November 7, 2008

Peter's Prejudice?

Parley P. Pratt
August 26, 185
(JD 3:183-184)

During the mortal ministry of Jesus Christ He preached only to the House of Israel, specifically saying He was not sent unto the Gentiles (see Matthew 15:24; 3 Nephi 15:23). Later, Christ commanded the apostles to preach the gospel to the very ends of the earth, including the Gentiles (see Matthew 24:14; Acts 1:8). Even after this instruction, it wasn't until Peter received a special and specific revelation that he decided to fully obey the apparently new and radical command.

In this discourse, Parley P. Pratt surmised prejudice played a part in Peter's delay. When the angels appeared to the shepherds in the fields to announce the birth of Christ, Parley believed they must have wondered about their declaration that good tidings would be to "all people" (see Luke 2:10).

The shepherds were astonished, and well they might be, and they brought every body to this text throughout the whole of Judea. Still those angels were honest enough to sing the whole truth, notwithstanding the Jews looked upon all Gentiles as dogs, and I think I hear the shepherds saying, that brought glad tidings to every body-"To these dogs?" Still the angels-a choir of them-were bold enough to sing, "We bring you glad tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people!" What a big saying for Jewish shepherds! Why they must have enlarged their hearts, and wondered at this very strange news! 
Why Peter had hardly got his heart sufficiently enlarged to believe these glad tidings, many years after they were proclaimed, although he had preached so much. It swelled by degrees, and contracted again, I suppose, and at last he had to have a vision, and a sheet let down from heaven, and things shown him, and explained to him over and over again, to get him to realize the truth of the glad tidings sung by angels at the birth of the Savior [Acts 10]. It was showing so much, it was too broad a platform, such a boundless ocean of mercy! It was making such a provision for the human family that Peter could not comprehend it. 
If the angel had said it was for the Jews, for the peculiar people of God, those that could receive the new revelation, why then it might have done; but to throw off their traditions, they who were the peculiar few, as they considered themselves, to believe that the glad tidings of the Savior's birth was for those Gentile dogs, they could not endure this for a moment. They were of the house of Israel, the seed of promise (JD 3:183-184).
Just being descendants of Israel didn't mean automatic salvation; Christ sought to overcome these cultural biases by emphasizing God's ability to bless all people to become the seed of Abraham; not only actual lineal descendants (see Luke 3:8).

Parley recognized the possibility that Church leaders could sometimes allow their own prejudices affect their ministry, but in the end God can correct these matters through revelation; sometimes even by revelation seemingly in opposition to prior procedure.

This can include the idea that God somehow accommodates the prejudice, working with humans as best he can "after the manner of their language," or that there are other factors I've overlooked. This still raises the question of why God sometimes makes a miraculous answer known (like with Peter, or even Spence W. Kimball) but waits so long to do so.

President Lorenzo Snow aptly stated the issue of prejudice as follows:
Seventy years ago this Church was organized with six members. We commenced, so to speak, as an infant. We had our prejudices to combat. Our ignorance troubled us in regard to what the Lord intended to do and what He wanted us to do …
We advanced to boyhood, and still we undoubtedly made some mistakes, which … generally arise from a …lack of experience. We understand very well, when we reflect back upon our own lives, that we did many foolish things when we were boys …
Yet as we advanced, the experience of the past materially assisted us to avoid such mistakes as we had made in our boyhood. It has been so with the Church. Our errors have generally arisen from a lack of comprehending what the Lord required of us to do. But now we are pretty well along to manhood …
When we examine ourselves, however, we discover that we are still not doing exactly as we ought to do, notwithstanding all our experience. We discern that there are things which we fail to do that the Lord expects us to perform, some of which He requires us to do in our boyhood. … While we congratulate ourselves in this direction, we certainly ought to feel that we have not yet arrived at perfection. There are many things for us to do yet (Lorenzo Snow, 6 April, 1900, Conference Report, 1-2).
For a discussion on racism on the Church, see David G., "Teaching About Racism" Juvenile Instructor, 5/6/2008.

Revised, updated. Orig. posted 11/5/07.

November 4, 2008

Beck, Hatch: Constitution Hanging By a Thread

The ever-voluble news commentator Glenn Beck (who happens to be LDS) interviewed Senator Orrin Hatch (R, UT, also LDS) today. Both made pretty explicit references to an aspect of the so-called "white horse prophecy" (WHP) by declaring that the constitution of the United States of America is now "hanging by a thread."1

This isn't the first time Sen. Hatch has used the prophecy in connection with a presidential election. In 1999 when he was making an early bid to run for the Republican nominee for President, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Hatch's reference during a 45-minute interview on KSL Radio's "The Doug Wright Show":

"[Democrats] tolerate everything that's bad, and they're intolerant of everything that's good. Religious freedom is going to go down the drain, too," Hatch said. "I've never seen it worse than this, where the Constitution literally is hanging by a thread."2
Sen. Hatch quickly denied his use of the phrase referred to the WHP.

More recently, Mitt Romney's candidacy brought the WHP back into the news, including a Wall Street Journal opinion article.3

Republicans haven't been the only ones to reference the WHP. According to the above mentioned Wall Street Journal piece:
Steve Olsen, the Democratic candidate for Utah's First Congressional District, told me that Smith's vision inspired him to run. According to Mr. Olsen, a party official persuaded him to throw his hat into the ring by alluding to the prophecy. "You owe it to the Lord and the people to run," Mr. Olsen was told by Larry Daniel, chairman of the Iron County (Utah) Democrats. When Mr. Daniel noted that "our Constitution is more under attack by the Republicans than by outside forces and you are one of the elders of Israel who can help save it," Mr. Olsen says he was moved.4
Interestingly enough, Google searches for "white horse prophecy" bring people to this blog almost every other day (this site is the 14th result).

Overall, I am disappointed to see these references especially given the non-canonical, unofficial, and somewhat questionable and tenuous nature of the WHP, which I believe, were it to be considered a fundamental aspect of the gospel, would have been included in a more formal source for the perusal of church members. I would have also expected more notice of this impending danger during the LDS General Conference which took place just one month ago.

In short, I oppose the blatant reference of the WHP by Beck, Hatch, and others in attempts to score political points, especially on the day of a presidential election. Unfortunately for Mr. Beck and Sen. Hatch, Mitt Romney isn't on the ticket this year. Perhaps they are holding out for a McCain victory and subsequent cabinet position for Romney? Oddly enough, there is already a Mormon in the upper echelons of the US Government; the current Senate majority leader is Harry Reid (D, Nevada). Reid is a Mormon.

I do not believe Hatch, Beck, or any others who have cited the prophecy in their own behalf, have a current or comprehensive understanding of the historical background of the WHP. For more on this, see George Cobabe's FAIR article here: [.pdf]. Cobabe argues that the "thread" aspect of the WHP should be considered as seperate and more reliable than the actual WHP. See also my notes from the 2008 FAIR conference presentation by Craig Foster and Newell Bringhurst: "The White Horse Prophecy."

See, "Glenn Beck With Sen. Hatch: 'Constitution is Hanging By a Thread,'" Nov. 4, 2008. I should note there is a possibility that the phrase is simply used incidentally in this interview. I do not believe such is the case, however. From the transcript:
GLENN: Senator, do you believe -- I mean, when I heard Barack Obama talk about the Constitution and I thought, we are at the point or we are very near the point where our Constitution is hanging by a thread.

SENATOR HATCH: You got that right...

GLENN: The next generation our children will look to us and say, "You sold my freedom for what?" 
SENATOR HATCH: Well, let me tell you something. I believe the Constitution is hanging by a thread. I've been fighting the save it for all 32 years I've been in the Senate and I think anybody who looks at it knows I've been in almost every fight that's been saving the Constitution.

John Heilprin, "Did Hatch Allude to LDS Prophecy?" The Salt Lake Tribune, November 11, 1999.

Carrie Sheffield, "White Horse in the White House: Will a Mormon candidate fulfill Joseph Smith's prophecy?" Wall Street Journal, Friday, November 3, 2006.


November 3, 2008

Is the world getting worse?

Heber C. Kimball  
June 29, 1856
Is the millennium coming soon? I don't know. My personal approach to the question has shifted from guessing when the second coming of Christ will be to determining what I personally ought to be doing right now regardless of deadlines. Many books have been written, fireside talks given, and seminary speculations passed around regarding this issue. So it has been since the beginning of the restoration.

Back in 1856, Heber C. Kimball related the following, which might as well have been said at the most recent General Conference:

The trials in the last days will be numerous, but to the faithful they will be of but small moment, for they will live above these things, they will increase in power. The work of God is bound to increase, and just in that proportion will the devil's kingdom rise in power and strength, and walk up to battle against us. The adversary is bent on having a war with this people, we shall have him right by the side of us, and you will find that he will keep you very busy, if you strive to come off victorious (JD 4:6).
I recall hearing in various Church settings that it won't do to spiritually "stand still" because good and evil are both increasing.1 President Henry B. Eyring related the following in 2004, and it sounds very familiar to the sentiments expressed by President Kimball above:
The world in which young people live is changing rapidly. When their older brothers and sisters return to visit the same schools and campuses they attended, they find a radically different moral climate. The language in the hallways and the locker rooms has coarsened. Clothing is less modest. Pornography has moved into the open.
Not only has tolerance for wickedness increased, but much of what was called wrong is no longer condemned at all and may, even by our Latter-day Saint youth, be admired. Parents and leaders have in many cases bent to the pressures coming from a shifting world to retreat from moral standards once widely accepted. The spiritual strength sufficient for our youth to stand firm just a few years ago will soon not be enough. Many of them are remarkable in their spiritual maturity and in their faith. But even the best of them are sorely tested. And the testing will become more severe. The youth are responsible for their own choices. But as faithful parents, teachers, leaders, and friends, we shore up the faith of young people. And we must raise our sights. The place to begin is with our aim, our vision of what we seek in the lives of our young people.
As teachers, we have always sought to inspire the young people in our classes. As parents and leaders, we have always had a goal that they will qualify for the mission field and for temple marriage and then remain faithful. Those are lofty, difficult goals, but we must raise our sights. Too many of our young people want the blessings of a mission and the temple and yet fail to meet the qualifications to claim them. For many of our youth, next year is a long way away, and beyond a year looks like forever. To them, missions and the temple are far distant, in some future time when the joys of youth have flown away. Those goals are distant enough that too many, far too many, say to themselves: “Well, I know I may have to repent someday, and I know that a mission and temple marriage will require big changes, but I can always take care of that when the time comes. I have a testimony. I know the scriptures. I know what it takes to repent. I’ll see the bishop when it’s time, and I’ll make the changes later. I’m only young once. For now, I’ll go with the flow.”
Well, the flow has become a flood and soon will be a torrent. It will become a torrent of sounds and sights and sensations that invite temptation and offend the Spirit of God. Swimming back upstream to purity against the tides of the world was never easy. It is getting harder and may soon be frighteningly difficult.2

We ought to be careful not to be swept up in the tide of temptation; including the temptation to subscribe to spurious or questionable rumors about the second coming. Things may seem frightening (sometimes frighteningly boring, even) but Brigham Young advised that with faith we should not fear (and he added a great frontier colloquialism to boot):
Are the people going to fear? If fear is in the hearts of any of you, it is because you do not pray often enough; or when you do pray you are not sufficiently humble before the Lord. You do not plead with Him until your will is swallowed up in His. If every one of the Latter-day Saints lived up to their privileges, they would not fear the world, and all that they can no, any more than they fear that the cranes, that fly croaking three quarters of a mile above them, will drop their eggs upon them to dash their brains out. You might as well fear that event, as to fear all the forces of hell, if the people were sanctified before the Lord, and would do His will every day (JD 2:255).3

This happens on a personal level, (as well as a church-wide, family-wide, community-wide, world-wide basis). Regarding the personal level, see "Tempted in Proportion to the Light."

[2]Henry B. Eyring, "We Must Raise Our Sights," Ensign, Sept. 2004.  

[3]An interesting post worth reading was posted by bfwebster on Mormon Mentality. See "Revisioning the Millennium." Along with some interesting thoughts, he posts the following definition from Orson Scott Card: Millennium — A thousand years of genealogy, temple work, proselytizing, and filling out reports, a prospect that can make wickedness and destruction look downright enticing. (Card, Saintspeak: A Mormon Dictionary, Orion Books, 1981). And a great poem called "Proof" by Carol Lynn Pearson:
Proof Is not the need Of this unbelieving world.
Though Christ Himself Comes in evidence,
There will be many
On that day
Whose knee will bow,
Tongue will confess,
And heart Will turn away.

Orig. posted 4/14/08