Stepping Stones or Stumbling Blocks

With the heightened interest of the public in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, wanting to know more about what Mormons think and believe, the media is more open than ever to getting information from members -- as evidenced in my being invited to contribute, just recently, at The Washington Post's "On Faith" blog. This can be both a good thing and a not so good thing. Just as there is diversity in other groups, indeed the same phenomenon is found among active members of the LDS Church.

Gone are the days when reporters, wanting information about Mormonism, found the only resource to be the "official" voice of the Church -- via LDS Public Affairs. Now they have immediate online access to many members, who are encouraged by leaders to speak up about their Mormon faith.

The reason I say "this can be both a good thing and a not so good thing" is because, in my opinion -- of which I don't think I'm alone --  some member-voices out there, speaking about our religion, do not represent how the majority of faithful Latter-day Saints think and feel. In fact, too many of these type voices, that the media is being drawn to, are tending to be that small, loud element within the Church, that would  like to see major changes in policy and even doctrine. It is also my opinion that this movement is taking full advantage of this "Mormon moment" to perpetuate their own personal agenda in these regards. And, as is usually the case, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and true to form the liberal media is drawn to those voices that will create the most controversy for their purposes. What a marriage!

In blogging about Mormonism I am not, nor do I try to be, the voice of the Church. However, like many other members, I do feel a strong responsibility, and desire, to make sure that I represent what I believe to be mainstream Mormon beliefs -- of which some might refer to as orthodox Mormonism. The only agenda that I have is to help others understand and discuss what the LDS Church teaches and faithful members, as a whole, believe. I just find it very unfortunate that too often, as of late, the fringe of Mormonism, within the Church, is being sought out for opinions about Mormon beliefs, practices, LDS history, etc... that do not reflect the thoughts and opinions of the general membership of the Church, nor its leaders.

Understandably no two members of the Church will have the exact same testimony or experience, and of course this is not expected. However, you will find some very important points of LDS doctrine and beliefs that the majority of members accept. In my opinion, if any member of the Church is to be considered a credible source, to best represent my Mormon faith, they should be founded on such a firm foundation. 

The basic tenets of Mormonism were laid out by the founding prophet of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith Jr., in what is referred to as the Articles of Faith: Thirteen basic points of belief to which Mormons ascribe. Each of these tenets of our faith spring from the most basic of Mormon doctrine, some of which include:

  • Joseph Smith Jr. was and is a prophet of God and received all keys, powers and authority necessary for establishing and directing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- which continue with the prophet and president of the LDS Church today.

I have no problem when an active member of the LDS Church holds a position that is contrary to generally accepted doctrine and beliefs of mainstream Mormonism.  I do have a problem when they promote it as a personal agenda, publicly, in opposition. These members not only misrepresent the LDS Church, but even more serious they create confusion for those who sincerely want to know what Mormons believe -- meaning, what the Church teaches.

It is my understanding that the Church respects members who might have somewhat oppositional views than what is taught by the Church -- and that such members can still be considered in good standing. That's not only positive, but very important. However, I believe, members cross the line when they set out to promote and recruit others to their way of thinking. I realize that this gets tricky and that we are counseled to be careful in how we judge one another, but clearly this is something that should be of concern. At the very least it should cause those of us, who are concerned, to have a greater desire to speak up about what we think and believe. Passiveness to the condition should not be an option.

Through the invitation by LDS leaders to share our faith, online, we can either create stepping stones or stumbling blocks for those who are seeking the truth.
"The truth is, those who diligently seek to learn of Christ eventually will come to know Him. They will personally receive a divine portrait of the Master, although it most often comes in the form of a puzzle—one piece at a time. Each individual piece may not be easily recognizable by itself; it may not be clear how it relates to the whole. Each piece helps us to see the big picture a little more clearly. Eventually, after enough pieces have been put together, we recognize the grand beauty of it all. Then, looking back on our experience, we see that the Savior had indeed come to be with us—not all at once but quietly, gently, almost unnoticed." Dieter F. Uchtdorf

For those who truly desire to help others come unto Christ, it is imperative that we use our voices to create stepping stones and not stumbling blocks. Let us be among those who are helping others put together their truth puzzle. As members of the Church we are so blessed to know what we know and to have made covenants to share that truth with others.

When I first began writing this post I titled it "You Really Need to Start Speaking Up for Yourself!" I really liked that. Ultimately I want that to be the message of this post, but felt it was even more important to state the why. Understanding why your voice is so important will hopefully encourage you to become more involved in the ongoing conversations about what Mormons believe, and to let others know that you are proud grateful to be a Mormon -- and what that truly means!

Kathryn Skaggs

I love how some members are so willing to speak up about what Mormons believe, unabashedly, with all their heart and soul! Talk about "Speaking Up for Yourself"!

Stay N Faithful: Calling Yourself Mormon is a Very Bold Statement By Jesse Stay

"To say you're Mormon like I do takes guts in today's world. It means you believe in modern day revelation. It means you believe there are men today that speak to God, and God speaks to them. It means you follow them because they are normal men called of God, just like Moses, Abraham, and Isaac of old. Many of them are humbled in this calling - they never asked of it. They never wanted it. Yet, God called them. And as a Mormon, you're willing to follow these laymen leading God's Church just like people did in the times of Christ." 

Two LDS bloggers dedicated to celebrating "The Family: A Proclamation to the World" are Jocelyn at We Talk of Christ We Rejoice in Christ and Montserat at  Chocolate on my Cranium!

"This year, we will be joining forces with YOU to bring the world a video presentation of The Family: A Proclamation to the World!"

Mormon Women: Who We AreYou never have to question the message of Mormonism, shared with integrity and candor, by this group of sisters. Learn Truth, Be Strong, Choose the Right! I'm happy to share that WBMW is included in this project. 

"Built to offer the LDS Profiles, Pages, and Blogs a place to integrate their efforts in offering LDS content. We work with many different administrators and blog owners to bring you fresh content, and help inspire you during the day."

MormonVoices.orgA great project to get involved with for speaking up, online, and making sure credible voices of Mormon beliefs are being represented. 

"Our volunteers respond to public discussions and comments from public figures that misrepresent The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We encourage and direct Mormons to get involved in online discussions and thereby help shape the public understanding and perceptions of the Church. Please join your voice with ours, and become a member of MormonVoices."

More Good Foundation: An excellent resource for helping and organizing members to share the gospel online. 

"Using today's "Net," we provide the tools, training, and support for Latter-day Saints to share their beliefs on the Internet. We operate over 400 websites, in a multitude of languages, and administer support for a hundred more. We have "joined the conversation.""

A Mormon Look at Lent

Before the days of the Internet and sites like Facebook and Twitter, I will confess that I lived in a bubble. I didn't think so, then. I've always been sort of a news bug, but that's different than daily coming in contact with things that would never have crossed my plate previously.

For instance, Lent.

Over the past few days I've been seeing status updates, tweets, and even group emails -- referring to Lent. I remember being in grade school and hearing references by my Catholic friends, to Lent, but never really paid much attention.  Frankly,  I was clueless.

I was over at one of my daughters the other night for a visit. She reminded me that my ward Relief Society Birthday Celebration is this week. (She attended my ward last Sunday -- I'm in Primary) I invited her to come. She turned me down. She said that instead she was attending a "girl's night out" with a few women in her apartment complex -- to discuss Lent. These young moms are a very diverse bunch of women. They live in UCSD married student housing. My daughter, who is LDS, has decided to participate in Lent. I was intrigued.

So, I Googled "Lent for dummies" and this is what I came up with:

What Is Lent and How Is It Observed?

On the Christian calendar, Lent is the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday to Easter. When it was first observed in the fourth century, its focus was on self-examination and self-denial in preparation for Easter, and Christians used fasting (abstaining from eating food) in the early years as a visible demonstration of this process.

Over the centuries, Catholics have relaxed some of the strict fasting rules. Today, only Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays during Lent are considered fasting days. On these days, Catholics over the age of 14 are to refrain from eating meat. (Historically, this practice was meant to help unify people who could afford meat with poor people who couldn’t.) In addition, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, those between the ages of 18 and 59 are to eat only one full meal and two smaller meals and aren’t to eat between meals.

Orthodox Christians are far more rigorous in their observance of fasting during Lent, believing that regular fasting is a crucially important discipline for one’s spiritual growth. Meat, dairy products, and eggs (which historically were considered more luxury foods than ordinary breads) aren’t allowed, with some additional restrictions on certain days. They can only eat fish (which was historically considered less of a luxury than red meat) on the feasts of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday.

In addition to refraining from eating, Lent is often a time when Christians give up something pleasurable (furthering the focus on self-denial), be it chocolate, meat or — shudder the thought! — coffee.

 Some Protestant denominations (such as Anglican and Episcopalian) observe Lent, but many Protestant churches attach less significance to the Lenten season than to the individual holy days leading up to Easter.

I realize that this is a brief description of Lent, but as a member of the LDS Church, there are definitely aspect to this practice that I can relate to.  For instance,  Mormons are not strangers to the ritual of fasting.   For those who may not be aware, Mormons fast on the first Sunday of every month; and when we have a personal desire to do so.  We believe that through fasting we can gain strength both physically and spiritually.  We consider fasting a righteous offering unto God, as we...

  • Donate (at minimum) the cost of the two meals that we have abstained from to help the poor and the needy.  
  • Deny our physical appetite and turn to God, thereby receiving spiritual strength to endure and overcome life's many challenges.  
  • Believe that through fasting we are able to, with greater confidence, approach God in humble prayer for that which we stand in need.  

    As you can see, even with minimal understanding of Lent, members of the LDS Church have much in common with our Catholic friends.   What I appreciate learning most -- is that all who love Jesus Christ, and recognize Him as our personal Savior, have a deep desire to express our love in similitude of His Great Sacrifice.

    As Easter approaches and we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ -- we rejoice together in the knowledge that HE LIVES!


    Why Do Mormons Baptize Dead People?

    When a story is picked up by both television and Internet news outlets it's a pretty good indicator that people are talking about it and/or are interested in the subject, or that the media know they have a story they can exploit for various reasons.  The subject of Mormon baptism for the dead, also referred to as proxy baptism -- an unusual doctrine for those outside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints -- is admittedly one of our most peculiar practices to initially explain. Though for Mormons, who understand the importance of baptism as the necessary ordinance for every person who desires to enter into the kingdom of God, it is one of the great witnesses that the restored gospel of Jesus Christ is upon the earth. Mormons believe that God's plan for the salvation of His children, as proclaimed in scripture, teach that everyone must be baptized in order to be saved. Through the ordinance and covenant of baptism we witness that we accept Jesus Christ as our Savior and Redeemer.

    Baptism is a commandment.

    "Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:5)

    “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19–20).

    Why baptism?

    Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. (Acts 2:38)

    Baptism for the dead was a known practice during early Christianity.

    "Else what shall they do which are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not at all? why are they then baptized for the dead? (1Cor 15:29)

    We baptize our deceased ancestors because we believe that they will rise again!

    To members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints it makes complete sense that if God has commanded that we must all be baptized, even though the majority of His children would never hear the gospel of Jesus Christ during their lifetime, then surely a loving God would have provided a way for them to receive this saving ordinance. We believe that this is done through the process of baptism for the dead by proxy.

    I've often wondered how Christians, of other denominations, reconcile a belief that the majority of God's children, for the mere fact that they did not have the opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ in this life, are damned to hell for not receiving the ordinance of baptism. Personally I can't relate to a God who would not have made accommodation for all of His children. Through modern revelation we learn the extent of God's love for us.
    "For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man." (Moses 1:39) 
    I suppose that at first thought, if one is not familiar with this practice, visions of Mormons digging up dead bodies and baptizing them in our temples might come to mind.  Seriously?  Thankfully that's not how we do it.  Through genealogical research Mormons indentify the names of deceased family members, who never had the chance to be baptize in this life, and then serve as proxy on their behalf to have them baptized.  Baptisms for the dead are performed in LDS temples. This process does not then make the deceased Mormon. We believe that once a proxy ordinance is done for a person who has died they are given the opportunity to either accept or reject the baptism. Although some members have had spiritual experiences confirming to them that a proxy baptism was accepted, most of the time the end result is not known.

    For those who might struggle with the concept of one person doing for another, that which they are not able to do for themselves, consider the greatest vicarious work of all -- the Atonement of Jesus Christ. The work that is done in LDS temples, for those who are deceased, is done in similitude of what Jesus Christ did for each one of us. He has invited us to partake in His work by helping to bring to pass the salvation of our brothers and sisters, through acting as proxy. This ensures that necessary earthly ordinances are ultimately performed for every child of God -- ever born.

    Gordon B. Hinckley had this to say about vicarious work for the dead...
    “I think that vicarious work for the dead more nearly approaches the vicarious sacrifice of the Savior Himself than any other work of which I know. It is given with love, without hope of compensation, or repayment or anything of the kind. What a glorious principle.”

    Scriptural evidence proclaims that every person born must accept that Jesus is the Christ: 

    From Old Testament - 
    20 ¶Assemble yourselves and come; draw near together, ye that are escaped of the nations: they have no knowledge that set up the wood of their graven image, and pray unto a god that cannot save. 
    21 Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together: who hath declared this from ancient time? who hath told it from that time? have not I the Lord? and there is no God else beside me; a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside me. 
    22 Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else. 
    23 I have sworn by myself, the word is gone out of my mouth in righteousness, and shall not return, That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear
    24 Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength: even to him shall men come; and all that are incensed against him shall be ashamed. 
    25 In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory. (Isaiah 45:20-25
    In The Book of Mormon Alma the younger, also a prophet of God, bears a strong witness that all men must be born again to gain salvation.
    29 My soul hath been redeemed from the gall of bitterness and bonds of iniquity. I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God. My soul was racked with eternal torment; but I am snatched, and my soul is pained no more. 
    30 I rejected my Redeemer, and denied that which had been spoken of by our fathers; but now that they may foresee that he will come, and that he remembereth every creature of his creating, he will make himself manifest unto all
    31 Yea, every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess before him. Yea, even at the last day, when all men shall stand to be judged of him, then shall they confess that he is God; then shall they confess, who live without God in the world, that the judgment of an everlasting punishment is just upon them; and they shall quake, and tremble, and shrink beneath the glance of his all-searching eye. (Mosiah 27:29-31)
    The prophet Joseph Smith, through modern revelation, confirmed this same doctrine and how it will be  applied at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ:
    "And this shall be the sound of his trump, saying to all people, both in heaven and in earth, and that are under the earth—for every ear shall hear it, and every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess, while they hear the sound of the trump, saying: Fear God, and give glory to him who sitteth upon the throne, forever and ever; for the hour of his judgment is come." (D&C 88:104
    There is no greater witness -- nor is there any other way -- to accept Jesus Christ as Savior and Redeemer than to keep His commandment and law to be baptized in His name.  The Day will come when every child of God will have heard His voice, bowed in submission to it, and confessed through receiving this ordinance that Jesus is the Christ -- fulfilling the words of His holy prophets! Be it on this side of the veil or in the afterlife, the Way has been prepared for all men to receive Jesus Christ and gain salvation.

    For me personally, the doctrine of vicarious baptism for our deceased ancestors is one of the great witnesses that Joseph Smith is a true prophet of God and that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is His Church upon the earth today. No other Christian organization upon the earth proclaims such a vast undertaking to ensure the salvation of all of God's children, nor does even one begin to address Paul's teachings in the Bible of vicarious baptism.

    The reason Mormons perform proxy baptism for our deceased ancestors is because this is the way that God makes manifest His love for all of His children and ensures their safe return home to His presence. How grateful we are, as members of His Church, to have a part in this great work for the salvation of every child of God!

    Video: Why Mormons Build Temples

    Kathryn Skaggs

    2/23/12 Update:

    On Faith: What baptism for the dead means to Mormons by Michael Otterson

    "Toward the end of May, 1970, I stood waist high in water in a baptismal font of a temple in Hamilton, New Zealand, while the name of my deceased father was read aloud. Moments later, on his behalf, I was buried in the biblically mandated full-immersion baptism that is so powerfully symbolic of rebirth and entry into the kingdom of God.

    That first visit to a temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints --and my first experience of what Mormons call “baptism for the dead”--was one of the most intensely significant religious experiences of my life."
    2/21/12 Update:  Church Statement on Violations of Proxy Baptism Policy

    "In response to questions about violations of the Church's proxy baptism policy, the Church issued the following statement:
    The Church keeps its word and is absolutely firm in its commitment to not accept the names of Holocaust victims for proxy baptism.

    It takes a good deal of deception and manipulation to get an improper submission through the safeguards we have put in place.

    While no system is foolproof in preventing the handful of individuals who are determined to falsify submissions we are committed to taking action against individual abusers by suspending the submitter’s access privileges. We will also consider whether other Church disciplinary action should be taken.

    It is distressing when an individual willfully violates the Church’s policy and something that should be understood to be an offering based on love and respect becomes a source of contention. "

    LDS Newsroom: Background Explanation of Temple Baptism

    "For nearly 180 years, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have performed baptisms in Church temples on behalf of deceased relatives. The practice is rooted in the belief that certain sacred sacraments, such as baptism, are required to enter the kingdom of heaven and that a just God will give everyone who ever lived a fair opportunity to receive them, whether in this life or the next. Church members who perform temple baptisms for their deceased relatives are motivated by love and sincere concern for the welfare of all of God’s children. According to Church doctrine, a departed soul in the afterlife is completely free to accept or reject such a baptism — the offering is freely given and must be freely received. The Church has never claimed the power to force deceased persons to become Church members or Mormons, and it does not list them as such on its records. The notion of coerced conversion is utterly contrary to Church doctrine." Why do Mormons perform proxy baptisms in their temples?

    "Jesus Christ taught that baptism is essential to the salvation of all who have lived on earth (see John3:5). Many people, however, have died without being baptized. Others were baptized without proper authority. Because God is merciful, He has prepared a way for all people to receive the blessings of baptism. By performing proxy baptisms in behalf of those who have died, Church members offer these blessings to deceased ancestors. These individuals in the next life can then choose to accept or decline what has been done in their behalf."

    Why Do We Baptize for the Dead? BY ELDER D. TODD CHRISTOFFERSON

    "Christian theologians have long wrestled with the question, What is the destiny of the billions who have lived and died with no knowledge of Jesus? With the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ has come the understanding of how the unbaptized dead are redeemed and how God can be “a perfect, just God, and a merciful God also” (Alma 42:15)."

    Why Are Mormons Performing Baptisms For Dead People? McKay Coppin

    "The discovery this week of a proposed posthumous baptism for Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel — who is alive — has revived a longstanding controversy surrounding the Mormon Church's practice of performing "saving ordinances" on behalf of its members' non-Mormons ancestors.

    After The Huffington Post broke the story, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved quickly to assure Wiesel that it wouldn't allow a baptism—before or after his death. But the incident had already dragged Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney into an escalating, semi-informed debate that's bobbed in and out of public consciousness for nearly two decades."

    Posthumous Baptisms of Holocaust Victims Daniel Peterson

    "An article has appeared on The Daily Beast (and may perhaps yet appear in its printed companion, Newsweek), about vicarious Latter-day Saint baptisms for Jewish Holocaust survivors, a controversial topic that has arisen yet again.

    I was interviewed for the article.

    There are several things in it on which I could comment, but, owing to lack of time and reader patience, I think I’ll restrict myself to just a few:"

    Focusing on Greater Love

    For too many Valentine's Day is a lonely day. A dreaded day. A day that they would prefer to just pull the covers up over their head and allow the festivities to come and go, as if there were no such day. In my opinion it's a day akin to Mother's Day, when expectations aren't met, leading to great disappointment of one's current circumstances in life. Now if this doesn't describe you please don't stop reading -- I do have some very positive things to say about Valentine's Day and I promise I'll get there.

    It seems to me that the man made celebrations that we recognize in society tend to become, for many, 'me' focused and that's where most of us tend to get in trouble. I mention Mother's Day, right alongside of Valentine's Day, because of my own insecurities that exposed themselves for much of my Mormon mommy years. I'm now much more mature. ;)

    What, might you ask, got me thinking about this? Well, earlier today I watched the newest LDS Bible video put out by the Church: The Good Samaritan -- and I found myself pondering on the subject of LOVE. Anyway, this beautiful biblical account reminded me of how I have, over the years, learned to understand what true love is, and most importantly, how to recognize it. (I know, some of you really wanted me to add "and give it" at the end of that sentence -- I hear you:)

    When we find ourselves caught up in measuring how much we are loved -- especially when it's done according to the standards of the world -- we're bound to be disappointed. Instead, I think we serve ourselves, and others, much better when we look to Jesus Christ's teachings, and example, of what it means to love.

    The first and great commandment is to love God and put Him first -- above all else. The second is to love our neighbors as ourselves. I truly believe that we fulfill the first commandment by keeping the second. I can't think of anywhere in the scriptures that we are taught to be concerned about how much other people love us -- only that we are to love others as God loves them and we are to do it in the way that we desire to be loved. That's a pretty interesting standard if you think about it.

    Please don't misunderstand, I'm not down on Valentine's Day. In fact, I quite love it. My only concern is for those who struggle with these types of recognition days, as I have, and to help us all better focus on what it means to genuinely love versus focusing on the romantic kind of love that is marketed at every turn.

    Thoughts on how we might better focus on the true meaning of LOVE to associate with Valentine's Day:

    RED:  I love the color red for its symbolism.  Red is a color not only of a rose, but more importantly, and most important --  BLOOD.

    The Greatest Sacrifice of all required the loss of every single pure drop of blood that Jesus Christ had to offer. The process of the Atonement began in Gethsemane and was completed on the cross at Calvary when He said "It is finished" -- the true three most important words ever uttered!

    "Greater love hath no man than this, than a man lay down his life for his friends."

    HEARTS:  We all love hearts and the symbolism of love, for another, associated with the sharing of this symbol.  Hearts bring us back to blood and the necessity of that life giving substance, here and now, in order to create and maintain life -- our relationships.

    The giving of blood, literally, requires sacrifice.  Releasing blood, of any amount, causes pain. For women who give birth, and who menstruate monthly for a great duration of their lives, this sacrifice is well understood. To the men and women who have valiantly fought battles, and lost life, for our protection and freedoms, we are forever indebted. Taking a minute to contemplate that true sacrifice means a willingness to give up life, or blood, helps us to focus on the truest meaning of what it means to love and be loved -- the symbol of the heart.

    "And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might."

    ROSES: A single red rose is symbolic of all of the above and serves as a reminder of the fragility of life, its Source and the pain (thorns) associated with the price of the Greatest Love of All -- of which springs forth the love which He desires that we all develop.

    "A new commandments I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. "

    This Valentine's Day instead of thinking about how much we are loved, by others, maybe we could focus on what it means to truly love others, as He loves us. Perhaps by doing something, however small, it will be meaningful for someone who might have doubts about their great worth. In this small way we emulate Him and become LOVE.
    "Love is the motivating principle by which the Lord leads us along the way towards becoming like Him, our perfect example. Our way of life, hour by hour, must be filled with the love of God and love for others." Henry B. Erying

    I'd love to hear your thoughts about Valentine's Day and how you might add to mine here. I realize that I have only scratched the surface on these ideas, so let's hear some of yours...

    Kathryn Skaggs

    Some LOVE resources for you - 

    Wish I knew who to give credit for this, but I had to share. It's my absolute favorite verse in all of scripture:

    From Stephanie over at Diapers and Divinity:

    "I wanted to share with you what I like to give as a wedding gift when an LDS couple gets married. I put together this FHE manual for newlyweds, a collection of talks and articles about topics that are important for married couples to study and discuss and understand. There are some really great talks in there!"

     A little humor from Middle-Aged Mormon Man:

    Love and Diet Coke
    "When I asked for questions a while ago, someone named Anonymous asked me "How about a post about intimacy in marriage?" Yikes. Do I want to go there? I think not. Yes, tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and it is an important topic, but I am not a therapist, and wouldn't feel comfortable writing about it."

    Jocelyn over at We Talk of Christ We Rejoice in Christ had to give a talk about marriage in Church.  Here are her great notes:

    The Greatest Love Story Ever Told
    "It was unique and special to me for a few reasons: a. I received special insights while studying. b. It gave me the opportunity to solidify what I know and believe about the covenant and purpose of eternal marriage. c. It is also one of the only times in my life that I have prepared thoroughly to speak and still walked up to the stand without a clue as to what was actually going to come out of my mouth. You'd better believe I was praying."

    Scriptures On Love:
    Source: Guide to the Scriptures

    Mormons Will Continue to Stand for Traditional Marriage

    On occasion I've heard active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, (Mormons) when discussing the issue of same-sex marriage, share the opinion that they believe the church will eventually accept it and, like other periods of LDS Church history, will be found to have been on the wrong side of the debate. In fact some believe that this is inevitable. End of story.

    Granted, this misguided (IMHO) understanding of Mormon doctrine is only found among a very small percentage of active members of the LDS Church.  Certainly they are entitled to their own opinion  --  I just happen to strongly disagree. I say "doctrine" because the position of the LDS Church on homosexuality is more than a policy, it is based on the eternal doctrine of marriage and the perpetuation of the family throughout eternity. This is of no small consequence.

    I've had countless opportunities to share and discuss my thoughts and feelings about traditional marriage as opposed to same-sex marriage, and in doing so have felt the sting of those who consider my views to be based in hate. Living in California, and going through the ongoing Proposition 8 trial, puts me fairly close to the issue and somewhat sensitive to the ongoing conversation. Most likely you are already aware of this, but in a string of court cases to overturn the 2008 vote that banned same-sex marriage in California, just this week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Proposition 8 to be unconstitutional. This last ruling will most likely move proponents of Prop 8 to take the case all the way to the United States Supreme Court for a final judgement.

    In response to the ruling The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued this official statement posted on the LDS Newsroom:

    The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regrets today’s decision. California voters have twice determined in a general election that marriage should be recognized as only between a man and a woman. We have always had that view. Courts should not alter that definition, especially when the people of California have spoken so clearly on the subject. 
    Millions of voters in California sent a message that traditional marriage is crucial to society. They expressed their desire, through the democratic process, to keep traditional marriage as the bedrock of society, as it has been for generations. 
    We recognize that this decision represents a continuation of what has been a vigorous public debate over the rights of the people to define and protect the fundamental institution of marriage. There is no doubt that today’s ruling will intensify the debate in this country. We urge people on all sides of this issue to act in a spirit of mutual respect and civility toward those with a different opinion.

    Personally, I want to say thank you. For the many members of the LDS Church who have hearkened to the words of living prophets, on this matter, who have stood firmly in the face of great opposition in standing for traditional marriage, this is a very important statement and message.

    It requires great faith and courage for those of religious convictions to stand fast to their beliefs, while the majority around them, even some within the church, oppose their position. And yet, past prophets have foretold of this time in order to ready the saints of God, in these latter-days, for the work that they were born to do.

    In 1978 Elder Neal A. Maxwell shared these prophetic words, that perhaps to many at the time, seemed afar off...

    Video: Elder Maxwell on Same-Sex Marriage, Family, Abortion and the Secular Church 

    "Your discipleship may see the time come when religious convictions are heavily discounted. A religious conviction is now a second-class conviction expected to step deferentially to the back of the secular bus and not to get uppity about it. This new irreligious imperialism seeks to disallow certain people's opinion because those opinions grow out of religious opinions. Resistance to abortion will be seen as primitive. Concern over the institution of the family will be viewed as untrendy and unenlightened. 
    In its mildest form, irreligion will merely be condescending towards those who hold to traditional Judeo-Christian values. In its more harsh forms, as is always the case with those whose dogmatism is blinding, the secular church will do what it can to nullify the opinions of those who still worry over standards such as those in the Ten Commandments. 
    If people, however, are not permitted to advocate, to assert, and to bring to bear in every legitimate way, the opinions and views they hold which grow out of their religious convictions, what manner of men and women would we be anyway? Our founding fathers did not wish to have a state church established nor to have a particular religion favored by government. They wanted religion to be free to make its own way. But neither did they intend to have irreligion made into a favored state church. Notice the terrible irony if this trend were to continue. When the secular church goes after its heretics, where are the sanctuaries? To what landfalls and Plymouth Rocks can future pilgrims go?"

    You can read the entire address entitled: Meeting the Challenges of Today 

    Those are some stunning prophecies, don't you think? And if you take the time to read the entire speech you will find that Elder Maxwell, if he were alive today, might very well be shocked to find that some of what he thought would most likely never happen, is happening.

    This brings me back to the beginning of this post and to the speculation, by some, that the LDS Church would ever change its position on the definition and sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.  Based on revealed doctrine I feel confident that this will never happen. Instead I believe that we, as members of the church, will need to strengthen our testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ, accept that going forward our position may not be a part of mainstream society any longer -- and be ever willing to stand for that which we believe, in the face of potentially even more difficult circumstances.

    May I share with you some of my favorite quotes from Thomas S. Monson, whom I sustain as a living prophet of God, from the October 2011 General Conference:

    "Also evolving at a rapid rate has been the moral compass of society. Behaviors which once were considered inappropriate and immoral are now not only tolerated but also viewed by ever so many as acceptable." 
    "Although the world has changed, the laws of God remain constant. They have not changed; they will not change. The ten commandments are just that -- commandments. They are not suggestions. They are every bit as requisite today as they were when God gave them to the children of Israel."

    "As the winds of change swirl around us and the moral fiber of society continues to disintegrate before our very eyes, may we remember the Lord's precious promises to those who trust in Him: "Fear thou not; I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yeah, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.
    Kathryn Skaggs

    More Reading:
    Mormons Value Traditional Marriage

    Same-Sex Relationships and Marriage Equal to Heterosexual Marriages and Relationships. Really?

    Not Anti Gay? Prove it!

    The Family: A Proclamation to the World

    Alton and McKenna's Royal Wedding!

    The King and Queen -- Mr. and Mrs. Alton William Skaggs

    Many of you know that just a few weeks ago my youngest son, Alton, was sealed in the San Diego temple, to McKenna Duffin.  And if you didn't already know this, she is the most beautiful girl in the whole wide world -- this according to Alton! And of course no one is about to argue with him, and you won't either, after you take a look at their beautiful wedding pictures that were just posted on their photographer's blog -- Alixann Loosle Photography.  So, I just have to share them with you!

    Here are just a few of my favorites from this collection...

    The Handsome Groom - Alton William

    The Beautiful Bride - McKenna

    It's Just You and Me, Babe!

    Together Forever...

    The Castle - San Diego Temple

    Cuz in January We're Getting Married....

    Payday for this WBMW and Her Own Eternal Companion

    In the Orange Grove

    California Kids

    And the Newlyweds are Off!

    Aren't they just adorable!

    Congratulations Alton and McKenna! May the Lord continue to shower His greatest blessings upon the both of you, as you continue on your journey and build your own Eternal Family!


    See the rest of Alton and McKenna's wedding pictures HERE! (The blog seems a bit slow loading, so be patient:)

    Mormons and Racism: Are Mormons Racist?

    A few days ago I posted this article to address a few of the hot topics currently being discussed, in the news and online, about Mormon beliefs and practices. And this week, once again, based on a number of news reports circulating on the Internet, I feel the need to discuss the question: Are Mormons racist?

    The issue of Mormons and racism is a concern to many modern-day Latter-day Saints who see this as a way to demonize our faith. I would venture to say that if someone were to ask just about any Mormon, that question, they would emphatically respond "no"! However, due to past LDS history that denied the priesthood to Black Mormons until 1978 The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its members, are still considered, by some, racist -- over a quarter century later.

    I'm not here to defend or debate that this was part of  LDS history. Nor do I have all of the answers as to why this was considered church policy for so long. However I can tell you that, today, Mormons are happy that such a policy is no longer in effect, and are thrilled to know that all blessings of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ are equally available to God's children -- and rightly so.

    I became a practicing Mormon in June of 1977, right out of high school -- I was 17 at the time. I knew absolutely nothing about a priesthood ban for Black members of the LDS Church. It was not an issue being discussed at the time. A year later I vividly remember hearing on the radio, while at work, about the revelation that would now give the priesthood to all worthy male members of the LDS Church. I quickly learned how significant this revelation was and I, too, rejoiced for those who had waited patiently for the ban to be lifted! I continue to be humbled when I hear the many stories of faith in the face of what, no doubt, felt wrong to Mormons of African decent.

    I have a very cherished memory that left an indelible mark upon my soul. Following the revelation on Blacks and the priesthood, only a few weeks later, I was in the Los Angeles temple -- in preparation to being sealed. Like many first-time temple goers I don't remember a lot.  What I do remember, vividly, was a sweet temple worker pulling me aside, and pointing, to make sure I understood and realized that the first Black male (in the Los Angeles temple) was taking out his endowments!  She even told me his name, Alan Cherry. I've never forgotten his name, nor will I. The significance of that solemn occasion, as the spirit bore witness to me that it was, has remained with me since.

    I, like many others, have spent considerable time over the years researching the origin, doctrine and history of why blacks were restricted from having the priesthood. I've also grappled with the possibility and question: Are Mormons racist? My personal experience would not indicate so, nor would, I believe, the majority of Mormon adults living today. Ours is a very different experience than previous generations.

    Consider this definitive statement at the April 2006 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, by then President Gordon B. Hinckley:

    Racial strife still lifts its ugly head. I am advised that even right here among us there is some of this. I cannot understand how it can be. It seemed to me that we all rejoiced in the 1978 revelation given President Kimball. I was there in the temple at the time that that happened. There was no doubt in my mind or in the minds of my associates that what was revealed was the mind and the will of the Lord.
    Now I am told that racial slurs and denigrating remarks are sometimes heard among us. I remind you 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 of Christ. How can any man holding the Melchizedek Priesthood arrogantly assume that he is eligible for the priesthood whereas another who lives a righteous life but whose skin is of a different color is ineligible? 
    Throughout my service as a member of the First Presidency, I have recognized and spoken a number of times on the diversity we see in our society. It is all about us, and we must make an effort to accommodate that diversity. 
    Let us all recognize that each of us is a son or daughter of our Father in Heaven, who loves all of His children. 
    Brethren, there is no basis for racial hatred among the priesthood of this Church. If any within the sound of my voice is inclined to indulge in this, then let him go before the Lord and ask for forgiveness and be no more involved in such. (Italics added for emphasis)

    In my opinion, this single statement should make it very clear where the LDS Church stands on racism, today. Members, to whom this counsel was directed, that have any supposed reason for such thoughts and feelings are told that they have "no basis" for such. Personally, I take that to mean doctrine as well.

    UPDATE 2/29/12: 

    From the LDS Newsroom - Official Statement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

    The Church and Race: All Are Alike Unto God 

    "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.”"
    Source: LDS Newsroom

    The Church issued the following statement today in response to news media

    "The positions attributed to BYU professor Randy Bott in a recent Washington Post article absolutely do not represent the teachings and doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. BYU faculty members do not speak for the Church. It is unfortunate that the Church was not given a chance to respond to what others said. 
    The Church’s position is clear—we believe all people are God’s children and are equal in His eyes and in the Church. We do not tolerate racism in any form. 
    For a time in the Church there was a restriction on the priesthood for male members of African descent. It is not known precisely why, how, or when this restriction began in the Church but what is clear is that it ended decades ago. Some have attempted to explain the reason for this restriction but these attempts should be viewed as speculation and opinion, not doctrine. The Church is not bound by speculation or opinions given with limited understanding. 
    We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church."
    For more on the Washington Post article see Deseret News report here.
    Source: LDS Newsroom

    (I'm not even going to try and commentate on these statements. I think it is clarification enough of where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its members, stand on the issue of racism and Blacks and the priesthood.)

    Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons is an independent documentary that I would highly recommend to anyone sincerely interested in gaining a better understanding as to why the Priesthood was, for a period of time, withheld from Black members of the LDS Church.  The documentary does an excellent job of giving the known facts and putting them into a cultural perspective. 

    The Documentary Channel owns the rights to this film and currently shows it about once a month.  You can also "Watch it Now" online.  The option to purchase the DVD is also available.  
    "This documentary talks about that little-known legacy, and confronts the hard issues which surfaced in the most turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, when the Church restricted its priesthood from those of African descent. It discusses how that restriction was lifted and what the lives and challenges of the modern Black Mormon pioneers are. Besides never-released footage shot in 1968 and many rare archival photographs, the documentary includes interviews with renowned scholars, historians, Black Mormons, with Martin Luther King III, and with Dr. Cecil "Chip" Murray, retired pastor of the First AME Church of Los Angeles, which was founded by a former slave of Mormon pioneers."

    Trailer - Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons

    You can watch the entire documentary, online, HERE. (link to Deseret News review below)

    Again, I encourage all who want to understand this period of LDS Church history to take the hour and watch this film. For me, it really brought everything I have studied, and portions that I found difficult to make sense of, together -- of which I am very grateful.

    Update 2/6/12:

    An anonymous commenter on this post recommended another documentary that we might also be interested in watching: Pioneers of Africa -- so I did, and highly recommend it as well. You can view it online at  HERE.
    "Share the vibrant testimonies and experiences of African Saints as well as those of LDS Church leaders who have worked among these faithful members." BYUtv
    BYU Creative Works Catalogue: (where you can purchase DVD)
    "Pioneers of Africa is inspiring and unique. Thousands of Africans were converted to the gospel, then waited up to twenty years before they could be baptized following the revelation on the priesthood in 1978. Their story is told by some of the pioneers, by President Gordon B. Hinckley and many other General Authorities, and by Professor E. Dale LeBaron who has collected over 700 oral histories from African pioneers. This is truly a unique and inspiring chapter in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints." 

    I feel inclined to share with you my testimony of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. I firmly believe that the LDS Church is His organization here upon the earth to administer saving ordinances, such as authorized baptism, necessary for our salvation. I also have a testimony of living prophets of God, who I believe to be good and inspired men that have no other intention than to lead us to Jesus Christ and enable our safe return to our Heavenly Father. I love the scriptures. I love the Book of Mormon and feel the power of its truth as I study and prayer over its teachings. My experience with the Book of Mormon clearly justifies my belief that Joseph Smith is truly a prophet of God. I am so grateful for that witness of the Spirit and how that confirmation, daily, continues to strengthen my testimony of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and its mission here upon the earth at this time.

    Kathryn Skaggs

    Note: For those who would like to study the LDS history of Blacks and the priesthood I've provided, what I believe, are some of the very best online resources available. 

    LDS Newsroom - "Video created to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' (Mormon) action in June 1978 to extend its lay priesthood to men of all races."

    Video: Priesthood for Mormon Men of Every Race

    LDS FAQ: Mormon Answers: Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Blacks, and the Issue of Race

    "The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes incorrectly called the "Mormon Church") has been accused of racism for its past policies that limited access to its priesthood ranks. This page explores the complex history of race issues in the Church, where the blessings of membership have been open to people of all races from the beginning, in spite of a confusing past restriction on the priesthood that was done away 1978. This is one of several pages in a suite of "Frequently Asked Questions about Latter-day Saint Beliefs." This work is solely the responsibility of Jeff Lindsay and has not been officially endorsed by the Church. While I strive to be accurate, my writings reflect my personal understanding and are subject to human error and bias."

    "This site celebrates the contributions of Blacks to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and to their communities. Latter-day Saints are also known as Mormons due to their belief in the Book of Mormon in addition to the Bible.

    We hope to correct racial myths and misunderstandings that linger from critics of Mormonism as well as from Latter-day Saints themselves. We strive to build the Gospel vision that we are all children of God, of great and equal worth in His sight."

    FAIR Wiki: Origin of priesthood ban

    "The origin of the priesthood ban is one of the most difficult questions to answer. Its origins are not clear, and this affected both how members and leaders have seen the ban, and the steps necessary to rescind it. The Church has never provided an official reason for the ban."
    Are there restrictions based on race or color concerning who can join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have the priesthood?

    "An award-winning documentary about African American Latter-day Saints. The project is headed by Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray, authors of three books and many scholarly articles about Black Mormons.

    Editor James B. Hughes spent the last years of his life working on this film, and often donated his services because of his passion for the project. He died of brain cancer in 2011. Danor Gerald also edited the film, and appears in it. Interviews were conducted and filmed by Richard Dutcher, Alex Nibley, and Scott Freebairn.

    Few people, Mormon and non-Mormon, are aware that there has been an African American presence in the LDS Church from its earliest days, that the vanguard company of Mormon pioneers included three “colored servants” (slaves), and that subsequent pioneer companies included both freeborn Blacks (such as Jane Manning and Isaac James) and enslaved Blacks, such as Biddy Smith Mason and Elizabeth Flake. This documentary talks about that little-known legacy, and confronts the hard issues which surfaced in the most turbulent years of the Civil Rights Movement, when the Church continued to restrict its priesthood from those of African descent (a policy put into place in 1852). It discusses the context for that restriction, and how it was finally lifted. It also addresses the challenges of modern Black Mormon pioneers."

    Deseret News review: Nobody Knows - Film explores stories of black Mormons

    Website: Blacks in the Scriptures