Missionary Farewell Talks

Mormon Missionaries Elder Smith and Lopez in Rosario Argentina SmilingWhen I left for my mission to Rosario Argentina in 1995, on the Sunday before I left there was held a farewell sacrament meeting for me. My grandma spoke, either my father or mother (or both) spoke, and I spoke. I rememeber my grandma and my father commenting on my good smile. I suppose if I had nothing else going for me in terms of missionary skills (Spanish language skills, gospel teaching skills, etc.) at least I had a good smile 🙂

While I believe my farewell sacrament meeting was completely appropriate, at this time period, back in the 1990s, not all missionary farewells were appropriate. In some instances, the entire sacrament meeting was virtually turned over to the family to do as they pleased, including at times, lengthy talks and elaborate musical numbers. Some families would send out invitations and hold reception lines at the church or do other things that would detract from the sacred nature of a mission call.

In October 2002, President Gordon B. Hinckley put that practice of missionary farewells to rest. Said he:

“Now we have an interesting custom in the Church. Departing missionaries are accorded a farewell. In some wards this has become a problem. Between outgoing missionaries and returning missionaries, most sacrament meetings are devoted to farewells and homecomings.

No one else in the Church has a farewell when entering a particular service. We never have a special farewell-type meeting for a newly called bishop, for a stake president, for a Relief Society president, for a General Authority, or anyone else of whom I can think. Why should we have missionary farewells?

The First Presidency and the Twelve, after most prayerful and careful consideration, have reached the decision that the present program of missionary farewells should be modified.

The departing missionary will be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting for 15 or 20 minutes. But parents and siblings will not be invited to do so. There might be two or more departing missionaries who speak in the same service. The meeting will be entirely in the hands of the bishop and will not be arranged by the family.

…We are convinced that when all aspects of the situation are considered, this is a wise decision. Please accept it, my dear brethren. I extend this plea also to the sisters, particularly the mothers.

We hope also that holding elaborate open houses after the sacrament meeting at which the missionary speaks will not prevail. Members of the family may wish to get together. We have no objection to this. However, we ask that there be no public reception to which large numbers are invited.

Missionary service is such a wonderful experience that it brings with it its own generous reward. And when a missionary returns to his family and his ward, he may again be given opportunity to speak in a sacrament meeting.” (To Men of the Priesthood, General Conference, October 2002)

sacrament meeting speakerSince that time, newly called missionaries have continued to be, as they should be, invited to speak in sacrament meeting a week or two before they depart. And while the sacrament program is not a farewell meeting, it is still the missionary’s farewell talk and most people still refer to it as the missionary farewell.

Priesthood leaders and missionaries should remember the following guideline with regard to missionary farewells:

  • It is a regular sacrament meeting, not a missionary farewell meeting.
  • The bishopric will plan and conduct this meeting, including assigning topics and musical numbers, as they normally do, making sure they are worshipful, faith promoting, and gospel oriented.
  • Family members and friends of the missionary should not be invited to speak so people don’t get the impression that the meeting is a missionary farewell.
  • If there are other departing or returning missionaries around the same time, they can and should be invited to speak in the same sacrament meeting.
  • Missionary talks should not dominate the sacrament meeting schedule to the exclusion of other valuable subjects and speakers.
  • The regular time of the sacrament meeting should not be extended.
  • Members should avoid holding open houses for missionaries (except for family gatherings).

Related Article: How to Write a Talk

The Role of Women in the LDS Church

With the role of women in the Church and in the priesthood being an ongoing issue in the news, it is likely that missionaries will get asked difficult questions on this topic. Therefore, I thought it wise to prepare future Mormon missionaries for the questions they might get on the subject.

Women and Men Alike are Invited to Come Unto Christ

First, let’s review a couple of statements from the scriptures. The ancient American prophet Nephi said that the Lord invites all people alike, men and women, to come unto Him. Nephi said “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

Women and Men Need Each Other for Salvation

The great New Testament missionary Paul taught the Corinthians of the mutual need women and men have for each other, not just in this life, but in the eternities. He said, “neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord” (Corinthians 11:11).

The prophet Joseph Smith further taught this principal when he explained that Celestial marriage in the temple is essential in order for both men and women to receive exaltation in the highest degree of heaven. He taught: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (D&C 131: 1-4).

Equal Partners with Different Responsibilities

smith family with quote from proclamationMen and women have different but equally important roles and responsibilities in the home and as members and leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church or Mormon Church). In The Family: A Proclamation to the World, the Church has stated:

“All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.

“…By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Understanding Women’s Unique Role

Julie B. Beck, former General President of the Relief Society, the oldest and largest women’s organization in the world, has said:

“Knowing and defending the divine roles of women is so important in a world where women are bombarded with false messages about their identity. …The only place Latter-day Saint women will learn the whole and complete truth about their indispensable role in the plan of happiness is in this Church and its doctrine. We know that in the great premortal conflict we sided with our Savior, Jesus Christ, to preserve our potential to belong to eternal families. We know we are daughters of God, and we know what we are to do. Women find true happiness when they understand and delight in their unique role within the plan of salvation. The things women can and should do very best are championed and taught without apology here. We believe in the formation of eternal families. That means we believe in getting married. We know that the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth remains in force. That means we believe in having children. We have faith that with the Lord’s help we can be successful in rearing and teaching children. These are vital responsibilities in the plan of happiness, and when women embrace those roles with all their hearts, they are happy! Knowing and defending the truth about families is the privilege of every sister in this Church” (What Latter-day Saint Women Do Best: Stand Strong and Immovable).

Women Play a Vital Part in Establishing Zion

women church missionary workIn addition to responsibilities in the family, LDS women serve in some of the highest councils of the Church. They serve as full-time missionaries, presidents of organizations, and as members of committees at nearly every level of the Church. “They serve the Church faithfully and ably. They teach in the organizations. They stand as officers” (The Women in Our Lives, President Gordon B. Hinckley).

“Through serving in the Relief Society, Young Women, and Primary organizations—not to mention their private acts of love and service—women have always played and will always play an important part in helping “bring forth and establish the cause of Zion” (D&C 6:6). They care for the poor and the sick; serve proselytizing, welfare, humanitarian, and other missions; teach children, youth, and adults; and contribute to the temporal and spiritual welfare of the Saints in many other ways” (The Influence of Righteous Women, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf).

It Takes Men and Women to Carry out the Work of the Lord

M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, gave a seminal address on the topic of LDS womens’ role in the Church in which he said:

“Men and women have different gifts, different strengths, and different points of view and inclinations. That is one of the fundamental reasons why we need each other. It takes a man and a woman to create a family, and it takes men and women to carry out the work of the Lord in the Church. A husband and wife righteously working together complete each other. Let us be careful that we do not attempt to tamper with our Heavenly Father’s plan and purposes in our lives.”

“…I acknowledge that there are some men, including some priesthood leaders, who have not yet seen the light and who still do not include our sister leaders in full partnership in ward and stake councils. I also acknowledge that there are some men who oppress women and in some rare circumstances are guilty of abusing women. This is abhorrent in the eyes of God. I feel certain that men who in any way demean women will answer to God for their actions. And let me add that any priesthood leader who does not involve his sister leaders with full respect and inclusion is not honoring and magnifying the keys he has been given. His power and influence will be diminished until he learns the ways of the Lord” (Let Us Think Straight, 20 August 2013, BYU Campus Education Week Devotional).

One of Women’s Most Sacred Roles: Creation of Life

Elder D. Todd Christofferson, another member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, has also spoken on what he called one of the most sacred roles of women:

“Most sacred is a woman’s role in the creation of life. We know that our physical bodies have a divine origin and that we must experience both a physical birth and a spiritual rebirth to reach the highest realms in God’s celestial kingdom. Thus, women play an integral part (sometimes at the risk of their own lives) in God’s work and glory “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”

“…A pernicious philosophy that undermines women’s moral influence is the devaluation of marriage and of motherhood and homemaking as a career. Some view homemaking with outright contempt, arguing it demeans women and that the relentless demands of raising children are a form of exploitation. They ridicule what they call “the mommy track” as a career. This is not fair or right. We do not diminish the value of what women or men achieve in any worthy endeavor or career—we all benefit from those achievements—but we still recognize there is not a higher good than motherhood and fatherhood in marriage. There is no superior career, and no amount of money, authority, or public acclaim can exceed the ultimate rewards of family. Whatever else a woman may accomplish, her moral influence is no more optimally employed than here” (The Moral Force of Women, General Conference October 2013).

Equally Glorious Women and Men Comprise the Noble and Great Ones

In conclusion, I’ll quote from Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a former apostle and noted scriptorian, who used words of great strength and power to describe mother Eve and by extension the potential of all women. “There is no language that can do credit to our glorious mother, Eve,” he says. “Eve—a daughter of God, one of the spirit offspring of the Almighty Elohim—was among the noble and great in [premortal] existence. She ranked in spiritual stature, in faith and devotion, in conformity to eternal law with Michael”. In fact, added McConkie, “Christ and Mary, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, and a host of mighty men and equally glorious women comprised that group of “the noble and great ones,” to whom the Lord Jesus said: “We will go down, for there is space there, and we will take of these materials, and we will make an earth whereon these may dwell.”( Bruce R McConkie, “Eve and the Fall,” Woman, Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1979, p. 68.)

Young Men Must be 18 to Receive the Priesthood

young men - future missionariesI would like to revisit the subject regarding the age in which young men may be given the Melchizedek Priesthood and ordained to the office of an Elder. This issue arises because many young men would like to begin their missions on the day they turn 18, since 18 is the age requirement.

I have, on occasion, been asked: “If a 17 year old has received his mission call to begin serving shortly after turning 18, can he be ordained an Elder prior to his 18th birthday?” The answer from the First Presidency is no. Young Men must be 18 years old to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood.

This policy comes in a letter, dated February 14, 2013, from the First Presidency of the Church. It states:

“With the recent change in policy regarding young men entering full-time missionary service at age 18, some young men will receive their mission calls while still attending high school, secondary schooling, or the equivalent. However, in no case may prospective missionaries be endowed while still attending these secondary schools. Bishops and stake presidents should ensure that all worthy men receive the Melchizedek Priesthood prior to being endowed. A young man must be at least 18 years of age to receive the Melchizedek Priesthood even if he has received a mission call.” (Signed Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, and Deiter F. Uchtdorf)

This policy was reiterated in another First Presidency letter dated November 10, 2014:

“Some young men are now receiving mission calls before they are 18 years old. However, bishops and stake presidents are to ensure that all worthy men have reached their 18th birthday before they receive the Melchizedek Priesthood. Eighteen-year-old young men may receive the Melchizedek Priesthood while in high school or another secondary school, but they should not receive their temple endowment while attending such a school.” (Signed Thomas S. Monson, Henry B. Eyring, and Deiter F. Uchtdorf)

Now, the question still remains about what to do about ordaining a young man to the Melchizedek Priesthood and getting his endowment when he is to begin his missionary service on or soon after his 18th birthday. I think the answer is clear that you wait until the young man has turned 18, even if that means getting the priesthood, the temple endowment, and entering the MTC all on the same day. I think it is safe to assume, though, that that won’t be necessary. The Church will generally give young men a mission report date that builds in sufficient time after their 18th birthday to get the priesthood and go through the temple before reporting to the MTC. So young men, if it is your desire to start your mission on your 18th birthday, that probably won’t happen, but a couple weeks after you turn 18 is still very realistic.

So to summarize:

  • Missionaries must receive the temple endowment before starting their missionary service.
  • Young men must be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood before receiving their temple endowment.
  • Young men cannot be ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood until they are 18 years old.
  • A missionary starting his mission on his 18th birthday is highly unlikely, but a couple weeks later is very possible.

Setting Apart Missionaries

setting apart a missionaryWe believe that men and women “must be called of God, by prophecy, and by the laying on of hands by those who are in authority, to preach the Gospel” (Article of Faith 5). When a priesthood leader lays his hands upon the head of a missionary to give him or her authority to preach the gospel, we call it being “set apart” (see D&C 68:14 and D&C 107: 74).

Every missionary should be set apart by their stake president before they depart for the missionary training center (MTC). Only in rare circumstances would someone besides the stake president conduct the setting apart. The setting apart of missionaries should take place as close as possible to his or her departure date. Once the young man or woman is set apart, he or she is a missionary and is expected to obey all the mission rules and standards.

As an example, if a new missionary is leaving on a Tuesday to fly to the MTC to begin their mission, the stake president will generally make arrangements with the family to set apart the missionary on the Sunday or Monday before he or she leaves. (See my related article on traveling to and entering the MTC.)

A day or two before setting apart missionaries, stake presidents are asked to conduct one final interview to confirm the missionary’s worthiness. By this time, missionaries should have received their temple endowment, and young men should have had the Melchizedek Priesthood conferred upon them and been ordained to the office of an elder.

The setting apart should be a special occasion where family members and close friends come together to share in the event. The setting apart of missionaries may take place at the church, in the stake president’s office, or in the family’s home, as directed by the presiding priesthood leader.

At the setting apart, the stake president will usually make a few remarks to help those present understand the sacredness and importance of the mission call. He will then lay his hands on the head of the missionary, set him or her apart as a missionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints assigned to labor in the specific mission he or she has been called to. He will then usually pronounce additional words of priesthood blessing as the Spirit directs. Worthy Melchizedek Priesthood holders, such as the missionary’s father, may be invited by the stake president to stand in the circle during the setting apart.

The Church requests that, when setting apart missionaries, the blessing should not be recorded. However, missionaries are encouraged to write about it in their personal journal, making particular note of the parts of the blessing that were especially meaningful to them.

1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

This Sunday marks the 36th anniversary of Official Declaration 2 of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known by many as the LDS Church’s 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood which allowed all black people to receive the priesthood. In future posts, I plan to go into more detail of the history of the Church’s restriction prohibiting priesthood ordinations of blacks. For today, though, I’d like to simply discuss the substance of the 1978 revelation and some of the contemporary reactions to it.

Preface to the 1978 Revelation on the Priesthood

Official Declaration 2, on the internet version, is prefaced with this comment: “During Joseph Smith’s lifetime, a few black male members of the Church were ordained to the priesthood. Early in its history, Church leaders stopped conferring the priesthood on black males of African descent. Church records offer no clear insights into the origins of this practice. Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter this practice and prayerfully sought guidance.”

Revelation on Blacks and the Priesthood

Spencer W Kimball walking in snowOn June 1, 1978, that revelation came to the prophet and Church president, Spencer W. Kimball. The revelation removed all restrictions with regard to race and granted the priesthood to all men solely on the basis of personal worthiness. A week later, on June 8, 1978, the First Presidency sent a letter to all Church leaders throughout the world which stated:

As we have witnessed the expansion of the work of the Lord over the earth, we have been grateful that people of many nations have responded to the message of the restored gospel, and have joined the Church in ever-increasing numbers. This, in turn, has inspired us with a desire to extend to every worthy member of the Church all of the privileges and blessings which the gospel affords.

Aware of the promises made by the prophets and presidents of the Church who have preceded us that at some time, in God’s eternal plan, all of our brethren who are worthy may receive the priesthood, and witnessing the faithfulness of those from whom the priesthood has been withheld, we have pleaded long and earnestly in behalf of these, our faithful brethren, spending many hours in the Upper Room of the Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance.

He has heard our prayers, and by revelation has confirmed that the long-promised day has come when every faithful, worthy man in the Church may receive the holy priesthood, with power to exercise its divine authority, and enjoy with his loved ones every blessing that flows therefrom, including the blessings of the temple. Accordingly, all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color. Priesthood leaders are instructed to follow the policy of carefully interviewing all candidates for ordination to either the Aaronic or the Melchizedek Priesthood to insure that they meet the established standards for worthiness.

We declare with soberness that the Lord has now made known his will for the blessing of all his children throughout the earth who will hearken to the voice of his authorized servants, and prepare themselves to receive every blessing of the gospel.

Witness to the Revelation

Bruce R. McConkie of the Twelve was present when the priesthood revelation was received and spoke of that moment:

“The Spirit of the Lord rested upon us all; we felt something akin to what happened on the day of Pentecost and at the Kirtland Temple. From the midst of eternity, the voice of God, conveyed by the power of the Spirit, spoke to his prophet. The message was that the time had now come to offer the fullness of the everlasting gospel, including celestial marriage, and the priesthood, and the blessings of the temple, to all men, without reference to race or color, solely on the basis of personal worthiness. And we all heard the same voice, received the same message, and became personal witnesses that the word received was the mind and will and voice of the Lord.” (Kimball, Spencer W.; et al. (1981), Priesthood, Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book, pp. 127–128, ISBN 0877478597, OCLC 7572974)

Reaction to the Revelation

Elder Dallin H. Oaks, current member of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, and President of the LDS Church owned Brigham Young University at the time in 1978, had this reaction to the revelation.

I had many times that my heart ached for that, and it ached for my Church, which I knew to be true and yet blessings of that Church were not available to a significant segment of our Heavenly Father’s children. …Nobody was more relieved or more pleased when the word came. I remember where I was when I learned that the priesthood would be available to all worthy males, whatever their ancestry. I was at a mountain home that our family had purchased to have a place of refuge. I had my sons up there, and we were digging. …The phone rang in the house. I went inside, and it was Elder Boyd K. Packer. He said: “I have been appointed to advise you as a representative of the academic people, many of whom have been troubled by the ban on the priesthood, professors, and students, and so on. As president of Brigham Young University and as their representative, I’ve been appointed to advise you that the revelation has been received that all worthy male members will be eligible to receive the priesthood, whatever their ancestry.” I thanked him, and I went outside and I told my boys, and I sat down on that pile of dirt and cried. And I still feel emotion for that moment. I cried for joy and relief that the Lord had spoken through His prophet, that His blessings were now available to all: the blessings of the priesthood, the blessings of the temple, and the blessings of eternity. That’s what we desired. I praise God for it.” (See Elder Dallin H. Oaks’ Reaction to Priesthood Revelation on MormonNewsroom.org)

The Church in Africa Prior to the Revelation

Prior to the 1978 revelation on the priesthood, there were a few black African converts. These people had learned 0f the gospel through various means, and some were even baptized. But Church leaders were reluctant to formally establish the Church or missionary work in these “areas of the world where the full blessings of the gospel could not be conferred upon worthy Church members” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Chapter 10).

“In 1960, Glen G. Fisher returned from South Africa after serving as mission president there. The First Presidency asked him to stop in Nigeria and investigate groups which had organized themselves into church units and had taken the name of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. …Unbaptized converts in Africa received Church literature and inspired direction through the years until 1978. Often these devoted people went to great lengths to communicate with Church headquarters.”

One such pioneer was Joseph W. B. Johnson of Ghana. “Brother Johnson was converted after prayerfully reading the Book of Mormon in 1964.” Said he, “from that day onward, I was constrained by the Spirit to go from street to street to deliver the message that we had read from the Book of Mormon.” “When the missionaries arrived fourteen years later, there were already many unbaptized congregations that Brother Johnson had organized, calling themselves The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” (see Gospel Pioneers in Africa by E. Dale LeBaron)

Nigeria Mormon Baptisms 1978

Response in Africa After the Priesthood Revelation

“After the Proclamation on the Priesthood on June 9, International Mission President James E. Faust assigned Ted Cannon and Merrill Bateman to visit Africa and try to locate the various groups and their members. Ted and Merrill Bateman departed for Accra, Ghana on August 12, 1978. One of the first groups they visited was in Cape Coast, Ghana.” In Calabar, Nigeria, “Ted and Brother Bateman were miraculously led to Ime Eduok who introduced them to many of the leaders they were seeking. After two weeks in West Africa, Ted and Brother Bateman agreed that their recommendation to the First Presidency would be to send missionaries.”

“After many baptisms in Nigeria, the Cannons and Mabeys made their way to Ghana where they met with leaders of congregations that had already been preaching from the Book of Mormon and meeting in organized congregations for over a decade. The Cannons and Mabeys taught lessons to groups organized by Dr. R.A.F. Mensah, Clement Osekre, and Joseph Billy Johnson.”

“The first official baptisms in Ghana took place on December 9, 1978 at a beach just east of Cape Coast. This historic baptism of 89 people took place on a beach …[and] confirmations took place at water’s edge. The confirmations continued into the night, under the glow of the moon.”

“Back in Nigeria, …they interviewed and baptized 182 people, confirmed them, and organized them into four branches, all in one day. By the time they left Africa, the Cannons and Mabeys had baptized 1,725 people, and organized 35 branches and 5 districts.” (See Cannon Ties to West Africa go back to 1790 on africawest.lds.org)

The Church among Blacks and Africans Today

The Church does not keep statistics on the race or ethnicity of its members, so exact figures on the number of black Mormons is not possible to obtain. Some estimate there to be between 350,000 and 500,000 members of the Church with black African heritage.  If so, that would represent about 3% of Church membership world wide.

The organization of the Church encourages complete racial integration. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present (see the Church’s statement on Race and the Priesthood). Where there are Mormons of various racial backgrounds in a community, they attend church and worship together. A black bishop may lead a mostly white ward or stake, or vice versa; there are no racially segregated congregations.

The Church has said that “Africa is one of the fastest growing areas of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with some 320,000 members” as of February 2011, with “more than 900 congregations across the continent” (see Mormons in Africa: A Bright Land of Hope). There are three operating LDS temples on the African continent–Aba Nigeria, Accra Ghana, and Johannesburg South Africa–with two more planned for Durban South Africa and Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo (see ldschurchtemples.com/maps).

Missionary Service for Members with Physical, Mental, and Emotional Challenges

young man in wheelchairI am often asked about the possibility of missionary service for young people who face physical, mental, or emotional challenges. These members can sometimes serve full-time or church-service missions, though in some circumstances they will not be able to do so. Below I will give some general direction and guidelines, but please be aware that every case is unique and your local priesthood leaders (bishop and stake president) are best suited to provide definitive answers to these questions.

Missionary Work is Demanding

Missionary work is physically, mentally, or emotionally demanding. The daily mission schedule requires missionaries to put in long hours, seven days a week, which can cause physical, mental, and emotional drain. Please check out some of my previous articles on working hard and preparing emotionally for a mission.

Young men and women who have serious physical, mental, or emotional challenges that would prevent them from serving effectively do not generally serve full-time missions. Local priesthood leaders are counselled not to recommend members for missionary service if they suffer from serious emotional instability, are severely physically impaired, or are dependent on others to perform normal daily tasks.

Clearing Up Issues Prior to Service

Potential missionaries who have previously had significant physical, mental, or emotional challenges must be stabilized and confirmed to be fully functional before their bishop will recommended them for full-time missionary service. A member who is dependent on medication for emotional stability may serve a mission provided that he or she has demonstrated the ability to fully function in a demanding mission-like environment with the use of the medication. Such candidates must also commit to continue taking the medications throughout their mission unless otherwise authorized by a doctor. On the mission application form, the candidate or bishop should include a list of medications the potential missionary is taking.

Weight Issues

Experience has shown that young people who are significantly overweight experience many difficulties dealing with the physical demands of a mission. These difficulties also affect companions and mission leaders, therefore, bishops and stake presidents are counselled to consider whether individuals’ weight will adversely affect their service before recommending them for a mission. I don’t know of any specific weight guidelines, but potential missionaries, parents, and leaders should counsel with local medical professionals during the mission application process or call the Church Missionary Department if they have further questions on any of these issues related to physical, mental, and emotional health.

Local priesthood leaders are counselled not to ask the Church for exceptions to these rules. They are instructed not to recommend young people for full-time missionary service unless they can do so without reservations.

Other Options

If a member has serious physical, mental, and emotional challenges, they are honorably excused from missionary service. Such individuals should not be made to feel unworthy or inadequate before the Lord. These members should be encouraged to continue to pursue important milestones in life such as an education, career development, and temple preparation. If these individuals continue to have a strong desire to serve a mission, the bishop and stake president may be able to help them identify local options for Church service including Church-service missionary opportunities.

Archaeological Evidence of The Book of Mormon

This is another in my series of article on challenging questions that missionaries will likely face. Today we will talk about some common criticisms of The Book of Mormon around archaeological evidence that some say proves or disproves the truthfulness of The Book of Mormon. As always, I invite you to study the issues, evaluate what we know and what we don’t know, and pray for the guidance of the Lord on how to incorporate these things into your testimony of The Book of Mormon and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Missionaries who do this will not only be conversant on these subjects, but will have their testimonies fortified and be more powerful instruments in the Lord’s hands.

Steel in the Book of Mormon

Nephi gets the Sword of LabanMany people will criticize the historical accuracy of the Book of Mormon and other may point our apparent anachronisms, errors in chronology. One common such attack, for years, was regarding Nephi’s mentioning that the sword of Laban was made of “precious steel” (1 Nephi 4:9) and that his hunting bow was made of “fine steel” (1 Nephi 16:18).  In 1884, one critic wrote that, “Laban’s sword was steel, when it is a notorious fact that the Israelites knew nothing of steel for hundreds of years afterwards. Who but as ignorant a person as Rigdon would have perpetuated all these blunders.” And Thomas O’Dea in 1957 stated that, “Every commentator on the Book of Mormon has pointed out the many cultural and historical anachronisms, such as the steel sword of Laban in 600 B.C.”

In a September 2013 talk at BYU-Idaho, Elder D. Todd Christofferson discussed these issues, and many more, related the historical study of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. He said:

We had no answer to these critics at the time, but as often happens in these matters, new discoveries in later years shed new light. Roper reports, “It is increasingly apparent that the practice of hardening iron through deliberate carburization, quenching and tempering was well known to the ancient world from which Nephi came. ‘It seems evident,’ notes one recent authority, ‘that by the beginning of the tenth century B.C. blacksmiths were intentionally steeling iron.’” In 1987, the Ensign reported that archeologists had unearthed a long steel sword near Jericho dating back to the late seventh century B.C., probably to the reign of King Josiah who died shortly before Lehi began to prophesy. This sword is now on display at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum. The museum’s explanatory sign reads in part, “The sword is made of iron hardened into steel, attesting to substantial metallurgical know-how.” Where answers are incomplete or lacking altogether, patient study and patient waiting for new information and discoveries to unfold will often be rewarded with understanding.

For these reasons, Elder Christofferson urged the students to “be patient, don’t be superficial, and don’t ignore the Spirit.” Continuing, he said: “In counseling patience, I simply mean that while some answers come quickly or with little effort, others are simply not available for the moment because information or evidence is lacking. Don’t suppose, however, that a lack of evidence about something today means that evidence doesn’t exist or that it will not be forthcoming in the future.”(See footnote 1)

DNA and Origins of Native Americans

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture containing a record of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the America continents. We believe that many of the descendants of the people of the Book of Mormon are on the earth today, indeed, the Introduction to the Book of Mormon says that the people of the Book of Mormon “are among the ancestors of the American Indians.”

For decades, many Church members, including many prominent leaders, thought that the Book of Mormon Lamanites were not just among but the principal ancestors of the American Indians. In fact, “principal” is what the introduction used to say. The wording change reflects a more accurate understanding of the Book of Mormon, and is also more inline with modern DNA findings. Critics of the Church argue that since the DNA of Native Americans is primarily Asian rather than Middle Eastern, the Book of Mormon is fictional and not truly a history of God’s dealings with ancient inhabitants of the Americas.

Brigham Young University researcher Ugo A. Perego points out, “the Church advocates no official position on the subjects of Book of Mormon geography and the origins of Amerindian populations.” He also reminds us that in the April 1929 general conference President Anthony W. Ivins of the First Presidency commented that The Book of Mormon “does not tell us that there was no one here before” the Book of Mormon people and “it does not tell us that people did not come after.” Brother Perego goes on to give these insights:

It is implausible that ancient record keepers would have had a comprehensive knowledge of all the goings-on of the entire vast landmass of the Americas, considering that the distance from northern Canada to southern Patagonia is about 8,700 miles, a greater distance than that from Portugal to Japan!

…The Book of Mormon is not a volume about the history and origins of all American Indians. A careful reading of the text clearly indicates that the people described in the Book of Mormon were limited in the recording of their history to events that had religious relevance and that occurred in relatively close proximity to the keepers of the annals.

The fact that the DNA of Lehi and his party has not been detected in modern Native American populations does not demonstrate that this group of people never existed or that the Book of Mormon cannot be historical in nature. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.[76] Further, the very idea of locating the genetic signature of Lehi’s family in modern populations constitutes a truly untestable hypothesis since it is not possible to know the nature of their genetic profiles. Without our knowing the genetic signature to be located, any attempt at researching it will unavoidably result in further assumptions and untestable hypotheses.

…Anyone using DNA to ascertain the accuracy of historical events of a religious nature—which require instead a component of faith—will be sorely disappointed. DNA studies will continue to assist in reconstructing the history of Native American and other populations, but it is through faith that we are asked to search for truth in holy writings (Moroni 10:3–5). (See footnote 2)

Horses in The Book of Mormon

Horse and Bluebonnets by TexasEagleOne last topic on the subject of archaeological evidence for The Book of Mormon that I want to talk about is horses. The Book of Mormon makes a handful of references to horses existing on the American continents in these ancient times. Yet as Robert R. Bennett, a scholar with BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute, has pointed out, “these animals seem not to have been known to Native Americans who greeted the Spaniards upon their arrival, [and] …archaeological evidence for the presence of the horse in the pre-Columbian Americas is presently scant and inconclusive.”

How can this apparent discrepancy be explained? Brother Bennett offers these insights:

  • What the Book of Mormon says and does not say about horses. “Horses are mentioned only once in the land northward during the Jaredite period…Since horses are not mentioned again in the Jaredite record, it is possible that they became extinct in the region north of the narrow neck of land following that time. …There is no indication in the text that horses were indigenous to that region (the land of Zarahemla). …In the Book of Mormon, horses are never mentioned after the time of Christ. In short, the Book of Mormon claims only that horses were known to some New World peoples before the time of Christ in certain limited regions of the New World. Thus we need not conclude from the text that horses were universally known in the Americas throughout pre-Columbian history.”
  • Animals sometimes leave no archaeological remains. “The horse was the basis of the wealth and military power of the Huns of central Asia (fourth and fifth centuries A.D.). Nonetheless…we know very little of the Huns’ horses. It is interesting that not a single usable horse bone has been found in the territory of the whole empire of the Huns. …The lack of archaeological evidence for the Hunnic horse is rather significant in terms of references to horses in the Book of Mormon. …If Hunnic horse bones are so rare, notwithstanding the abundance of horses during the Hunnic empire, how can we expect abundant archaeological evidence for pre-Columbian horses in the New World, especially given the scant and comparatively conservative references to horses by Book of Mormon writers?”
  • Naming by Analogy. “It is also possible that some Book of Mormon peoples coming from the Old World may have decided to call some New World animal species a “horse” or an “ass.” This practice, known as “loanshift” or “loan-extension,” is well known to historians and anthropologists who study cross-cultural contact. For example, when the Greeks first visited the Nile in Egypt, they encountered a large animal they had never seen before and gave it the name hippopotamus, meaning “horse of the river.” …Similarly, members of Lehi’s family may have applied loanwords to certain animal species that they encountered for the first time in the New World, such as the Mesoamerican tapir. …Many zoologists and anthropologists have compared the tapir’s features to those of a horse or a donkey.” (See footnote 3)

Conclusion

While we now have good information atesting to the accuracy of statements about steel in Book of Mormon times, there are still many legitimate questions about the DNA of Native Americans and horses in ancient America. While I don’t have all the answers, I have yet to see archaeological evidence, or any other evidence, to shake my belief in The Book of Mormon as the word of the Lord and revealed scripture that will guide us back to God. What I have learned through my study and prayer on the subject is further assurance the The Book of Mormon is true. More important than the scientific evidence, one way or the other, is the knowledge I have gained through the Spirit of the Lord. I have read The Book of Mormon many times. I have experienced powerful outpourings of the Spirit where pure knowledge from God had been poured from Heaven into my mind and heart. I know that, as the Prophet Joseph Smith said, The Book of Mormon will draw a person nearer to God than by any other book.

Sources and Resources

  1. The Prophet Joseph Smith, Devotional at BYU Idaho by Elder D. Todd Christofferson, September 24, 2013. Transcript: http://www2.byui.edu/Presentations/Transcripts/Devotionals/2013_9_24_Christofferson.htm Video:   https://video.byui.edu/media/D.+Todd+Christofferson+%22The+Prophet+Joseph+Smith%22/0_gxm7f8l5
  2. The Book of Mormon and the Origin of Native Americans from a Maternally Inherited DNA Standpoint. Ugo A. Perego, BYU Religious Studies, https://rsc.byu.edu/archived/no-weapon-shall-prosper/book-mormon-and-origin-native-americans-maternally-inherited-dna
  3. Horses in the Book of Mormon by Robert R. BennettNeal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship (formerly FARMS), Aug 2000. http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/fullscreen/?pub=1055&index=1

The Church’s Statement on Race and the Priesthood

Black men giving priesthood blessingSince The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released a new statement on Race and the Priesthood in December 2013, there has been a lot of discussion on the subject. Many people have rightly praised the statement for setting straight some false concepts that had crept into the Church. Many, in my view, have also jumped to some conclusions that may or may not be well founded.

Below is a summary of the Chursh’s statement on Blacks and the Priesthood, and as a bonus, some of my thoughts and analysis on the subject. Most important is that future missionaries read the statement, do some follow up study of the scriptures and other sources cited, and be prepared to discuss the subject when and if it comes up during their missions.

Download a PDF copy of the Church’s
statement on Blacks and the Priesthood

Highlights from the Church’s Statement on Blacks and the Priesthood

The statement from the Church on Blacks and the Priesthood is 4 pages (6 with footnotes). I encourage you to read the statement in its entirety, but here are some of the quotes that stood out to me most:

  • “For much of its history—from the mid-1800s until 1978—the Church did not ordain men of black African descent to its priesthood or allow black men or women to participate in temple …ordinances.”
  • “During the first two decades of the Church’s existence, a few black men were ordained to the priesthood. One of these men, Elijah Abel, also participated in temple ceremonies. …There is no evidence that any black men were denied the priesthood during Joseph Smith’s lifetime.”
  • “In 1852, President Brigham Young publicly announced that men of black African descent could no longer be ordained to the priesthood. …subsequent Church presidents restricted blacks from receiving the temple [ordinances]. …Over time, Church leaders and members advanced many theories to explain the priesthood and temple restrictions. None of these explanations is accepted today as the official doctrine of the Church.”
  • “President Young said that at some future day, black Church members would ‘have [all] the privilege and more’ enjoyed by other members.”
  • “The justifications for this restriction echoed the widespread ideas about racial inferiority that had been used to argue for the legalization of black ‘servitude’ in the Territory of Utah. According to one view, which had been promulgated in the United States from at least the 1730s, blacks descended from the same lineage as the biblical Cain, who slew his brother Abel. Those who accepted this view believed that God’s ‘curse’ on Cain was the mark of a dark skin.”
  • “The curse of Cain was often put forward as justification for the priesthood and temple restrictions. Around the turn of the century, another explanation gained currency: blacks were said to have been less than fully valiant in the premortal battle against Lucifer and, as a consequence, were restricted from priesthood and temple blessings.”
  • In the 1950s, “Church President David O. McKay emphasized that the restriction extended only to men of black African descent. The Church had always allowed Pacific Islanders to hold the priesthood, and President McKay clarified that black Fijians and Australian Aborigines could also be ordained to the priesthood.”
  • “Given the long history of withholding the priesthood from men of black African descent, Church leaders believed that a revelation from God was needed to alter the policy… After praying for guidance, President McKay did not feel impressed to lift the ban.”
  • “While there were no limits on whom the Lord invited to ‘partake of his goodness’ through baptism, the priesthood and temple restrictions created significant barriers, a point made increasingly evident as the Church spread in international locations with diverse and mixed racial heritages.”
  • “Church leaders pondered promises made by prophets such as Brigham Young that black members would one day receive priesthood and temple blessings. In June 1978, after ‘spending many hours in the Upper Room of the [Salt Lake] Temple supplicating the Lord for divine guidance,’ Church President Spencer W. Kimball …received a revelation. …The revelation rescinded the restriction on priesthood ordination. It also extended the blessings of the temple to all worthy Latter-day Saints, men and women.”
  • “The Church began priesthood ordinations for men of African descent immediately, and black men and women entered temples throughout the world. Soon after the revelation, Elder Bruce R. McConkie, an apostle, spoke of new ‘light and knowledge’ that had erased previously ‘limited understanding.'”
  • “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse, or that it reflects actions in a premortal life; that mixed-race marriages are a sin; or that blacks or people of any other race or ethnicity are inferior in any way to anyone else. Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.”
  • “The Church proclaims that redemption through Jesus Christ is available to the entire human family on the conditions God has prescribed. It affirms that God is ‘no respecter of persons’ and emphatically declares that anyone who is righteous—regardless of race—is favored of Him.”

What the Church’s Statement Says and Does Not Say

The statement is clear on where the Church stands on this issue today. Race and national descent is not a factor in receiving the priesthood or receiving temple ordinances. The whole human family are children of God, he loves them all equally and invites all people, regardless of race or national origin, to come unto Christ, receive the ordinances of salvation, and partake of the blessings of the gospel here on earth and in Heaven.

The statement is sufficiently vague, though, on the history of the practice and particularly the reason for the priesthood and temple restrictions. While it is easy to jump to other conclusions, the Church gives no official reason of why the priesthood restriction was in place. While it denounces previous explanations put forth by Church members and leaders, such as racial inferiority, lack of premortal valiance, and a curse as manifested by dark skin, no official explanation for the former policy is given.

The discussion of the reason for the restriction is sufficiently vague as to allow multiple interpretations. It would be easy for readers to interpret the statement as saying that the Church today believes that Brigham Young was wrong in putting the priesthood restriction in place. Yet the article never comes out and says that the priesthood restriction was improper or racist. In fact, it goes to great length to point out that the restriction was not based solely on race, but on a combination of race and nationality (Africa descent).  Therefore, one could also interpret the statement as saying there is no reason to believe the policy was not a result of divine inspiration to Brigham Young and the subsequent prophets and presidents of the Church.

The full reason for the restriction may never be known while we live on this earth. Each one of you will have to decide for yourself, if knowing the reason is important to you. What’s important to me is that we have the light and knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ through the scriptures, living prophets, and inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The Lord works in mysterious ways, and he is certainly doing a marvelous work and a wonder on the earth today. The blessings of the gospel are infinite and they can be enjoyed on earth and last throughout eternity. And missionaries of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have the wonderful opportunity to bring these blessings to all the peoples of the earth. 

Answers to Challenging Questions

Missionaries frequently get asked challenging questions about beliefs and practices (current and past) of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Questions like:

  • Do Mormons believe in polygamy?
  • What is the LDS view on gay marriage?
  • What is the Church’s position on blacks and the priesthood?
  • Why can’t women be ordained to the priesthood?
  • And many more

In an effort to help prepare missionaries to answer these sometime difficult questions, I am setting up a new section of the website where we will explore some of these topics. The purpose will be to educator missionaries on these subjects by providing them with good and trustworthy sources of information. I have touched a little on some of these difficult subjects in the past, like my post on Mormon Polygamy and my discussion of the four accounts of Joseph Smith’s first vision, but with this new section I will do so even more.

Searching for answers to these challenging questions can be a source of building faith and testimony. As President Dieter F. Uchtdorf has said, “a question that creates doubt in some can, after careful investigation, build faith in others” (“Come, Join with Us,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2013, 23). If missionaries are better prepared to answer these challenging questions, their faith and testimony will grow, and they’ll be able to better help investigators who may have similar questions.

It is natural, for both missionaries and investigators of the Church, to have questions about the Church’s doctrine, history, and position on social issues. It is my hope that the articles in this section will help us all increase our understanding of how God conducts his work and deepen our faith in the Savior Jesus Christ.

Never Mind the Rain by Alicia Lynn

“Though argument does not create conviction, lack of it destroys belief. What seems to be proved may not be embraced; but what no one shows the ability to defend is quickly abandoned. Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish” (Austin Farrer, Light on C. S. Lewis, p. 26.).

Forgiving: The Crowning Expression of Christ’s Love

[colored_box color=”blue”]Below is the text of a talk I am giving tomorrow, May 11, 2014. It’s not strictly mission prep related, but I thought you’d still enjoy it. [/colored_box]

The bishop called me early last week and asked me to speak on love. As I was doing my research for the talk, the theme of forgiving others as an expression of Christlike love surfaced again and again. I hope that if you take away anything from this talk it is that we must love and forgive others as Christ loves and forgives us in order to return to God’s presence.

The world’s definition of love

I thought I’d start with a little compare and contrast of the world’s definition of love to the Lord’s definition. I Googled “definition of love” and this is what I got: “1. an intense feeling of deep affection. 2. to feel a deep romantic attachment to someone.”

Further research of the world’s definition of love revealed that the Greeks are said to have four categories of love. Agape, which is unconditional or spiritual love. Philia, which means affectionate regard or friendship. Storge is the word for familial love and affection. And eros is romantic love.

None of these definitions of love are bad per se, but let’s look at how the word love is used in the scriptures.

God’s definition of love

Listen to these scriptural uses of the word love. As you do so, think in your mind how the scriptural definition of love compares to the popular way in which the world defines love.

  • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
  • “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:13
  • “The Lord hath redeemed my soul from hell; I have beheld his glory, and I am encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.” 2 Nephi 1:15
  • “If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also.” 1 Jn. 4:20–21
  • “For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them… But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest.” Luke 6: 32, 35
  • “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation (i.e. atonement) for our sins.” 1 John 4:10
  • “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13:34
  • “Thou shalt live together in love.” D&C 42:45
  • “We love him, because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19
  • “Jesus wept. Then said the Jews, Behold how he loved him!” John 11:35-36
  • “Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Rom. 8:39
  • “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” 1 John 4:18
  • “Hereby perceive we the love of God, because he laid down his life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoso hath this world’s good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” 1 John 3: 16-18

I could go on and on. There are dozens of more scriptures about love, and particularly God’s love for us. There is no one, singular definition of love in the scriptures, but I think you get the picture.

The Pure Love of Christ

Most of us are familiar with Mormon’s declaration that “charity is the pure love of Christ” (Moroni 7:47). I’d like to examine that statement more closely. What is the pure love of Christ?

The footnote on love in that verse takes you to Ether 12:33-34: “And again, I remember that thou hast said that thou hast loved the world, even unto the laying down of thy life for the world, that thou mightest take it again to prepare a place for the children of men. And now I know that this love which thou hast had for the children of men is charity; wherefore, except men shall have charity they cannot inherit that place which thou hast prepared in the mansions of thy Father.”

Two things stand out to me about this verse. First, it defines for us what the pure love of Christ means by explaining how Christ loved the world. Jesus laid down his life and took it up again. He performed the great atoning sacrifice. Second, it highlights the fact that each one of us must love the same way that Christ has loved in order to inherit the mansions of Heaven prepared for us. Through the power of the resurrection and redemption, Heavenly Father has prepared a place for each of us in the celestial mansions above, if we will but follow the Savior’s example of charity.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said that pure Christlike love can change the world. In his April 2014 General Conference talk he said:

“At the zenith of His mortal ministry, Jesus said, “Love one another, as I have loved you.” To make certain they understood exactly what kind of love that was, He said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” … Christlike love is the greatest need we have on this planet in part because righteousness was always supposed to accompany it. So if love is to be our watchword, as it must be, then by the word of Him who is love personified, we must forsake transgression and any hint of advocacy for it in others. …Pure Christlike love flowing from true righteousness can change the world.” (The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, General Conference, April 2014)

President Thomas S. Monson has said that “we cannot truly love God if we do not love our fellow travelers on this mortal journey.” In his April 2014 General Conference talk he said:

“Love is the very essence of the gospel, and Jesus Christ is our Exemplar. His life was a legacy of love. The sick He healed; the downtrodden He lifted; the sinner He saved. At the end the angry mob took His life. And yet there rings from Golgotha’s hill the words: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”—a crowning expression in mortality of compassion and love.”

He continued. “Forgiveness should go hand in hand with love. In our families, as well as with our friends, there can be hurt feelings and disagreements. Again, it doesn’t really matter how small the issue was. It cannot and should not be left to canker, to fester, and ultimately to destroy. Blame keeps wounds open. Only forgiveness heals.” (Love—the Essence of the Gospel by President Thomas S. Monson, General Conference, April 2014)

Christ’s Example of Forgiving Others

I’d like to take the next few moments and talk about President Monson’s statement that the Savior’s capacity to forgive is the crowning expression of his love.

During the Savior’s mortal ministry, we learn of this exchange in Matthew 18:21-22. “Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.”

Jesus Christ ministeringTo the man sick with palsy, confined to a bed, Jesus said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee.” Then, to answer the murmurings of the doubting scribes who witnessed the event, the Savior drove the point home saying, “But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins…Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed to his house.” (Matt 9:2-7)

To the woman taken in adultery, “Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.” John 8:11.

Through the Book of Mormon prophet Alma, the Lord said, “as often as my people repent will I forgive them their trespasses against me.” Truly the Lord’s capacity to forgive is infinite, and his examples and teachings are clear on the subject. We must follow the Savior’s example of love in order to inherit the celestial glory, and that means we much forgive as Christ forgives.

If we fail to forgive others, we are not following Christ. Perhaps this is why the Lord called not forgiving others “the greater sin.” In Doctrine and Covenants 64:9 the Lord says, “I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.”

The Power of Forgiving

Great power comes to us, truly the power of God, when we forgive others their trespasses against us. Nephi experienced this power. His brothers, Laman and Lemuel, in one of their many rebellions, tied up Nephi and planned to destroy him. Nephi prayed in faith for deliverance, and the “bands were loosed” from off his hands and feet and he stood before his brethren. They were probably terrified and the scriptures tell us that pled with Nephi that he would forgive them. In 1 Nephi 7:21 it says that Nephi “did frankly forgive them all that they had done, and I did exhort them that they would pray unto the Lord their God for forgiveness.” Nephi was a man of great spiritual strength. No doubt this was due to his ability to follow the example of the Savior in love, compassion, and forgiving.

My friend, the author Charles R. Hobbs, a great church leader and a patriarch in one of the stakes north of here, wrote a wonderful book on blessings of forgiving others called The Healing Power of Forgiving. In that book, he tells a couple of stories I’d like to share.

A Thief in the Night

Charles writes:

I grew up in Preston, Idaho. When I was six years old, my father, Milo, put me to work bagging candy in the grocery store. I earned ten cents a day. By the time I was a teenager, Dad had his own grocery business, and I was stocking shelves at twenty-five cents an hour.

…Late one night our telephone rang. It was the police. The officer said, “Milo, a thief is breaking into your store through the back entrance. I am ready to apprehend him.” As Dad was beginning to pull on his trousers, he said, “Officer, let me take care of this. I will be there shortly. Watch him till I get there, then quietly drive away.” Concerned for my father’s safety, the officer nevertheless complied.

When my dad pulled up to the back of the store, he saw the door open. Now out of his car, he came face to face with the thief, who was carrying an armful of groceries to his old clunker.

Recognizing the man Dad called out, “Burt, why are you doing this?” Embarrassed and with bowed head, Burt answered, “My family is hungry, and I have no money to buy food for them.”

My father said, “Here, let me help you.” They put the stolen groceries in the car. Then my father said, “Now let’s go get some more. You have a large family.”

Once the car was filled with food, my father said, “Burt, I think it’s time you and I have a talk. It’s wrong to steal anything from anybody, even when in desperate need. It can get you and your family in a lot of trouble. The next time you are in need, come to me. I will do what I can to help you.”

To sincerely forgive an offender by showing mercy and compassion is truly an act of spiritual nobility. And, if done in the right way, it will lift both wrongdoer and forgiver closer to the joy of Christ’s pure love. (The Healing Power of Forgiving, Charles R. Hobbs)

Teaching Forgiveness to Our Children

Another lesson on forgiveness Charles wrote about in his book involved his grandmother, Marinda Skidmore, who went by the nickname “Rinda.”

Rinda [was] persecuted by bullies at school. She was small and easy to pick on. However, being a studious pupil, she rapidly advanced ahead of older and larger students. The school bullies called her the “teacher’s pet.” The ringleader of the persecutors lived in a little shack. Her name was Tad B. She was 14 and “the biggest girl in the school.”

One time bullies at school hoisted Rinda at half-mast on a flag pole. She said, “A man passing by saved me from injury that time.”

Suffering much physical and mental torment, Rinda wrote: “The seeds of hate were sown in my heart, germinated, and grew especially toward Tad B.”

One summer day, one of Tad B.’s legs was severely injured at her father’s sawmill when she fell onto a big, moving saw. Rinda wrote:

My mother [Ellen Persson-Monson] displayed great sympathy as she told me about the accident. I shrugged my shoulders and said with a disdainful sneer, “Wish her leg was cut clean off.” Mother was horrified. “You wicked little girl,” she said. “You surely don’t mean that.”

“I hate Tad, and I do mean that. I wouldn’t care if both her legs were cut off.”

I started to run away, but mother caught my arm and held me. . . . She told me to go away and think about it. When mother had a few moments to spare she called me to her, and she talked to me of Jesus and the example of forgiveness he set for us. She cried as she talked, but still it did not interest me. I hated Tad and that was that.

Again she sent me away. No girl of hers could be so unforgiving. I was so miserable that I lay for a long time in my playhouse. Then mother called me. She handed me a quart cup and told me to go out and pick raspberries. . . . I picked about one pint. . . . She told me to take the berries over to Tad. I refused and went out again. Mother did not call me to [lunch].

After the men were gone, I went in and offered to help wash the dishes. She refused my proffered help; such a girl as I was not fit to help her, she told me. I was heart broken.

At three o’clock that afternoon, I told mother I was ready to take the berries over to Tad. Slowly, I walked until I reached the shack where Tad lived. There were two doors on the shack, and I knocked on the one where there were no steps. I did not intend to go into the house. Tad’s mother opened the door.

“I brought these for Tad,” I said.

“Come in. Come here. Put your foot up high, and I will give you a lift.”

She caught my hand while she spoke and almost dragged me into the house.

“Look,” she said to Tad who was lying facing the wall. “Rinda brought you these.”

“Not Rinda, not her! I’ve been meaner to her than anybody I know,” she said.

“Why Tad, how could you be mean to her? She’s such a little girl, and you are so big!”

Then Tad blurted out in a way that I understood, “Rinda’s got everything. I ain’t got nothin’. Even the teacher likes her best.” Tad was jealous of me.

My heart was touched at the sight of her pale face, her body shaking with sobs. I put my hand on her shoulder and said softly, “I forgive.”

Then I ran home as fast as I could go, rushed up to mother, slipped my arm about mothers neck, and said happily, “Mother, I forgived.”

Tad B. and Rinda were the best of friends from that day on.

Testimony of Forgiving with Christlike Love

I know that the Savior’s capacity to forgive is the crowning expression of his love. I know that if we are to follow Christ, as all of us who are baptized have covenanted to do (2Ne 31:13), we must follow his example of forgiving and obey his teaching to forgive unconditionally (D&C 64:10). When we do so, we will experience a change of heart and we will have Christ’s image in our countenance.

It is no wonder that Moroni, in some of his final words in The Book of Mormon, included an injunction to “pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.” (Moroni 7:48) Then we will be worthy to dwell with God in the celestial glory. This is my testimony.