Monday, September 26, 2011

To Parents of Apostate Children

Below is a copy of a talk I gave at the Saturday evening adult session of stake conference two years ago:

Brothers and Sisters as a stake president my heart goes out to you who have children who are no longer in the Church.  Know that I think about and pray for the safe return of these souls daily.

As a family oriented Church it hurts very deeply when our children choose to break their ties with us by leaving the Church and not keeping their lives in harmony with the gospel.

The example of a sweet sister is highlighted in the Feb 2004 Ensign* article entitled “I Won’t Give Up on Them”.  This divorced sister lamented over her children saying “I expected their pure hearts to recognize and cling to goodness. I naively thought the choice between their father’s immoral, apostate lifestyle and my gospel-centered lifestyle would be easy for them. I was devastated as one by one, three of my four children turned their backs on the Church.”

She goes on to say “My heart was broken by the decisions of my children, and in a very real sense my life fell apart.”  Oh that children would be more considerate of the feelings of their parents!  I have a friend the same age as I who wanted to leave the church and live a different lifestyle with our school friend Gary, but who has remained active and worthy to this day in order to maintain the approval of his parents.  I applaud such maturity and authentic living.  I am happy to see that Brother Holman is in the congregation today and though he never married is known for faithfully cleaning the chapel each week as he serves the Lord.  These blessings are all thanks to his decision to remain with the saints when the tempter would have had him choose another path. 

The sister in the ensign article goes on to explain her feelings with regards to her fellow ward members saying “I was embarrassed when people learned that my 14-year-old daughter had elected to live with her father, who had chosen a homosexual lifestyle, instead of with me. (What was I doing wrong? I was a good mother. I paid tithing, fasted and prayed, attended the temple. What more could I do?) Later, it was even more embarrassing to admit that my daughter had chosen her father’s lifestyle for her own.”  I cannot even begin to imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to admit to fellow Church members that ones own child has chosen a homosexual lifestyle. Like this sister my worthiness as a parent would be in question and my reputation as a worthy priesthood holder and father could be forever marred.  

The article stresses the importance of the careful interactions that parents should have with apostate children.  I would echo the warning in the article to be careful not to pollute yourself “by spending time in Babylon.”  We do not want to give our children “a false message of approval by sharing parts of their questionable lifestyle.”  I hope that all parents will feel a certain sense of relief as did this good mother “at not always having to participate in their (apostate children’s) lives.”

When she did visit her daughter this good mother attended the local ward and instead of wallowing in her own misery thinking only of herself she turned her thoughts to what these poor righteous Church members must think when they see her unworthy daughter; “They would look at her walking down the street or drinking with her female partner, and they would feel uncomfortable. It probably would not occur to them that she was raised in Utah, a descendant of Latter-day Saint pioneers.”

I would like to note here that I commend this good sister for being honest not only in her heart but with the world about the reality that her children are unworthy. This is one of the great things about being members of the one true Church-we can see things as they really are while the rest of the world remains in darkness. I have always maintained that honesty is the key to successful relationships and thinking (correctly in this case) of one's child as unworthy is the sort of honesty that can only lead to a healthy, strong and loving relationship.

I always advise parents as a matter of principle to take ownership of and apologize for their children’s behaviour when it is not in line with the gospel.  The spirit prompted this sister likewise as she stood up and bore this testimony “Brothers and Sisters, I am here visiting my daughter, who should be a member of your ward but has not been inside a chapel for many years. In fact, three of my four children have fallen away from the Church. I want to apologize to you good people on behalf of my children. I suspect that you may have seen them as you walked down these streets, and I am sorry if their behavior has offended you….”

This testimony brings tears to my eyes.  My heart truly goes out to this sister and the poor ward members who have to share the same streets as her daughter.

To those of you who have children who, as the article says “may not be worthy” please continue to have hope and faith.  Remember that “Faith is a belief that through fasting and prayer all things are possible—even a change of heart in our children so that they will repent and return to the Church.”

I have always maintained that the best way you and I can be missionaries to our neighbours, associates and even our children is to radiate the joy of the gospel by the way that we live.  As I have done this the Lord has blessed me and my posterity with an undeniable testimony and commitment to the gospel and has allowed me through your prayers to lead this stake in humility and righteousness.  Brothers and Sisters I bestow upon you the blessings of the Lord as you strive to live in such a manner that your children will not forsake you by leaving the church, and do so in the sacred and holy name of our Lord and Saviour, even Jesus the Christ, amen.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Are YOU worthy to attend BYU?

Brothers and Sisters do you consider yourself to be worthy to attend BYU?  

The standards of worthiness at BYU go beyond those required to enter the temple.  This form explains the standards of the BYU Honour Code to which you can compare your life.  It also has instructions for Bishops in giving Ecclesiastical Endorsements to students attending this fine institution:

As per the link the annual endorsement interview is to ensure that the student has remained worthy to attend BYU.   In order to be considered worthy students have to be committed to the code which includes dress and grooming standards, not allowing members of the opposite sex to use your bathroom in non emergency situations, abstinence from activities of a homosexual nature, tea, the looking at pictures of persons in the nude and other important policies.

Students are required to personally sign the form which states in part “I understand what the Honour Code is and that my obligation is to live all aspects of the Honour Code, both on and off campus and between semesters.”

Living the Honour Code off campus and between semesters is the part that as a Bishop I would always pay particular attention to.  One single sister called Sinéad would come home for the summer and every time I would see her she was disobeying the code by having “Excessive ear piercing” which is described in the form as "more than one earring per ear".  To add to this excessiveness, while her skirts went just below the knee as specified I noticed that one particular skirt of hers had slits that went ever so slightly above the knee which can cause all sorts of problems for the priesthood.  Needless to say when she asked for my ecclesiastical endorsement I was unable in good conscience to give it.

I had a similar situation with Sean who also seemed to think that when he was away from BYU he had the right to blatantly disobey the dress and grooming standards of the Honour Code.   One time I couldn’t help but notice that his hair was partially covering the top of his ear.  This is expressly emphasized in the code where it states that for men “Hairstyles should be trimmed above the collar leaving the ear uncovered”.  It was a shame as I had always thought of him as being such an obedient young man.    

Kerry seemed in all aspects to be worthy to attend BYU but towards the end of the interview I told her that while I can’t pinpoint precisely why, the spirit has warned me not to sign the piece of paper.  I asked her why this might be.  She broke down in tears and admitted to having secretly had her belly button pierced.  She said that she knew it was wrong and that Satan had deceived her into thinking that as a married 25 year old mother of two children she should be able to make these decisions for herself.  I am happy to report that after a short period of repentance Kerry was able to return to BYU having missed only one semester. 

Brothers and Sisters, Brigham Young University is the envy of the world.  Its high moral standards are only matched by the quality of the education found therein.  Two current apostles have served as presidents of BYU namely Dallin H. Oaks and Jeffrey R. Holland.  My friend and fellow servant of the Lord Cecil O. Samuelson is the current president and has been a Church General Authority since 1994.  The standards at BYU are approved of the Lord and I have shared them with the members of my stake with the counsel that the principles found therein will bring joy and happiness to all, if heeded.  May we all enjoy the blessings of free agency as we obey the Lord with exactness; this is my prayer, in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Apologists; Teachers of Truth or Preachers of another Gospel?

The purpose of an apologist is to help keep people in the faith by providing answers to questions and concerns.  As a stake president I have had many come to me with doubts and questions and consider myself to be an expert in this area.    

One thing I always tell my fellow apologists is that it is very important to support the teachings given by our prophets, seers and revelators and the standard works.  Too often I see apologists these days departing from the truth in order to preach what the scriptures would call ‘another gospel’; and thus they pervert the very gospel of Christ that they are claiming to defend (see Galatians 1:6-7).

Let me give two common examples:

1.  The first example is with the Book of Abraham.  Right in our scriptures it explains the book as follows: “A Translation of some ancient Records that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. The writings of Abraham while he was in Egypt, called the Book of Abraham, written by his own hand, upon papyrus. (See History of the Church, 2:235–36, 348–51.)”

Here we see in our scriptures that the writings on the papyrus were done by the hand of Abraham.  Upon examination by professional non-Mormon Egyptologists, the papyri were found to bear no resemblance whatsoever to Joseph Smith's interpretation.  They were found to be common Egyptian funerary texts, dating to about the first century BC. 

Some members learning this are inclined in their weakness to question their faith.  They may be tempted to conclude that Joseph Smith was a fraud and simply made up the interpretation.  I even knew one person who left the church over this as he felt that church leaders who are fully aware of the conclusions of these non-Mormon Egyptologists kept this truth from him by continuing to teach that these really were the original writings of Abraham.  I understand he has lowered himself to drinking coffee now and is quite bitter over the whole thing. 

There are two approaches that apologists can take when this issue comes up.  They can go against the account given by Joseph Smith (and that which is written in the scriptures) and tell people that these writings in fact had absolutely nothing to do with Abraham but that Joseph upon seeing the writings simply felt inspired by the Lord to write certain things about Abraham.  This approach though simply proves to the doubter that the explanation of the book given in our scriptures is completely misleading.  

The correct approach is to simply say that if Joseph Smith said that these were the original writings of Abraham written by his own hand and translated by the power of God and if that is what is written in our scriptures and taught to our members, then that is precisely what they are!  We no longer have the gold plates of the Book of Mormon to verify if the translation is correct but we do have much of the papyrus from the Book of Abraham and from this we can know of a surety that Joseph was and is a prophet of God. Egyptologists (especially non-Mormon ones) do not have the spirit of the Lord to guide them and cannot know the true meaning of all things even if they can now read Egyptian.

2.  In the Book of Mormon there are several references to horses.  The land was full or horses according to 2 Nephi 12:7.  We know that King Lamoni used to ride on chariots pulled by horses.  However it is widely accepted in some circles that horses became extinct in the Americas over 10,000 years ago and did not reappear there until the Spaniards brought them over from Europe. 

A Church member encountering this view may doubt the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.  Again there are two approaches that apologists can take.  They can either defend the scriptures or they can change them.  When I say change them I am referring to the meaning; so in this case they would change the definition of the word horse.  Many apologists these days fall into the trap of changing scriptural meanings to try to make scriptures fit with what we now know about the world.  They will say for example that the word horse used in the old world was associated with a somewhat similar looking animal in the new world called a Tapir.  See below photo.

The problem with this approach is that tapirs wouldn’t be useful at pulling chariots.  Expecting members to believe that the Nephites and Lamanites rode around on Tapirs is ridiculous.  A much better approach is to tell the truth which is that the Book of Mormon is (as per the introduction) ‘the most correct book upon the face of the earth’ and one cannot assume that evidence for horses would be obvious from the current archaeological record.  In this approach we are defending (not changing) the scriptures and members won’t think of us apologists as imbeciles. 

Lovingly shared by the Stake President, even Bill Paternoster

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Agony and Despair of Having a Son not serve a Mission

This month’s ensign article entitled “Courage to Serve”* has inspired me to do a blog post on the support group I set up a year ago within my stake for parents who have wayward missionary aged sons.

As a group they meet every two months and discuss things that they can do to support and help one another.   Many tears are shed at these meetings and they discuss positive ways to encourage their sons to make the right decision to serve missions. 

In the first meeting which I personally hosted we discussed an article from the February 2008 ensign named “Our Son’s Choices”**.  Here are some of the highlights from that article:
“As our son turned 19, it became agonizingly difficult for us to hear departing missionaries speak in church. We questioned ourselves over and over again, wondering where we had gone wrong.

I have heard it said that the death of a loved one is the most difficult challenge one has to face, but I believe the spiritual death of a loved one can be even more difficult to accept. In Faith Precedes the Miracle, President Spencer W. Kimball states that “there is no tragedy in death, but only in sin.”  While those who unexpectedly lose loved ones in death may understandably feel it is a tragedy, President Kimball’s statement is true in the ultimate sense. Children who die young are lost to us in this life but not in eternity.  Children who stray and never come back may be lost eternally. That thought weighed heavily upon us as we continued our struggle with our son’s choices.

After eight years of prayer and regular fasting, my wife and I felt we had done just about all we could. Then, finding inspiration in the Book of Mormon account of Alma praying with faith for his wayward son (see Mosiah 27:14), we decided to show our determination to do our part by fasting more often and with increased sincerity. We told the Lord that we didn’t know what He could do but that we needed serious help.”

The son in this inspiring article did end up serving a mission thanks to the eight years of prayer, fasting, faith and righteousness of his parents.  I encouraged the parents in attendance at our meeting to not lose hope that their sons could also have a change of heart and go on missions. 

In this months ensign we see wonderful faith promoting examples of how the Lord changed the hearts of potential missionaries so that they ended up serving missions.  Brother Gonzalez did not like the pressure everyone was giving him to go on a mission.  He was sorely tempted to take a lucrative job offer and enjoy worldly success but the Lord had other plans in mind for him.  He ended up getting into a very serious car accident and promised the Lord that if he were to be able to walk again he would go on a mission. The Lord honoured this promise and Elder Gonzalez ended up serving a mission in Germany where the car accident had taken place.

Brother Brando felt he was lacking in testimony but went out with the missionaries from his ward.  They taught a man about the Word of Wisdom.  Being a man of the world the person they taught did not accept the principle.  He probably enjoyed an occasional drink of red wine and cup of green tea; this causes many to fail in their life’s journey.  Brother Brando was very saddened by this mans attitude and concluded that these feelings of sadness were because he had had the spirit of the Lord with him during the lesson.  At that moment he realized that he in fact was truly converted.  Here again we see the hand of the Lord in providing this young man an undeniable testimony of the truthfulness of the Church.  Elder Brando served a wonderful mission in his native land of Italy

Likewise I am happy to report that out of the 12 couples originally in attendance at our support group 3 of them have 'graduated' in that they have been successful in getting their sons to serve full time missions. 

Brother and Sister Cunningham talked to the two single sisters in the stake that they suspected Johnny was interested in (based on his journal entries) and had them tell him that they would only date him after he had served a mission.  Johnny eventually felt the spirit, made the correct decision and is now serving in Africa.

Brother and Sister Bennett offered to buy their son any car he wanted when he leaves for college, after he completes an honourable mission for the Lord.  Jason is now serving in England.

Brother and Sister Darnley started donating more to the church than ever before.  On top of their tithing they started paying a more generous fast offering and donated to the ward and general missionary funds.  They also started giving generous donations to the perpetual education fund, the Book of Mormon fund and the humanitarian aid fund.  They fasted each sabbath and ensured they completed 100% home and visiting teaching each month.  In the end they felt inspired to lovingly tell their son that if he wouldn’t go on a mission he would have to start paying rent and cover his own university education as they could no longer afford to continue living like this.  I am happy to report that Jason is now in the Provo MTC and will be heading to Mexico shortly.

I know that as parents if we are truly doing all that we can to be worthy, the Lord will bless our sons with a desire to serve.  I would encourage any stake presidents reading this post to consider setting up similar support groups for parents with struggling sons that need to be rescued with our love and prayers, and I leave these thoughts with you in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, amen.