Monday, August 29, 2011

The Danger of Members Seeing Their Own Membership Records

As a stake president I sometimes run the risk of coming under the condemnation of the Lord for not ensuring that bishops, clerks and other leaders are properly trained in their duties. 

We had an instance just last week where Jim, a less active member, maliciously took advantage of a bran new ward clerk by asking him for a copy of his own membership record.  The clerk unaware of the policy but wrongly thinking that it should be everybody’s right to see what the Church records show on them gave him a copy.  Jim then got all upset at the bishop because as he had suspected there was an annotation on his file regarding some unresolved church discipline. 

The church has put policies in place to prevent this sort of situation from happening.  During tithing settlement each year members are given a copy of their Individual Ordinance Summary and are encouraged to check it for accuracy, but these summaries are different than official church membership records. 

To quote from Handbook 1 for Stake Presidents and Bishops under section 13.6 “Official Church membership records should not be shown or given to members.  Under no circumstances may membership records be given to anyone other than the bishop or a clerk.

I resolve to do a better job as a stake president going forward to ensure that leaders are properly trained so that members will not be exposed to the information that the Lord would have us keep confidential.

President Paternoster

Monday, August 22, 2011

Our First (and Last) Interfaith Meeting

Last week I sent the public affairs representative from the High Council to an interfaith group meeting.  It didn’t go very well.  They were offended at his words and will not be inviting us to participate in the group going forward.  I asked them what happened.

It was decided that before the different denominations could all work together on certain community goals they would each speak for a few moments on how their church views other religions.  In this way they were hoping to dissipate any feelings of mistrust.

They sent me the notes taken from the meeting and it seems that my high councilors comments were accurate but somewhat lacking in tact.  This is what he said:

“I am honoured to be amongst such good people today as a representative of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and know that we can accomplish much good together as we work within our communities. Rather than hearing my own personal thoughts on how our Church views other religions I am going to share with you what Church Apostle Dallin H. Oaks said in this month’s New Era Magazine*. 

"The fashionable opinion of this age is that all churches are true. In truth, the idea that all churches are the same is the doctrine of the anti-Christ."

You see when Joseph Smith asked God and Jesus which church to join Joseph recorded this as his response “I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”

My friends the Lord Himself referred to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I, the Lord, am well pleased” This is right in our scriptures! (D&C 1:30).

Because of this declaration of the Lord, we refer to this, His Church as the “only true Church.”

Furthermore from The Book of Mormon we can read in 1 Nephi 14:10 where it states:   
"Behold there are save two churches only; the one is the church of the Lamb of God, and the other is the church of the devil; wherefore, whoso belongeth not to the church of the Lamb of God belongeth to that great church, which is the mother of abominations; and she is the whore of all the earth."

I do understand of course that there is much good taught in all faiths and as Mormons we invite people to bring all the good that they have learned from their religions and allow us to add our additional truths that they may have a fullness of the truth.  I am very much looking forward to working with you all and being an integral part of this committee.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Woman Taken in Adultery – Authentic or Fake?

My favourite New Testament story is the one told in John 8:1-12 of the woman taken in adultery.  The Pharisees and religious leaders dragged the woman before Jesus in an attempt to trap him. They asked if she should be stoned to death in accordance with the Law of Moses. The way Jesus handled the situation has always served as a great inspiration to me as a leader in His Church.

Satan does not like stories like this and has become quite successful in convincing many that this particular account is not authentic.  Many Bibles including the one used by Jehovah’s Witnesses no longer include it.  You see, according to many so-called reputable scholars this story was not originally part of the book of John.  Scholars claim to have no doubt about this saying that the account is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the gospel of John.  It was added by a scribe at a much later date. 

This is why I am thankful for the restored gospel and modern day prophets, for they add clarity where there is darkness and confusion.  As Latter-day Saints we have irrefutable evidence that this story is in fact authentic.  I have in my possession the full Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible (as opposed to the partial version found in our standard works) and Joseph as a prophet of God felt inspired to make several important changes to the above mentioned verses.  I can provide all of the changes if asked but as a sample verse 11 in our Bible says (and this is the woman responding to Jesus) “11: She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”  In the Joseph Smith Translation these inspiring words are added to the verse “And the woman glorified God from that hour, and believed on his name

Now let me ask you this – would a true prophet of God make an addition or correction to the Bible on a fabricated story that does not belong there?  No. Of course he wouldn’t!

The only logical conclusion therefore is that this story which is spoken of in LDS chapels throughout the world belongs right where it is, in the Bible. 

Examples like this show that even though many very intelligent people may agree on something, that doesn’t necessarily make it true.

Brothers and Sisters let us not allow scholarship to negatively impact our discipleship.

The President

Monday, August 8, 2011

Can Members Question Church Doctrine? An Answer From This Month's Ensign

Yesterday before Church a young man named Luke asked me if it is permitted to question the very doctrines of the Church.  Naturally I was astonished at such a question! Luke explained that a professor at the university whom he considers to be very wise counseled the students to never stop questioning and he wanted to apply this thinking to his religion to see where it would take him.

I told Luke that the answer to his question lies within this month’s Ensign.  I asked him to find it and then come and see me in my office when he had the answer.  Luke quickly went to the library, obtained a copy of the Ensign and started his research.

I noticed him look up at me during sacrament meeting and we shared a smile.  As Luke came up to bear his testimony of the gospel I knew that he had felt the spirit of the counsel he had read. 

He said (and I paraphrase) “Brothers and Sisters, I know that President Paternoster is a man of God for he guided me today in answering a question I had been pondering for many weeks.  You see, I had been thinking about questioning the doctrines of the Church.  Something didn’t feel right about this approach but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.  After much prayer I finally came to see our beloved stake president who simply counseled me to read this month’s Ensign.  Within its pages the uncomfortable feeling I had been having was made clear to me.  Please allow me to quote *directly from an Apostle of the Lord in this matter, even Elder M. Russell Ballard who after talking about how solidly anchored in our testimonies we must be stated “We won’t question the doctrines that are part of our belief.”

Brothers and Sisters, could it be any clearer than this?  Has ever a prayer been answered with more clarity? The world would advise us to never stop questioning, but here we have a current prophet, seer and revelator who has given us a higher, holier and better plan, even one of unquestioning belief in the truths of the gospel.  After all, what good could possibly come from questioning the Church anyway?

I know that as I humbly accept without question the doctrines that are part of the Church I will be stronger, more obedient and more faithful.  I pledge to do all that my righteous priesthood leaders ask and know that in so doing I will have a happy and fulfilling life and I leave these thoughts and this humble testimony with you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.”


Monday, August 1, 2011

Adoption and the Unwed Mother

Sarah a 21 year old unmarried woman made a terrible mistake and became pregnant.  Usually I would have her bishop counsel with her but as a close friend of the family and with her father being in a very high stake position I felt it better that I counsel with them myself.

The family is very distraught as they feel their reputation and standing in the church community are at risk.  I can’t even begin to think how such a thing would affect me. It's awful, just awful. No one knows about this not even Sarah’s siblings as the parents want to keep this as quiet as possible and don’t want her poor example to be known and possibly followed by others. 

The terrible thing about these situations is not only the sin committed by the persons in question but the fact that a child will not be born in the covenant and will therefore not be sealed to them in the eternities. This is a very unfair situation in which to put a child. Fortunately the Church has put people and programs in place to help unwed parents repent of their sin and build futures for themselves and their baby.

The best option in these cases is for the mother and father of the child to marry and work towards a temple sealing that the child may be sealed in turn to them. This scenario is highly unlikely though as the 24 year old father of the unborn child with whom I met is an atheist who sees little to no point in “getting a piece of paper saying they are married.”  He is willing to live with Sarah and raise the baby and feels a fatherly obligation and desire to do so.  They claim to be deeply in love and Sarah is struggling with the temptation to live with this man and raise their child together. This is very concerning to both her parents and I.  No man who truly loves a woman would do anything to embarrass her family in this way.

According to the counsel given by the First Presidency* “Every effort should be made in helping those who conceive out of wedlock to establish an eternal family relationship (i.e. a temple sealing). When the unwed parents are unwilling to marry, they should be encouraged to place the child for adoption, preferably through LDS Social Services. … Unwed parents who do not marry should not be counseled to keep the infant as a condition of repentance or out of an obligation to care for one’s own.

I met with Sarah and we discussed the options frankly.  In a loving way I let her know that if she goes and lives with this man out of wedlock she will be excommunicated from the Church and will lose all blessings associated with membership.  She will not even be permitted to pay tithing. She seemed very upset by this.

We then discussed the option of her not having a relationship with this man, but keeping and raising the child herself.  We read on that studies show **"that fatherless children are more likely to participate in gangs, commit crimes, start fires, use drugs and attempt suicide".  I asked her how she would feel if her child did some of these things such as joining a gang and attempting suicide.  

I told her that there was a third option. I asked her if she loved her parents.  She confirmed to me that she did.  I asked her what she thought this would do to their reputation and standing in the church. She cried as she thought about this.  I asked her if she wanted to do the right thing for the baby and through her tears she said that she did.

I then shared the counsel given by the church on the matter ***which is that when a child is conceived out of wedlock and a successful marriage is unlikely the child should be placed for adoption through LDS Family Services so that the child can go to a righteous family.  I explained that raising the child with a father who is unwilling to marry her would not be a family that the Lord approves of, though the world may think differently. By giving up the baby for adoption the child will be sealed to a real mother and father in the holy temple.  I told her that the First Presidency letter affirms that, “Placing the infant for adoption enables unwed parents to do what is best for the child and enhances the prospect for the blessings of the gospel in the lives of all concerned.”

I explained to her that if she does this the Lord will bless her and her baby and no one in the stake need know about it (her father had a plan to send her away for a few months to a relative in order to keep things discreet).

When I returned a week later she said that her non LDS friends had been advising her to keep the child and raise it with the father whom she loved. The father who is gainfully employed also wants this, but is ultimately leaving the decision within her hands.  Just as this article states **"Well-meaning but mostly uninformed friends were showering her with conflicting and confusing advice. They used implications of guilt and responsibility to support unwise and impractical solutions to the situation. It seemed that each adviser was able to recall specific examples to support his or her advice. Most, it seemed to me, had motives of their own which were not properly focused on the two most important questions: What was best for the baby, and what was best for the young woman?"

I offered her a blessing in which the father participated wherein I blessed her to be able to know by the Holy Spirit that the counsel from the First Presidency was from the Lord and that they knew what was best for her and her baby.

I am happy to report that right after the blessing Sarah through tears agreed to follow the counsel given in the blessing and will be giving the baby up for adoption.  She will also tell the father that the relationship is over.  I told her that after she does these two things she will be forgiven and may partake of the sacrament again.  

I have come to appreciate the correctness of the decision made by a 21-year-old woman who followed the prompting of the Holy Ghost and the advice of Church leaders as she made a wise and eternal decision in a difficult situation. 

President Paternoster