace.

Mormons believe there are two obstacles that inhibit man from returning to live with our Heavenly Father again. The first being physical death that occurs at the end of our mortal life and the second being spiritual death that occurs each time we choose to distance ourselves from God through sin. Christ’s atoning sacrifice in Gethsemane and later on the cross are what make it possible for man to overcome both.

Because Christ suffered the atonement and was resurrected, all mankind are given the gift of freely overcoming physical death. Mormons believe that regardless of the life one leads on this earth, the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ makes it possible for all men to live again. This is a global belief in grace, a free gift all men receive by virtue of being born and being a son or daughter of our Heavenly Father.

To overcome the second death, spiritual death, Mormons believe as James taught in the New Testament that works must accompany faith (James 2:14-20). We believe in both the laws of justice and mercy. Justice has hold on us until we allow Christ’s mercy to work on our behalf (Mosiah 2:36-37). It is here that many of my friends of other faiths have trouble with Mormons and grace. Some accuse Mormon doctrine of teaching that man must earn his way to heaven. That only through works man can be saved. It is also here that some Mormons get confused and believe they can earn their way to heaven! Both are very mistaken.

Once someone has accepted Christ in their life as their Savior, it is then up to that person to follow Christ’s teachings. One cannot truly accept Christ without following Him. However, man will still slip up. No matter how many good works one does, it will never be enough to justify him at the last day. Always, man must rely on the grace of God to be forgiven and enter into His presence.

Elder Marion G. Romney, an apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ, explained this doctrine well when he said:

“ …[T]he Savior by his suffering paid the debt for my personal sins. He paid the debt for your personal sins and for the personal sins of every living soul that ever dwelt upon the earth or that ever will dwell in mortality upon the earth. But this he did conditionally. The benefits of this suffering for our individual transgressions will not come to us unconditionally in the same sense that the resurrection will come regardless of what we do… We cannot of ourselves, no matter how we may try, rid ourselves of the stain which is upon us as a result of our own transgressions. That stain must be washed away by the blood of the Redeemer, and he has set up the way by which that stain may be removed. That way is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel requires us to believe in the Redeemer, accept his atonement, repent of our sins, be baptized by immersion for the remission of our sins, receive the gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, and continue faithfully to observe, or do the best we can to observe, the principles of the gospel all the days of our lives” (Conference Report, Oct. 1953, 35–36).

Truly, Mormons believe in and cherish the great gift of the atonement and the amazing grace provided us by our Heavenly Father through His Son Jesus Christ. We stand in awe at the wonderful blessing to have the opportunity to live with God again. We know that believing in Christ and partaking of His grace means accepting His terms and doing good works as He taught. We know that we must show our faith through our works, but that in the end only God’s grace will save us.