Concise Dictionary of Mormonism: O

November 25, 2014

Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood: A covenant between God and men promising sanctification and renewing of their bodies if they attend enough leadership training broadcasts and do their hometeaching.

Oaths: Promises or covenants made to God. Secret oaths are wicked, unless they are made in the temple.

Obedience: Doing God’s will. You can know it’s God’s will through your conscience, or the Light of Christ. When God’s will conflicts with your conscience, you will be blessed for obedience, anyway.

Occupational Status: God is no respecter of persons, so one’s chosen profession is unrelated to spiritual standing. God often prompts members to  enter into professions that will enhance their ability to help build the kingdom. Such professions typically require a professional degree or a large inheritance. Women are encouraged to enter into the profession that is most suited to their talents and desires, that of being a wife and mother.

Official Declaration 1: Known also as “The Manifesto,” the official announcement in 1890 that the LDS church had ceased performing and endorsing plural marriages. This cessation took effect immediately, after an implementation period of some 15 years. Not to be confused with the 1904 declaration, “We Really Mean It This Time.”

Official Declaration 2: The announcement in 1978 that all worthy male members may be ordained to the priesthood. Prior to this date, members of sub-Saharan African descent were barred from holding the priesthood (hereafter referred to as a “blip and fleck of history”). All past justifications for the blip and fleck were merely uninformed speculation, and no official reasons for the practice were ever stated by prophets, especially not Brigham Young, or outlined by the First Presidency of the Church, specifically not in 1949.

Ohio: Church headquarters moved to Kirtland, Ohio, in the 1830s, where the Saints constructed a temple of God. Highlights of this time period include the visit of the Savior and Old Testament prophets to the temple, the establishment of the School of the Prophets, and the commencement of plural marriage with Fanny Alger in the Smith family barn. A failed bank, which church leader Joseph Smith declared had been established by “the word of the Lord,” was unrelated to Mormonism or its leaders.

Oil,  Consecrated: Olive oil that has been blessed for the healing of the sick. Men who hold the Melchizedek priesthood typically carry a small amount of oil in a special vial, which can be purchased from your local Deseret Book.

Old Testament: A collection of writings from prophets of God from the time of Adam until a few centuries before the birth of Christ. The Old Testament outlines the laws given to the ancient Israelites regarding worship and daily life, collectively known as the Law of Moses. These laws were fulfilled, or superseded, by the Atonement of Christ, except for those laws regarding homosexuality.

Omnipotence, Omnipresence, Omniscience: According to scripture, God is all powerful, present everywhere, and all knowing. Latter-day scripture clarifies that God cannot violate the laws of the universe or create something out of nothing; that He is only physically present where His body is; and He is continually progressing in knowledge and glory. In that sense, He is omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient.

Onan: The second son of Judah, Onan was killed by the Lord for practicing coitus interuptus to avoid impregnating his brother’s widow. As the Gospel Doctrine lesson manual indicates, Onan was slain for “failure to honor one’s commitments.” This lesson was reinforced in modern times by the appearance of an angel with a drawn sword instructing Joseph Smith to sleep with multiple women or be slain. The prophet faithfully honored his commitments in this regard.

Only Begotten Son of God: Jesus is the only Son begotten (or conceived) in mortal life by God our Father. Prophets have taught that the conception was natural and accomplished “by an immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers,” but this in no way suggests that sexual intercourse was involved. That is a devlish lie believed only by anti-Mormons and Bruce McConkie.

Opposition: We have been created to learn how to choose between good and evil, right and wrong, and truth and error. We should always adhere to truth, except for truths that are not very uplifting.

Ordinances: Outward acts that have spiritual meaning. Saving ordinances are those ordinances by which members of the church are saved from their sins. Critics mistakenly call these ordinances works, insinuating that Mormons believe we are saved by our own works. This is not true, as we are saved by grace by performing the saving ordinances.

Ordination to the Priesthood: An ordinance done by laying on of hands by which worthy men are given the right to act in the name of God. Often refers to the time at which a boy reaches the age of 12 and is given the right to distribute bread and water to the congregation and go door to door collecting money.  God has given this gift to men to make up for their inability to give birth to children.

Organic Evolution: An evil doctrine inspired by the devil that all life evolved from simpler forms, which is “in direct conflict” with the plan of salvation. According to current lesson manuals, “You cannot believe in this theory of the origin of man, and at the same time accept the plan of salvation as set forth by the Lord our God. You must choose the one and reject the other.” Therefore, the church has no official position on evolution

Organization of the Church: We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, Public Affairs Coordinators, and the Strengthening the Church Membership Committee.

Original Sin: The heretical belief that all God’s children bear the guilt of Adam’s transgression and will thus be sent to hell unless they repent. Latter-day Saints believe we are responsible for our own sins, except for those born into a specific race or lineage.

Orthodoxy: Whatever the church teaches at the moment.

Outer Darkness: Eternal torment where spirits live without any divine influence or light. Reserved for murderers, apostates, and Democrats.

A Lesson from My Wife

November 19, 2014

Here in the United States we celebrate Thanksgiving every fourth Thursday in November. The holiday evolved from the original Pilgrims’ gratitude at having enough food to survive through the first winter they spent in the New World. (Yes, I know that’s an oversimplification, but the holiday isn’t my point so much.) Most Americans celebrate by cooking a large meal, usually involving turkey and dressing/stuffing, and offering thanks to God for what we have.

I am thankful for what I have, but I am also mindful that a lot of other people in the world struggle to get by with much less. I have seen unspeakable poverty and suffering in Bolivia, and I have seen misery here in a rich country that has no excuse for poverty. But it’s very easy to get caught up in our little lives, our work, school, finances, commute, and all the other cares of the day, without thinking about the suffering that is within arm’s reach of us every day.

Many years ago my wife taught me how important it is to keep your eyes open and look for ways to help. At the time we were living in our first home, a 40-year-old fixer-upper in Orem, Utah, with our five children (our sixth would be born a few years later). We struggled to make ends meet, but we always seemed to have just enough to get by. Things were tight enough that car problems or an issue with an appliance would have been disastrous for us. As we said at the time, financially speaking, we had no room to sneeze. We kept to a tight budget and bought groceries with cash to stay within the budget.

One Saturday afternoon I was working in the house when my wife left to shop for groceries. When she returned, she introduced me to a young woman with a couple of small children. They looked tired and disheveled. My wife had noticed the young woman in the store, and when she went out to load the groceries in the car, she noticed that the young woman was in the car next to ours, sobbing.

Seeing her distress, my wife knocked on the window and asked her what was wrong. The young woman explained that her husband had left her, and she was taking the children from their previous home in the Midwest to live with her parents in Oregon, but they had run out of money and gas in Utah. She had purchased a small amount of food and baby supplies, but there was no money for gas to continue the journey.

My sweet wife asked her where they were staying, and she replied that they had no place to stay, that they would probably sleep in the car right there in the parking lot. Without hesitating, my wife told her they could stay with us for the night. They followed her to our house, where they were able to bathe, eat, and wash their clothes, and the young woman was able to call her parents in Oregon to let them know she was safe. After dinner, our girls played with the two small children, fussing over them while the mother rested.

Cynical as I am, I was skeptical and wondered if this might be some kind of scam, but my wife calmly assured me that these people needed our help. We were going to help them, end of story. Besides, she smiled, we had nothing of value to steal, so there was no risk. She was right, and I was a little ashamed of having been so suspicious.

I took the young woman’s car to a gas station and filled the tank with gas and checked all the fluids, while my wife returned to the store with the young woman and made sure she had food, formula, and diapers for the rest of the trip.

In the morning, the little family looked much better, rested and in clean clothes. We helped load up the car and gave the young woman some cash for gas and other needs. Before they left, the young woman broke into sobs as she hugged us and thanked us. She said she had been at the end of her rope and had been praying for help when my wife knocked on the car window.

I suppose some people would call that a miracle or an answer to prayer, but I believe that we are much more likely to create miracles and answer prayers when we are looking out for each other. Had I been the one shopping that day, I am pretty certain I wouldn’t have noticed a young woman alone and sobbing in a car with her children. I would have loaded up the groceries and gone home, and no one would have been the wiser.

But my wife is not like that. She always keeps hers eyes open for opportunities to help people, and she never does anything halfway. We’ve been married for 27 years, and I hope I’ve picked up some of that ability from her, but I’ve had to learn it consciously. It comes naturally for her, and it’s one of the reasons I love her so much.

I have no idea what happened to that young woman and her children, and I’m not telling this story because I want thanks from her or a pat on the back from anyone else. Besides, it wasn’t me who reached out and helped someone in need. Her example makes me want to emphasize the giving part of Thanksgiving this year. I’ll keep my eyes open.

An “Insanely Long” Look at the LDS Church’s Polygamy Essay

November 18, 2014

A longtime friend, whom I respect greatly, has written a long and thoughtful response to the LDS church’s recent essay about plural marriage in the early days of the church. I’ve said what I needed to say about the essay in an earlier post, but his essay is for those who really want to dig into the essay. As he says, it’s “insanely long” (53 pages!), so be forewarned. Note that you’ll need a PDF reader.

FWIW: My Thoughts on “Plural Marriage in Kirtland and Nauvoo” Essay


Urim and Thummim Not Required

November 3, 2014

A friend asked, “Say, has anyone else noticed that these essays are not being translated into other languages and posted on the LDS Church’s websites in other languages?

Good question.

I suppose you could say that it takes time to translate things, but these are relatively short essays, and the church has had plenty of lead time. Had they wanted to translate them, they could have released the translated versions simultaneously with the English versions of the essays.

But there’s a reason they haven’t. Most likely, as my friend puts it, it’s in English only because

… it’s frantic triage directed specifically at Americans because very little of the damning historical material has been translated into other languages. This would be more convincing as a new type of good faith Glasnost if Italian members were given these essays even though there is no MormonThink or Signature Books in Italian.

A unilateral attempt to be transparent and open would involve exposing all members of the LDS church to this material. That it’s been published only in English–and you can only find it by directly linking to each essay–suggests that this material is intended to help the church reassert some control over a message that is currently being driven by multitudes of sources on the Internet. As I mentioned before, the problem is that many of those random Internet sites out there provide the source material in whole and in context. As I noted the other day, the church’s essays spin, deflect, and bury primary sources under references to apologetic works such as those of Brian Hales. And sometimes they even misuse sources to support a thesis contrary to the facts.

So, yes, like my friend, I’ll congratulate the church on its openness when it translates this material into the major languages spoken within the church. Then again, the translated material is still highly spun and occasionally dishonest. So, I’ll hold off on the congratulations.

More on the Polygamy Essays

November 3, 2014

I noticed that the Salt Lake Tribune has a couple of opinion pieces regarding the LDS church’s recent essays on plural marriage. I have commented here, but I think these both make good points. The first is from Gary James Bergera.

Smith polygamy essays commendable, but still not the full story

Mr. Bergera, who is on the editorial board of Signature Books, writes about the church’s “jarring” candor in addressing the facts of early Mormon polygamy. But he’s right that the essays take great pains to shy away from the “full story.” I thought this point was particularly insightful:

First, the essay on polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime reflects an emerging apologetic argument that seeks to portray Smith as a reluctant polygamist who had to be coerced by an angel into engaging in sexual relations with his plural wives. Such a position misrepresents Smith’s zest for life and self-perception as Heaven’s lawgiver, while imposing on him a particular brand of morality that was foreign to him. “That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another,” he taught (History of the church, 5:134). He also stated that there were “many things in the Bible which do not, as they now stand, accord with the revelation of the Holy Ghost to me” (Words of Joseph Smith, p. 211).

This idea of “reluctant polygamist” comes from Smith’s repeated assertions to his prospective wives that he would not have practiced polygamy had he not been forced by an angel with a drawn sword. The problem is that he said the angel continued to threaten him even after he had entered into the practice, suggesting that God wasn’t so much interested in restoring “the principle” of plural marriage as He was in ensuring that Joseph Smith married specific women. As Bergera notes above, Joseph was a self-confident man who believed that his actions were always right when backed by the command of God (indeed, the first quote Bergera cites is from a letter Smith wrote to convince a reluctant young woman to become his plural wife). The historical record suggests that Joseph’s main concern in entering into plural marriages was that they might be discovered by Emma Smith or the public. Bergera urges the church to take steps toward “narrating as fully and as accurately as possible” the history of plural marriage.

The second essay, from psychologist and self-described “believing Mormon woman” Kristy Money, approaches the essay from its potential effects on readers:

LDS Church should make clear Smith was wrong to take 14-year-old wife

There’s not much here for me to disagree with. Smith’s dishonesty about his plural marriages should be troubling to anyone, no matter how “carefully worded” his denials were. And his practice of marrying young girls, often those under his care and protection in his own home, is indeed not all that different from “victim grooming patterns” seen among sex offenders (particularly when one considers Smith’s approach to Mary Rollins when she was 12 years old). Ms. Money argues that, taken together, Smith’s actions were clearly wrong, and the church’s attempts to justify them could help sexual predators today convince their victims that they have the church’s blessing in committing their crimes. So, she asks the church to state clearly that Smith was wrong and made mistakes that the church does not support.

Both of these essays rest on what I think are mistaken assumptions about the church’s essays. Simply put, the essays are about finding a way to acknowledge troubling history and at the same time to present Joseph Smith in a positive light. Both authors recognize that “fully and accurately” discussing this history puts Joseph Smith in a bad light. Whether commanded of God or not, Smith clearly engaged in manipulative and dishonest behavior in his relationships with his plural wives. Mr. Bergera and Ms. Money would like the LDS church to explain this clearly and unequivocally, with Ms. Money asking the church to disavow Smith’s “mistakes” explicitly.

But these essays aren’t about full disclosure and acknowledgment of past errors. They are about justifying Joseph Smith, nothing more. One thing I have learned in my life as a Mormon is that the LDS church will sacrifice any past leader if it is necessary to maintain the church’s current narratives. Brigham Young has been called a racist by many believing Mormons, and later church leaders have labeled as “deadly heresy” Young’s teachings about the relationship between God and humanity. But Joseph Smith is sacrosanct, and the church will never condemn anything he did in the name of God, let alone call it “wrong” or a “mistake.” These essays are probably the best we can expect from the LDS church: candid, up to a point, and misleading and even dishonest when needed.

The problem for the church is that most members who read the essays will do so after they have stumbled across what others have written about this difficult history. My guess is that such readers will recognize immediately that the essays are not completely forthcoming and will see through much of the bending of the truth.