Be ye therefore perfect (Matthew 5:48) is well-loved scripture among Mormons, but also the source of much frustration and angst. Elder Jeffrey Holland focused on the frustration side of things in his General Conference talk in October 2017. He recounts what he hears from members across the globe: “I am just not good enough.” “I fall so far short.” “I will never measure up.” He cites a Sister Darla Isackson who “observed that Satan has somehow managed to make covenants and commandments seem like curses and condemnations. For some he has turned the ideals and inspiration of the gospel into self-loathing and misery-making”.
Elder Holland then articulates the standard Mormon explanation: we are not expected to be perfect now, but eventually. So we don’t have to feel miserable about not measuring up, at least not just yet. And in the end, it is the Savior who through his atonement makes perfection possible. So we must do all we can, but we must trust in the Lord’s grace in the final analysis.
But is Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) really referring to a future time in the afterlife for this directive? I think not. A key element of the directive is “therefore,” a conjunctive adverb, which as the name suggests, links two independent clauses: “be perfect”, and the section that immediately precedes this directive. The “be perfect” clause cannot, therefore, be interpreted as a stand-alone instruction, as it has by generations of Mormon scholars and leaders. More than just a simple oversight, this in vacuo interpretation of the “be perfect” mandate robs it and what goes before of significance. Continue reading Be ye therefore …whole and merciful
Preliminary thoughts for a sacrament meeting talk
Seeds are powerful metaphors. Much of life seems to be bound up with seeds one way or another. All mammals pass through a seed life stage, as do many plants. One of the Restoration’s most powerful seed metaphors is contained in Alma 32, where the word is compared to a seed. The seed is advertised as that of a large tree, representing a mature and strong faith. But one can be unsure of the seed yet willing to give it a try. But you have to follow a protocol to really test the seed, just like you would with a regular seed. You plant it in good soil, when it sprouts you at least know it is a good seed and so worth caring for a little more. As it grows, you begin to see its utility so you continue to care for it. Eventually it is the promised tree. Such is the word of truth, that it can grow inwardly, and eventually become a sure faith, like a mighty oak. Continue reading All the seeds are within us
There is no place for fellowship in the LDS Sabbath worship. There is no theological ban on fellowship on Sundays. In fact, Mormons greatly value fellowship. There is just no place for it on Sundays. Literally. The schedule is full of teaching, with a little singing thrown in.
It wasn’t always so. Continue reading No Place for Fellowship: LDS Sabbath Worship
Taken from a Sacrament meeting talk, 12-27-2015
We can’t predict anything specific about the New Year, but we can be sure that among those in this congregation, serious sorrow will come to some and real happiness to others. And many will experience both in the coming year. Further, some events will bring both pain and happiness at the same time to others. There will be death—if not to you or someone in your immediate family, then to someone you know. There will be pain—in both body and spirit. Some may lose jobs or have other reverses. On the other hand, some will get promotions or other successes, some will be married, and some will have children or grandchildren.
Change is the one thing we can predict for sure for the New Year and for those that follow. We just can’t control what exactly will come our way. What we can control is our attitude, and how we will respond to the coming changes. Continue reading Reflections on the New Year: Embrace your fate—and challenge it…with love.
A review of Steven Peck’s “Evolving Faith”
and a brief digression into the epistemology of faith and belief
Steven L. Peck has just published “Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist.” Peck plows some familiar ground exploring the intersection of science and faith. Peck is a confirmed evolutionist and also apparently a fairly devout Mormon. He believes that a devout scientist can navigate these spheres with equal skill, and he ably and interestingly charts his paths in and around these issues in both of his roles. As a scientist and as a devout Mormon, I share Peck’s perspective. It is indeed possible to be both devout and a solid, rigorous scientist, despite the protestations of the fundamentalists Peck and I have both no doubt frequently encountered.
Circumscribed into one great whole
I take issue with Peck’s views on knowledge and ways of knowing, however. Peck subscribes to the view that there are two mutually exclusive ways of knowing—an objective, scientific way of knowing, and a subjective, religious or spiritual way of knowing. I contend that this bifurcated view runs counter to the way Joseph Smith viewed “truth”:
The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, (2011), 261–70). Continue reading Wanting to Know
We call it church discipline–and I suspect that most of us think of it as punishment for things done wrong, things bad enough that confession to a bishop is required. Things like fornication and adultery. Perhaps serious robbery as well–but apparently not the kind of malfeasance associated with Enron or with the profiteering associated with the meltdown of 2008, but that is another story. Someone comes in to confess–or more rarely we might call them in if outside reports have come to us –and the bishop metes out an appropriate punishment. Continue reading On Church Discipline -2. The Path of the Penitent
Every bishop has to deal with church discipline. That just comes with the territory. Of late, excommunication appears to be the preferred method of dealing with dissidents. While perhaps not quite as drastic as Torquemada’s wheel or rack, punishment of the individual and purification of the church still lie at the heart of this use of church discipline. Continue reading On Church Discipline – 1. Protection of the Church
I am a Mormon Bishop. I am not exactly a Buddhist, but I subscribe to many if not most of the Buddhist teachings I am familiar with. Continue reading What is a Buddhist Bishop?