The Joseph Bishop Scandal: Renewed Dissembling and Obfuscation at LDS Church Headquarters

The following essay was authored by Scott Mitchell, a frequent contributor to this website.

 

During this past week, blogs and media accounts have been abuzz with the news that a woman has accused a former LDS mission president in Argentina, who later served as the president of the Mission Training Center (hereafter “MTC”) in Provo, of raping her, or attempting to rape her, in a secret basement room of the MTC while she was a sister missionary there.  According to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “the Church”), the former mission president, Joseph Bishop, has denied the allegations.  However, the woman, whose name has been kept confidential, confronted Bishop in person with her allegations sometime in 2017, and secretly recorded her interview and discussion with him.  The audiotaped interview, and a transcript of it, have been published all over the internet and can be listened to, or read, by anyone seeking to verify claims of what was actually said.  (It should be noted that the audiotaped interview was leaked to the world by the MormonLeaks website without the victim interviewer’s permission or knowledge.  We condemn this action by MormonLeaks, which seems like a fresh insult to the victim in that it didn’t respect her prerogative to handle this as she saw fit, though this insult was far less damaging and life-changing than Joseph Bishop’s offense against her.  However, this essay concerns itself only with the Church’s response, which is a separate issue.)

Not surprisingly, the LDS Church issued a press release regarding the allegations and the audiotaped conversation, explaining what the church’s response to the scandal has been up to the present.  The church’s response can be read on its website here.

When I first became aware of this story and familiarized myself with the recording and transcript of the interview, I was heartsick over not only the enormity of the tragedy and ruin suffered by the female victim, and the perspective it has given her, but the great damage this would do to the LDS Church’s reputation because of the shocking behavior of one former church leader.  I perceived the same as what has been obvious to all–the LDS Church will not easily recover from this scandal any more easily than it would recover from a powerful bomb being detonated in the church office building during business hours.  Because of this easily forseeable damage, I was content not to weigh in on the matter; the Church would already pay a dear price without me heaping my opprobrium on top of everyone else’s.  But then on March 20, 2018 the LDS Church issued its official statement to the public addressing the situation.  That statement was so dishonest and contrary to the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so much a perpetuation of the same unrighteous desire exhibited by Bishop to protect one’s reputation instead of repenting of sins or restoring integrity, I now feel morally compelled to respond.  I will say the same things I think God would say, if only the Church representatives who drafted the official statement had more carefully sought the His advice on this matter.

The Church is wrong to state twice in its statement that Joseph Bishop denied the victim’s allegations against him.  He did no such thing.  This is not a misstatement, it’s a lie.  If the Church is referring to its own separate interviews with Bishop wherein he denied the rape, or attempted rape allegations (since the victim alleges he did penetrate her, but not fully, rape would be the appropriate charge), with lawyers sitting there next to him, or his denial in interviews with law enforcement personnel, it should at least acknowledge the far more important truth that Bishop did not deny the allegation in his interview with the victim.  The Church representatives already know what Bishop admitted to the victim, because they have listened to the audiotape.  When confronted with the accusation by the victim that he took her down to a secret, isolated little room in the MTC basement containing a bed, a TV and a VCR, Bishop admitted that he remembered that. He had taken her there before with another sister missionary whom he eventually molested, which he also admits.  As to whether he raped the victim in that room on that occasion, he only said he didn’t remember.  He didn’t offer any alternative version of what occurred that day or night, he just claimed he didn’t remember.  He remembered knowing all about the victim’s background as a rape victim before she’d arrived at the MTC, and remembered discussing her breast size with her in that little room, but claimed his memory fails him as to what else happened there.  Throughout the interview, he repeatedly apologized to the victim for what he’d done to her.  He admitted to being a hypocrite, a sexual predator, an eventual molester of the other female missionary in the MTC, and a flirtatious long-time sex addict who since boyhood had repeatedly sinned in his actions with other girls and women to whom he wasn’t married.  He also confessed that he had never told the full truth about his misdeeds when confessing them to his own church leaders, and that if he had fully confessed, he would never have received the church callings he received, but would have received church discipline.  Most importantly of all, Bishop didn’t deny that despite his profuse apologies when confronted by her in person in late 2017, at no prior time in his life did he ever apologize to the victim for what he did, although he’s had 33 years to do so. But he explained his unwillingness  to confess having sexually assaulted her this way:

“I don’t know, maybe it’s just because my mind doesn’t want me to remember that, but I don’t remember that . . .

“I guess it’s tucked away.  Maybe it’ll come out like it did with the sister missionaries for me in the right environment.”

The interview with the victim makes what Bishop said on other occasions to police or lawyers completely irrelevant, except to the extent that it shows his tendency to lie to obfuscate the truth about himself.  Why does the Church then highlight Bishop’s denials of the accusation against him, when it has heard him condemn himself with his own voice?  Here’s why:  Simply put, the Church is attempting to justify its failure after two months (having been presented with the audiotape in early January of 2018) to take appropriate action against Bishop and fully admit to the victim and the rest of the world what he did, and the horrific damage it caused.  The Church has been stalling, far more worried about how to spin this disaster than how to facilitate Joseph Bishop’s full repentance and restore its own integrity.  It’s pretending to be carefully sorting through conflicting accounts to determine who’s being truthful, when it knows full well that for more than two months it’s had all the truth it needs to excommunicate Bishop, vindicate the victim’s credibility while acknowledging the ruin Bishop brought her, and come clean about its own institutional failures.

The Church is also dishonest to subtly cast doubt on the victim’s credibility.  Nothing short of a live video recording of what happened in the basement room could have corroborated the victim more effectively than Joseph Bishop did in his own taped interview with her.  The only way the LDS Church representatives responsible for dealing with this scandal could doubt the victim’s credibility on this particular matter would be if they thought Bishop too senile to remember his past.  But the recording quickly dispels any doubt about his lucidity.  In fact, he is heard to so fully participate, both spiritually and intellectually, in his discussion with the victim that only when he claims a lapse of memory covering the crucial events in the secret basement room does the listener doubt his credibility.  Bishop’s memory is clear on a multitude of sexually related events going back to his teenaged youth, and he even remembers not fully confessing his past sexual sins to prior church leaders.

But what do the drafters of the Church statement (and their overseers) do?  They refer to the victim as “this former Church member, who served briefly as a missionary in 1984.”  If she were credible, she would have completed her mission,  and she would still be in the church supporting her church leaders, right? So she must be lying, even though Bishop massively corroborates every single allegation she makes except in the case of the one little lapse of memory he clings to.

The Church response also tries to discredit the victim by claiming that Carlos Asay, the deceased general authority whom she claims to have reported her allegations to, filed no report of the conversation.  The drafters of the Church response don’t say whether conversations like this are normally memorialized in some written report filed with Church headquarters, so the probative value of this retort is already questionable.  However, it has also now come to light that the victim’s bishop, upon hearing her claims in 1987, failed to report them to church leaders because he found them far-fetched.  Her Pleasant Grove stake leaders also heard her claims in 2010,  but when Joseph Bishop denied the truth of the allegations, which Bishop now admits was part of a pattern he had of suppressing the truth of his sexual history, the only information upon which the Pleasant Grove police took action was church leaders’ allegation that in her anger, this woman had threatened to kill Joseph Bishop.  The police department visited the victim to assure she was sane and warned Bishop that the woman had threatened to kill him.  It hasn’t been divulged what the Church told the police.  But either the police heard the sexual allegations and decided to do nothing about them (more on that below), or the Church left the sexual claims out of the report they passed on to police.  Regardless, since Bishop himself admits that he was not truthful with his church leaders, and that his partial confessions to General Authority Robert G. Wells were never acted upon, and that after confessing his past, he was made MTC president, what exactly does it prove that Carlos Asay didn’t file a report with the Church to ruin Bishop’s reputation?  Again, Bishop’s own version of Church inaction makes the victim’s version sound all the more credible.

As I write this, it is now being admitted that the Church received reports in 2010 from a second woman claiming Joseph Bishop had molested her in 1984.  This is the woman who was also in the MTC at the same time as the victim here, who is referred to repeatedly by name in the recording, and whom Bishop admits he molested.  The Church is now admitting that the ecclesiastical leaders of the second woman were unable to verify her account, and therefore took no action.  The Church makes no mention in its statement of the fact that it received similar, mutually corroborating allegations from two sources in 2010.  Instead, it characterizes the evidence as little more than  “he said-she said” conflicting statements, while apparently hoping readers won’t bother to read the actual recorded interview.

Also as of this moment, it is now being reported in the Provo Daily Herald that Brigham Young University, currently under the truly praiseworthy leadership of President Kevin Worthen, has now provided the Church with unredacted reports on file with the BYU police department.  Those reports show that on December 5, 2017, the victim reported to university police that Bishop had raped her, after initially trying to kiss her and pulling off her clothes, and that said police then interviewed Bishop.  Bishop admitted to inappropriate sexual contact with the victim, claiming he only asked her to bare her breasts, but denied he raped her.  If this admission to police of the LDS Church-owned university went nowhere a few months ago, and had no effect on Bishop’s church standing, what does it say about the effort of the Church to cleanse the inner vessel?  Does the Church truly attempt to determine the credibility of witnesses, or to suppress the truth when said truth tarnishes its public image?

Inevitably, in cases like this one, great attempts will be made by Bishop defenders to discredit the victim’s credibility by pointing to other events in her life where she appears to have been untruthful.  In her interview, the victim admitted one occasion when she lied during her life, and it’s likely that lie wasn’t her only one in 50+ years on earth.  But it should be remembered that the credibility of her current claim is almost completely corroborated by Joseph Bishop’s own admissions throughout the recorded interview, and that he not only admits he wronged the woman, and other women, but begs for her forgiveness.  He also admits his habitual dishonesty, and says, memorably, in reviewing his life, “I don’t know if I can be forgiven.”

The Church statement reads:  “The Church, as a religious organization, does not have the investigative tools available to law enforcement agencies.  Nor can the Church substitute for the courts in adjudicating legal claims.  The Church has great faith in the judicial system to determine the truth of these claims.” This is more dissembling.  The Church has investigative tools available to it that police agencies don’t have.  I say this as a former career prosecutor who spent thirty years evaluating witness statements and speaking to witnesses in person.  The Church can appeal to a member’s moral conscience to elicit truthful statements, especially when the member is confronted with a righteous accusation from another brother or sister who accepts Christ as his or her savior, and who believes in the gospel of the Bible and Book of Mormon.  Police are less successful using that tactic because accused persons know that admissions of serious guilt will usually land them in jail or prison.  And whether the Church will admit it or not, nothing stops it from employing polygraph tests when confronted by extremely troubling allegations by one member, and denials by another.  No one can be forced to take a lie detector test, either in the law or in the church, but nothing prevents both parties from being offered to participate, either.  In this case, had that tactic been used, the victim would likely have taken and passed a polygraph, and Bishop would likely have declined to take one.  Remember, Bishop admitted in the recorded interview he chronically underreported his sexual transgressions, withholding the most serious acts.

It’s also extremely misleading for the Church to claim that it has great faith in the judicial system to determine truth.  If this were true, the Church would have told the Pleasant Grove police department all of the victim’s allegations, not just the ones that cast her as a lunatic, and would have made sure those allegations were passed along to a police department that could actually investigate them.  The Church has its own lawyers, and it knows the Pleasant Grove police had no jurisdiction over a crime reported to have occurred in the Provo MTC.  Given the fact that nothing resulted from the reports given to BYU’s own police department, the evidence is stronger that the Church deliberately kept the victim’s reports out of the judicial system, and that it was confident it would succeed in doing so.

Unfortunately, the Church has a history of dissembling about the sexual practices of its members.  In a Gospel Topics essay on the LDS Church website entitled “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo,” mention is made of what happened when members of the church were truthfully accused of practicing polygamy:

Participants in these early plural marriages pledged to keep their involvement confidential, though they anticipated a time when the practice would be publicly acknowledged.
Nevertheless, rumors spread . . . The rumors prompted members and leaders to issue carefully worded denials that denounced spiritual wifery and polygamy but were silent about what Joseph Smith and others saw as divinely mandated “celestial” plural marriage.  The statements emphasized that the Church practiced no marital law other than monogamy while implicitly leaving open the possibility that individuals, under direction of God’s living prophet, might do so.

(Emphasis added.)

Ponder that last paragraph for a moment.  Not only are the writers admitting that church leaders, and members acting under their direction, repeatedly lied about what they were doing, and claimed to be doing the opposite of the accusation, but those same writers cynically word the statement in such a way as to call blatant lies more-palatable-sounding “carefully worded denials.”  At the end of this statement is a footnote numbered 23.  Footnote 23 provides further evidence of just how entrenched the culture of lying about polygamy was, and still seems to be (with emphasis again added):

See, for example, “On Marriage,” Times and Seasons, Oct. 1, 1842, 939–40; and Wilford Woodruff journal, Nov. 25, 1843, Church History Library, Salt Lake City; Parley P. Pratt, “This Number Closes the First Volume of the ‘Prophet,’” The Prophet, May 24, 1845, 2. George A. Smith explained, “Any one who will read carefully the denials, as they are termed, of plurality of wives in connection with the circumstances will see clearly that they denounce adultery, fornication, brutal lust and the teaching of plurality of wives by those who were not commanded to do so.” (George A. Smith letter to Joseph Smith III, Oct. 9, 1869, in Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Oct. 9, 1869, Church History Library, Salt Lake City).

Why lie about polygamy?  Because to admit to it, true as the accusation was, was to admit to adultery on the part of the leaders who started it.  The law banning bigamy was passed in Illinois in 1833.  Being legally married to one woman only, and illegally married to others, and having sexual relations with multiple women, was, in the eyes of the law, garden-variety adultery, just as it is now.  It was no excuse to say, “The Lord gave me permission to marry multiple women, so it’s not adultery, even though I’m only legally married to one of them.”  So, rather than admit that Joseph Smith had instituted a practice of serial adultery in the eyes of the law, which law Mormons affirmatively purported to uphold, it was preferable to simply tell lies.  Lie to conceal the truth about the Church or its leader or leaders.  The practice of dissembling was institutional then, and we have yet to rid it from our midst.  Notice in the above quoted statement from the Gospel Topic essay, the writers use the phrase  “members and leaders” instead of the more truthful and informative phrase, “Joseph Smith and those acting under his direction.”  The truth is embarrassing, so we conceal it.

We have written elsewhere about blatant dissembling in the writing of Gospel Topic essays; see, e.g., Polygamy, Doctrine and Covenants Section 132 and their Doctrinal and Historical Problems within Mormonism and The Book of Abraham, elsewhere on this website.  Unfortunately, we see a pattern developing.

The truth of the victim’s allegations against Joseph Bishop are aptly demonstrated from the following excerpt of the interview, wherein the victim explains to Bishop why he hasn’t repented.  She seems to understand what true repentance is, and how closely connected it is to telling the truth:

Bishop:  Over here, I’m not worthy.  Didn’t go to the temple. Didn’t because I’m not worthy. When I start to feel worthy, then I do some more work and more work. Then, and I repented. I’ve done all the things that I can do. Now you would say to me, “You haven’t repented”. And I’d say, “I understand that”. I understand where you’re coming from. And I thought I had.

Victim: No you didn’t, because there’s a piece of you, Joe, inside you that says, “I’m not done.” That’s why you still carry it with you, because you have not completely repented. Your soul is not clean and purged, and it’s covered in crimson. That’s why you still carry this with you. That’s why if you were to die today, you die with all this with you, and it goes with you. The repentance process isn’t about, “Okay, I’m going to tell part of my story to a priesthood leader because I can get away with telling this much, and repent, and everybody around me will know that I’m trying.”

 

Well, the fact of the matter is you didn’t really tell everything that you told, everything that you did. You gave little bits and pieces, and you covered yourself in a shroud and you walked along. And each time that happened, you carried something heavier with you each time you went because you never told the whole story when you confessed. If you did do it, you’d be excommunicated. So did you repent? No. Not the way that the Lord tells us to repent. You didn’t say you were sorry. You didn’t even tell the whole story. And so there are women like me out there struggling, and you defecated all over us. And you just walked along and you continued serving in the church like we were nothing. We WERE nothing. We ARE nothing.

Bishop:  I think you’re right.

Victim:  I think I’m right too.

Bishop:  I wish you weren’t. But I think you are. I didn’t think of it that way. I thought I was doing everything that I possibly could do to overcome this sexual addiction . . .

 

Church, what should you do?  Always be truthful, and let the chips fall where they may.  Care less about how bad the truth makes you appear from a public relations standpoint, and care more about how the Lord feels about your dissembling.  Don’t rationalize lying by thinking you’re doing it for the Lord.  Don’t pretend not to know the truth when you do know it.  The Lord doesn’t want you to be dishonest, and you thwart His work when you are.  Be willing to admit that your leaders aren’t, by virtue of their callings, any more inspired or blessed than the other good people of your faith and other faiths.  Nor are they more righteous or worthy of protection.  They’re often less inspired and less righteous.  They’re normal people, and God doesn’t favor them.  If you’re not fastidiously truthful, you’ll compound the original sinfulness, and lose the trust of your members.  And by all means, apologize to those you’ve wronged, and ask their forgiveness, and change your culture so self-cleansing becomes commonplace, and cover-ups extinct.

April 4, 2018 UPDATE:  New information has now emerged demonstrating that the LDS Church has mishandled this scandal to a greater extent than contemplated even in the above essay.  You can read about it here.  It’s now known that the outside attorney hired by the Church responded to the existence of the taped conversation with Joseph Bishop by compiling a voluminous dossier against the victim, which not only included criminal charges brought against her, her LDS church discipline history and the occasions when employers fired her, but the name of the illegitimate child whom she gave up for adoption.  The lawyer then sent a letter to Greg Bishop, who is Joseph Bishop’s son and attorney, in which all such information was contained.  Not surprisingly, the younger Bishop released much of said information to the media in his own letter, in which he urged the media to consider the source of the allegations against his father, but redacted the name of the victim’s female child.  However, the daughter’s name was somehow thereafter leaked to the media as well. Said child, who is now a  35-year old adult, was shocked to read her name in the newspaper identified as the victim’s daughter, together with her whereabouts.

Said daughter had not been told about her birth mother because the record of the adoption had been sealed by the LDS Church’s adoption agency when the adoption took place.  Through considerable effort on the daughter’s part, she was able to find out on her own who her biological mother was, despite the Church’s sealed agency records.  Apparently, what the Church originally sealed in the interest of protecting the privacy of the victim, her daughter and the adoptive parents, it freely divulged to its outside attorney, despite the complete irrelevance of said information to the case.  In fact, the victim’s criminal history, whatever it consists of, her church membership history and her job terminations were all completely irrelevant to the matter, since the LDS church had Joseph Bishop’s own admissions on audiotape demonstrating that the allegations against him were true in every way material to church action against him.  To compile a dossier against the victim for the purpose of discrediting her, when it knew she was being truthful, was evil, and it was compounded by the initial press release detailed above wherein the church dishonestly pretended not to know who was telling the truth.

Moreover, said Church action, as many have now pointed out, will have a pronounced chilling effect on other victims who might be considering telling their own sexual abuse stories.  Recent events seem to indicate a tendency on the part of the Church to say, “Air our dirty laundry and we will drag your name through the mud, truth be damned.”

Why the Home Teaching Program Does More Harm than Good

This article is written by Hal Mitchell, a frequent sponsor, and contributor to LAMP.  Below, he freely expresses his feelings and opinions on the LDS Church’s administration of its own Home Teaching program.

I am the world’s worst home teacher. Every time I go out it is never because I am concerned about the welfare of individuals, it is without a doubt because I am worried about being embarrassed for not doing it and having to face the scolding wrath of the brethren at church. If I do it and no one calls me about that month to ask me how if I did it, I am disappointed. I only did it to get a pat on the back anyway. I have never done it for the Lord or for the good of his kingdom. When I go, I feel like I am imposing upon some poor member, whether active or inactive. I thank the poor souls from the bottom of my heart for having to suffer through a visit with me so I can get an “attaboy” from leaders of the ward. The people I visit are definitely doing me a favor, not the other way round.  I never pray for them with real intent, because I am afraid God will smite me dead for being so phony.  When on rare occasions,  a person I home teach asks me for help to move, or chop weeds, or redo their roof, I secretly feel like they are taking advantage of me. Why can’t they hire a gardener or a roofer? I feel the same way when home teachers come to my home. I am doing them a favor. I would never feel comfortable asking them to do something that would really help me. I am self-reliant, and if I want advice, I have people in my life I can ask, or pay a professional, but my home teachers have never, and would never, be on that list. I don’t want them to think I am needy, and in my heart, if they ask me for help I consider them needy. 

In many ways, I wish my home teacher was never someone I really liked or admired. Otherwise, I would worry that men I truly wanted to be friends with were coming to my home out of their sense of duty, not because they enjoy visiting with me. Our potential friendships are complicated because they are coming for one main reason, which is to be obedient to the rules of our church, not to find a new friend.  That is a reason I hate the home teaching program. There is no love in it. It is a duty; you do it to show your loyalty to your leaders who beg you to do it. We do it for them and them only. The reports submitted are centered around whether I did my home teaching, not around any kind of good being done during the visits. Why is it that way?

Whenever home teachers come I eye them suspiciously. I know they are no different than me, and we all believe that compliance will somehow bring us the blessing of not being embarrassed by telling your leader you are a deadbeat. That is the blessing of doing your home teaching. We are told that even though we may not do it for the best reason, just because we are doing it makes us eligible for someday doing it for the right reason, and then we will receive spiritual blessings perhaps.

When home teachers come, and at the end when they ask if there is anything they can do for us, I know they are praying we will say nothing so they can go home in peace and not feel encumbered with more responsibility than just saying they went, did the visit, and all is fine at the Mitchells. I go out home teaching and I let someone home teach me, but there is nothing more to the program than that.  We’re just being a part of the home teaching cooperative. We all agree to help each other out by letting each other come to our homes and waste a little time so we can all get credit for doing our duty.

If I were a genuine person, and if I had an ounce of integrity, I would tie the Ensign to a brick with a pretty bow just to show that I care, and huck it out the window of my car onto the lawn of my home-teachees as I sped by.  In that way, I don’t impose on their time; I don’t feel like a phony pretending to be their friend, and I get to count it for the monthly home teaching report. I don’t offend the Lord because now I am being genuine as a true blue deadbeat home teacher.

In April 1987 President Ezra Taft Benson gave a stirring talk on the subject of home-teaching. It contains much information and makes a passionate case, illustrating the blessings and goodness that can come if priesthood members would just comply. I believe it is important that all read it again, to see the expectations, but consider reasons why the program fails to accomplish what President Benson and possibly even the Lord wanted someone to learn from this message.

I will, therefore,  include the talk in its entirety and insert my comments in red.

My beloved brethren of the priesthood, it has been a joy to be with you this evening and to be instructed by these choice men of God. I have felt of your power and faith, and I commend you for your attendance here tonight.

I rejoice in this opportunity to say a few words to you tonight. I feel impressed to speak to you about a priesthood program that has been inspired from its inception—a program that touches hearts, that changes lives, and that saves souls; a program that has the stamp of approval of our Father in Heaven; a program so vital that, if faithfully followed, it will help to spiritually renew the Church and exalt its individual members and families. Why does this not happen in today’s church, or at least the 33 wards I have lived in throughout my life?

I am speaking about priesthood home teaching. With all my heart, I pray that you will understand, by the Spirit, exactly my feelings about home teaching. 

Brethren, home teaching is not just another program. It is the priesthood way of watching over the Saints and accomplishing the mission of the Church. Home teaching is not just an assignment. It is a sacred calling. It has the potential to be a sacred program, but the way it is currently administered, it is far from sacred. No Elder or High Priest who struggles to get it done each month looks at it like it is a blessing in his life. It is a bane. It is a hammer to the head over and over again, and we feel like phoneys when we do it because we know we are doing it for the almighty report. Why do you have us report, President Benson? Leaders have given lesson after lesson making members feel guilty for not doing it. There are no inspiring lessons on how to do it, or how to be a better teacher, or how to break down barriers. No training is given, no inspiring accounts of how someone felt inspired to call someone to be a home teacher to a particular family or person, no honest discussion of why priesthood holders fail month after month in achieving the ideal, no discussion on quality home teaching or using the spirit to discern who may want to be home taught and who doesn’t.

Home teaching is not to be undertaken casually. A home teaching call is to be accepted as if extended to you personally by the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ? So when I hear from my leader that they have changed all the home teaching beats, I get a little piece of paper with a few names I have never heard of, and one or two that I have heard of. That is how the Lord Jesus Christ does things of such grave importance as you say? The leader knows just as little as I know about the people, and has no insight into the whys of where they are spiritually. The leader does not even know if they want to be home taught, but for some uninspired reason, that is never taken into account. It’s hard to imagine the leader  making the call to  be a home teacher as the Lord would do when he knows nothing about the people and doesn’t motivate by saying he felt inspired that I might receive joy by visiting these people, or is aware of special needs that I have been called to provide for a specific reason.  But despite this, leaders complain that the call is carried out with no spiritual zest, testimony, or conviction. What could leaders do to change that, or is it just the fault of deadbeat members like me?

The Savior Himself was a teacher. The only perfect man to walk the face of the earth was a humble, dedicated, inspired teacher who brought to His followers salvation and exaltation. The Lord never uttered the word exaltation anywhere in the Book of Mormon nor the Bible.

Oh, that all the brethren of the Church would catch that vision of home teaching! Yes, I agree, but it starts with you President Benson. You talk like it is us, the faithless members, but you have sabotaged a good idea into a program that everyone in the church hates to talk about, and which causes anxiety when it is presented. The ones who do it don’t need to be scolded and the ones like me who don’t do it don’t seem to improve with scolding, so what is an inspired answer?

Tonight I am not teaching new doctrine, but I am reaffirming old doctrine. Quoting from section 20 of the Doctrine and Covenants, revealed to the Prophet Joseph in April of 1830, the Lord declared to the priesthood: Not really. He is talking about the duties of the teacher in the Aaronic priesthood. Who came up with the idea that a 14 or 15-year-old could or would be allowed, or listened to, if he set out to do all these things mentioned in this scripture? This is the classic home teaching scripture used to motivate and deliver the task into the minds of all home teachers. The only problem is it is not inspiring because it is not written for all.  It is for Aaronic Priesthood teachers, and we all laugh a the thought of them doing this, but that is what the scripture says. Why do we take this out of its original context? How can a scripture be motivating to me when you know it isn’t written for me, it is written for a 14 to 15-year-old who has never, and will never do the things the D&C says he is supposed to do. There are other scriptures written for every other priesthood office, so why do we focus on this one when it is for teachers, and in the LDS church, those teachers are 14 and 15 years old, and we all know they aren’t really expected to do this under any reasonable scenario.

Watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them;

And see that there is no iniquity in the church. …

And see that the church meet together often, and also see that all the members do their duty” (D&C 20:53–55).

And visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties” (D&C 20:51).

Brethren, that is priesthood home teaching. OK, but here in D&C 20:55 is a pernicious philosophy, that extracts the spirit of the Holy Ghost and replaces it with evil destroying the vision Ezra Taft Benson is trying to establish. The philosophy is, “SEE that there is no iniquity, SEE that the church meet together often, and also SEE that all the members do their duty.” The word see in this context means to compel or to make sure.” How do we cultivate spiritual motives of love, unselfish service and love of the Lord when we are compelled? That is an evil practice (Section 121: 36-39). The D&C endorses monitoring or compelling people to do things rather than allowing the true believer to do what they believe in their hearts.

Thomas S. Monson agrees with this notion and clarifies the extent of what is meant by seeing to it that things are done in the church:

When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported, the rate of improvement accelerates” (see Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct. 1970, 107).

Why would spiritual leaders distract true believers, by giving them an ulterior motive of doing something good to be seen of men? If someone truly understands President Benson’s vision, why do they need to be monitored? Did Alma and Ammon need to be monitored, or was their conversion sufficient to provide adequate motivation? Maybe Brother Monson is not looking to distract the true believers but to compel those who are not true believers. Is that the Lord’s way, to compel his children, or to encourage a change of heart? In Moroni 7: 8, the Book of Mormon explains the imprudence of this practice when Moroni says:

For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.

For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness

8 For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly, wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift, wherefore he is counted evil before God.

9 and likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart, yea, and if profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.

The offering of service, like a gift, must, therefore, be offered with a true intent, not be done to fill out a report, or satisfy the request of a bishop or quorum leader. Compulsion is not condoned by God, despite what Joseph Smith and Thomas Monson have taught. 

 

When you have a converted soul, like both Almas, Paul, the Son’s of Mosiah, Captain Moroni, and countless others we have read about in history, there are great people who do noble acts of kindness and bravery from convicted hearts. Greatness can never come to a soul if there is not personal conviction. Monitoring and reporting spiritual acts is corrupting to personal conviction. As the Lord says, it cometh of evil and he accepts none such (vs 9 above).

This kind of teaching was done in Christ’s time by His early disciples. It was practiced in Book of Mormon times. In the first chapter of Jacob, we read:

For I, Jacob, and my brother Joseph had been consecrated priests and teachers of this people, by the hand of Nephi. This is another great idea that is not followed. Why aren’t home teachers set apart after an interview, if it is the most significant calling, and comes from the Lord Jesus Christ? Why does one just get a slip of paper with a few names on it? Why isn’t it treated by leaders as sacred? Do they pray before making assignments? If they received revelation they don’t share it. Why don’t they ask if the home teacher is willing in his heart if it is a truly sacred calling? Do they want to know if the home teacher has conviction? It seems if it is as important as Ezra Taft Benson wanted, one might think inspiration would be used for choosing the right families or individuals for the home teacher?

And we did magnify our office unto the Lord, taking upon us the responsibility, answering the sins of the people upon our own heads if we did not teach them the word of God with all diligence” (Jacob 1:18–19). How beautiful this is described in the Book of Mormon. Why is it not that way in our day? What is missing?

From the beginning of this inspired program in our day, leaders of the Church have emphasized over and over again the importance of home teaching.

President Marion G. Romney, in general conference, declared:

Home teaching, properly functioning, brings to ‘the house of each member’ two priesthood bearers divinely commissioned and authoritatively called into the service by their priesthood leader and bishop. These Home Teachers—priesthood bearers—carry the heavy and glorious responsibility of representing the Lord Jesus Christ in looking after the welfare of each Church member. They are to encourage and inspire every member to discharge his duty, both family and Church” (address given at general conference home teaching meeting, 8 Apr. 1966, p. 3). Such an important calling should have training seminars if it is that important. In my 40 years as a home teacher, I have never heard of a training seminar available as referenced above.

President David O. McKay stated: “Home teaching is one of our most urgent and most rewarding opportunities to nurture and inspire, to counsel and direct our Father’s children. … It is a divine service, a divine call. It is our duty as Home Teachers to carry the divine spirit into every home and heart. To love the work and do our best will bring unbounded peace, joy, and satisfaction to a noble, dedicated teacher of God’s children” (quoted by Marion G. Romney, in an address at general conference home teaching meeting, 8 Apr. 1966, p. 7). Again I am shocked that president McKay would speak of a program in such lofty terms when in no way shape or form does the church invest time or energy into training. It’s funny because it is described in the sermon to sound like it is as sacred as a call to serve a two-year mission. In that calling you spend 3-12 weeks in a mission training center, many months thereafter as a junior companion, learning how to teach, and to learn the skills of a labor that literally consumes every minute of every day, six-plus days a week. A missionary feels the weight of what is expected, and many shrink from the weight because it is so consuming. The church offers no training, no preparation, no gospel awareness, no assessment of interest or willingness on the part of the home-teacher. Every male is a home-teacher. How can that be a sacred, holy calling when it is handled by leadership in such a perfunctory manner? When I was told I was being called to be a missionary I got a letter signed by Spencer W. Kimball telling me I was called by the Lord to a sacred service. I believed him. I have that letter to this day. I gave the time of my mission my all and felt the spirit with me, guiding me, sustaining and teaching me. Is home-teaching as important? If it is why don’t our leaders treat it differently?

My good brethren of the Melchizedek Priesthood and the Aaronic Priesthood, home teaching is an inspired program. If it is so inspired, why is the report required by the church just a yes or a no? Did you do your home-teaching? Yes, I threw the brick.  What does the Bishop do with the reports he receives from the quorums? He turns them into the stake? What does the Stake do with the reports? They turn them into the area supervisor? I don’t know. Is there a divinely guided person in Salt Lake waiting for the monthly reports so they can store them in a holy place somewhere waiting for judgment day so the Lord can study them? That is why it is so important to know what counts and what doesn’t. Why does the church require reports that help no one, and corrupts a potentially inspired program?

It is the heart of caring, of loving, of reaching out to the one—both the active and the less active.

It is priesthood compassionate service. Why are priesthood bearers so evil that we resist compassion but favor complying? We would rather get a report filled out than to do something good apparently. If not, why are we asked to document compliance but not compassion?

It is how we express our faith in practical works. Faith in whom, In our priesthood leaders or in the teachings of Jesus?

It is one of the tests of true discipleship. Discipleship of Jesus when we accept service done grudgingly?

It is the heart of the activation effort of the Church.

It is a calling that helps to fulfill the scriptural injunction: “Out of small things proceedeth that which is great” (D&C 64:33).

There is no greater Church calling than that of a home teacher. Why do you say something like this when everyone who has gone home teaching knows it is not so. The vision is understandable, but to say there is no greater calling? I have never seen a home teacher’s coffin solemnly carried out of the conference center by the 12 apostles after a lengthy nationally broadcasted service extolling his innumerable virtues. There is no greater Church service rendered to our Father in Heaven’s children than the service rendered by a humble, dedicated, committed home teacher. No doubt.

There are three fundamentals that are essential to effective home teaching. May I discuss these briefly.

First, know well those you are to home teach. It is essential to know them well, and if leaders are inspired they should choose compatible personalities so this can be achieved. home teachers should be skilled teachers, not just the next guy on the list who needs a route. This can only happen if the home teacher is genuinely converted to the inspiration of his calling and the family must be willing also. Does every active and inactive member desire the home teaching program?

Really know them! You can’t serve well those you don’t know well. President Marion G. Romney emphasized this:

Each pair of home teachers should become [personally] acquainted with every child, youth and adult in the family to whom they are assigned. Why does President Benson assume that every home teacher has the ability and the desire, and each member of each family has the desire to become personally acquainted? 

To perform fully our duty as a Home Teacher we should be continually aware of the attitudes, the activities and interests, the problems, the employment, the health, the happiness, the plans and purposes, the physical, temporal, and spiritual needs and circumstances of everyone—of every child, every youth, and every adult in the homes and families who have been placed in our trust and care as a bearer of the priesthood, and as a representative of the bishop” (priesthood home teaching seminar, 9 Aug. 1963, pp. 3, 4). Again, he is being presumptuous to assume that is achievable or even desirable in every case.

And the key to effectively working with the family is to be close to the father. Know his righteous desires for his family and help him to realize them. And I would urge you to do the little things, the small things that mean so much to a family. For example, know the names of all the family members. Be aware of birthdays, blessings, baptisms, and marriages. On occasion, write an appropriate note of commendation or make a phone call congratulating a member of the family on a special achievement or accomplishment.

With your home teaching companion, regularly review pages 8 and 9 of the Melchizedek Priesthood Handbook for some excellent suggestions on how to be helpful to those you home teach.

Above all, be a genuine friend to the individuals and families you teach. As the Savior declared to us, “I will call you friends, for you are my friends” (D&C 93:45). A friend makes more than a dutiful visit each month. A friend is more concerned about helping people than getting credit. A friend cares. A friend loves. A friend listens, and a friend reaches out. Again, both parties must be converted to this principle for the ideal described to be achieved. He used the word genuine which is impossible if one follows, the compulsion of the program to achievement percentages on a report. Again, if we are to be genuine, we should eliminate reports of monthly percentages. How is genuine friendship measured in percentages?

We remember the story President Romney used to tell about the so-called home teacher who once called at the Romney home on a cold night. He kept his hat in his hand and shifted nervously when invited to sit down and give his message. “Well, I’ll tell you, Brother Romney,” he responded, “it’s cold outside, and I left my car engine running so it wouldn’t stop. I just stopped in so I could tell the bishop I de my calls.”

We can do better than that, brethren—much better. Why is the bishop asking for reports? Since the bishop does ask for reports, he should be happy because he has a home teacher who is very report conscious, but then someone says that is not good enough. So why ask for reports if you want to teach conversion? Whose idea was it to require a report? It wasn’t the home-teacher. Our disgusting home teacher has been deceived by his leaders who ask for reports. He delivers and they are not satisfied.

Who needs to change their ways? Yes, you leaders can do better. Take away the temptation to serve men, and their shallow meaningless incentives that lead one away from God.

The second fundamental to effective home teaching is to know well the message you are to deliver in each home. And know that it is the particular message the Lord would have you give to the families and individuals you have been asked to serve.

Home teachers should have a purpose or goal in mind and should plan each visit to help meet that purpose. Before making their visits, home teaching partners should meet together to pray, to review instructions from their leaders, to go over the message they will take to the families, and to discuss any special needs.

Home teachers should present an important message that they have prepared or that they bring from priesthood leaders. We strongly recommend that the home teachers use the monthly message from the First Presidency printed in the Ensign and the Church’s international magazines. The head of the family may also request a special message for family members.

And, as a vital part of that message, whenever possible, read together the scriptures with the families you home teach. Make this a regular part of your visit. Especially read together verses from the Book of Mormon that will fortify your message, always remembering the words of the Prophet Joseph, that “a man would get nearer to God by abiding by [the] precepts [of the Book of Mormon], than by any other book” (Book of Mormon Introduction). Your families need the continual strength of the Book of Mormon. How marvelous and fun would this be if you could have a receptive family and a qualified home-teacher who loves the gospel message and can connect well with his people.

May our message be like Alma instructed the teachers of his day: “He commanded them that they should teach nothing save it were the things which he had taught, and which had been spoken by the mouth of the holy prophets” (Mosiah 18:19).

Carry the right message, and then teach with the Spirit. The Spirit is the single most important ingredient in this work. Through the Spirit, the individuals and families you teach will know of your love and concern for them and will also know of the truthfulness of your message and will have a desire to follow it.

As home teachers, live the kind of lives yourselves that will invite the Spirit. Live the gospel so you can effectively teach it. This should be a requirement to be a home teacher. Do you study the gospel and why? Is it to be the all-star in Sunday School who knows all the answers or is it to draw you closer to God?

Alma instructs us:

Trust no one to be your teacher nor your minister, except he be a man of God, walking in his ways and keeping his commandments. Yes, how important that the home teacher chooses this amazing calling for himself rather than it be imposed upon all male adults, who may or may not have the skills, desire or testimony to achieve the awesome ideal proposed here. Not every male in the church has the ability to be an effective home teacher and making him turn in reports and monitoring him does not change that fact. Church leaders are not aware of this fact it seems.

Therefore [Alma] consecrated all their priests and all their teachers; and none were consecrated except they were just men.

Therefore they did watch over their people, and did nourish them with things pertaining to righteousness” (Mosiah 23:14, 17–18).

Also remember that, whenever possible, praying in the home should be a part of every home teaching visit. As you may be called upon to pray, pray with the Spirit, pray with real intent, and invoke the Lord’s blessings upon the individuals and families you are teaching.

Yes, the second fundamental to effective home teaching is to know well your message, teach it by the Spirit, and make praying and reading the scriptures an integral part of that message.

May I now suggest the third and final ingredient to effective home teaching—and that is to truly magnify your calling as a home teacher.

Do not settle for mediocrity in this great priesthood program of home teaching. If our leaders were not mediocre, the members would not be mediocre. Why might a member choose to be mediocre? Could it be due to setting number goals and measuring progress in percentages that might lead to mediocre spiritual results? Tell us what the spiritual purpose reports serve in the kingdom of God? Did Jesus keep a running tally of his multitudes and the number of people he converted to his doctrine? Did he ask his disciples to report percentages? Maybe he wanted reports on individual’s specific progress, but he did not monitor or ask for statistical reports.

Be an excellent home teacher in every facet of the work. Be a real shepherd of your flock. Make your home teaching visit early in the month, allowing enough time for additional follow-up contacts as necessary.

Whenever possible, make a definite appointment for each visit. Let your families know when you are coming, and respect their time. If we respect their time, it would make sense we respect their desire to not be visited. I remain unclear on what the rules are on this point. It is stressful and virtually always unfruitful to visit a person unwilling to be home taught.

Melchizedek Priesthood bearers, when you have an Aaronic Priesthood young man as your companion, train him well. Use him effectively in working with your families and in teaching them. Have these young men feel of your love of home teaching so that when they become senior companions they will love their callings and magnify them as you have.

Remember, both the quality and quantity of home teaching are essential in being an effective home teacher. You should have quality visits, but you should also make contact with each of your families each month? Does the brick count? As shepherds to all of your families, both active and less active, you should not be content with only reaching the ninety and nine. Your goal should be 100 percent home teaching every month. Why do you believe spirituality can be achieved by setting a numerical goal? Who made the decision that a month is the right interval? Shouldn’t there be a purpose followed here rather than a goal?  Isn’t the purpose to teach the gospel and to love them, or is the purpose just to visit no matter what the benefit or detriment may or may not be? Don’t you see how the numbers will become the focus instead of the quality of the work being done? The brick on the lawn is the best way to achieve the numbers wanted, but putting emphasis on numbers is evil before God, so in that scenario, there is no influence of the Holy Ghost, and the Lord says it is counted, yes, but it is counted as evil. It seems that despite how inspired a potential a program may have, our leaders cannot resist the urge to reach a percentage. Numbers once again are our motivating force. Why do you criticize the Romney home teacher who just wanted 100%? You just said we should aim for that.

So that this can be quality home teaching, we urge priesthood leaders not to assign more than three to five families or individuals to a pair of home teachers. This may be a challenge in some cases, but we would invite you to give prayerful consideration to these assignments. If our leaders are prayerful do they share the struggle they have with the Lord or is there just pressure to get the assignments made, so the monitoring can start.

Keeping faithful track of each member you are called to home teach is essential. The Book of Mormon beautifully teaches this principle. In the sixth chapter of Moroni we read:

And after they had been received unto baptism, … they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God, to keep them in the right way, to keep them continually watchful unto prayer, relying alone upon the merits of Christ, who was the author and the finisher of their faith” (Moro. 6:4).

This is a beautiful scripture because it is the willing new convert who wants to learn and grow in the gospel. Having a skilled willing teacher available to teach the new members should be inculcated into every ward.  

Brethren, may we remember all of our individuals and families and “number” them each month and nourish them by the good word of God to keep them in the right way. That is a fun job if all are willing.

We call upon quorum leaders to conduct spiritual monthly home teaching interviews, receive a report on the home teachers’ activities, evaluate current needs, make assignments for the coming month, and teach, strengthen, and inspire the home teachers in their sacred callings. Such interviews with home teachers provide a setting for leaders to measure progress and better serve the individuals and members they have been called to serve. This also does not have any training associated. This interview is just asking if one’s home teaching is done. Quality does not enter in.  It is a person wanting to know if the brick at least landed in the yard.

May I close by bearing you my personal testimony regarding home teaching. I can remember, as if it were yesterday, growing up as a young boy in Whitney, Idaho. We were a farm family, and when we boys were out working in the field, I remember Father calling to us in a shrill voice from the barnyard: “Tie up your teams, boys, and come on in. The ward teachers are here.” Regardless of what we were doing, that was the signal to assemble in the sitting room to hear the ward teachers.

These two faithful priesthood bearers would come each month either by foot or by horseback. We always knew they would come. I can’t remember one miss. And we would have a great visit. They would stand behind a chair and talk to the family. They would go around the circle and ask each child how he or she was doing and if we were doing our duty. Sometimes Mother and Father would prime us before the ward teachers came so we would have the right answers. But it was an important time for us as a family. They always had a message, and it was always a good one.

We have refined home teaching a lot since those early days in Whitney. But it is still basically the same. The same principles are involved: caring, reaching out, teaching by the Spirit, leaving an important message each month, and having a concern and love for each member of the family.

God bless the home teachers of this Church. You are in the front line of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Understand the sacredness of your calling and the divine nature of your responsibility.

Know well those you are to home teach. Know well your message, and deliver it with the Spirit. And finally, truly magnify your calling as a home teacher.

As you do this, I promise you the blessings of heaven and the indescribable joy that comes from helping to touch hearts, change lives, and save souls. Inthe name of Jesus Christ, amen. 

I am sure those who listened with real intent to this message were moved. How could someone dare to say home teaching does more harm than good after such stirring remarks?

I believe it is relevant to attempt to examine the psyche of those who are mediocre home teachers. Perhaps I am an expert.

Where is the sacred calling in all of this? Where is the Lord Jesus Christ and the feeling of mission? It is a program bereft of the Holy Ghost and replaced with Holy Dread. I am the home-teacher clearly without real intent and therefore grudgingly performing my duty which the Lord says is evil in Moroni 7: 6-9 as quoted above. Remember that the word grudgingly means reluctantly per Webster. How many Home-teachers do what they do with reluctance? How much evil is being done for a goal or percentage that has nothing to do with nurturing spiritual growth? Who is responsible for placing goals and percentages into the motivational fabric of a potentially inspired program? How much evil are our leaders responsible for when discipleship is replaced with worldly incentives?

In the defense of the Home teaching program, frequently an example is given of someone who goes out and because of their love, and genuine concern some one’s life is truly blessed. Some use the argument that Jesus left the 99 and went after the one lost sheep. In response to that, sometimes people do get rich in a multilevel marketing scheme despite the fact that the program is designed upon the strategy of exploiting one’s friends. I was a Boy Scout and saw how leaders and scouts cheated to achieve merit badges and to achieve advancement recognition. A program based upon the scout oath of on my honor promoted cheating among its members. Despite the obvious corruption, I have a great many fond memories in the Scouting program of learning many new things and having great experiences in the outdoors. Jesus talks about going after the lost lamb to bring him back to the fold, but remember that the lamb wanted to come back and sees himself as lost. The Lord doesn’t want us to bring people who are not willing. This is a fundamental attitude that needs to change in the home teaching program.

The following are a summary of principles to bring the home teaching program closer to its potential for doing more good than harm.

Not everyone needs a home-teacher, and not everyone has the ability nor the desire to be an effective home teacher. Call the men in the ward who are lovers of Christ’s gospel, and are effective teachers. The bishop interviews them for the very important calling. He outlines what he hopes can be accomplished with the specific families that are being assigned. Home teaching is this person’s only calling since it is so important per President Benson.

People being home taught are people who have requested it by visiting with the bishop and discussing with him their desire to learn the gospel or to receive spiritual guidance via the home-teaching program. Now Bishops would be using Home-teachers to perform specific missions.

Eliminate all monitoring and reporting of percentages. If anyone ever refers to any spiritual principle in the gospel of Christ in terms of a percentage they should be immediately reprimanded and asked to repent, and if it occurs again they should be permanently banned from any leadership role in the church.

On a stake level, have regular training sessions for the small group of men in each ward assigned to home teach.

The bishop should select potential home teachees of which he has a legitimate concern to be visited by a home teacher. His genuine concern should lead to frequent questioning of how things are going wherein he could assess the spiritual growth occurring from the dedicated home teacher’s efforts. This activity would without question, cement in the home-teachers mind the vital importance of his calling. If this cementing did not occur the bishop would release him and find the right person.

With these measures implemented, the home-teaching calling would be one requiring a degree of spiritual stature, wherein one might even strive to have the opportunity to serve in such a spiritually oriented calling, and genuine good and multiple blessings of spirituality would come from this experience.

 

 

 

 

Baptism for the Dead: True Christian Doctrine and Practice, or LDS Construction?

Note: The following essay was contributed by frequent contributor Scott S. Mitchell.

 

In the one of the most enigmatic scriptures in the entire Bible, the apostle Paul, in writing to the Corinthians about the universality of the resurrection, said these words: “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?” (See 1 Corinthians 15:29.) This passage has perplexed Christian scholars, and been the subject of much debate, since the second century A.D., and rightfully so. Jesus himself never taught baptizing for the dead to the Jews in Palestine or the Nephites in the New World. No other prophet, apostle or disciple made any mention of it, either. And even Paul uses the word “they” instead of the word “we” in describing who practices it, without clarifying who “they” refers to.  In the next verse, however, he does use the word “we” to describe a separate practice in which he personally participated–“standing in jeopardy every hour”, or being physically endangered by persecutors at all times because of his and his fellows’ Christian beliefs.  See 1 Cor. 15:30.

In 1841, however, Joseph Smith, founder of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter “LDS Church” or “Mormonism”), began teaching that the practice of vicarious baptisms for the dead was a vital and integral practice among God’s people, dating back to the beginning of time.  The only proof text Joseph cited which actually mentions baptism for the dead was the aforementioned 1 Corinthians 15:29.  Consequently, however, the LDS Church began performing baptisms of live persons vicariously for persons who had died without being baptised into Mormonism.  To this day, millions of such baptisms are performed each year, exclusively in LDS temples, in order to provide the possibility of salvation to those who died without it.

Interpretation by Bible Scholars

The scholarly response to this passage is uniformly uncertain about it. From the Fully Revised Fourth Edition of The New Oxford Annotated Bible: “It is not clear what was involved in the Corinthian practice of baptism on behalf of the dead. Paul appeals to the practice to suggest to the Corinthians that they have an implicit faith in the resurrection.”1

From Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary:

The exact meaning of this practice is uncertain. Some scholars believe it refers to the re-baptism of Christians for the benefit of people who had died unbaptized but already believing. But other scholars insist it refers to a baptismal formula in the Corinthian church that promised that believers would rise from the dead at the end of time to reign with Christ.2

From Archaeological Study Bible:

Every theory has some problems, but some are more plausible than others:

One explanation holds that Paul was alluding to some form of “proxy baptism” (an individual being baptized to secure the salvation of ancestors, relatives or friends who had died without Christ). There is no indication in his text, however, that Corinthians were being baptized for their ancestors or for other dead pagans—and no evidence that this was ever practiced in the early church.

Some suggest that the term refers to baptism for believers who had died unbaptized; others that it may have been some ritual rated in a superstitious belief that baptism itself almost magical, life-giving power. The Corinthian believers may have been influenced by a local cult of the dead at Corinth. On the other hand, if such a pagan background were behind this practice, we would expect Paul to have voiced disapproval.

Still others propose that the phrase actually means “baptized in the place of the dead” in the sense of taking the place of Christian martyrs who had lost their lives for the faith. This kind of baptism would have been a rite whereby a living believer symbolically took the place of this or her fallen brother or sister. This interpretation has some support in the context, since Paul immediately spoke in the following verses (vv. 30-32) of his own endurance of persecution.3

 

Book of Mormon Teachings

As stated above, Jesus Christ himself is not reported to have said a word about baptism for the dead when he founded his church in Israel or in the western hemisphere.  However, the Book of Mormon prophet Mormon, as quoted in Moroni 8:21-24, left no doubt that a practice like baptism for the dead was not only unnecessary, but was a corruption of the pure gospel preached in the Book of Mormon. This scripture unequivocally teaches that people who don’t have the gospel preached to them in this life don’t need baptism, either as living mortals or as spirits in the spirit world.  Baptism is only for people who have had the gospel preached to them and have had the opportunity to knowingly break God’s law.  Mormon said:

21 . . . I speak it boldly; God hath commanded me. Listen unto them [Mormon’s words] and give heed, or they stand against you at the judgment-seat of Christ.
22 For behold that all little children are alive in Christ, and also all they that are without the law. For the power of redemption cometh on all them that have no law; wherefore, he that is not condemned, or he that is under no condemnation, cannot repent; and unto such baptism availeth nothing—
23 But it is mockery before God, denying the mercies of Christ, and the power of his Holy Spirit, and putting trust in dead works.
24 Behold, my son, this thing ought not to be; for repentance is unto them that are under condemnation and under the curse of a broken law.

Dead people who died without the opportunity to accept or reject the gospel comprise the overwhelming majority of those who have lived on this earth.  When they die, they no longer have the ability in the spirit world to break the commandments of God.  Having lived in mortality without Christ’s gospel law, they therefore need no baptism in this life, nor in the world of spirits, where they cannot break any law.

Teachings of Joseph Smith

Despite Mormon’s teachings in the Book of Mormon, in 1841, LDS Church founder Joseph Smith began teaching his followers the church needed to build a temple in its then-headquarters in Nauvoo, Illinois, wherein they could perform baptisms for the dead.  Purporting to be quoting the Lord himself, Joseph produced this mandate:

For a baptismal font there is not upon the earth, that they, my saints, may be baptized for those who are dead–

. . .

But I command you, all ye my saints, to build a house unto me; and I grant unto a sufficient time to build a house unto me; and during this time your baptisms shall be acceptable unto me.

But behold, at the end of this appointment your baptisms for your dead shall not ve acceptable unto me; and if you do not these things at the end of the appointment ye shall be rejected as a church, with your dead [!], saith the Lord you God.

For verily I say unto you, that after you have had sufficient time to build a house to me, wherein the ordinance of baptizing for the dead belongeth, and for which the same was instituted from before the foundation of the world, your baptisms for your dead cannot be acceptable unto me;

. . .

And after this time, your baptisms for the dead by those who are scattered abroad, are not acceptable unto me, saith the Lord.

(See Doctrine and Covenants (hereafter “D&C”) 124:29, 31-33, 35.  Emphasis and commentary added.)

The assertions and ramifications of the above verses are stunning.  According to Joseph Smith, the Lord is claiming something never before taught by anyone in the Old Testament, New Testament or Book of Mormon, even during the time when the kingdom of God was on earth with the Nephites and the resurrected Lord reigned over it–that baptisms for the dead performed in temples was a practice instituted from the foundation of the world.  Historically, this assertion is simply false.  Everything done in the Israelite and Jewish temples is described in the Bible, and baptisms for the dead are never mentioned.  The foremost Jewish scholars have never heard of this temple practice.  The Nephite temples were modeled after the Israelites’ temple of Solomon, and the rites of the Mosaic law prevailed there until Jesus brought it to an end.  (See 2 Nephi 5:16; Alma 25: 15-16; 3 Nephi 15: 4-9.)

The other startling notion from D&C 124 is that the Lord would not only reject the church, but also its dead, if the Mormons in Nauvoo don’t build the temple by the unstated deadline imposed.  Thus, not only would the church cease to be the Lord’s church, ostensibly leaving Him without a church on earth in the latter days, but all the earth’s innocent deceased former inhabitants, who played no part in the Nauvoo saints’ failure to work fast enough, would lose their chance at salvation.  This author has no qualms about declaring this notion absurd.  God doesn’t work that way.  He doesn’t punish the innocent for the supposed derelictions of others.  Mormons purport to agree with the author on this point, as manifested by the LDS Church’s second Article of Faith:  “We believe that men will be punished for their own sins, and not for Adam’s [or anyone else’s, we might add] transgression.”  This author’s conclusion is that D&C 124 is simply not a revelation from God, and Joseph Smith was fallible enough to claim otherwise because he wanted the temple built in Nauvoo that had failed to be built in Jackson County, Missouri.

After mandating a temple be built to facilitate baptisms for the dead and other ordinances to be performed therein, Joseph Smith to expound on his doctrinal views concerning the necessity for baptisms for the dead.  His writings from 1842 on this subject are found in a letter he wrote to the church which was later canonized in D&C 128.  The passages related to baptisms for the dead are found in D&C 128:12, 16-18.4  It is noteworthy that, unlike most other sections of the D&C,  Joseph did not purport the writings in this section to be a revelation from God.5  Instead, D&C 128 is a mere letter to the church that Joseph wrote, in which he argues his scriptural views.  It’s also evident from verse 16 that Paul’s one-verse offhand remark from 1 Corinthians 15:29, quoted in the first paragraph of this essay, forms the doctrinal foundation for Joseph’s linking of baptism for the dead to the larger grand gospel plan of salvation.

How is it possible that Joseph Smith, the man who used the seer stones to produce the Book of Mormon text, could misinterpret biblical scripture, and teach his interpretations as the very word of God?  Because, very simply, he didn’t do his homework, and there was no one left in the church by 1842 who dared tell him that his scriptural knowledge was insufficient to support what he was now teaching.  Isaiah had described him accurately by referring to “him who is not learned.”  (See Isa. 29:12.)  Joseph misunderstood a great deal of what he read in the Bible, and forgot much of what he’d read in the Book of Mormon.  He seems to have forgotten all of Moroni 8.   Not only did he ignore Moroni’s teachings on whom baptism is for, but he had already instituted as a new commandment the baptism of eight-year-olds, who are little children.  This violated the clear teaching of Moroni 8 as well, which scrupulously avoids setting any specific age for baptism, instead teaching that parents should be baptized, not their little children. See Moroni 8:10, 11.

Joseph also forgot in his later years in Nauvoo, when the idea of baptizing for the dead began to take shape, what he himself had previously taught in 1836. He forgot that he had already claimed that his brother Alvin, who had never in his mortal life been baptized, was already in the celestial kingdom of God (which Mormonism teaches is the highest level of heavenly glory), without any person ever having been baptized for him.  As Joseph had explained, this was because God knew Alvin would have received the gospel had he been permitted to tarry on earth long enough to get baptized.  (See D&C 137: 1-8.)  No baptism for the dead had been performed for Alvin in 1836, because Joseph Smith hadn’t even thought of the idea, let alone instituted the practice, nor had he claimed to have had a revelation on said point.  Even though the Kirtland temple was built during this time, no baptism for the dead were performed therein.  So Alvin, and all other good people (see D&C 138: 8-9) were heirs of the celestial kingdom, according to Joseph Smith, without the need of either live baptism or vicarious baptism for the dead.  But by 1842, Joseph had forgotten what he’d said six years earlier.  This forgetting of his own previous teachings happened a lot during Joseph’s life, which is why Mormonism today contains so many contradictory beliefs. It’s also one of the perplexing problems this website exists to address and illuminate.

Arguments of LDS Apologists

Even if the LDS belief in baptism for the dead weren’t contradicted by Book of Mormon teachings, arguments by LDS apologists defending the practice would still face serious difficulties.  Several of them claim that baptism for the dead was a secret practice of the early church which was too sacred to be revealed, but can’t logically explain why it would be any more secret or sacred than baptism of live individuals.  If both are essential for salvation of the earth’s inhabitants, both teachings would of course be of equal sacredness, and discussing one would necessarily involve discussing the other.

Apologists also face this question:  If Jesus freely discussed and mandated baptism of live individuals, as we know he did (Matt. 28: 19, 3 Nephi 27: 20), why would he never be recorded as having taught baptism for dead individuals, since it was equally important, and would save far more people than live baptisms would?  Why would Jesus omit such an important teaching, unless it wasn’t  part of his gospel in the first place?

Third, how can it be argued that this teaching and practice was kept secret, while at the same time trying to show that it was NOT kept secret in the writings of early church scholars, and by Paul himself?  When God wants something kept secret, why does he allow it to be commonly  taught, as apologists claim?

One apologist friend of the author’s has argued that baptism for the dead was obviously taught to the Brother of Jared, then made part of the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon.  But how could someone be confident of this, when we have no idea what was in the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, and don’t know what specific things the Lord told the brother of Jared, other than that which Moroni recorded?  Any time one argues something took place while admitting no record of what took place has been revealed, he’s not just on thin ice—he’s fallen through it.

Similarly, what is the point of having a sealed portion of the BoM, if the sealed, secret words get revealed anyway, as some allege occurred with baptism for the dead?

Sixth, since the Book of Mormon teaches that only people who have proven themselves righteous will get to have the contents of the sealed portion revealed to them (3 Nephi 26: 8-11), why would Mormonism publicly teach baptism for the dead to the whole world, regardless of the degree of righteousness of the audience?

Seventh, if baptism for the dead was one of the things shown to the brother of Jared, and thereafter sealed up to be kept secret until a certain time when the righteous were deserving of it, why didn’t Joseph Smith say so?  Joseph Smith himself never taught this doctrine to be part of what was taught to the brother of Jared.

Eighth, if baptism for the dead is one of the plain and precious parts of the gospel which was almost totally removed from the New Testament, why didn’t the Book of Mormon restore it?  Nephi specifically taught that we could find out what plain and precious parts of the gospel had been removed from the Bible by reading those teachings in the Nephites’ records, which would restore them.  1 Nephi 13: 40.

Ninth, the coming forth of the Book of Mormon to the Gentiles, and then to the remnant of the house of Israel, is described as both groups receiving “the fulness of the gospel” in 3 Nephi 20: 28, 30.  This cannot be referring to the Gentiles receiving the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon, because verse 28 speaks of the Gentiles rejecting that fulness, which we already know won’t happened with the sealed portion.  So, how could the BoM be described by Jesus as “the fulness of the gospel” if it’s missing such an extremely essential part of the gospel as apologists claim baptism for the dead to be?

Tenth, why would our current LDS practice require all baptisms for the dead to only be performed in the temple by “Melchizedek Priesthood” authority, when we know anciently neither temples nor Melchizedek priesthood were involved?

Some Mormon scholars have attempted to bolster the historical legitimacy for baptisms for the dead by reference to early patristic and apocryphal writings showing the practice existed among some small groups of Christians.  See, e.g.,  here.  In so doing, said scholars begin with the supposition that Joseph Smith’s teachings could not have been in error, and then set out to corroborate him with scattered writings from after the death of the apostles.  But it is the Book of Mormon’s purpose, not that of the patristic fathers’ or apocryphal writings’ purpose, to supply us with the plain and precious teachings missing from the Bible.  If the Apocrypha or writings of early Catholic fathers were the source to which we should look, the Book of Mormon would have said so, but it said the opposite.  But even we were to attach more weight  to apocryphal writings, from my own reading of them, I would still interpret them differently than Mormon scholars have done.  Those scholars make reference to apocryphal sources such as The Shepherd of Hermas, Epistula Apostolorum or the Gospel of Nicodemus to support Mormonism’s current practice of baptism for the dead.  But some early Christian scholars who discussed Paul’s one-verse reference to baptism for the dead seem to agree that it is closely related to other statements he made in other epistles.  I happen to agree with them on this point, and feel that the key to understanding 1 Corinthians 15:29 lies in comparing it to three other Pauline scriptures.

This Author’s Theory on What Paul Might Have Meant

These other scriptures seem to suggest the idea of baptisms being  performed not only to signal an acceptance of Christ’s gospel, but in a specific, symbolic way so as to memorialize the Christian belief, stated by Paul, that “as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” See 1 Cor. 15:22.  Consider another similar statement by Paul found in Romans 6, which utilizes the same words and concepts, italicized and boldfaced below, as those set forth in 1 Corinthians 15:29, only in a different and more understandable combination:

3 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:
6 Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin.

This scripture speaks of Christian believers being baptized for the purpose of memorializing Christ’s death, thereby symbolizing our own physical and spiritual deaths. It teaches that not only should we memorialize and symbolize Christ’s death, but we must also allow our old man, i.e., our old, sinful self, to die.  If we do,  just as Christ rose from the dead, we too shall rise from the dead, both temporally and spiritually.   This scripture therefore seems to have the three same main elements as 1 Corinthians 15:29–baptizing for some purpose related to death or the dead and the resurrection.

The second epistle of Paul wherein this same concept of baptism, death and the resurrection being interrelated is repeated is Colossians 2:12, 13, wherein Paul writes that we are–

Buried with [Christ] in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.

In light of these two scriptures, I proffer the following possible interpretation of 1 Cor. 15:29, keeping in mind that the verse is an English translation of a short, cryptically worded piece of Pauline esoterica written in Greek (with concepts shared with the previously quoted scriptures in italics and boldface):  “Otherwise, what would they do who baptize in such a manner as to symbolize the physical death of the body, and the permanent spiritual death that results from it, if there were no resurrection to save the dead from such a fate?    Why would they then perform baptisms which symbolize people dying?”

Even if one accepts that what Paul was describing in 1 Cor. 15: 29 referred to a then-current practice of performing vicarious baptisms for the dead by proxy (a proposition which is by no means universally accepted among scholars), other facts weigh against the conclusion that he was endorsing vicarious baptisms performed on behalf of deceased persons.  Virtually every biblical scholar, both ancient and modern, agrees that baptism for the dead was never practiced within the mainstream Christian church, and was never taught or advocated by any apostle or disciple mentioned in the New Testament.   It’s entirely possible that Paul was referring in 1 Cor. 15:29 to people who, in their baptismal ceremonies, made special reference to the doctrines taught in 1 Cor. 15:22, Romans 6:3-6 and Col. 2:12-13, quoted above.

Most scholars cite Tertullian’s writings to show that the practice of vicarious baptisms for  dead persons was practiced at latest by the late 2nd Century A.D.  However, this argument, while true, doesn’t help demonstrate that the practice was well-accepted among Christians; it does the opposite.  Tertullian condemned the idea of baptism for the dead as heretical, writing in 207 or 208 AD.  In “Against Marcion” 10, he wrote that the proper interpretation of 1 Cor. 15: 29 was that it concerned the idea of being baptized for the body which was destined to die and rise again.  He made clear that Marcion, a cult leader who practiced baptism for the dead, but didn’t even believe in the resurrection from the dead, was far removed from actual Christian doctrine and practice.  All Christian scholars accept that Marcion was apostate, and his denial of the resurrection constituted good evidence of that, despite the fact that he may have enjoyed a sizable following.  So, the fact that the Marcionites engaged in baptisms for the dead certainly isn’t evidence of it being practiced in the early church.

About a century after Tertullian, scholar John Chrysostom, writing in Homily XL of his Homilies on the Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians (available free of charge online), explained that what Paul was referring to in 1 Corinthians 15: 29 was an accepted practice among Christians for the convert to say these words immediately before descending into the water:  “I believe in the resurrection of the dead,” whereupon the baptism would be performed to symbolize death and resurrection.  This explanation of why Paul might have worded that one little verse the way he did seems entirely plausible to me, much more so than the Book-of-Mormon-contradicting and uncorroborated explanation that Joseph Smith came up with when he decided to expound on those words eleven years after the LDS church was founded.

A final word:  Our habit in Mormonism to accept without questioning Joseph Smith’s teachings on biblical subjects has often led us to have less biblical understanding than mainstream Christians of other churches.  Notice how much doctrinal structure we Mormons have built on a few, awkwardly worded and cryptic words from Peter, found in 1 Peter 3: 18-20:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:

By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in he days Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.

Christian scholars interpret this scripture to demonstrate that the group Jesus taught in the spirit prison (which is itself another term  not found elsewhere in the Bible or Book of Mormon) is a very small, narrowly defined group; it appears to be the same souls who are described in Genesis 6: 1-5, who were sons of God who should have known better than to copulate with the daughters of men.6  But if it were an important part of the gospel to understand this scripture, assuming Peter knew what he was talking about, I believe Jesus would have expounded on it perhaps in the Bible, but certainly in the Book of Mormon.  But he didn’t.  When Joseph Smith did start expounding on it, there was again no one left in the early LDS Church who dared challenge his understanding of it; they’d already left.  Predictably, the doctrine which resulted from Joseph Smith’s interpretation was at odds with Alma’s teachings in Alma 40 of the Book of Mormon, which Joseph appears not to have remembered.  It’s up to us now to do the homework and research such doctrines, intellectually and spiritually, before we accept and teach ideas built on such insubstantial scriptural foundations.

FOOTNOTES

  1. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, 4th edition, Michael D. Coogan, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 2021.
  2. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Ronald F. Youngblood, Gen. Ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1995), p. 160
  3. Archaeological Study Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010), p. 1646
  4. For the author’s thought on Joseph’s misinterpretations of scriptures found in these verses, see Erroneous LDS teachings from the Doctrine and Covenants and LDS Church History Regarding Elijah and Redeeming the Dead elsewhere on this website.
  5. It’s also interesting to note that in the LDS Church’s published 1842 personal history of Joseph Smith (see Joseph Smith—History 1:36-39 in The Pearl of Great Price) Moroni is reported as having quoted Malachi 4: 5-6 differently to Joseph than the way Joseph himself quotes Malachi in D&C 128: 17. The Church history version is also different from the way Jesus himself quoted the same verses from Malachi in 3rd Nephi 25:5, 6. The Church’s 1842 version also differs from Joseph’ own original 1835 version of Moroni’s visit, as told to Oliver Cowdery, in which he didn’t claim Moroni had quoted Malachi at all. (See Messenger and Advocate, vol. 1, pp. 78-80, February 1835.) It thus appears that for some reason, the LDS Church’s 1842 history of Joseph Smith supplements Moroni’s words and adds things the angel didn’t actually say when he visited Joseph in 1823, unless Jesus was quoted incorrectly in the Book of Mormon when he repeated Malachi’s words, and unless Joseph’s accounts in the Messenger and Advocate and in D&C 128 are both in error.
  6. The New Oxford Annotated Bible, Ibid., p. 2130

The Most Fundamental Christian Doctrine

(The following article was written by Hal Mitchell, 1957-2019, a contributor and original co-founder of the LAMP website.)

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the contrite spirit.” (Psalms 34:18)

In Hebrew, “the broken heart” is translated to nishbar lev. Per the website Hebrew for  Christians, the author, John Parsons describes the Hebrew meaning behind the Psalms passage by saying the word lev also means house or inner life. The inner life is the life of our thoughts. Our fears, hopes prejudices, insecurities, our concept of morality and reality, our source of what is most important to us, our real intent, and our weaknesses are all contained in our inner selves or our hearts.  

Parsons goes on eloquently: “This seems to be the divine pattern. Truly, Truly, I say unto you, unless a grain of wheat fall to earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John12:24) The hard outer shell of seed must be broken so that the life of the spirit can come through . . . plainly put, God (and only God) can ‘deconstruct’ the self so that life’s priorities, focus, and passions are redirected to hin, and him alone, the true Source of Life.”

A broken heart, therefore, in this context, does not mean profound disappointment as common usage suggests, but that your heart is broken open. Open to the influence of Christ and his input, or to live “openhearted.”

In the second half of Psalms 34:18, where it says and saves the contrite spirit, the Hebrew word “dakka” means contrite or crushed. In Parson’s comment, he says that the soul that needs contrition is the chaotic, carnal ego trying to run our lives without Godly insight. How essential is this to see for those seeking closeness to God? Many times we misjudge people, even our loved ones, because we don’t take the time to consider our biases, our infantile exposure to the world around us, or to realize we only know our own life’s experience and make judgments exclusively based on that limited worldview?

In the same verse quoted above, the word “near” in Hebrew, is “karov,” which means close enough to touch. The word “korban” uses the same root which is an offering that draws us near to God, as well as karov, a near kinsman, which implies intimacy. In other words, God desires a close relationship with those willing to have a broken heart and contrite spirit.

These teachings of the Psalmist were mirrored in the teachings of Isaiah.   In Isaiah 57:15 it says the God, who inhabits eternity, who is the essence of Holy, dwelling in the high and holy place, dwells in this realm uniquely with him that is of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 66:1-2, the Lord declares that heaven is his throne and the earth is his footstool. He asks where there is a place, built by man, where he can dwell. He goes on to explain that all the things a man might use to construct a structure worthy of God were all made by God anyway, so what structure or house could a man possibly offer God as a worthy dwelling place? He then says he will look to dwell with the man whose spirit is contrite.

This teaching of contrition is found scattered throughout the Book of Mormon and Bible, and I suggest, therefore, that the concept of open-heartedness is the fundamental Christian doctrine.

The Book of Mormon and the Bible refer to “hard-heartedness” in multiple places, which is the opposite of openheartedness. Found in the sixth chapter of the gospel of Mark is, I believe, the most illustrative example of the definition of the phrase. Jesus’ apostles had just witnessed him walking on the surface of the Sea of Galilee, and his calming influence over the wind.  Mark states they were “sore amazed in themselves beyond measure, and wondered.” In verse 52, Mark explains why they were amazed when they shouldn’t have been:

“For they considered not the miracle of the loaves: for their heart was hardened.”

Before seeing Jesus walk on water and calm the wind, they had just witnessed his miraculous feeding of 5000 men with five loaves and two fishes with many bushels of food left over.

In Alma 33:20, where Alma refers to the engraved bronze serpent on the pole, to which the children of Israel could look to save their lives:

But few understood the meaning of those things, and this because of the hardness of their hearts. But there were many who were so hardened that they would not look, therefore they perished. Now the reason they would not look is that they did not believe that it would heal them.

These are beautiful scriptural examples of what it means to have a hard heart. Mark mentioned the word “considered.” Jesus’ disciples did not “consider” that just a few hours earlier he had fed a considerable multitude with food sufficient for two or three people only. If they had thought or considered a little more deeply, they would have expected Jesus to perform more miracles and not be amazed at him being the miracle-performing Messiah, the Son of God.

To break open our hearts, as Jesus mentioned regarding the seed, we need merely to consider other possibilities than those we have previously assumed were correct, and then ask God to guide our open hearts. Jesus’ apostles in being amazed at his control over the elements were not evil, but still partially closed to the full understanding of who Jesus was, and that he possessed God’s power. Their conversion was still developing.

In Matthew 10: 34-39 Jesus illustrates this point by saying that we are expected to reject mother and father (traditional beliefs) in our quest to find Him. Just because we believe old ways and supposed truths, if we never question them by exposing them to scrutiny, they can never be considered valid. Our witness of legitimate truth can only come when we have dared to challenge it thoroughly, looking at both sides objectively. He is the way, the truth, and the life. So, fact has to entail more than an individual merely accepting established teachings, even though his community allows him wholeheartedly into their fold. Only the open-hearted are willing take the vital step of objectively analyzing their beliefs and thereby making the essential action necessary to be a real disciple of Christ.

Jesus taught this again in the parable of the rich man, with some added insights, in Mark 10:17-27.

17 ¶ And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?

18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.

19 Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

20 And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth.

21 Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me.

22 And he was sad at that saying and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

23 ¶ And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

24 And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God!

25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

26 And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved?

27 And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men, it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

When the young rich man had left, Jesus said it was hard for rich people to go to heaven. His disciples were shocked. He then clarified, essentially saying, it is difficult for those that trust in riches to go to heaven. In fact, if you don’t live your life having faith that what God teaches will make you more happy than riches, but think you are going to heaven, Jesus says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than that you will be right. Or in other words, it is impossible!  One should believe in Him and His teachings, not in anything else, and the belief must be rooted in a genuine search as Matthew 10 teaches.

Why were his disciples astonished at Jesus’ rebuke of what seemed like a righteous man, keeping the commandments? Jesus used the young, rich man to demonstrate that he asked more of his would-be followers than mere compliance with the law of Moses.  One can keep the law of Moses and still not believe in Jesus. In Ether 11:12 of the Book of Mormon it states:  “Wherefore, by faith was the law of Moses given. But in the gift of his Son hath God prepared a more excellent way; and it is by faith that it hath been fulfilled.” The law of Moses says to honor parents, not commit adultery, not lie, etc., which teachings the young rich man had complied with. Judaism does not accept Jesus as the Christ but keeps the commandments of Moses. Living the law of Moses does not require opening your heart to Jesus and sacrificing your ego or spirit to the influence of the Holy Ghost, which is the core doctrine of Christ. The law of Moses, therefore, doesn’t bring salvation and was superseded by Christ. We cannot open our hearts to Christ until we consider the more “excellent way,” and open our hearts to it. The rich young man wasn’t ready for eternal life because he was not ready to open his heart enough despite his habit of living the Mosaic commandments. His riches were more important.

Sacrificing riches is not necessary, but one must place them at a lower priority than one’s relationship to God, which only happens by opening one’s heart to Jesus’ higher teachings. Keeping the law of Moses does not do that, and this is what shocked the budding disciples. The story ends with the disciples not understanding the difference between the law of Moses and Jesus’ new doctrine when they ask, “Who then can be saved?” since they heard Jesus exclude those who merely kept the law of Moses. Jesus clarified by saying that life with God is impossible by only following men and their ways, but by following God, his Son and his new doctrine, all things are possible, even passing a camel through the eye of a needle.

An interesting note is Jesus’ mention of “taking up the cross and following him” in verse 21. The Christian website gotquestions.org adds insight into the meaning of the phrase, stating:

When Jesus carried His cross up Golgotha to be crucified, no one was thinking of the cross as symbolic of a burden to carry. To a person in the first-century, the cross meant one thing and one thing only: death by the most painful and humiliating means human beings could develop.

Two thousand years later, Christians view the cross as a cherished symbol of atonement, forgiveness, grace, and love. But in Jesus’ day, the cross represented nothing but torturous death. Because the Romans forced convicted criminals to carry their own crosses to the place of crucifixion, bearing a cross meant carrying their own execution device while facing ridicule along the way to death.

Therefore, “Take up your cross and follow Me” means being willing to die in order to follow Jesus. This is called “dying to self.” It’s a call to absolute surrender. After each time Jesus commanded cross-bearing, He said, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Luke 9:24-25). Although the call is tough, the reward is matchless.

So Jesus again refers to the death of self (like the opening of the seed referred to in John) and to receive him into your heart as the essential ingredient of discipleship.

In 3 Nephi 15, when Jesus informed the Nephites that the Law of Moses was fulfilled (he said it nine times in the first few verses), they marveled. If Mark were around, he might have used his peculiar mode of expression to say that the Nephites were still a tiny bit “hard-hearted.” He would have then explained that they had yet failed to consider that Jesus has just descended out of heaven, fulfilling many ancient prophecies, and had been announced as the very Son of God.  He had shown himself to be a resurrected being and had taught them his gospel.  He’d thus left them no reason to marvel at losing the law of Moses, having just described to them the more excellent way. Why would they marvel when he had gone to such pains, as we read in chapters 11 and 12 of 3 Nephi, to teach them his doctrine? Six times he referred to His doctrine in chapter 11, then gave greater details in chapter 12 telling how his doctrine was different than the old law of Moses, but the Nephites still marveled.  They were slow to grasp the whole picture, as had been the disciples in the old world, and Jesus could see that they still needed to have their hearts softened. He worked with them, showing them amazing miracles and visitations of himself and angels, and giving them probably the most amazing spiritual experiences in world history. After those experiences, the Nephites easily opened their hearts without amazement or surprise to his elegant doctrine he had been teaching through ancient and recent prophets and had now repeated in their presence.  From 3 Nephi 12 we read:

19 And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.

20 Therefore come unto me and be ye saved; for verily I say unto you, that except ye shall keep my commandments, which I have commanded you at this time, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Here Jesus states that the law of Moses is not a doctrine leading to salvation, saying the new commandments he gave at that time were essential to enter the kingdom of heaven. Note he mentions nothing in these verses resembling the commandments on Sinai at that time but declared that not keeping his new commandments would prevent entrance into his kingdom.

With an awareness of this truth, one may wonder why Mormons still promote Mosaic-like doctrines with lists, goals, and guidelines that have nothing to do with the principles of Jesus? Mormons love to live by extremely well-defined laws. How long to fast under the “law”of the fast, how much of our gross or net income to pay under the “law” of tithing, which acts are permitted and which are not under the “law” of chastity, what activities are allowed or forbidden under the “law” of the Sabbath. I had a stake president tell me once of the law of return and report when he was trying to teach me the importance of sending in home-teaching reports each month. How can a report tell if someone has repented, or believes in Christ, or has a broken heart and a contrite spirit? Sadly, the tenets of the doctrine of Christ remain mostly unknown to church leaders and to members, despite its presence in the Book of Mormon and Bible and Section 10 of the Doctrine and Covenants, where it is mentioned very briefly in verses 55, 67 and 68.

If the reader of this article doesn’t believe LDS church leaders are almost uniformly ignorant of the doctrine of Christ, I challenge you to approach any Mormon leader at any level and ask him the to explain what constitutes the doctrine of Christ. You may hear a few “ums” and “uhs,” and then he’ll begin saying things like, read your scriptures, come to church, worship in the temple, pray, pay your tithing, stay morally clean, keep the ten commandments, etc. You may think his answer is a good one because those are all good things, but ironic as it may sound, they are not the doctrine of Christ.  This is genuinely cause for great concern.  Remember, the Lord said in Third Nephi 11 and 12 that those who choose not to follow his new commandments he taught the Nephites on that occasion shall in no case inherit the kingdom of God.

A converted heart is the hallmark of the doctrine of Christ. One may argue by saying, “So in Jesus’ doctrine it is okay to commit adultery, kill, lie, dishonor parents, etc.?” The answer is, of course not, Jesus’ way is more excellent. He asks to have our hearts, which require we not think lascivious thoughts, or speak rudely to others, that we be honest in our dealings with others, and generally respect our fellow beings by treating them as we would like to be treated. As discussed above, one can follow the law of Moses and reject Christ.  For example, the Mosaic law allows one to tell lewd jokes and refer to women as sex objects, but not to commit adultery. Jesus requires us to frequently and systematically examine the desires of our hearts, so we not even allow our hearts or minds to lust after another woman, let alone commit adultery with her. One who internalizes the spirit of Christ’s teachings has a broken, open heart and is a real disciple, and shows no interest in knowing how far he can technically go before he’s broken a commandment. A disciple sees the vision of Christ, is wholly vested, is converted, needs no stimulus or motivation to perform his duty. No artificial incentive is necessary. He/she believes in his/her heart and can be trusted to do his/her best. Which is better, the soul who acts only after being prodded, or the converted soul? Which is the legitimate disciple?

Repentance is not a law. Having a broken heart and a contrite spirit is not a law. Jesus did not present the Beatitudes as laws. These are the attitudes, the approaches to life, Jesus asks of us. His doctrine requires an open heart to himself, a living purpose for us that can never fail us, one that builds faith, character, and a genuine sensitivity to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. Mosaic principles do not accomplish this. Remembering the history of the Jews provides instructive evidence of how successfully the checklists of the Mosaic law did or didn’t make them close to God.

In a letter dated November 1, 2016, Elder L. Whitney Clayton of the Presidency of the Seventy announced the Area Plan for the United States and Canada. Please analyze this document as an example of how different Mormon principles of living are from the teachings of Christ in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Ask yourself from where these strange doctrines come, when He declares his gospel with the simple phrase: “This is my doctrine,” three times in the passage of 3 Nephi 11: 32-40. 

The seven presidents of the quorum of Seventy presented this statement, signed by all of them. 

The plan focuses on the divinely appointed priorities of living the gospel of Jesus Christ, gathering Israel through missionary work, caring for the poor and needy, and enabling the salvation of the dead. (See Church Handbook : Administering the Church: Chapter 2, Section2.2). We encourage you to study the plan as individuals and families. As we participate in this inspired vision, we will become, and help others become faithful followers of Christ and enjoy the blessing of the holy temple.

The area plan is as follows:

Live the gospel of Jesus Christ. This means:

  • Strengthen ourselves and our families by receiving the ordinances of salvation and exaltation and keeping the associated covenants.
  • Strengthen our faith in Heavenly Father and His Son Jesus Christ and His Atonement by regularly studying the Book of Mormon and by honoring the Sabbath day.

Gather Israel through missionary work, which means:

  • Teach repentance and baptize converts.
  • Rescue less-active members.

Care for the poor and needy, which means:

  • Build spiritual and temporal self-reliance.
  • Live the law of the fast and serve others.

Enable the salvation of the dead by identifying ancestors and performing vicarious temple ordinances for them, which means:

  • Find family names.
  • Take family names to the temple for ordinances and teach others to do the same.

Indicators of progress for each goal:  Select from the following indicators of conversion and Church growth from the Quarterly Report to measure progress . . .

It is astounding, in many ways, that the gospel of Jesus Christ could be somehow so distorted that it has no resemblance to his original words in the Book of Mormon, which Mormons claim is the most correct of books. Seven leaders proclaim this an inspired plan. How is it inspired? It is clear that these men who wrote this are unfamiliar with the doctrine of Christ. The plan claims to help live the gospel of Jesus Christ, but it contains little of his gospel as he himself proclaimed it. The plan says to read the Book of Mormon, but unlike the above plan, the Book of Mormon does not contain the phrase or concept of the plan’s “ordinances of exaltation.” If the seven leaders who wrote this plan have read the Book of Mormon, they chose to omit the core doctrine of Christ contained within it. There are no ordinances associated with the notion of exaltation in the Book of Mormon, and the Sabbath day is a Mosaic commandment that was done away with in Christ’s gospel as illustrated in the Book of Mormon and Bible. What is meant by spiritual and temporal self-reliance, and how does a member do this for an inactive member? It is odd that the plan encourages spiritual self-reliance, but LDS members are instructed to follow the prophet, a fellow man.

The Plan encourages work for the dead. How in the world can a dead person need a living person they have never met? Does Christ mention this “work” anywhere in the Bible or Book of Mormon?  Also, how small is God if he makes someone else responsible for the salvation of another?  Are the righteous dead kept from the Lord because you and I don’t do ordinances for them? How could a God who refers to himself as a just god (2 Nephi 1:22, Mosiah 2:28, Alma 29:2) be so 100% unfair to his children? How could anyone worship a being, or want to be like a being, who is so small in his divine thinking? The Book of Mormon talks nothing of this, nor does the Bible. Alma 40 refutes the idea, never mentioning a spirit prison, yet discusses what happens to people after they have died after having either rejected or having followed Christ.  If Mormons accept Section 137 of the Doctrine and Covenants as authoritative, they should notice that it says salvation is available to mankind as a result of their works with or without ordinances. Where can anyone find a shred of scriptural evidence that God holds innocent people in prison because of someone else’s inaction?

The most magnificent sign that this is not an inspired plan of the Lord is the last sentence wherein it says that as “indicators of progress for each goal, select from the following indicators of conversion and Church growth from the Quarterly Report to measure progress:” 

How can a number in a report reflect one’s faith in Christ, one’s belief in his truths, or the broken-openness of one’s heart, or the contrition of one’s spirit?

Most of the items mentioned in the plan for Mormons in North America, set forth above, can be accomplished without faith in, or knowledge of, Jesus’ self-proclaimed doctrine or gospel, or also without his presence in individuals’ hearts as mentioned before. It seems like more of a corporate policy checklist than one providing spiritual guidance. When Jesus encountered this same attitude toward religion–as a set of outward rules and procedures–we read in Mark 7: 6-9 what happened next:

6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.

9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

(Emphasis added.)

The prophets of the Book of Mormon didn’t make the mistake of the Old World Pharisees.  They used the phrase “a broken heart and contrite spirit” six times in the Book of Mormon. In every case, it was used to describe the necessary attitude a person must have in approaching God:

2 Nephi 2:7: Lehi’s teaching that only the sacrifice of a broken heart and a contrite spirit will replace the ritual sacrifices of the law of Moses.

3 Nephi 9:20: Jesus’ voice speaking from heaven before his appearance to  Nephites. “And ye shall come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and him will I baptize with fire and the Holy Ghost.”

3 Nephi 12:19: Jesus states:  “These are the commandments I give unto you at this time, that you have a broken heart and contrite spirit.”

Mormon 2:14: A reference to the soldiers in Mormon’s army and their spiritually insufficient attempt at repentance, saying they did not come unto Jesus with a broken heart and contrite spirit. 

Ether 4:15: Jesus exhorts Israel to come to God with a broken heart and contrite spirit.

Moroni 6:2: Moroni, speaking of the church of Christ, says that none were received unto baptism unless they had a broken heart and a contrite spirit.

And so, after seeing, feeling and understanding the message Jesus wants to deliver to our hearts, it is easy to see why Jesus chose to visit the Nephites after a massive destruction.  Similarly, a true believer in the Bible and Book of Mormon message can envision Christ’s second coming as a day when temples, churches, shrines, synagogues, doctrines, philosophies, traditions, endless church programs, food storage training, home teaching reporting, Sabbath day observance, tithing, genealogy, priesthood, Friends of Scouting, complex hierarchies of leadership, etc., come crashing down into a vast, tangled, complicated pile of rubble under the crushing weight of these simple words from the Lord:  “Come follow me!”

Some Religious and Semi-Religious Thoughts on Gun Control: Part 2

The biggest problem afflicting the debate over how to prevent gun violence is the tendency among the debaters to approach the issue as a contest between themselves and their ideological enemies–a contest that must be won.  In the drive to win the culture war–or the war’s latest battle–they neglect to take the crucial first step that should always precede all fights: make sure those they’re fighting are truly their enemies.  Failure to do this is always catastrophic, because people who would be allies if they took the time to ascertain each other’s sincere interests, instead end up transforming those would-be friends into opponents.  Unnecessary fighting and strife result from this, of course, and the solutions become all the more unattainable.  But what’s worse, the combatants all too often end up abandoning the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ which they purport to hold dear in order to defend far less valuable turf.

Clearly, the Lord respected and honored the right and the necessity to protect against robbers and thieves, and against broader threats to our safety and freedoms.  He spoke of them in his teachings.  See John 10:1-3, Luke 10: 30 and 12:33, 39.  In the Book of Mormon, we read in Alma 46 of Moroni, a man of God so determined to defend his people’s wives, children and freedom against Amalickiah’s forces, that he actually had those who refused to help in that defense put to death.  Mormon said of Moroni that if all men were like him, “the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever.”  See Alma 46 generally, and 48: 17.  Not surprisingly, Mormon named his son after this great leader.

One of the character traits that distinguished Jesus in his time was that he was scrupulously honest.  He never stooped to make intellectually dishonest points to win an argument.  He taught what he taught because it was both true and important, and if it meant the Sanhedrin wanted to kill him, that didn’t dissuade him.  He was a Jew, but that didn’t make him hesitant to criticize and disagree with Jewish religious beliefs.  He agreed with his apostles or family members when they were right, but disagreed with and corrected them when they were wrong.  He didn’t protect tribal interests, he protected only godly interests.  He even famously endorsed the necessity of paying taxes to Rome by instructing to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.”  But what do we do?  Do we not adopt flawed, dishonest arguments to silence our perceived foes, caring less about what’s right than about who might win the national debate, and the next election?

In the interest of full disclosure and intellectual honesty, let me state my background and biases:  I’m a lifelong social and religious conservative, in the strictest sense of the word. That is, I strive to conserve the scriptural teachings in the Bible and Book of Mormon, and the teachings of men and women who faithfully expound on them.  But on moral grounds, I have never gone hunting, nor had any desire to do so,.  In fact, I’ve always been surprised how easy it is for others to enjoy it.  I don’t judge those that hunt, as I have my own behavior to concern myself with, but I am admittedly unsympathetic to the efforts of those who promote the right to hunt without a true need to do so.  And though I usually align myself with political conservatives, I feel free to disagree with them whenever I think they’re wrong.  While gun ownership is both prudent and constitutionally protected as a general matter, that doesn’t mean the right cannot be limited if the restrictions are rationally and closely tailored to achieve a legitimate governmental purpose.

These days, conservatives are often saying things like “If you’re going to ban guns, why don’t you ban unhealthy food?  And why don’t you ban cars, since they kill far more people than guns do?”  I don’t want conservative viewpoints to be discredited, but these are not logical arguments, and they help people oppose conservatives’ other good ideas because conservatives mix in these bad ones.  Unhealthy food doesn’t need to be banned because it has no power to kill us if we don’t let it.  All we have to do is eat it sparingly, or not at all, and it has no effect on us.  But you can’t control whether someone shoots you or not, and the first bullet may very well kill you.  Cars are incredibly convenient devices that we use every day, and without which we cannot live efficiently.  They are so vitally necessary today that their utility easily outweighs the danger they pose when collisions occur.  My own son died in an automobile accident, but the risk of that tragedy happening is one we’re all willing to take when faced with the alternative.

Liberals, and some conservatives and independents, often highlight the damage guns do.  Guns truly make it easier for evil people to kill and maim innocent victims.  That’s undeniable.  But those who oppose gun ownership and possession overlook that like cars, guns do much good.  They protect soldiers and law enforcement officers, but they also protect us in our homes and against violent attackers on the street who would otherwise victimize us.  The debate on gun control laws should thus boil down to whether some guns, like explosives or certain chemicals and drugs, are more dangerous than useful for civilian use,  If so, laws that ban or significantly restrict them from civilian availability might reasonably reduce the number of casualties that result when a deranged person decides he want to kill a random group of strangers to vent his frustrations.  If he’s using a knife or a handgun, he’ll kill far less people and lives will be saved, if not all lives.  And the shooter will  be easier for an armed defender to kill, if that’s the safest way to stop him.

Here are some questions relative to the “gun control debate” that I think all spiritually sincere and intellectually honest Christians, and hopefully non-Christians as well, ought to ask themselves, even if the answers are painful and might cause a re-evaluation of our views:  (In these questions, the word “right” will be used as a synonym for “morally justifiable and intellectually honest.”)

  • Is is not true that both gun control opponents and proponents alike validly claim protection of human lives as their ultimate goal?  Doesn’t that common ground deserve acknowledgement, and doesn’t it dwarf our differences all by itself?  Shouldn’t all our discussions start with this acknowledgement of everyone else’s honorable intentions?
  • When we argue that gun possession is a constitutional right, and attempt to apply it to all guns, is it right to ignore the fact that  rapid-fire semiautomatic and fully automatic rifles, capable of killing scores of people in a matter of seconds, didn’t exist when the Constitution’s Second Amendment was written and ratified?  Similarly, is it right to ignore the fact that during that same time, no instance of a deranged citizen using a rifle to quickly kill large numbers of fellow citizens in a crowded place had ever been recorded? Is it intellectually honest to argue that the founders of the Constitution intended that civilian possession of not-yet-invented assault rifles, which would enable the unprecedented and quick mass killing of civilians by other civilians who possessed them, be a constitutional right?  Wasn’t the U.S. Constitution designed to insure, among other things like national defense, “Justice” and “domestic Tranquility”?
  • Is it intellectually honest to argue that the problem of mentally imbalanced criminals using semiautomatic or fully automatic rifles to accomplish quick mass killings is a reason to make it legally harder for everyone to possess guns in general?  Is it not more honest to acknowledge the huge role that mental illness plays in mass shootings, and that mentally unstable people are much harder to control though stricter gun laws?
  • If our perceived ideological opponent has not argued that she seeks to dispossess you of all the guns you own, is it right to attack her as if she did argue that?
  • Regardless of your own political persuasion, is it right to deny that guns in the right hands are the most effective deterrent against any kind of weapon in the wrong hands, and that most Americans are nonviolent and law-abiding? And if we align ourselves with political groups who oppose widespread gun ownership, possession, and concealed carry permits, are we not making most Americans less able to protect themselves if we succeed?
  • If we oppose tighter background checks required for firearms purchases, are we honest to claim such procedural requirements somehow violate a constitutional right, or place an undue burden on gun ownership?  Are such measures more burdensome than the frequent airport scanning procedures we endure in the interest of safe flights?  Aren’t objections to such procedures more designed to deny your perceived legislative enemies any semblance of success and momentum, rather than to protect unwritten constitutional rights?
  • Are we being completely honest with ourselves and others when we oppose controls on the distribution of rapid-fire weapons that can kill scores of people in a few seconds, on the grounds that we only possess those weapons to defend ourselves and our property?  Wouldn’t we be more honest if we admitted, when it’s true, that we loved to play army as kids, and we still love to watch movies where the heroes mow down the bad guys with assault rifles, and we love to fantasize about mowing down the bad guys ourselves?  Don’t a lot of us possess large caches of guns locked up in safes and cabinets for reasons having nothing to do with self-defense, but much to do with the fact that we enjoy shooting things that pose no threat to us?  Which is the more efficient way to defend yourself against a burglar, to try to get to your gun safe and unlock it,  grab the rifle and prepare it for firing, and tote the heavy thing into the living room, or to grab your pistol from within arm’s reach and yell to the burglar that you have a gun?  How often do homeowners shoot burglars with assault rifles?  How often do they do foil robberies with assault rifles?  On police forces, why don’t patrol officers carry assault rifles for sudden emergencies?
  • If our perceived ideological opponent has no history whatsoever of using guns in a way harmful to human safety, and he advocates increased gun possession by responsible citizens, is it right to characterize his position as an attempt to return to the old Wild West, where disputes were commonly settled with gunfire?
  • Is it right to oppose the idea of more school teachers carrying concealed firearms, or at least possessing them at school, when in our heart of hearts, we know full well that if we heard of an active shooter at our own child’s school who was at the moment shooting students, we’d thank God if we later learned that some vigilant teacher shot him dead just as he aimed at our own child?
  • Since machine guns can be used to defend lives, should not opponents of all gun control laws logically press for their legalization, if the only difference between them and semiautomatic guns is that they take a few seconds less to kill scores of people?  If possession of semiautomatic rifles with full magazines is a constitutional right, surely machine guns are too.  And bazookas.  They’re all firearms.  Why don’t gun advocates fight to legally own machine guns and bazookas?
  • Is it logically consistent to support prohibitions against Iran or North Korea possessing nuclear weapons or WMDs, but oppose domestic restrictions on civilians possessing WMDs in the form of assault rifles?  Aren’t we still trying to prevent mass killing of innocents?  Is it intellectually honest to object to semiautomatic rifles being called “assault rifles”, when they hold magazines full of bullets and can be fired three or four times a second?  Can you honestly deny that they were first designed for military assaults, so that soldiers could kill multiple enemy combatants quickly without having to carefully aim at each one, and without running out of bullets?  If you can honestly deny that, the only reason you can is because you have willfully failed to educate yourself on the issue.  From the Wikipedia article on the Armalite AR-15:”The ArmaLite AR-15 was a select-fire, air-cooled, gas-operated, magazine-fed assault rifle manufactured in the United States between 1959 and 1964. Designed by American gun manufacturer ArmaLite in 1956, it was based on its AR-10 rifle. The ArmaLite AR-15 was designed to be a lightweight assault rifle and to fire a new high-velocity, lightweight, small-caliber cartridge to allow the infantrymen to carry more ammunition.[4]

    “In 1959, ArmaLite sold its rights to the AR-10 and AR-15 to Colt due to financial difficulties.[5] After modifications (most notably, the charging handle was re-located from under the carrying handle like AR-10 to the rear of the receiver),[6] Colt rebranded it the Colt ArmaLite AR-15. Colt marketed the redesigned rifle to various military services around the world and it was subsequently adopted by the U.S. military as the M16 rifle, which went into production in March 1964.[4][7] The ArmaLite AR-15 rifle was not available for civilian use.[citation needed]

    “Colt continued to use the AR-15 trademark for its line of semi-automatic-only rifles marketed to civilian and law-enforcement customers, known as Colt AR-15. The Armalite AR-15 is the parent of a variety of Colt AR-15 & M16 rifle variants.”

  • If you claim that you use semiautomatic weapons for hunting, does that point negate the fact that semiautomatic weapons in the wrong hands enable quick mass killings?  Isn’t the reason you use those weapons for hunting because they make you a more successful killer, and give you more chances to kill the animal before it escapes?  Isn’t that the same way those guns work on people, and isn’t that in fact an argument against them being commonly accessible?  And on that point of hunting, are you sure your interest in killing mammals which pose no threat to you whatsoever, and which you don’t need for food (since your vehicle and guns and bullets and gas cost far more than several sides of beef), is an important enough reason to make semiautomatic rifles generally available to the public?

As the reader might have discerned, I support legislative initiatives which restrict possession of semiautomatic rifles to law enforcement agencies and military personnel.  For those who already possess them and have a perfectly clean record of nonviolence and are free of drug addiction and mental illness, let them continue to possess these weapons, but only if they can certify that they’ll never allow access to them by prohibited persons.  If this means that going forward, sales of these weapons to new buyers will cease, that’s a result we should we willing to live with in the interest of the common welfare.  There are lots of things we used to be able to buy and possess, which we no longer can, but life expectancy has continued to increase.  Semiautomatic weapons are simply not useful enough to civilians, given the myriad other kinds of effective guns available to them, to outweigh the danger of mass murder they pose when they fall into the wrong hands.  We’ve had enough mass killings where these guns were used.  This is a fact we all seem to see more clearly as soon as it’s our child, grandchild, spouse or parent who’s shot.

I also think we ought to pay significant salary bonuses to school teachers or professors who are willing to legally possess guns on school campuses, and to use them if a Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook or Parkland situation recurs.  No teacher should be compelled or expected to do this, but those who are willing to step forward and perform this service ought to be financially rewarded for assuming that risk.  They would of course have to be screened to determine their mental fitness and past history, but I get the feeling they’d be more than happy to do so.

And if these measures seem too onerous or frightening, I urge you to pray to God and see if his sympathies lie with you, or with the growing list of those who’ve lost loved ones to mass shootings.  May we Christians do as much as we can to show, as the Book of Mormon prophet Alma urged in Mosiah 18:9, that we’re “willing to mourn with those that mourn, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort.”