Emmanuel: A Closer Look at the Birth of Christ

Studying the Christmas story is something I've never had much occasion to do in my life. Growing up, Christmas was more about time with family than any sort of real religious sentiment. Now that my husband and I live far away from both of our families, deciding how to celebrate Christmas is part of creating our new family identity.

Behold the Lamb of God by Walter Rane

In my effort to find a deeper meaning and purpose in Christmas, I began with a closer look at the birth of Christ. Although I've read the story a few times, I've never given it the close analysis that leads to revelation before. And even if I had, it's only now that I've been a newlywed for some time that certain details catch my attention.

The familiar story as told in the Gospels is one of a young woman named Mary. She is visited by an angel and told "thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus." (Luke 1: 31) She responds in faith, submitting to the will of God, saying,"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." (Verse 38)

At this point in time, she was betrothed to a man named Joseph. He was a carpenter who, like Mary, was born in Bethlehem but was now living in Nazareth. Susan Easton Black goes into a great deal of detail of what their betrothal would have been like in her talk from BYU Education Week 2009. It's called The Road to Bethlehem. It sheds a lot of light onto what that phase of Mary and Joseph's life would have been like.

She describes how their betrothal would have begun with a formal engagement ceremony, after which Mary and Joseph would have been considered husband and wife. They would not have lived together, and it was during this time that Joseph would have built a house for them. Once that was finished, their engagement period would end and they would be formally married in front of the entire community. 

Until then, it was Mary's family's responsibility to protect her reputation. She would be veiled and escorted in public, and as far as every other young man around her was concerned she was already married.

Mary takes a trip to visit her elderly cousin Elizabeth, who is also pregnant by a miracle with John the Baptist. They stay together for several months, and by the time Mary returns she is undeniably with child.

Joseph has a choice. He can "put Mary away," which means to end their engagement. (Matthew 1: 19) He has already decided this is what he will do. For him, it's only a question of whether to do it publicly or privately.

If he does it privately, it becomes nobody else's business but their own. He need not give an explanation to anyone, they simply break off their engagement. But if he puts her away publicly, he would essentially go to the elders in Nazareth and accuse her of being unfaithful. She would be accused, her family would be shamed. Because she would no doubt be convicted, they likely would have convicted her of adultery and would have grounds to execute her by stoning.

Putting away a woman publicly existed entirely for a man to save face. He could present himself to the community as one who cared about the law, and he would not have been questioned by anyone. But to condemn a woman to death requires a vindictive spirit which clearly Joseph does not have. He decides to put her away privately, no doubt sparing her life.

Joseph is a man of great faith, and has the spiritual gift of dreams and visions. He dreams he sees an angel, who delivers him a message: 

Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 
And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.
Matthew 1: 20-21

Joseph decides to continue with their engagement, The story does not pick up again until Joseph is returning to Bethlehem to be taxed, and he brings Mary with him, "his espoused wife, being great with child." (Luke 2: 5)

Notice then that they still aren't married at the time Mary gives birth. She is also "great" with child, which has always troubled me. Why on earth did anyone think it was a good idea to make a woman that pregnant walk from Nazareth to Bethlehem? According to Google Maps, the walking distance is 136 kilometers (84.5 miles) and would take 36 hours of straight walking. At 4 miles a day, you'd make it there in 21 days.

When they arrive, they can't find anywhere to stay. Because it's tax season, there are likely many people who are visiting in the city. Depending on when they arrived, there may not have been any room for them in the homes and inns. But there's an element to this story that seems to have escaped people's attention today but certainly wouldn't have back then.

Mary and Joseph aren't married, yet Mary is pregnant. I don't know how "cohabitation" was looked upon in ancient Israel, but I doubt it would have been favorable. Did people turn them away because they didn't want a "fallen" woman giving birth in their house? Perhaps that's why Luke states specifically that "there was no room for them in the inn." (Luke 2: 7, emphasis added)

Because Christ was born at the Passover season in April, the shepherds would have been out in the fields with the sheep. The stables built for them in the sides of caves would have been empty. This is where the Good Shepherd was born, in a place meant to protect the flocks. No doubt it gave Mary and Joseph the privacy they would have desired for such a sacred event.

After Jesus is born, Mary had to go through a period of purification for seven days because she gave birth to a son. On the eighth day, her son would be circumcised. She would be ritually "unclean" for another 33 days. Then she would have to offer up a young lamb as a burnt offering and a dove as a sin offering. But in the case of one who was too poor to offer a lamb, another dove could be offered instead. (See Leviticus 12)

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;
24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.
Luke 2: 21-24
Turtledoves are the offering of someone who is destitute. Because we know Joseph had a trade, and was well-respected enough in the community that he was permitted to marry, we know he must have been a person of a certain degree of means. I don't suggest he was wealthy, because we don't know that to be true. But beggars didn't marry, and no self-respecting family would give a daughter to someone who could not provide for her.

But Joseph and Mary, if they weren't beggars before, are certainly beggars now. The reality of their circumstances, although existing only between the lines, seem rather clear to me for the first time.

Both of their families appear to have disowned them, for at least some duration of time surrounding the birth of Jesus. They have not been permitted to marry, likely because of the suspicion in the community around Mary's pregnancy. The thought that someone would take it upon themselves to see justice was done against Mary would be consistent with the treatment we see Christ receiving in every other season of his life. I find it likely that Joseph weighed what danger was posed to Mary against what risks she faced in a long journey, and still thought it better to remove her from Nazareth.

Mary has no dowry to offer, because they have not yet been married. That she has nothing to offer to this trip makes me wonder, for the first time, if her parents knew who she really was. Did they disown her? Did she tell them she would give birth to the Son of God? Did they believe her? Or did they condemn her with everyone else in their village?

Luke 2 says that "when they had performed all things according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city Nazareth." We could interpret that to mean that they left within 2 months of arriving in Bethlehem. But we know this not to be the case because of the timing of the Wise Men coming to worship him, and the details added by the account in Matthew.

Matthew 2 begins by stating that "when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem." (Verse 1)

Bethlehem was where they headed, and Bethlehem was where they found Joseph, Mary, and Jesus. The star leading them there appeared on the night of his birth. Depending from whence in the east the Wise Men have come, the journey could cover several hundred miles and take several months. By the time they arrive, verse 11 informs us that Jesus is a "young child," and the family is now living in a "house."

They did not return to Nazareth right away. They left behind everything, at least for a season--all of their possessions, their families, their associations, everything that Joseph had been building for them. We might think that the first one to seek the life of Jesus was King Herod. But there is reason to believe that an untold number of people had already tried--and failed--to prevent the Son of God from coming into this world.

Matthew does not reveal whether Joseph and Mary returned with Jesus to Nazareth before going to Egypt. Because Luke tells us they did, we may think it might have been for a short time--possibly a visit. Matthew's timeline suggests that they left from Bethlehem to Egypt, and only returned to live in Nazareth after Herod's death.

What does all of this change about Christmas for me?

What I have disliked most about Christmas is how I see people use it as a reason to do once a year what they really should be doing all the time. People try to polish things up at this time of year to make them look nice for pictures, and let them go again immediately after it's over. It's a stressful build-up, a prolonged period of pretending, and an even more depressing let down. From start to finish, I have simply wanted no part of it.

Realizing that the Christmas story, when you really look at it, is a messy story about a family trying to find peace when they are up to their eyeballs in problems is very reassuring to me. Not because I like to see people with problems, but because I know it's honest and real when the struggle is present. And when you see the story for what it really is, it makes the way we celebrate Christmas seem ridiculous by comparison.

The Christmas story, when you really dig into it, is not a happy story. It is a story of two people who are trying to cope with a responsibility that is completely beyond them, while everything around them in life is falling apart. And exactly because of that incredible responsibility, that Life which has been entrusted to their care, they somehow manage to have hope in spite of all fear.

And it's not because of anything they are doing. They seem to be making things up as they go along. Their hope comes from Christ's very presence in their lives, even though he's a helpless baby. Knowing who he is, that God has kept his word to send the Messiah--this is the source of their peace.

Some people want Christmas without Christ. But they also want Christmas to be a time of peace. They want what never was, and never can be.

They see the disconnect between his perfection and their imperfection, and assume he can't know anything about their lives. If only they could see how wrong they are. Jesus Christ comprehends the needs of every person, exactly because his circumstances were awful.

He comprehends exactly how bad life can be, and how much we need someone on our side to make things right. Because he comprehends the cruelty in people, the unfairness in life, he doesn't want us to go through it alone. He wants to love us when we feel unloved, or even unlovable. He remembers us when we feel forgotten. He sees us when others pass us by. He hears our cries for help when no one else is listening.

There may have been no room for him and his family in the inns of Bethlehem. But at Christmas-time, may we always make room for him in our hearts. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

"Real Women"

Who and what are they? Not the painted dolls and votaries of fashion, whose sole earthly happiness seems to consist in being elaborately dressed, and daintily perfumed, and who so disfigure themselves, and disarrange and [blank] up their apparel that it is difficult to tell whether they are real or imaginary beings: counterfeits of womanhood; false to nature, false to God who made them perfect. Everything which tends to make them false, hypocritical and untrue, perverts their own real nature; God made woman beautiful, if not in the face and figure, yet the very nature of her mission on the earth, helps to make her “a thing of beauty.” God intended her for a real comforter, a real help-meet, what could be more charming, more satisfying than tis, were it carried out to the very letter as he designed it should be?

How few there are who understand (even in part) the importance of the position they occupy, and for which they were specially created, and strive to preserve their own identity, their own individuality by being real; it is a very simple, common-place word yet it comprises so much.

What man who possesses pure, manly instincts, but in his heart were he left free to choose, untrammeled by worldly traditions and distinction, would prefer a real woman to an artificial one; one who would be content to fill a home-sphere, proud and happy in the consciousness of being really worthy her husband’s love and esteem.

Merle De Vore Johnson, 1909
"Woman's Sphere"
Every day we hear it repeated, “a stylish woman,” “a magnificent woman,” “a superior woman,” “a literary woman,” or “a strong-minded woman.” A hundred and one adjectives are applied to the sex, but whoever stops to think of the Real Woman—the real living help? She who quietly, without ostentation or parade, fulfills the small, home-duties, cheerfully, patiently, heroically and hopefully, unknown save to those who constitute her own immediate circle, and often unappreciated even there: She has not wealth perhaps, or even a superior education, but if she has strong common sense, and an active mind, she is just as capable of filling her mission here, and of standing in her own real place hereafter, as though she was a favorite of fortune or the idol of the people.

One of the popular writers of the present days says “Man is what woman makes him;” and I would kindly beg to add, “women are what men have made them.” A quiet, unpretending domestic woman is a nobody nowadays, in the sight of the world. A woman feels compelled to distinguish herself in some way or other, in order to elicit even the smallest share of attention from these would be “Lords of Creation.” In the estimation of her own husband, (if she happens to be favored with one,) she is simply a necessity in his establishment, to manage his house, to cook his dinner, to attend to his wardrobe, always on hand if she is wanted and always out of sight when not needed. He doesn’t mind kissing her occasionally, when it suits him; but he never thinks she has any thoughts of her own, any ideas which might be developed; she must not have even an opinion, or if she has she mustn’t express it, it is entirely out of place; she is a subject, not a joint-partner in the domestic firm.

If men are really superior to women, let them show themselves so; prove themselves “pre-eminent,” “akin to God.” This is what a real woman craves; something worthy of reverence, or worship even, second only to her Creator. But failing to find this, she betakes herself to other things, finding no superiority in her “Lord and master” nor even acknowledgement of wifely duties, she seeks for happiness through another channel easier of attainment. If a woman is real enough to let her husband know she is devotedly attached to him, in nine cases out of then, he only makes use of it to her disadvantage; consequently it has become general among women to advise each other to disguise their real feelings, afraid to acknowledge them out of policy.

Where can be the real happiness, the one-ness? Is not this teaching women to be false to their own hearts?

Man, with all his boasted knowledge, and practical skill in reading character, is still in comparative ignorance of how women feel, or what they are. He regards them as toys, to be picked up and cast aside at will; very well for pastime playthings, or for housekeepers; but to consider them real, genuine, rational beings, is a novel idea; they are vain, frivolous, fickle deceitful, incapable of performing any important part in life creditably.

I must acknowledge the real genuine article is hard to find, in this enlightened nineteenth century; but shall we succumb to this foul aspersion upon our sex? Shall we or content with a false life, a counterfeit? Shall we be real women? We Latter-day Saints, who profess to aspire to something purer, higher, nobler and better than the world? We are seeking to understand ourselves, our own organization, our own individual life; making a real use of our time, having a real purpose in all that we do, n all that we say, living a real life; laying up real treasures in the kingdom of heaven; not copying the fashions of the world, or their manners, but improving for ourselves, guided and directed by the best talent, judgment and skill we possess. It is very easy to copy, there is nothing real in that, not even a freshness about it, it is only imitation; like the silly school-girl, who, too idle to exercise her own dormant faculties, copies from her class-mate’s slate, forgetting it will be of no benefit to her in future; it serves her purpose for the time being, it is sham, she passes it off for real information.

Let us be more cautious—let us know for ourselves—that will make us real. We shall then be better equaled to accomplish that we are striving to attain to, not following a shadow, or a phantom, but that which is real; a real Gospel, which will elevate, refine and purify, bringing us back into the real presence, of Him whose aim and design, in our creation, was to make us real women.

Emmeline B. Wells, Dec 13th 1873

Relief Society Service & Gender Equality

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we truly have one of the most unique organizations in the world. I was marveling at that this morning as I watched videos from the dedication and construction of the Relief Society building. So many thoughts and impressions weighed upon my mind, and it was reinforced to me once again what I have long felt. There truly is no organization of women on earth who enjoy greater privileges than Latter-day Saint women of the Relief Society.

How ironic it is that some women speak so much about gender equality in the Church, while leaving the subject of Relief Society so conspicuously absent from the conversation. Indeed, I have never seen a critical exposé on our "gender inequality" that considered seriously the positive, essential role of Relief Society in the Church. What a critical error for anyone claiming to present an objective representation of the Latter-day Saint woman's experience. 

The Relief Society plays such a vital and all-encompassing role in the Church that to remove it from the portrait would be to leave an absurd emptiness. Of course we would appear disenfranchised if you removed our most important contribution from the picture!

Watching these videos and reading the short biography of the Relief Society's building gave me such great satisfaction because of what it demonstrated to me of our place in the Church. 

From the time the Relief Society was established in Nauvoo, Illinois in 1842, it has always occupied an autonomous and fully integrated part of the Church. The Prophet Joseph Smith said he"turned the key" on behalf of the Relief Society, referring to the power and authority he was giving them to govern themselves. It is a power and authority we have enjoyed ever since.

What is the role of women in Relief Society?

What does this Relief Society building represent to me? It represents the independent sphere of influence that women in my Church still possess. Our mission to spread the gospel throughout the globe, to alleviate poverty and suffering of every kind, is one we can accomplish in any way we see fit. There is no one to stop us when serving others, and meeting their real temporal and spiritual needs, is our objective. 

We have the responsibility and stewardship to accomplish the mission of the Church in our own inspired ministry. Through our own empowered, inspired female leadership, we have shaped our organization on local levels throughout the Church. This female leadership functions in every corner of the globe. Local Relief Society presidencies are responsible for women, families, and seek ways to alleviate every kind of need in their own communities. Within the Church there are tens of thousands of women who hold these roles in Relief Society presidencies. There are millions more women who fulfill assignments given to them by the Relief Society presidencies, without any sort of interference or interruption from male leaders.

Sometimes in the Church, we take this influence for granted. We lament the responsibilities given to us by our Relief Society presidents--to make dinners for needy families, to participate in blood drives, cannery assignments, to donate clothing, to give rides to doctor's appointments--but this is what empowered service looks like in our day. We meet real needs of real people around us. This is what the Savior would be doing if he were here, and we should consider no service too small or unimportant for us to do.

It may not be politically-driven activism--not because our women cannot or will not take political stances in their service, but because so often it does so very little to foster any real or lasting change. 

If you want to change lives, you can't do it exclusively through policy changes and pat yourself on the back. Change happens as real women provide real Christian service to others. There really is no substitute. We care more about the families in the homes--the food on their tables, the clothes on their bodies, the knowledge in their minds, and the testimony in their hearts--that we do about self-aggrandizing agendas and media attention.

If women of the Church are dissatisfied with their place in the Church, it is not because there is something wrong with the Church. It's because there is something wrong with the woman and the service she is rendering through Relief Society. 

Is she doing her visiting teaching--the inspired ministry that EVERY sister is under obligation to perform? Is she performing her assignments to clean the Church, doing service projects with her ward, performing the assignments she is given by the Relief Society president? Does she volunteer to serve her sisters in the ways they need most? And if all of these things are done and she still finds herself wanting for purpose, does she ask herself, "What more can I give?" instead of "What more should the Church be giving to me?"

What is Relief Society service like?

Historically, the Relief Society has played amazing roles through the history of the Church. 

They cared for each other as malaria and disease spread through the settlement of Nauvoo. 

They supported each other as they buried their husbands and children too many times to count in settling the Utah Territory. 

They stored wheat and saved hundreds from perishing in some of history's most well-known misfortunes: Utah's drought in 1899, the San Francisco earthquake in 1906, the famine in China in 1907, and the U.S. soldiers in World War I. 

They founded hospitals and trained nurses.

They fought for women's suffrage with some of the most articulate language ever penned by female hands.

They cared for each other and the community during the grueling years of the Great Depression.

They sent humanitarian aid to as many as they could reach in war ravaged Europe after World War II. It was this service that would prepare them to send food and clothing to corrupt and crumbling nations throughout the next 50 years.

Relief Society women helping with disaster relief in Chile after an earthquake

They continue this incredible service today, mobilizing necessary goods and local membership to be among the first on-scene after natural disasters strike. Earthquakes, tsunamis, fires, hurricanes, tornadoes--the Relief Society will always be there to help those who have lost everything to pick up the broken pieces of their lives.

But today, what that service experience looks like largely depends on the local Relief Society president. Her inspired leadership determines what service projects her sisters take on, what assignments are delegated and where, and what causes to support. They work together with the priesthood in organizations like Mormon Helping Hands, in ways that don't always become visible. But Relief Society sisters are always present and primarily responsible for the women of the Church, no matter what the circumstances.

I recently moved from Delaware to Idaho. In my previous ward, my Relief Society president wanted to get more involved in the community with cancer patients and cancer survivors. We had several lovely ladies pass away from cancer, or have cancer go through their families. It was a meaningful way for her to reach out to our sisters in need and the community at the same time.

In my current ward, my Relief Society president focuses more on fostering friendship, as well as filling a variety of needs-- everything from needs during funerals, to sisters with new babies, and particularly sisters who are unemployed and need jobs or rides to jobs. Every Relief Society president's focus is different because they are responsible for different people with different challenges. 

The blatant irony that I find tragic for many Mormon women who call themselves feminists, and advocates for "gender equality," is they don't seem to realize the accusations they're leveling are against other women in the Church, not men. Many items on their lists to change include women's participation in ward council, budget concerns, the quality of Sunday instruction, and many other items over which men have no control.

Why? Because these issues are handled directly by the women of the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary Presidencies of the ward. If these items are problems, it isn't for men to solve them because it wasn't men who created them. Women have autonomy in these situations, and it must be women who make these corrections.

If we perceive a need in our community or in our Relief Society, we can discuss it with our Relief Society president. If she feels it would not be a good use of her limited resources, we need to respect her decision. If it's a cause or a need we feel strongly about, we can take it upon ourselves to participate without becoming hurt or angry. 

The Lord brought that need to your attention for a reason. Maybe he intended you to do something about it.

I still learn from the experience I had living in Brazil and serving with the Sociedade de Socorro there. I valued my place in Relief Society immensely before that experience, but it took on new meaning as I saw the hardships of the Saints in Brazil. Watching the sisters as they met those demands with love and sacrifice changed my life. 

I watched as they gave away food when they didn't know where their next meal was coming from. I saw them go to the dangerous parts of their communities to do their visiting teaching. I saw them reach out to each other in times of tragedy and sadness. They valued their place in Relief Society, and used it to bless their sisters in their country.

When you translate Relief Society into Portuguese, they use the word Socorro. It's a heart-felt word that means help or rescue. It's the word that would be used if someone were to cry out in pain or fear. To be a part of the Relief Society means to rescue others from all manner of want, suffering, and fear. It wasn't until I saw the Saints in action in Brazil that I understood what this means in our world today.

I testify that Relief Society is a divine organization, inspired by Almighty God. Through it he performs his modern miracles in every corner of the earth. He empowers his daughters with the same power, giving them the same authority he gives to his sons. I've watched him work and I know these things to be true.

I am proud to be a sister in Relief Society, it has blessed my life with what I needed, when I needed it most. I know that when I participate in Relief Society service, I draw closer to God and help to build his kingdom. In it, I am an empowered Latter-day Saint woman, and no news agency or advocacy group can change that. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

For more reading on the Relief Society, including the source of my historical facts, see Daughters in My Kingdom, The History and Work of Relief Society.

Eight Years

Eight years ago today, I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I remember vividly the day I made that decision, because it happened the first time I ever attended Church.

The first time I went to Sacrament Meeting is a day I'll always remember. It was a cold Sunday in January and I had just turned 16. Before the meeting even started, I felt a difference the moment I walked inside the building. The peace I felt was immediate. It sank deep into my heart, and I felt like God was genuinely close to me for the first time in my life.

That feeling continued throughout the rest of the meeting. As the speakers gave their talks and bore their testimonies, I could feel God speaking to me through the words they said. I'd never experienced anything like it before.

I had been searching all my life for the place where God truly was, and I had never been able to find him. I had come home at last, and I didn't want to leave. I didn't want that feeling of closeness to go away, but I didn't know what to do to make it stay. When the meeting ended, I confess I panicked and almost started to cry. I never wanted it to end. I prayed to God and begged him to tell me what I had to do to stay with him.

Sitting in Sunday School with a Book of Mormon in my lap, I flipped open to a random page and read got an immediate answer.

Therefore, blessed are they who humble themselves without being compelled to be humble; or rather, in other words, blessed is he that believeth in the word of God, and is baptized without stubbornness of heart, yea, without being brought to know the word, or even compelled to know, before they will believe.
Alma 32: 16
I needed to get baptized. I didn't understand what baptism was, but I knew to the very core of my soul that it was what I needed to do. I wanted to be baptized, but I had no idea how to go about making that happen. I didn't know at the time you needed missionaries in order to be baptized. The branch where I attended Church didn't have missionaries. And even if they did, my mom never would have let me meet with them.

Eventually, I fell through the cracks. For about 2 months I didn't go to Church anymore. When Easter Sunday came around I realized I had made a terrible mistake. I went back to Church and committed myself to staying. I would finish what I started. I would be baptized, and no power in heaven or on earth was going to stop me.

Special arrangements were made with the Philadelphia Mission president at the time for me to be taught by the branch mission leader and his wife. By the end of the summer I was ready to be baptized.

My baptism was on a Saturday morning. I was incredibly nervous. I knew I was prepared. But was I ready? Was I ready to promise God to follow him forever? Was I ready to promise to be like Jesus? Was I ready to live up to what God expected of me? Could I really be what he wanted me to be?

I didn't have perfect certainty when I stepped into the baptismal font. I don't know that anyone who is baptized ever does. But when I went under, all of those doubts stayed in the water. That was what the Lord was telling me in Alma 32: 16. There's no way to know what's going to happen in the future. You can't see all the different ways you could screw up. But you can trust the Lord to help you, and trust that he really will forgive you if you do mess up.

Baptism isn't about knowing everything. It isn't even about knowing enough. It's about trusting, even though you don't know everything, and you can't see the future.

That decision has carried me through the rest of my life. When I decided to stay active in the Church as a new convert, when I moved 2000 miles away to go to BYU, when I left BYU to serve a mission, the entire time I lived in Brazil, when I was sealed to my sweetheart for time and all eternity--that trust is what ties all of these experiences together. In each one, I had to trust God to help me with everything I didn't know, and everything I couldn't see coming. My ability to do that has made all of the difference in my life.

I know that God our Father lives. I know that he sent his Son, Jesus Christ to save us from sin and death. Jesus gave us the perfect example of what we have to do to live with our Father in Heaven again. An essential part of that example is being baptized. I know that baptism is what we have to do to be saved. I know baptism washes away our sins, and keeping our covenants helps us to become like Jesus. If we remain faithful throughout our lives and repent of our sins always, we will live with our Father and his Son again.

I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Christ's true Church. He restored it to the earth through a living prophet, Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon is the word of God. We have a living prophet on the earth today in Thomas S. Monson. I leave you my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

"Let Your Gratitude Continue": The Meridian Temple Site Dedication

The Meridian Temple site dedication was a beautiful occasion. It was broadcasted to the various local stake centers in western Idaho and eastern Oregon, which is where I had the privilege of watching it.

Program of the Meridian Temple site dedication

The program of the Meridian Idaho Temple Groundbreaking Service listed Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as presiding. However when the broadcast began, Elder David A. Bednar was the apostle present. Conducting was Elder Kent F. Richards, the Executive Director of the Temple Department. The opening hymn was "High on the Mountain Top," and the prayer was provided by President H. David Christensen of the Caldwell Idaho Stake.

Elder J. Craig Rowe was the opening speaker. He is Chairman of the Groundbreaking Committee.

Being a history person I greatly enjoyed his comments. He spoke about the history of the Meridian region, and the history of the Church in that area. He told of how the earliest settlers in Meridian came in the early 1860s, and settled in the Five Mile Creek area. Eventually they established a dairy, and this became the area's major contribution for many years.

Meridian was incorporated in 1903, and expanded its agriculture to include various fruit orchards and aviaries. The first members of the Church in Meridian came in the 1920s and 1930s from eastern Idaho. Many of them were descendants of settlers sent to Idaho by Brigham Young.

April 29th, 1932 was the first organized meeting of the Latter-day Saints in Meridian. The 40 members were not well received by the community, and as such held their first meeting in the town undertaker's parlor.

As the meeting expanded, they moved to Parker's Dance Hall at the corner of Parker and Broadway Streets. Elder Rowe told of how the Saints would often prepare for Sunday services by sweeping up the cigarette butts and cleaning up beer bottles from the dances held on Saturday nights.

In June of 1934, the Meridian Branch was organized. The Meridian Ward was dedicated in 1941.

Elder Blake R. Alder, the Area Seventy to the Idaho Area, spoke second. He began his talk by quoting Doctrine and Covenants 65: 1-3, emphasizing the phrase "Prepare ye the way of the Lord." He then makes mention of the finishing of the Kirtland Temple and Elijah's appearance to bestow the keys of sealing. He makes repeated mention of the Spirit of Elijah throughout his talk.

He mentions how the Saints first learned of the commandment to build temples in 1832, and how this inspired them to build the Kirtland Temple. He also tells in some detail the story of John Tanner, who in my opinion was one of the most important converts of the early Church. The Church produced a film called "Treasures in Heaven: The John Tanner Story" which is available to view on their website here.

Elder Alder told the story of how John Tanner came to the Church's rescue by paying the $2000 mortgage on the Kirtland Temple lot the day before it was to be foreclosed. He then transitioned into the fact that two of John Tanner's descendants are recent converts, and were in attendance at the dedication. Elder Alder told of how after one of these converts discovered the amazing story of his ancestor, he didn't hesitate in being baptized.

John Tanner's story, together with his descendants who have joined the Church, are wonderful examples of how the Spirit of Elijah works on the earth today. Because of John Tanner's sacrifices, his testimony reaches beyond the grave to continue building the kingdom of God.

Elder Alder closes by praying for the Spirit of Elijah to increase among the Saints in Idaho.

Elder Kent F. Richards spoke next, followed by his wife Marsha, who was invited by Elder Bednar to share her testimony.

Elder Richards focused his remarks on some very worthy goals for those who wish to prepare themselves to enter the Meridian Temple. He told the story of Joshua of how he erected stones as witnesses to the covenant his people made to obey the Lord. He compared temple recommends to these stones, and encouraged everyone to prepare and qualify to receive one.

He taught that temple work is for all ages, especially for the younger generation. He challenged families to work together to find and redeem their own dead. He said this was one of the greatest preparations we could undertake to show our gratitude for the new temple.

Elder Richards presented a very worthy challenge, that the Meridian Temple become the first in the Church to become fully self sufficient on family names, as opposed to those that are submitted from Saints around the world for others to do. He commented that the Boise temple is nearly self sufficient in terms of patrons bringing their own names to the temple. He also invited families to counsel together in how they can achieve these goals together.

Marsha Richards bore her testimony, and spoke of how conversion was like a personal groundbreaking in our lives. She compared it to the transformation outlined in Alma 36, specifically how Alma's mind "caught hold" of Jesus Christ. She mentioned how frequently the word "Joy" occurs after that in the chapter.

The Choir sang "Arise, O Glorious Zion."

Elder David A. Bednar concluded the meeting by explaining that Elder Perry was called away for personal matters and could not be there. He mentioned that he knew Elder Perry, who is from Boise area, was looking forward to being there. Elder Bednar lamented that Elder Perry couldn't be there, and it was very sweet.

Elder Bednar's remarks were more brief than I expected, but spoke to the most significant challenge this new temple will present to the Saints in Idaho. He spoke about preserving the enthusiasm and gratitude we feel for the Meridian Temple long after the novelty has faded.

He mentioned how many of us will document this temple's construction as the experience of a lifetime. He spoke of the jubilation that occurred in the hearts of many when the temple was announced. He humored that some would likely make scrapbooks to document the temple's construction all throughout the process. He even foresaw that many Saints would eagerly look forward to worshiping in the newly completed temple, and would do so with great enthusiasm.

But what he foresaw for many, and I'm sure the experience with temple attendance in other newly built temples would attest, is that novelty eventually wears off. Because the temple is so close, so convenient to access, many will forget the joy and eagerness they once felt. The gratitude for the Lord's blessing will fade, and the temple becomes just another thing to do.

Elder Bednar challenged us all to maintain our gratitude, and said the way we are worshiping in this temple long after it is completed is the true measure of our gratitude for it.

"Please. Please," he repeated, "Let your gratitude continue."

He mentioned how temples are paid for by Saints all over the world, and how the tithing from Saints in Africa was being used to build this temple. He told of his visits to Kinshasa and Gabon, how the Saints there commonly only eat once a day. He challenged us to live up to their sacrifices in our own ways, specifically in how we worship in this new temple provided by their tithing funds.

Elder Bednar also taught that temples are not built according to the number of stakes, members, or any other metrics of an area. He said new temples are announced and constructed based on the hearts of the people in that region. He affirmed to us that the temple was being built because of the goodness of our hearts, and we need to preserve this goodness deep into the future.

He closed with his testimony, and I love the way he phrased it because of a conversation I recently had with an atheist who said my beliefs were not based in fact.

"The Tomb is empty. It is not a fable. It is not a story. It is a fact."

He then provided the dedicatory prayer for the temple site. Of the many things he promised, I remember most vividly that he prayed that the temple's construction would be unhindered, even accelerated--that the temple's construction might even be finished ahead of schedule.

The closing hymn was "Now Let Us Rejoice," with the congregation joining in on the last verse.

The prayer was provided by Lori Henneman of the Meridian Idaho Paramount Stake.

The Groundbreaking followed, and the broadcast concluded.

"If We're United, We all Things Can Do": Building the Meridian Temple

Tomorrow my husband and I will attend the site dedication for the Meridian, Idaho temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The proceedings will be broadcast to stake centers in southeastern Idaho and eastern Oregon, and I'm excited to participate.

Saying goodbye to the Philadelphia temple was hard, because we won't be there anymore to see so much of the construction we supported with our faith. As the delays continued and the complications set back progress again and again, many of our prayers were directed to the temple's success. Moving away felt like leaving a great work unfinished.

The Meridian Temple was announced in the April 2011 General Conference
Image courtesy of mormonnewsroom.org

It wasn't until after we moved to Boise and my husband began his new job that I discovered that Meridian also had a temple announced. And because of the nature of my husband's work, I've become privy to several details about the project reinforcing that our work hasn't ended. We are simply focusing our faith and devotion to a different temple now.

The Opposition has Already Begun

The Meridian Temple is experiencing similar opposition to its construction by local residents as the Phoenix Arizona Temple did in its planning phases. Not everyone who lives in Idaho is LDS, and the rural part of Meridian where the temple is to be constructed is no exception.

While the majority of the residents in the area either support or are neutral to the temple's construction, those who want to keep the area rural are the most adamant critics. They already view the housing developments along Linder Road as an intrusion, and the temple has become a part of this bitter conflict. And even though the Church will do everything in its power to alleviate concerns that create these feelings of animosity and intrusion, it's easy to understand why this may not be possible.

The concern vocalized  most often is a one of traffic. The two lane road cannot handle the increase in traffic the temple will allegedly create. In good faith, the Church is paying to widen the road significantly as part of the project. It will become a five lane road--two lanes in each direction, with a center turn lane. For the Church to pay for this is not required by law. They are doing it to assist with the urban planning of the area as it continues to grow.

However, Ada County will require landowners to give up the portions of their property necessary to build the roadway. If the property is not given willingly, the county will use eminent domain and take it by force. This is standard practice and not unique to this situation, but will only increase the bad feelings of those who are most adamantly against the temple.

Even when the Church tries to be amenable to these vocal citizens, it isn't possible to resolve all of their concerns. Sometimes meeting their existing concerns will only create new concerns as time goes on. And when that happens, history has shown us that their opposition will likely manifest itself again and again, in whatever way is possible as the construction continues.

While the Ada County Commissioners have already approved the project, we should never assume that this means there will be no more roadblocks to the Meridian temple's construction. The Philadelphia Temple is a sterling example of what opposition can do to slow down, and even halt the temple's progression.

We are All Temple Builders

In the Church's history not so long ago, it was the responsibility of members--not professional contractors--to build our temples. Latter-days Saints would make significant sacrifices of money, possessions, labor and expertise, and time to create the beautiful structures central to our worship. Because this is no longer the case, it is easy to feel like we no longer have a part to play in the temple's construction. But nothing could be further from the truth.

Each of us living in this area has a responsibility to build the Meridian Temple. We may not do it with mortar and stone, but we will do it with our devotion. In every way that we live our faith and remain true to our temple covenants, we show the Lord that we want this temple in our community. As I've pondered what it means for us to build temples in our day, these were the thoughts that came to my mind:

  • Pay our tithes and offerings
  • Serve in our callings, especially as home and visiting teachers
  • Be an example of the believers in our communities at all times
  • Support recent converts and returning members in their goals to enter the temple
  • Work together with full-time missionaries to find families who would be blessed by entering the temple
  • Attend our existing temple in Boise as faithfully and as often as possible
  • Share our testimonies of the Church and the temple with our friends and neighbors
  • Help our children commit to always be worthy of a temple recommend
  • Build up our homes as holy places that lead us to the temple
  • Participate in meetings and councils where issues regarding the temple are discussed
  • Show Christ-like patience, respect, and love towards those who may oppose the temple. If there is criticism to the work of God, let us win others over "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned." (D&C 121: 41)
  • Record our thoughts and experiences preparing for the temple in our journals for posterity
  • Seek out the names of our family members and prepare them to receive temple ordinances
  • Sustain our stake/ward priesthood and auxiliary leaders as they provide us with guidance and instructions on how to prepare ourselves for the temple
  • Keep the commandments, and where necessary, repent
  • Develop consistent habits of scripture study and personal prayer. 
  • Pray continually that obstacles to the temple's completion will be removed. Pray for the health, strength, and safety of the construction crews and their families.
  • Study the teachings about the temple in the scriptures.

I know that as I do my part to build the Meridian Temple, the spirit of the temple will enter into my life. It will make me a better disciple of Jesus Christ. I will be ready to meet him when he returns again to the earth at his coming. I will increase in my love for all of God's children. I will have greater peace in my marriage and my home. The problems and anxieties of life may not fade away, but my capacity to confront them with wisdom and faith will increase.

I leave my testimony with you that God our Father lives, that Jesus Christ has saved the world from death and sin. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the true church of Jesus Christ on the earth today. Temples provide us with the opportunity to be with our families forever. There is no greater blessing on earth or in heaven than living with God and our families for all eternity. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

"Unto Such Shall Ye Continue to Minister": Responding to Church Discipline

The tempest of public opinion is raging among the online community of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because of Kate Kelly's excommunication on Monday. I don't envy her, her priesthood leaders in Virginia, or the Church public affairs staff right now--all of whom are dealing with the fallout from that decision. Each is facing down an inhuman amount of vitriol and false doctrine that I find to be infinitely more tragic that what is actually happening to her.

On Excommunication

I've seen members of the Church in support of Kelly comparing excommunication to damnation. This is false, and I cannot believe that honest members of the Church do not know better than this.

Excommunication is the not the worst thing that could ever happen to someone. I've seen many people say that, and it simply isn't true. Excommunication is not the end of someone's relationship with God. He doesn't cease to love them, to bless them, and to teach them. The Atonement of Jesus Christ still covers them. They still have the same claim on repentance, mercy, and grace that we all have. While they no longer have a right to the full blessing of the gift of the Holy Ghost, they still possess the Light of Christ. The Holy Ghost can still guide them in their lives. They can still pray, feast on the scriptures, and feel the love of God. I would even suggest, based on what I've heard excommunicated members say upon returning, their capacity to be closer to God is enhanced exponentially during their excommunication IF they seek for it.

Excommunication is not the end
of someone's relationship with God.
Excommunication is not damnation to hell. It is not a forced estrangement from family members on either side of the veil. Excommunication is nothing more or less than a severing of a person's relationship with the Church itself. They are denied all possibility to serve in, and especially speak to members of the Church in the official setting of the Church. Even then, it's not comparable to shunning--anyone from the Church can have contact with excommunicated members. (3 Nephi 18: 27-33, 2 Nephi 26: 23-28, D&C 64: 8-12)

Excommunication doesn't turn into all of these more serious consequences until after a person's judgment by Jesus Christ. Only he has the right to remove a person from all of their blessings and any hope of exaltation. We are taught that he will only do this if a person refuses to repent, but we must also acknowledge that only he knows if a person has truly repented or not. Excommunication on its own cannot damn someone. Members of the Church shouldn't compare excommunication to damnation, it's melodramatic and disingenuous. And they certainly shouldn't take upon themselves the right of judgment that only belongs to Jesus Christ. (See Mormon 8: 20, D&C 82: 23, Matthew 7: 1-2)

On False Analogies and the Question of Doctrine

I've also seen members and non-members alike comparing what is happening to Kate Kelly with the priesthood ban on men of color. They've argued that the scriptures never teach that a woman CAN'T be ordained to the priesthood, which means there must be room for the move to ordain them in this life. Any refusal to do so is thereby comparable to denying men of different races the priesthood.

The comparison LDS women to disenfranchised men of color is a false analogy. The circumstances for the two groups are different to the point of being incomparable. In the case of race and the priesthood, the sons of God were being denied what can argued historically and with doctrine to be their right. Historically in the Old Testament church, black men were ordained to the priesthood. No one explains this better than Darius Gray, chosen leader by the LDS group to speak to racial issues and the African American experience via the GENESIS group.

Note the portion where he explains that Melchizedek was a son of Canaan, the grandson of Ham. We know from the scriptural account that Ham and his descendants were black, including one of the most celebrated high priests in the history of the Church. The man for whom the Melchizedek Priesthood is named, and one of the most righteous men that has ever lived on this earth, was a black man.

The priesthood ban was a changeable policy which had been instituted at the time of the American Civil War, and was removed by the prophet in 1978 according to revelation. Black men in the Church were restored to what had previously been their privilege to receive--the ordination that they had enjoyed through the majority of the Church's Old Testament history, and possibly even some of the New Testament history. As such, ordaining persons of color to the priesthood was a necessary part of the Restoration of the gospel.

Will women ever be ordained to the Priesthood?

Why is this different from ordaining women to the priesthood? Because we have zero historical or doctrinal evidence that a woman has ever rightfully held the offices of the priesthood. There has never been a female high priest. There has never been a female prophet, in the sense of being responsible for the entire Church as a whole. Not in the Old Testament Church, not in the New Testament Church, and not in the modern Church. There is simply no legitimate precedent for a claim by a woman to an earthly priesthood office in either the Aaronic or Melchizedek priesthood. Search the scriptures, you will not find one. You will find plenty of eternally significant women serving in every imaginable capacity, many even as leaders within the Church. But never as part of the priesthood offices. And, I would add, you never hear or see these choice women pushing for ordination.

Members of the Church largely know this to be true. But I've seen some of them attempt to defend the Church's position against Kate Kelly by arguing that women will never receive the priesthood. They maintain the position that by definition, the priesthood is power given to men and therefore cannot be given to women. Women don't need to be ordained to it, the vast majority of them don't WANT to be ordained to it, and they are just as happy without ever being ordained to it. Most of the people I see taking up this stance are women, and they need to understand the ways in which what they're saying is untrue.

The temple is the only realm in this life in which women are allowed to exercise that priesthood.

Women can, do, and will receive ordination to the priesthood. There is no mandate against it in the scriptures because it already happens in very specific functions in the Church today. Ordination is the plan of Heavenly Father for his daughters in the future. Today, women function as officiators in the priesthood ordinances extended to women in the temples of the Church. The temple is the only realm in this life in which women are allowed to exercise that priesthood. These roles serve as a preparation for the full enfranchisement that women will receive in the kingdom of God. 

It is the intention of Heavenly Father for all of his righteous daughters to hold the priesthood. They will be priestesses, queens, and rulers in God's kingdom in equal partnership with their husbands. They will command and have dominion over their divine inheritance as a goddess, in the same sense that the priesthood prepares God's worthy sons to be gods in his house.

If it is the ultimate destiny of God's daughters to hold the priesthood, why can't they exercise it through ordination on earth?

Our roles as Relief Society women
prepare us equally as well
--if not better--than
earthly ordination ever could.
I've asked this question throughout my experience in the Church, and the answer I've received to my prayers is a simple one. Women being ordained in this life is not the best way for them to prepare for their roles in and responsibilities in eternity. Motherhood, sisterhood, and our roles as Relief Society women prepare us equally as well--if not better--than earthly ordination ever could. 

Some people seem to think that if women are ordained to the priesthood, this is somehow going to change the roles they play in the Church and in eternity. But I think they'd be overwhelmingly disappointed by how little things would actually change. They'll still be mothers. They'll still raise children. They'll still be sisters, teachers, friends, and leaders. They'll still be naturally better at serving the needs of women and children than men are. Other than a change in title, giving women the priesthood wouldn't change the things they dislike the most in people and their choices.

So the error in groups like Ordain Women is one of impatience. Knowing they will receive the priesthood one day simply isn't enough. They want it now, and they want it their way. And they're making the very dangerous mistake of misinterpreting the answer from the Lord and the Church as "No," when really it is, "Yes, but not this way. Not the way you're trying to achieve it."

It isn't impossible for the Lord to change the entire function of the Church to ordain women to the offices of the priesthood. He's the Lord--he can do as he pleases and frequently does. But even if ordination doesn't come until heaven, I'm content to wait my turn to receive it, and live as worthily as I can so I will receive it. And the number one requirement to honor the priesthood is one written into the Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood, in D&C 84: 33-41.

33 For whoso is faithful unto the obtaining these two priesthoods of which I have spoken, and the magnifying their calling, are sanctified by the Spirit unto the renewing of their bodies.
34 They become the sons of Moses and of Aaron and the seed of Abraham, and the church and kingdom, and the elect of God.
35 And also all they who receive this priesthood receive me, saith the Lord;
36 For he that receiveth my servants receiveth me;
37 And he that receiveth me receiveth my Father;
38 And he that receiveth my Father receiveth my Father’s kingdom; therefore all that my Father hath shall be given unto him.
39 And this is according to the oath and covenant which belongeth to the priesthood.
40 Therefore, all those who receive the priesthood, receive this oath and covenant of my Father, which he cannot break, neither can it be moved.
41 But whoso breaketh this covenant after he hath received it, and altogether turneth therefrom, shall not have forgiveness of sins in this world nor in the world to come.

This promise applies equally to the male and female leaders of the Church. When we show respect and obey the counsel of anyone anointed by God, whether they are ordained to the priesthood or not, we have done the will of God. Let us maintain this as our standard and be at peace with the timetable of God in all things.

I know that God lives. I know that Jesus is the Christ. I know that he leads and guides his Church today through the inspired leadership of a prophet. We have a Quorum of Twelve Apostles, identical to those in the time when Christ walked the earth. I testify that they give us the counsel and protection from anything and everything that would take us away from Christ and our loyalty to him. I sustain them as our leadership, and pray that all members everywhere will have the same determination. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Changing of the Guard

Because my mission president is finishing his time in our mission, he is preparing to turn the mission over to his successor in few short weeks. He asked all of his returned missionaries to make a brief video to tell the new mission president what our mission means to us.

This is the video I made. The first is in Portuguese, the second is in English.

Presidente e Sister Dalton, sejam bem-vindas!

Presidente e Sister Pinho, o serviço continua...

Finding Blessings in General Conference

General Conference has been a great blessing in my life. It has answered many questions and been the source of much inspiration for me. But more than anything else, I've received valuable insight into different projects on which I should start working, and topics I should study in the weeks and months to come.

Here's my list of lessons I gained from General Conference, and how I intend to apply them in my life:

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, Elder Nelson, Elder Hales, and President Uchtdorf all emphasized the importance of being fearless in the face of rejection, and replacing fear with faith. I need to study Courage and pray to have it every day so I'll never be afraid to act when the Lord needs me to act for Him. 
Elder Eyring spoke of the legacy of faith we leave to our descendants. Elder William Walker also spoke about recording our personal/family history. These messages are ones I need to revisit often and ponder. I need to spend some time pondering on the power of a positive example, and correct those things in my example that may be lacking. I need to write in my journal more often, aiming for several times a week. I also need to begin preserving my talks, lessons, memories, and voice recordings to share with my children and descendants.  
Elder W. Craig Zwick taught about using affirming language in marriage. Much of what President Monson spoke about seemed to echo those teachings. He used Lehi and Sariah as examples, when Lehi was comforting Sariah. I want to find more examples of this type of interaction between husbands and wives in the scriptures. Possible places I can start are with Jacob and Rachel, Adam and Eve, etc. 
Elder Quentin L. Cook gave some appalling data on how members are using FamilySearch. 51% of adults registered on FamilySearch don't have parents listed. 65% don't have all four grandparents listed. I've been blessed with a great talent for family history, and have completed most of my genealogy by myself. I want to volunteer to help members in my ward (especially new converts) begin their family history. 
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf spoke about gratitude. I formed a question about the relationship between gratitude and repentance. I need to ponder this, study it, and journal about it.
Elder M. Russell Ballard reminded me that I need to continue using Preach My Gospel as a returned missionary every day. I need to help my ward understand how to study it and apply it in their lives. 
Sister Stephens also reminded me to always strive to be a blessing to others. I need to find opportunities to serve someone each day. No act of service is too small. 
Elder Gary Stevenson mentioned Elder Bednar's family assessment. I want to start using that at least once a month for family home evening. Ideally I'd like to encourage my husband to use it consistently, as a way to exercise his priesthood authority in our home. 
Elder Bednar invited me to consider what I should be learning from my load, and analyze whether it's giving me necessary traction. I can make this a point of analysis, study, and prayer as a means of stress management. 
Elder L. Tom Perry spoke about forging stronger family ties. I received some pretty specific instructions from the Spirit that I should take more pictures, ask my family members more questions about their lives, and call them more often. Most of what I was thinking about ties back to my insights from Elder Cook and Elder Walker. 
Elder Teh reminded me that I need to be in control of my finances. I desperately need to make a budget. His remarks tied in completely with Elder Aidukaitus's counsel to manage my time more effectively. I need to cut idleness and waste out of my life. Scheduling and budgeting will allow me to enjoy my life more.

I love General Conference. It gives me the wisdom and vision I need to move forward with many challenges in my life. The counsel from my leaders brings me closer to Jesus Christ. I hear and feel Him speaking to me through their wisdom. It's how I know they're truly called of God to lead and guide the Church today. I know that as I act on these things I've been inspired to do through the Spirit, my life will be blessed. I'll be happier, my relationships with others will be sweeter, and I'll have a greater capacity to be a powerful disciple of Christ.

I know that God is our Father. I know that Jesus is the Christ. They lead and guide the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today. Of this I have no doubt. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

"Thus saith the Father"

When I was in the MTC, I remembering being at a fireside where the speaker said something I never forgot. It has always stuck with me because I knew in the moment that what he said wasn't true.

He was teaching us from 2 Nephi 31, and emphasized verses 15 and 20:

15 And I heard a voice from the Father, saying: Yea, the words of my Beloved are true and faithful. He that endureth to the end, the same shall be saved.
20 Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life. [Emphasis mine]

He explained that Heavenly Father rarely speaks in the scriptures--and when He does it's strictly to bear witness of His Son, Jesus Christ. He taught that 2 Nephi 31 was the only place where God the Father wasn't saying some variation of "This is my Beloved Son." His goal for saying this, as far as I can remember, was to encourage us to treasure the words of God the Father. But why would a selectively mute God inspire anyone? Rather, we should treasure up every word that proceeds forth out of the mouth of God, with the assurance that his words never cease.

As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once taught on this very subject:

"After a sacred vision in a now sacred grove answered in the affirmative the question “Does God exist?” what Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints force us to face is the next interrogative, which necessarily follows: “Does He speak?” We bring the good news that He does and that He has. With a love and affection born of our Christianity, we invite all to inquire into the wonder of what God has said since biblical times and is saying even now."
My Words... Never Cease, April 2008 General Conference

Elder Holland's title for his talk comes from Moses 1: 4, a chapter in which God the Father is speaking to Moses face-to-face: "for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease."

Our Father in Heaven is the Origin of All Scripture

Those who struggle to find Heavenly Father in the scriptures do not understand what scripture is. Scripture is a record of God the Father's dealings with mankind. The moments throughout history in which He has spoken to His children, and called them to receive Him--this is scripture. By definition, we cannot call anything scripture unless God the Father is truly present in the story.

Christ Himself testified to this fact in John 14:

23 If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
24 He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me. [emphasis mine]

Every word that Jesus spoke; where did it come from? They are the words of our Father in Heaven--no less literally than if He were speaking them Himself. It may be Christ's mouth speaking the words, but words themselves are the Father's. 

Every page of scripture we possess communicates the voice, the will, and the identity of God the Father. The purpose is always to help His children achieve salvation, and this is not a casual activity for Him. It isn't something he troubles Himself with only in the role of testifying of His Son, and otherwise resigning Himself to a silent acquiescence to everything going on around Him. God is an active, engaged character in the stories of the scriptures, even if He doesn't seem readily apparent. The challenge in beginning is learning to recognize Him.

I began my search with this mindset, but it still felt incomplete to me. It still left me feeling like God was a puppet master or an orchestrator. I craved to see references in the scriptures to words coming from God's own mouth. So I set about to find them, and the results were almost immediate.

How do we recognize God the Father speaking in the Scriptures? 

First off, it helps to be aware of the situation with Heavenly Father's name/title. When we see "the Lord God" in the scriptures, we need to understand this as a translation of Adonai Elohim (אֲדֹנָי אלהים) from Hebrew. When we see some variation of "thus saith the Lord God" in the scriptures, chances are excellent it's referring to Heavenly Father. Sometimes Jesus Christ uses this title as well, and the context will reveal when this is the case (see D&C 36, D&C 43, 2 Ne 6: 9, and 2 Ne 10: 7.)

It's very useful to know about this convention, because sometimes both the Father and the Son will be speaking in the same chapter. The titles "the Lord God" and "the Lord" will differentiate between the Father and the Son, respectively. (See 1 Nephi 21, 2 Ne 5 and Genesis 1 in the original Hebrew as examples.)

We also need to be aware of the instances which refer to the Father symbolically. Allegories and parables may not obviously mention Heavenly Father as a character, but closer examination with the Spirit testifies that Heavenly Father is speaking. (See Jacob 5)

With that in mind, we can now go searching through the scriptures for instances where God the Father speaks. Here is the list I've compiled so far:

  • All 8 books from Moses in the Pearl of Great Price (especially 4 & 7)
  • Joseph Smith Translation, Genesis 50: 26-27
  • 1 Ne 21: 22-23
  • 2 Nephi 5: 21-23, 25, 30
  • 2 Nephi 26: 17-31
  • 2 Nephi 28 & 29
  • 2 Nephi 31: 15, 20
  • Jacob 5, the Lord of the Vineyard
  • Enos 1: 5
  • Alma 5: 50-51
  • Helaman 5: 29-33, 46-47
  • Helaman 10: 1-11
  • John 12: 28
  • 3 Nephi 10: 3-7
  • Hebrews 12: 26-27
  • Revelation 16: 17
  • D&C 1 (especially verse 38. This admonition makes the MOST sense when coming from our Father in Heaven.)
  • D&C 133 & 136
Here is a list of references in which God the Father bears testimony of Jesus Christ
  • Matthew 3:17
  • Matthew 17: 5
  • Mark 1: 11
  • Luke 3:22
  • 3 Nephi 11: 3-7
  • 2 Peter 1: 18
  • Joseph Smith History 1: 17
  • D&C 93: 15

I've only just begun my study on this topic. I'm sure there are many other references in the Bible where God the Father speaks to His children. I will continue to search and update this list as time and occasion permit me to do so. 

I know that God is our Father. I know He hears our prayers and answers them. What better way for Him to answer than to speak? And if the lives of men are consequential enough to be included in the scriptures, I maintain that the words of God Himself are even more essential.

The Church of Jesus Christ is restored to the earth. Joseph Smith truly was a prophet. He saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in the Sacred Grove. And the most remarkable thing about that moment wasn't that it was unique--it was the continuation of what God has done with countless other men since the days of Adam. He invites us all to hear His voice, and to return to His presence.

I don't know about you, but these are the words I'm most looking forward to hearing!

Have you come across any other scriptures where God the Father is speaking? Did you ever question something you were taught, and discover something new because of it? Leave it in the comments!

More Posts from Me

The Unimpressive Origins of Anti-Queerness in the LDS Church

"Sister Collins, why don't you believe being queer is a sin like the rest of the righteous, obedient Mormons?" Because despite...