Thursday, June 21, 2012

Religious Voices Are Invaluable to the World

Martin Luther King
Reverend Martin Luther King
Mother Teresa of Calcutta; 1986

at a public pro-life meeting 

in Bonn, Germany

This article was written by Devin Thorpe, author of "Building Wealth for Building the Kingdom: A Financial Planning Guide for Latter-day Saint Families". Devin has owned and operated an investment-banking firm, which included an investment advisory business, a mortgage brokerage and having served in a variety of corporate finance positions. He has unique experience in this area. You can buy his book here. You can also follow his blog at

As our world becomes increasingly secular, I’ve found that there is a parallel increase in the voices calling for Churches to step out of the public forum. A friend recently posted an image on Facebook that said simply, “New Rule: Churches don’t get to offer their commentary on political matters until they start paying taxes.”

Of course, the motivating issue of our day is gay marriage. These arguments are a bald attempt to discredit views about gay marriage that are based in religion. Given that virtually all arguments against gay marriage come from religion, the campaign is designed to get people to reject or ignore religious messages on the topic of marriage, because once religious messages are removed from the discussion, there is only one side to the discussion. It should also be noted that if the proponents of gay marriage are confident in the rightness of their views, they shouldn’t be worried about the source of the arguments in opposition, rather they should welcome the discussion and the opportunity to enlighten the unenlightened, as they perceive them.

This campaign, however, ignores the broader history of religious voices in America. Where would we be without the historic voice of the Reverend Martin Luther King? Can you imagine the civil rights movement without his voice, his passion, his vision? Absent his leadership, we can assume that the rights of minorities in America would have been trampled for years to come before America would have come to the conclusions it reached (sufficiently late) specifically because of his passionate, religious leadership. If you remove religious voices from the public square, you’ll get a world without voices like his.

Think too, about Mother Teresa, whose biography I recently read. Although she won her Nobel Peace Prize for her service to the poorest of the poor in her adopted homeland of India and around the world, when she accepted the Nobel Prize—and in virtually every other forum in which she was handed a microphone (including, notably, President Clinton’s Annual Prayer Breakfast)—she spoke of one principle theme: her strong opposition to abortion. Her voice was tolerated even by those who disagreed with her simply because the good she did in the world was universally perceived to entitle her to express her opinions, even when they were unpopular.

So much of the non-profit work done in the world is led by faith-based organizations or by religious people that it seems that the same spirit of tolerance that applied to Mother Teresa must continue to be applied to religious leaders of our generation. If society at large wishes for churches and religious people to continue doing the good that they do in the world, tolerating their voices, especially on moral issues, is a fair price to pay.

Mormons Seek the Truth of Their Faith Through Christ

I think it's quite interesting and nothing ironic that Satan used a fruit to tempt Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden in the Bible.

There's a parable in The Book of Mormon that is quite familiar to Mormons. It's in the Book of Alma (Alma Chapter 32), about a righteous prophet in ancient times who preached amongst the poor who were shunned from their churches and synagogues and sought to worship God. They were desperate to find a way to still worship God even though they had been kicked out of their synagogues and shunned for basically being poor.

Alma recognized their humility and immediately took advantage of the opportunity to compare it to the pride of those that had cast them out. He then taught a lesson in faith, one that I think complements what I'm about to get to in a story from the Bible well.

Alma taught that faith isn't something that can be proven - it's something that instead has to be nurtured, and measured by its fruits. Alma challenged the people to plant a seed, being the word of God (or Christ's atonement and suffering for mankind's imperfections), in their hearts. He challenged them to nurture that seed and watch as it grows. As it grows, they would notice the good fruits from the tree that would come as a result. If the seed were bad, the fruit would be bitter, and perhaps the tree wouldn't grow at all. In many ways Alma taught the people a scientific experiment through faith - instead of seeking proof for something that simply can't be proven (it wouldn't be faith if it could), he suggested they measure the fruits that come as a result of the exercise of faith.

As Mormons, this, in many ways is a core tenet of our doctrine. Joseph Smith himself sought to ask the Lord, in faith to know the truthfulness of the Church. The Book of Mormon challenges us to ask, and challenge the contents within to know of the truthfulness using the methods that Alma outlined (I think Moroni was also alluding to Alma's parable of the tree as he challenged readers to pray and seek to know of the truthfulness of the book as well in Moroni 10:3-5).

As a lay Church, we know we're not perfect. Our leaders aren't perfect. We thrive on that seed - the atonement of Jesus Christ - to try out the Word, get to know it, and seek to improve upon the fruits and the growth that comes from it. This goes from the lay member all the way up to the lay Leadership that leads and guides the Church as well. Because we focus on this, we believe the Lord will always lead His Church as we focus on Him as that seed. The fruits that cowme of it are sweet and enjoyable. The minute we take Him and the seed out of the equation, the fruits become bitter, we try to be perfect, and we can't do it without Him. Christ, the Word, and the seed Alma alludes to, is at the center of the entire experiment, and what makes it successful.

I've noticed quite a number of people in and out of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints challenge Alma's experiment. Those seeking to follow God are ridiculed and mocked by them, even at times fooled into being given "refuge" away from what they originally believed as they were trying to participate in this experiment. Most of these people have forgotten that that seed is the Word, or the Atonement and Redemption of Jesus Christ, and they stray away from the experiment. This Op-Ed in USA Today on "Why Mormons Leave the Church" is a good example of that. Many of these people are given a different seed, see a different tree, of which the fruits can't be anywhere near as sweet. Many of them remain bitter as a result, forgetting that they planted the wrong seed and of course will see bitter results by losing that focus on the Savior in their lives. They're fooled into hoping for a better fruit which simply won't come because they've forgotten the Savior in the equation.

The Bible warns of this in Jesus Christ's Sermon on the Mount, and I really think Christ may be alluding back to Alma's parable (Alma pre-dates the time of Christ - this, in many ways was a look forward to the time Christ would come and save the world from sin as much as we look back on it). In such, just like Alma's parable, Christ Himself warns man to watch for these bitter seeds in the form of False Prophets, and even shows how you can know which path is the right one to take (Matthew 7:15-20):
"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 
Ye shall know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles? 
Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. 
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. 
Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. 
Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them."
Mormons believe in looking at the fruits in everything we do. If in the end, the individuals are not leading a path back towards the Atonement of Christ, a path of repentance recognizing our (meaning all of our, not just lay members) imperfections, but even more than that, one of forgiveness, redemption, and the overcoming of absolutely all suffering in the world through Christ (and no one else), the source is evil. It's not true, and we won't follow it. It's a simple formula for understanding and finding truth in everything we do.

I think Alma concluded it best by himself tying his parable back to the Savior, culminating a beautiful sermon on how to find truth in this world (Alma 33:22-23):
"...cast about your eyes and begin to believe in the Son of God, that he will come to redeem his people, and that he shall suffer and die to atone for their sins; and that he shall rise again from the dead, which shall bring to pass the resurrection, that all men shall stand before him, to be judged at the last and judgment day, according to their works. 
And now, my brethren, I desire that ye shall plant this word in your hearts, and as it beginneth to swell even so nourish it by your faith. And behold, it will become a tree, springing up in you unto everlasting life. And then may God grant unto you that your burdens may be light, through the joy of his Son. And even all this can ye do if ye will. Amen."
If you're looking for truth through faith, give Alma's sermon a try, and always remember what that seed means! The resulting focus should always be on Christ's redemption and Atonement of the imperfections of man - nothing else. It should be a resulting message of forgiveness, humility, love, and a desire to grow closer to God, and the resulting fruit will be sweeter than anything you've ever tasted. Anything else will lead to bitter fruit. 

It's paying attention to this fruit which leads to a knowledge of everything good, and evil.