One in Us

John 17: 21 “That they all may be one; as thou, Father art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” Unity in Christ is essential to the Gospel message. However, Christian unity as it is understood in the modern ecumenical movement is somewhat of a contradiction of terms. Are we speaking of a unity in belief, practice, or personal piety? For Mormons this term becomes even more ambiguous, as Latter-day Saints tend to believe our church is the “One True Church.” Furthermore, this concept is even more divisive among Mormons, considering some are declared “worthy” for the Temple, while others are not. During my studies overseas with the World Council of Churches in Geneva, I learned that John 17:21 was the key to understanding Christian unity as defined by the modern ecumenical movement; for in this verse is expressed Christ’s “ecumenical imperative,” a calling for unity among believers. However, those outside Mormonism—Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox— are even divided on what this means or how to interpret it. So what does it mean to be “one in Christ”? The seventeenth chapter of John is the great intercessory prayer for church unity. This prayer was offered up by Jesus himself just as he was about to undergo the agonizing ordeal of the Atonement. Perhaps the following verse offers a clue; “that they also may be one in us….that the world may believe….” (emphasis added). The key to unity is found in divine plurality. It is interesting to note that as Jesus is conversing with the Father all throughout chapter seventeen, he makes repeated reference to the essential unity found in divine plurality; verse eleven, “….that they may be one, as we are” and verse twenty-two, “…even as we are one.” (emphasis added) It would seem that Jesus’ repeated use of “we,” along with the reference to “us” in John 17: 21, indicate that he is speaking not only to...

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This is an email between my Father and me: Me: “Hey Dad, I have some great news! Jeff and I have decided to get married. We are engaged!” Father: “That’s wonderful news! Your mother and I are so happy for you!” Mother: “Please call me, honey. I’m excited to hear the details.” Me: “I just wanted to thank you, Dad, for all you’ve given me throughout these years. You’ve helped mold me into the woman I am today; you’ve been a great role model for me. I love you.” Father: “I love you too.” Me: “Dad, can I call you tomorrow to discuss the details of the wedding?” Father: “Sure, but don’t forget about your mom. You have a mother too, you know. Why don’t you call her? She would love to hear from you.” Me: “I know I have a mother, but I’m not supposed to communicate with her …” If this email seems strange to you, you’re right. It is ridiculous to think that if I had something to share, that I would only tell my Dad. It is ridiculous to think that if I was grateful for the things my parents have both given me, that I would only thank my Dad. It is ridiculous to think that if I loved my parents, I would only tell my Dad, “I love you.” Yet, the new Gospel Topics essay on Mother in Heaven, recently released by the Church, says this is how we are to treat our Mother in Heaven. Furthermore, it is “a divine pattern established for us as children of heavenly parents.” That is, it’s a divine pattern established for us to not communicate with our mothers. President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her.” I know my mom would be pretty upset if I ignored her. Would yours? I look forward to the eternities where I am not belittled or denigrated by my...

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Petitioning Heavenly Mother and the Call to Faithful Agitation

As I was reviewing the 1991 Ensign article “Daughters of God” by Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, I began to see a correlation between Hinckley’s prohibition against praying to our Mother in Heaven and the later call to “faithful agitation.” The question that came to mind is are both of these challenges instead of prohibitions? Let’s examine his statement in context. In this talk/article, Hinckley is addressing the concerns of a young girl, “Virginia” who has a testimony of the Restored Gospel, but is concerned she will not make it into the Celestial Kingdom simply because she is a female. Hinckley reassures her that she will enter the Celestial Kingdom if she remains faithful to her testimony of the Gospel. However, once he finishes addressing her concern, he moves on to a more pressing matter; expressing concern that someone has “secured” a copy of his talk delivered earlier at a meeting with regional Church representatives. He reassures them that there is nothing “sinister” being hidden from the general populace, “as if it had been given in a secret and sinister manner” and then he goes on to read a portion of that same talk concerning prayer to our Mother in Heaven. In this talk, he regards it as “inappropriate” to pray to Heavenly Mother, using first the Lord’s Prayer as an example, and then moving on to the Presidents of the Church- from Joseph Smith to Ezra Taft Benson. He adds, “The fact that we do not pray to our Mother in Heaven in no way belittles or denigrates her….of whom we have no revealed knowledge.” Inappropriate, perhaps but not explicitly forbidden? First the declarations made in this talk are in response to some concerns being addressed by local authorities, that some had begun praying to Heavenly Mother in private prayer, a practice which made inroads into Sunday worship. The fact that Hinckley would feel pressured to tack this issue on to another similar issue and speak with the...

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On Yom Kippur

With today being Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in the Hebrew calendar, I would like to reflect on a very sacred experience that I had, and one that is very unique within Mormonism, although I was actually not yet a member of the Church when I had this experience. That said, this experience restored my faith in Christ and led to my belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet. My Jewish husband and I shared this sacred experience a year before we were married and a couple years prior to me joining the LDS church in 2010. Please forgive me if the details are sketchy, as it is never easy- and deeply personal- to recount spiritual experiences. This sacred experience would mark the beginning of my journey into the Sacred Feminine and my love for Heavenly Mother. I share these stories as I experienced them. I believe they happened because of my need at that particular time in my life – and God’s love.  Whether you believe me or not, please respect them as my sacred stories. Nevertheless, I do testify these sacred experiences are true. On this particular day in 2007, my husband and I were in the mountains of North Carolina. We were not yet married, and my husband later admitted he was about to break off the relationship since we have a significant age difference and there were just too many complications. That same day, he made it clear he had no intentions of getting married. Frustrated, I went off by myself and “yelled” at God – “You have GOT to fix this!” We drove on, and came to this beautiful waterfall called Hooker Falls in Pisgah National Forest. Shortly after we arrived, three mysterious women appeared. One was middle aged, one was a younger mother and the other a child. They all looked Hispanic. As the child splashed around in the water, middle-aged woman spoke with my husband at length, while the young mother kept me occupied....

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An Argument for “Mormon Universalism”

The following is an argument for Mormon Universalism. I present this argument not as a personal endorsement in every particular, but rather as a prompt for constructive discussion and critical self-reflection. What is “Mormon Universalism”? It is the belief that every single person who has ever lived will eventually return to and be reconciled with God, and that this is perfectly compatible with a reasonable interpretation of Mormon theology. The argument is based on two key ideas: 1) the “Piano Model” of grace, and 2) eternity is a very long time.[1] THE “PIANO MODEL” OF GRACE The first key idea is from an article by Brad Wilcox in the September 2013 Ensign entitled “His Grace is Sufficient.” Wilcox has become popular the last few years by challenging the Stephen Robinson “Parable of the Bicycle” model of grace that was popular in the 1990s. In brief, the Robinson “Bicycle Model” argues that the Atonement is like a parent who purchases a bicycle for his or her child after the child expends his or her own “best efforts” to save up the money, even though this might only be a few pennies. The Atonement, in effect, makes up the huge difference in the “purchase price” of salvation between what we can earn for ourselves and what is required. Enter Brad Wilcox in 2013 who challenged this popular model by arguing instead that our “best efforts” are not needed to “pay off a debt” or “make deposits” toward a desired salvation. Rather, the Atonement has already paid the entire price in full and God asks us for our best efforts not because it helps earn our way into his presence, but so we’ll get a lot of practice becoming the type of person who will be comfortable in his presence. Instead of a bicycle, he uses the analogy of a piano. Our parents purchase piano lessons for us and give them to us as a gift. We practice the piano not to pay back the purchase price...

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How Shall We Continue in The Silencing?

Imagine how Mary Magdalene must have felt on the morning of the Resurrection, being the first person to see the risen Christ. Imagine too how she must have felt later on when she would be forever silenced for her testimony: “I have seen the Lord: such is the story of the Resurrection as told in the Gospel of John. With it begins the history of Christianity, and with it ends the New Testament history of Mary Magdalene.”(1)  And still the Church rests on a special commission given to her by Christ himself, “but go to my brethren and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (John 20: 17). Tradition says Mary Magdalene did continue her earthly mission, but so much of that has been the stuff of legend. According to the Eastern Orthodox tradition, Mary Magdalene finished out her years in Ephesus, a city devoted to the goddess Artemis, while the Western medieval tradition maintains that she died in France and is laid to rest at Sainte Baume. (2)  In both traditions, she remained celibate and chaste following the Resurrection. The Gnostic Gospels, more specifically the Gospel of Philip, paint Mary Magdalene in a very different light, as Jesus’ chosen successor and most intimate companion, or perhaps even his wife. Still the question remains, “If Mary were so important to Jesus, why is there no mention of her in Acts, or in the Epistles?” (3) And with that, the Mormon belief in Heavenly Mother faces the same set of challenges, except this time on a much grander scale; for in this case we are dealing with Deity. The problem here is not so much that She exists – as Latter-Day Saints we historically acknowledge as such – the problem is we operate on a stifled belief in Her that is used to perpetuate the status quo, when a doctrine of Her really should be used to promote an elevated view of women reflecting...

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Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Jul 01, 15 Through the Valley: Theodicy and Black Suffering in America

Posted by in Featured, Racism, Theology

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23, 1 – 6   “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God,” uttered organizer Bree Newsome, as she removed the Confederate battle flag from its place on the grounds of the South Carolina state house. A few moments later, as she was led away by the police, she began to recite Psalm 23 and 27. While there’s nothing particularly new about the use of Christian theology along with acts of civil disobedience, the calling upon the words and works of God hold a profound significance for black people in the United States; in the midst of mis-recognition, suffering and death by way of oppression. As black churches burn across the South coupled with the lack of reporting by mainstream news outlets, I can’t help but think  about the greatest trick the devil ever played: convincing us that he didn’t exist. During a lecture about theodicy, or the problem of evil, my philosophy professor once posited to the class that the devil did not exist. Now, perhaps you can imagine the reaction to a claim such as that in a room full of mostly first year, some post-first year, seminary students, many of whom were Christian theists. But the discussion that followed, a brief...

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Fumbling Through Fowler’s Phases.

Jun 23, 15 Fumbling Through Fowler’s Phases.

Posted by in Agency, Featured, Theology, Uncategorized

I don’t think anyone can avoid searching for spirituality at some point in life. Religion may turn many people off the path and they may spend much of their lives and energy avoiding further contact, but there seems to be something built in that compels the quest. For those of us who are familiar with the pursuit, Fowler’s Stages of Faith offers a valuable insight into the psychology behind the drive. James Fowler is an American professor of theology. He was born in Reidsville North Carolina in 1940, to a Methodist minister. Fowler has since followed in his fathers footsteps in this regard. He graduated from Duke University with a BA in Psychology, then went on to earn a Masters from Drew Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. from Harvard in Religion and Society. He pursued post-doctoral studies at the Center for Moral Development at the Harvard Graduate School for Education. He is a prolific author, contributing to many research projects as well as publishing several books of his own. He has taught at Harvard Divinity School, Boston College and Emory’s Candler School of Theology. His best known work is the book “Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Development and the Quest for Meaning” In the book, Fowler suggests six (seven, including stage 0) developmental stages that most humans will begin to move through as their faith develops. Not everyone will make it all the way through, many stall out in the early stages, but for those intent on pursuing the development of faith, Fowler’s stages provide a way to see the path. He doesn’t seek to instruct the faithful but, simply, illuminate the pursuit. Movement through the first two stages tends to happen naturally, stage three happens with help, but movement between the last three will require conscientious choices and intent. So here they are: Stage 0 – “Primal or Undifferentiated”faith (birth to 2 years) Characterized by an early learning of the safety of their environment (i.e. warm, safe and secure vs. hurt, neglect...

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On being chosen

1 Peter 2:9 9 But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light: We have been taught that we are a chosen people.  What does that really mean?  As Mormons we are rather proud of our peculiarity, our royality, our priesthood.  We claim the blood and birthright of the children of Israel.  We claim a tradition as God’s chosen people.  But that tradition, that idea is fraught with peril.  I think a look at the history of the Children of Israel can be very instructive. The rabbi Abraham Heschel described Israel as a great experiment in which God takes a group of people no better and no worse than any other and sees what happens when he tries to develop a relationship with them.  In other words, being chosen does not signify a preference for a people based upon discrimination and favoritism but a people chosen and approached by God. It is not a quality inherent in the people but a relationship between the people and God.  He described Judaism as “God’s quest for Man.” As we read in the Old Testament, we find that these chosen people are typically not keeping up their end of the relationship. We are all familiar with how Israel built a Golden Calf the moment Moses left them to get the law on Mount Sinai.  We all know about how they groused and complained and spent 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  We all know about how they stoned and killed and rejected the prophets.  What we don’t seem to realize is that as “the Lord’s chosen people” all these stories are instructive to us.  They are a warning for us. Being a people in relationship with God involves boundary maintenance.  It involves receiving the law.  It involves covenant.  It involves distinctive practices to set you apart.  These are important.  Boundaries keep the people distinct but the problem is they...

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Voices Unto the Lord: The Autobiography of Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Spiritual Narratives of African-American Women in the Nineteenth Century

Jun 03, 15 Voices Unto the Lord: The Autobiography of Jane Elizabeth Manning James and Spiritual Narratives of African-American Women in the Nineteenth Century

Posted by in Faith, Featured, History, Racism, Theology

 I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me.  I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul.  I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.  Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I.  Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me. – Psalm 142, 1 – 7 For holy women, the personal is political and spiritual.- Dr. Joycelyn K. Moody, Sentimental Confessions: Spiritual Narratives of Nineteenth-Century African American Women In the narratives of Julia A. J. Foote, Jarena Lee and Maria Stewart (as well as other religious contemporaries of their time), we can see a formulation of a theology that examined, explained and expressed their experiences as not only black people living in the context of a white supremacist nation but as women seeking to be a discursive might in male-centric 19th century evangelism. Similar figures can be found within Latter-day Saint history, namely Jane Elizabeth Manning James. Though James was no theologian in the academic sense, the conceptualization of who and how God was, was revealed through both her correspondence with Church leaders and her dictated autobiography. Through these exchanges emerged a theology not unlike that of Foote, Lee and Stewart. With the backdrop of 19th century narratives of African-American “holy women” as a guide, we can examine Jane Elizabeth Manning James’s autobiography/interview and letters to Church leaders as more than a fixed set of points in Mormon...

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