Applause or prayers? I think I’ll take the latter. I appreciate the opportunity to share a few thoughts and remarks with you today. It’s been weighing on my mind quite a bit, the remarks that I’m planning to share. I had one of those great technological flubbers that we’re sometimes subject to. I had been for quite some time making my notes in my cell phone and then my cell phone itself started having problems with an echo, and I called tech support and they said, “Well, we need to reset it.” Oops. I’d said something to my wife about the fact that I’ve got to go back and recreate all this stuff, and she reminded me I’ve been writing this talk for 20 years, and I really have. It’s been all of the experiences that I’ve had with FairMormon leading up to this time. I hope that I can share a little bit that will be helpful.
Now, just by show of hands, how many of you here have a family member or close friend or a ward member that has struggled with their faith that you know personally? Okay. A few of you.
How many have you been invited or assigned or felt compelled to help one of those individuals? Okay, so I’ve got the right audience then.
Luke chapter 9 says that, “And it came to pass as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him and he asked them saying, ‘Whom say the people that I am?’ They answering said, John the Baptist, but some say Elias, and others say that one of the old prophets has risen again.’ He said unto them, ‘Whom say ye that I am?’ Peter answering said, ‘The Christ of God.’” Now at that point, Peter clearly had a testimony of Jesus Christ. He had given up all. He was by all accounts, a fairly accomplished businessman in the fishing trade. He gave that up, according to the scriptural account, at a moment’s notice and walked away from that. He followed Christ or difficulties and trials through criticisms, and here the Lord was asking him, who do you say that I am? And he said, “Thou art the Christ.” He had a spiritual revelation from Heavenly Father, that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. But then we find in Luke chapter 22 the following account, “And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for thee that thy faith fail not, and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.’” I find that just miraculously curious because the Lord here talks to Peter, his future prophet and leader, who had forsaken all and gone to follow Christ, who declared a spiritual witness that Jesus was the Christ, told him, “When thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.” There clearly was some deeper change that needed to take place. Oddly enough, the next verses I think reveals a bit of it: “And he said unto him, Lord, I am ready to go with thee both into prison and to death,” [and there’s no doubt in my mind that he was willing], but then he said, “I tell thee Peter, the cock shall not crow this day before thou shalt thrice deny that thou knowest me,” and we all know the story of what happened. He followed Christ up into the palace when he was to be scourged and judged, and as he stood outside, warming himself by the fire, individuals recognized him and he denied it. And of course the third time after denying it, the cock crowed and he went away weeping.
Peter had a weakness. He was human. Did he have a faith crisis? Maybe a little bit. His confidence was weak, though he announced that he was willing to go through death. Here he was denying the Savior that he loved.
I called somebody that I’ve worked with for a number of years, a woman by the name of Carol, and I asked her last night, I said, “If you could give one piece of advice to people who are helping people like you, what would that one piece of advice be?” Her number one message was: “Judge not.” She talked about the fact that she was already self conscious with the doubts that she was having and she was examining her faith, and she had a great amount of fear about how that was going to be perceived, and she felt pressure just at the thought of people judging her, and I think that we have a tendency within the Church to place such a value on that faith-affirming knowledge. We look up to those people who stand at the pulpit and tell you, “I know.” It goes back to the days of Joseph Smith who absolutely did know. He had interviews with heavenly beings. You know, I once asked my mission president who’s now Emeritus, Elder Arnold. I asked him, “If you could go back and meet any President of the Church or any prophet,” he’d say, “Oh, I’d pick Joseph Smith. He knew the rest of them, you know, he could tell me about them all.” Joseph knew, and we look at people like that and we put them on this pedestal and it’s so prevalent within the Church that when somebody doubts, it seems like almost a great failing. People are self conscious of that they recognize and they realize it, and anything that comes across as judgment causes them to withdraw even more. And in reality, what they need more is to be smothered in the affections of other people. Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Now, Carol also expressed to me, she says, “It’s that very love that causes me to trust people.“
What happened with Carol was her husband wrote into FairMormon. We have the Ask the Apologist, and maybe some of you avail yourself of it from time to time. We have about 100 or 150 volunteers fluctuating from any given moment and when somebody writes in to us, all of us receive it, and those that feel inspired and feel that they have something to contribute, respond back. Her husband actually had written in and he said, “You know, my wife is thinking about leaving the Church. She’s struggling with a number of issues. She struggles with the temple and the priesthood and I don’t know what to do. What can I do?” Three or four of us wrote back and I was very proud of the fact that we all had the same message, which was: “Whatever you do, still love her.” The next email we got back from him said, in essence, “I’m sitting here as we type to you, with tears in our eyes because of the messages that you have given us. It gives us a feeling of hope.” That led to a direct correspondence with Carol. In my particular case, it lasted several years. It started out with emails and I told her I would be willing to listen as much as she wanted. The first few exchanges I had with her, I asked her, “What are your issues?” I’m thinking, “I’m going to tackle this from an issue basis, right? Let’s just take this head on,” and she brought up some of her issues and I had great answers, which didn’t work. They simply didn’t work. I gave her answers and every time I sent her something, she had something to come back to counter and it shifted and it was a moving target and I’m thinking, “What’s going on here?” And she was clearly in a state of distress.
She was experiencing a whole host of emotions, and a lot of these emotions can actually be attributed, if you look at it, to similar emotions that are felt when somebody has a violation of trust in an interpersonal relationship. A marriage goes sour or there’s infidelity or something along those lines. Because what happens is as these things start to swirl around you. And it’s not that they’re isolated, just one or two. Oftentimes what happens is they start to gang up on you. These emotions compound themselves, and before you know it, they’re swirling all around you, and you have this tremendous pressure. If you can get rid of it, you’re still left lonely. Why? Because you feel isolated from your faith community. You feel isolated from all the people that can help you because you’re confused. You feel pressure. Now Steve Densley and his companion talked about this idea of the pressure and having to get rid of it, and sometimes just escaping the pressure is what is sought for. So when you get in that circumstance and you just want it to stop, sometimes it means that you have no one to turn to. When they look for some support, oftentimes they go to some other community where people have already exited the Church and they find their support there. Carol was very fortunate because she decided to stick with us and to continue to take our advice.
One of the things that you have to remember, and I think Steven Densley brought this up as well, is you have to invite patience. That should not be your reaction. The Home Alone kid, you know? What you really need to do is number one, listen. Listening is one of the most important things you can do. Why? Because it lets the person know, if nothing else, that you care about the things that they care about. You’re not eager to talk. You’re not looking to, “Oh, I know what you’re thinking. I know you brought up that thing about Joseph Smith. I know the answer.” Just relax. Don’t worry about it. Okay? You yourself, be patient and just listen.
Second, some of the messages you can give. “I can only imagine.” You don’t have to know exactly. Empathy is the ability to imagine the pain and suffering of another such that you actually feel it in some ways. In fact, I believe that the Atonement is just a great act of empathy where he went into the Garden of Gethsemane thinking upon our sins and our mistakes and felt what we would normally feel. What we need to do is we need to try to imagine, put ourselves in their shoes. We need to convey that and not just simply with some kind of rote appearance of empathy, but we need to actually try and imagine.
We need to communicate that there are no quick fixes. You cannot enter into a world where you are questioning and doubting and find where you can go back the way you came. You can’t. It’s like Napoleon who burned the bridge. He told his men, “If you want to get home, it’s through the enemy. You’re not going back the way you came.” That’s true here. There are no quick fixes. It’s going to require work, energy, effort on both your part as the person helping, and the person who is going to be helped.
You have to tell them that it won’t be easy. Don’t tell them it’s going to be easy. You can tell them it’s going to be fine, because it will be, but it’s not going to be easy at the beginning. Jack Welsh a couple of nights ago, we were having a meeting with the Mormon Voices group between Interpreter, and Book of Mormon Central and FairMormon, and we were talking about the fact that the patience was needed. He pointed out that the terms passion and patience share the same root, which means suffering.
Patience actually requires, it actually incorporates this idea of pain and discomfort. You don’t need patience to do something that’s fun. You need patience to do something that is discomforting. Once you start, there’s no stopping. I’ve already mentioned that. You have to go through. If you stop in the middle, chances are you’re going to throw the baby out with the bath wash. Assure them that there are answers. We had a couple at one of our FairMormon conferences when we were up in Sandy that came to me one day and they said, “You know, we’ve been out of the Church for eight years now, and we came to the conference because we heard about it. We didn’t know about it, and you guys have answered all of the things that we left the Church over. Had we known this eight years ago, we never would have left.” There are answers. They’re not necessarily here right now. This is why patience is needed, all of us have this question shelf that we can take the things that we’re concerned about and we can put it there and we can wait on it. We can go away and come back to it, take it down and examine it. Think about it some more, put it back if we need to. We have to just have that assurance that there are answers.
We have to reassure them that they will find peace. In the time when they’re in turmoil, that listening, that loving, that compassion, that empathy will help signal to them indeed, that there can be peace just simply by the way you’re reacting. Let them know that you’re in it for the long haul. You’re not there to give a couple answers and move on. Let them know that you are absolutely there to help, that you’ll be with them the whole way.
Moroni 10:3-5. This is Moroni’s promise. “I would exhort you when you shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that you should read them, that you would remember [and what does he want you to remember?] how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men from the fall of Adam down until the time that you shall receive these things and ponder it in your hearts.” God is setting the stage here. He wants you to have a remembrance that he loves you, that he cares about you. He doesn’t want you to forget that. Why? Because it leads into the way you will view everything else that you do going forward, and as you will remember [and we’ll get to these scriptures here in a little bit more], the next two verses explain that this is the way you know the truth of all things. This is the first step. Remembering, it’s setting the stage.
There are certain points of departure that we can find ourselves in. The first one is our assumptions. We can assume that the Church is good or the Church is bad, that the prophet means well or the prophet doesn’t mean well, that the apostles just want to get rich or they want to truly help people. What are our assumptions about those that lead us, about the Church that we serve in, about the desires and even the history of the origins of the Church? Those assumptions can lead to the next portion, which is what information we accept. So what is that information? We can accept or reject certain information based on those prior assumptions. If we make wrong assumptions, we might reject something that is actually pertinent and important to the issue.
The next thing we have to do is interpret that information. What does it mean? Let me give you a case in point. Did Joseph Smith marry a 14 year old? Now, if my assumption is that prophets should not marry 14 year olds, that somehow that indicates a form of perversion, then everything that I am going to collect and accept as information is going to reinforce those things as a tendency, just out of confirmation bias, and I’m going to tend to reject those sayings that really exonerate the Prophet in that regard. So did the Prophet Joseph Smith marry a 14 year old? Yes, he did. Okay, but what’s my interpretation of that? How do I interpret it? What does it mean? Well, first of all, let’s get the correct information, because there are pieces of information that a lot of people don’t have.
He was invited by the parents to be to be sealed to that 14 year old. By all accounts, there is no evidence of any children coming from that. So even the intimacy may be called into question. Was 14 years old that far out of the norm at that time period? No. Craig Foster and others have done research on that and have found actually that was rather common. If you look at the marriages that Joseph Smith had that were polygamous, this was appropriately in the realm of those ages. In fact, in many states, the age for consent of marriage was 11. Okay, so presentism, the idea of putting our morals and values today on to the past, causes us to look at that with a side eye, but back in those days, it wasn’t the type of thing that would have caused as many people the kind of sideways glance that we give it today. So that interpretation, good or bad? How do we interpret it? Is the reality that Joseph Smith did this, or that that Prophet said that, or that this event happened in Church history; is it good or bad? Then the last thing of course, is the application of it. What do we do about it? What is our decision? We can either decide to stay or to leave, and in all of this we can cycle back and forth through these. Our application in one instance can inform our assumptions which causes us to change what we accept or reject as information and then that changes our interpretation and it can cycle.
I’m a convert to the Church. I was baptized when I was 19 years old; went on a mission 18 months later. By the time I came back from Panama, I had spent more time as a missionary speaking Spanish and learned more hymns in Spanish than I had in English. I had experiences from the time before I was baptized at the time I got home, and even till today, that were transformative. They changed my life. They changed my heart. I am a different person today than I was the day that I first entered the waters of baptism. A kid that I went to highschool with, and he was in my ward, got up one fast and testimony meeting about six months after I’d been baptized, and he stands up and he says, “The Church has to be true. If it can change him, it can change anybody.” And I will add my Amen to that. The Church has changed me. I have had spiritual experiences I cannot deny. They have mounted. They have been myriad. They have been profound. And those are my exclamation marks. Now, do I have questions? Oh, yeah. There are a lot of things I don’t know. I’ll share one that I had and this goes back to the issue of patience. I struggled with the idea of polygamy until there was a talk given here at FairMormon, the author of The Two Trees, Valerie Hudson, gave this talk that basically put it in the perspective of an Abrahamic covenant [test?] that could be not only just for us as individuals, but even for the entire Church, both the implementation, and then once everybody got comfortable with it, the removal of it. And that changed a thought for me in terms of the fact that polygamy didn’t have to be any kind of a barrier for me. I didn’t let it be a barrier. I had the patience because I had enough exclamation marks in my testimony, that I didn’t have to give it up because of that one issue. So what I encourage you to do is when you’re dealing with somebody who’s struggling here, help remind them of their exclamation marks in their life. What are the things that they know and believe? They had spiritual experiences to get to those points. They’re going to be questioning those experiences. They’re going to be doubting them, but have them tell them. The retelling invites the same Spirit that attended. That’s why reading the scriptures is so powerful because we’re reading the telling of a spiritual experience. And it invites that same Spirit. So don’t trade your exclamation marks for your questions. Hold onto those exclamation marks and deal with the questions over time.
That idea of remembering your own experiences, how the Lord has been merciful with you: remember that. Don’t forget it. Don’t let go of it. Encourage the person you’re helping to remember that, to hold onto those exclamation marks. Be patient, don’t cling to them. You don’t have to cling to them out of desperation, but remember them. Hold onto them and don’t dismiss them. The questions will be answered. And you’ll remember this from yesterday: Believing that God is a loving God contributes to limiting or reducing anxious traits. Remember that anxiety, that slide with all the things swirling around you? You need to help them relax. They need to be patient, otherwise they want to just throw it out. They just want it to stop. Those who believe God is less loving or more controlling exhibited more anxious symptoms. “Remember how merciful the Lord has been unto the children of men from the fall of Adam down until the time that you shall receive these things and ponder it in your heart.” That’s why we have to focus on that idea of perfect love. It casts out all fear. That anxiety relaxes when people know that they are loved. The correspondences that I had with Carol, they went on for actually quite some time. We actually got to a point where I said, “You know what, let’s just take a step back here a little bit and we’ll talk whenever you’re ready, but let’s set a time.” She lived in another state and I lived in California, so we just decided that at 4:00 my time she would give me a call, if she wanted to, or I would call her. If she didn’t want to talk that Sunday, that was fine, but I would just sit there, and the main thing I would try and do is just listen and just help her think through some things. She had fortunately a member of her stake presidency, who she had a good trusting relationship with; he didn’t judge her. He said many of the things that I showed on one of my previous slides here that are good for us to share, as we work with these people that we care about and then we love our family members and our friends. So make sure that they know that they’re loved.
Bear with patience yourself. I mean there are times when I feel like I would crawl through glass to help some people. I have the privilege right now of serving as a bishop in Campbell, California. That gives me opportunities to counsel with myriad people. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people come in and say, “I’m distressed, I’m distraught, I’ve learned some things, I’ve read some things and I can’t unread them.” After an hour or two, oftentimes I’m able to give them a little bit of comfort. I will tell you one thing, most often because of the anxiety and the fear of judgment, especially if you’re a Church leader, the courage it takes for someone to come to you and willingly reveal that they are struggling is a tremendous amount of faith. Imagine the lion tamer. The lion tamer walks up, opens the lion’s mouth, and sticks his head in. He raised that lion from a cub. He used to put milk on his hair so he’d lick it. He’s not afraid of that lion, but call the little old lady from the third row to come down and stick her head in the mouth of that lion. How much courage does it take for her?
By comparison, those of us who have had these profound exclamation mark experiences in our lives; when we hit questions, we oftentimes have the patience, and it doesn’t take as much faith for us in that sense. But you take someone who persists in the Church despite their doubts and keeps going and keeps wanting to get past this, they are exercising tremendous faith because they have all these reasons to doubt. They have all these question marks, and they’re still coming. In Carol’s case, she kept going to Church and I kept telling her, “Carol, you are my hero.” She says, “What are you talking about? I have these doubts. I don’t know these things and these things, and I don’t like this and I don’t like that.” And I said, “Yeah, but Carol, you’re still going. I mean, my goodness, what great faith does that take?” So I commended her. Show that perfect love.
What we need to do is invite the Spirit. Number one, get your hands dirty in the service of the Lord. And what I mean by that is sometimes we can do the Gospel Doctrine thing, and sometimes we can do the thing that is really hard for that person who is difficult to deal with. Their house isn’t clean, it doesn’t smell well. Their kids are unruly. They have a big dog that jumps on you. Whatever it is, they’re struggling. Go anyway. Get your hands dirty. Don’t worry about the appearances. You can’t do this from a Gospel Doctrine class. You have to do it one on one. You have to sit down with the person. You have to listen to them. You have to cry with them. You have to feel their emotions. You have to feel their anxiety, and you have to try and lift it from where they’re at, so get your hands dirty in the Lord.
You have to encourage them to fill their mind with the voice of God, and I go back to the scriptures.
These are some of the greatest spiritual leaders of history. They’ve recorded their spiritual experiences in books we call scripture. The Lord has spoken through them. The experiences and the Spirit that attended those experiences is renewed upon us when we read them. We become accustomed to the voice of God when we read the scriptures, and that’s important because then we can recognize it when he speaks to us.
Which leads me to the third point, which is God is a personal God. Make him personal to you. Have that personal relationship. Teach the person how to do that through personal prayer, through contemplation. By sacrifice, by struggling, pouring it out, being honest with God, not being accusing to him, but giving it to him and saying, “God, help me with this. Show me where I need to go.” And then act on it.
The next portion of this is really about information and truth. This is the scripture in D&C 9:8. “But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind.” How often have we heard people complain about the fact that when they doubt, we tell them well they need to pray more. Well they do need to pray more. But they don’t need to just pray more. They need to understand these things. They need to study it out in their mind. Study it, find it. And then it says, “And if it is right, I will cause that your bosom shall burn with you; therefore you shall feel that it is right.” So you don’t feel that it’s right until you’ve studied it out in your mind. That’s why it’s not an easy fix, why you have to pursue through it. In D&C 8:2 he says, “Behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart. Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation.”
Now, a lot of people think that revelation is “I don’t have any information, and God’s just gonna boom, teletype cause me to just do it. The Spirit takes over me and I don’t even know what I’m doing. I’m a teletype machine.” That’s not the way it works. Elder Bednar has explained to us that it’s not so much a light switch, although that can happen, but it’s most often a rising sun. First there’s a glimmer of light and then there’s a little more and then it rises more and more over time. Another reason why we need patience, the light switch can happen, but oftentimes it’s after we accumulate little tiny horizons of a sunrise, before they combine together to become a full sun on the horizon. We need to encourage people to have patience, but we oftentimes have to change our thinking and help other people change their thinking about how revelation works.
Joseph Smith, when he was translating the Book of Mormon, didn’t know that there was a wall around Jerusalem. He turns to his wife while he’s translating and says, “Is there a wall around Jerusalem?” He was as much a student of the Restoration as he was one of its main participants. When he received the sealing power, there’s great evidence that he wasn’t sure how to use it. And so there was sealing of brother to brother and things like that. And it wasn’t until the turn of the 20th Century that really we got the pattern that we have today, which is a sealing of children to parents up to Adam into the family of God, which is really what we’re being sealed into. Is it not?
Moroni: “And when you shall receive these things, I would exhort you would ask God, the Eternal Father in the name of Christ, if these things are not true.” Now I’ve had a lot of people tell me, oh, that’s just a rhetorical device and it may be, I admit it. Okay. But I find it curious that they say, ask if these things are not true, because what does it imply? If you’re asking if it’s not true, it implies that you mean that you already accepted and I find the word curious. And when you shall receive these things, not read them, receive them. Think about your temple covenants. You receive certain things. It has a very particular meaning, a very particular significance. When we received the Book of Mormon we’re reading and we’re saying, “Oh my goodness, look at the truth that I’m finding in this. Look at the goodness that’s in it. Heavenly Father, is this false?” And if you shall ask with a sincere heart, meaning you really want to know, with real intent, meaning that you will really act on it, you intend to act on it, having faith in Christ, that you trust God, the reason for remembering to begin with, “he will manifest the truth unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” So if somebody is seeking to overcome their doubts, this is where the answers lie.
As you seek truth, you need to get the whole picture. Often the problem isn’t that people study too much, but they actually study too little. They dip their toes in, they get their feet wet, and then they say, “The water’s cold. I’m not getting in.” And what they do is they basically reject all the information that they had. There’s a quote here by Alexander Pope, “A little learning is a dangerous thing. Drink deep or taste not of the Pierian spring. There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain, And drinking largely sobers us again.” Light drinking will cause you to have fear and doubt. Deep drinking will carry you through it.
This is a universal truth. Google does not equal research. It just doesn’t. Basically Google ranks things based on popularity of clicks and how much you’re connected to somebody else. So if a whole bunch of people are all unitedly clicking on the same things that are wrong, you’re going to get the top Google result that’s going to be something that’s wrong. Whole picture. “Mom, I got a new car.” What happens, Moms in the room? How do you feel about your 16 year old with that car? The whole picture that’s painted on the side of a bus, that bus is fine. Now, I used this in a previous presentation I did for FairMormon, but it just illustrates the point so well. What we’re talking about here is you need the whole truth. Oftentimes with things like with Joseph Smith and marrying the 14 year old, you need the whole truth. You need to know the circumstances around it. The Book of Abraham. We have these fragments. They don’t say what Joseph said that they were translating. We’ve got real Egyptologists that have translated this, and it’s wrong. Well the truth is, we’ll talk about in a minute.
We know from historical accounts that the fragments that we have today are just small portions; 10 percent or perhaps even less of the actual content of the scrolls that Joseph Smith had are extant today. So what we do know is that we should not expect to find the Book of Abraham on these fragments. Yet, despite that, there are some things that Joseph got right that he should not have. These are concepts that are in the Book of Abraham that are not in the biblical text. These are extra-biblical traditions about Abraham. Now, the problem is they come from the sources down below. So for example, the Apocalypse of Abraham was likely originally written in Hebrew in the second century, and it only existed in the Slavonic languages at the time of Joseph Smith. So it’s possible, I suppose, that Joseph traveled to Moscow where this was stored, and learned Slavonic and read this account and thought, “Oh, that’s good. I’ll throw that into the Book of Abraham.” We’ve got other things; you’ve got the Testament of Abraham, first translated into English in 1892, 48 years after Joseph Smith; Jubilees, was in [indistinct] Greek and in Latin and then German in 1851, which was six years after Joseph. So Joseph could have learned German and maybe gotten it. But he had to time travel six years and then it wasn’t translated in English until 1893. Philo: the earliest translation was 1854, 10 years after Joseph passed, etc. So there’s the teachings of the Egyptians about astronomy, which is not in the biblical texts. There’s the visions of God’s creations, the fact that that was included in the Abrahamic experience; premortal existence, which is by the way, is one of the core doctrines that we get from the book of Abraham; foreordination and another one, Satan’s rebellion. All of these things come from traditions of Abraham from extra-biblical texts that did not exist at the time of Joseph.
So Joseph could have time-traveled. And here’s some of the things. The Book of Abraham started in 1842. If you have questions about this slide, I stole it from John Gee. So you’ll have to ask him on some of the details. So [indistinct], these gentlemen were the first ones to translate really anything out of Egyptian. This is eight years after Joseph had passed in 1844. All of these are additional ones that have confirmatory content, extra-biblical, that is included uniquely in the Book of Abraham that was not included in the biblical text. So all of these, and it goes all the way up to 2008. Joseph Smith had a Tarsis or something is my guess.
So when you’re helping somebody, this is some more advice I want to give you: find the core issue. When somebody comes to you and says, Joseph married a 14 year old, what are they really saying? They’re saying that a prophet would not do that. They’re saying that it reflects poorly on his character. They’re saying that he was perhaps a pedophile, they’re throwing out accusations and they’re basically biasing themselves with that, so you have to go to the core issue. Why do you have to do that? The reason is that if you answered the question, did Joseph marry a 14 year old? And I say, “Yes.” What do they say? “Aha, I knew it.” Their bias comes in and they say, “No prophet would do that” and they’re ready to throw the baby out with the bath wash, but if you take the character of Joseph Smith as the core, I don’t have to rely only on the question of did he marry a 14 year old? I can look at the whole corpus of evidence about Joseph Smith. It includes the works that he produced, the things that he endured, the character that he showed in his personal interactions with other people. All of these things, and you go back and you read the Joseph Smith papers, the works that are coming out, some of the diary entries. I was reading his diary entries, and you could see a stark contrast between his scribes who wrote in his diary that said he did such and such and I was trying, you know, he met with so and so versus his own, which were pleadings; “Lord help thy servant.” His personal writings were pleadings. His scribes’ writings were diaries. That tells me something of his character. All of this comes into play.
The other thing I would encourage you to do is take one issue at a time. By the time you get into this, and I wouldn’t go to this point right away. When you’re helping somebody, start out with them, show that love. Be the listening ear. Encourage them to start doing the things that are going to invite the Spirit, all of those types of things, but then deal with the issues one at a time when you start to dig in, because you do have to answer these questions, right? They’re still going to know. Even if they just completely relax, they still want to know, but they’ll be more receptive. If you try and deal with all of them, what’s going to happen? That whole swirling, confusing shotgun blast of emotion is going to come back. Slow it down. When the world goes crazy, slow down, and that’s exactly what you need to do. One issue at a time.
What are your assumptions? This is going back to the starting point. Let’s think about Joseph Smith. What is our assumption about Joseph? Is he good or bad? Did he do some things wrong? Yeah, I’m sure he did. He obviously did. So what is our assumption? Can God use a damaged tool? I’ll tell you what, I sure hope so, because if he doesn’t, I’m useless to him. I am completely useless. Yes, the Lord can use broken tools. In fact, that’s all he’s got to work with. My young daughter who’s 12 years old, came to me one day and she says, “Daddy, I’m broken.” I said, “Sweetie, we’re all broken” and we are, okay, but the Lord can use us anyway. Maybe he’s just got a shorter wrench. He puts needs to put more pressure on us because we’re a shorter wrench because he doesn’t have the length of leverage that he would otherwise have. Something along those lines. The same is true of Joseph Smith or any of our leaders.
Joseph came down with typhoid fever, known as nervous fever, when he was seven years old in 1812, and I apologize what I’m going to show you, but I trust that you’re far enough away from lunch, that it won’t matter. Okay? Because I want to actually impact you with the character of Joseph Smith, by what I’m going to show you. Joseph Smith with the typhoid fever, had a blister on his shoulder between the shoulder and his chest that lasted for several weeks, and when they finally pierced it, they estimate that they drained a quart of fluid from his shoulder. That lancing caused the infection to get into his blood. Now he ran the risk of actually going septic. It went down and got in his bones in the tibia, in his left leg. These pictures here show what osteomyelitis does and that’s exactly what happened. It got into the bone marrow and what actually happens. I’m not going to go through too much of an explanation here. I will spare you a little bit, but what happens is the infection causes pus. It actually ruptures the bone. The pus then can seep out seeking an escape. New bone comes in and goes over the top of it because bones don’t like to be broken. So the new bone starts to grow back. It causes immense pressure on the leg. They wanted to relieve that pressure, so they came in with a scalpel and they put a seven inch incision in Joseph’s leg. Now he’s seven years old. I’m guessing his tibia is about that long. The incision was about that long. Okay, so what essentially happened was they put an incision down his leg to relieve the pain and pressure, that was most of the length of his tibia.
Those are the tools that were available to doctors during the Civil War. This is a few years before the Civil War. I imagine those tools. I’ve got a number of those, I think, in my garage. Those were the surgical tools that they had. Now, by the time that Dr. Nathan Smith was called in (he was one of the foremost experts in surgery in the area) so they’ve really brought in the best of the best for young Joseph. He came in and examined the boy and he said, “We need to amputate.” And Joseph refused. He absolutely refused to have his leg amputated and he knew that he was in risk of his life. About 40 percent of people who don’t get antibiotics die from this within a short period of time. They didn’t have antibiotics, so what they would do is they’d remove the leg in order to get rid of the infection.
The only other thing that could be done (Dr. Nathan Smith had done this about 10 years before) was to actually open the wound and remove that old bone and then hope that light and air would cleanse the infection and they could then close up the wound. So he decided to do that and he wanted to get Joseph drunk, mainly so he would relax. Then they wanted to tie him down so he wouldn’t move and wiggle because you can imagine a seven year old, how much he’s going to try and move, how difficult that’s going to make the procedure for the doctor. Of course, Joseph didn’t want any of that. He had three requests. One, no alcohol. He wanted to be present when it was happening. Two, he wanted his mother out of the house. He was conscious of her and he wanted her far enough away that she could not hear his screams because he knew what it was going to be, what he was going to go through. He did not want her to hear the screams, so they sent her out and then all he wanted was his dad to hold him, and we know what happened, right? This was a violent surgery. They removed nine large pieces of bone that were removed by probably one of those devices that looks like a pair of snips down at the bottom. They had to grab it and they had to break it off. They removed nine pieces of bone. Now how do I know that it was a violent event? Not just because it was bone, because afterwards 14 smaller pieces of bone festered up out of the wound in the days that followed, meaning this was not a clean process. They didn’t have lights; they didn’t have anesthesia; they didn’t have a mask and gloves. This was just a brutal butchery that had to happen.
We all know that Joseph was remarkable, but what’s more remarkable to me is that the surgeon saw something in that seven year old boy that made him say, ok]”Oay, no alcohol, not going to tie you down. Your dad just to hold you. I will do this.” What did that doctor see in a seven year old that gave them confidence to do that? I think that says volumes about the Prophet Joseph Smith. I’ll just remind you that that leg was used when he was running from the crowds. It carried him on Zion’s March of a thousand miles or more. He even was known to wrestle. He did the stick pole and there’s rumor that I’ve heard that he actually broke the tibia of one of the men that he wrestled against with his bum leg.
This is one more that I want to share about Joseph’s character. Many of you are familiar with the Missouri War of 1838. Joseph had sent W.W. Phelps and other men there to buy land. There’s speculation. They had an area, a county that was specifically assigned that they could buy land and develop in. They went out there and they were buying land, and W.W. Phelps and some of the other brethren started saying, “Wow, you know what? A lot of people are going to be moving here. Let’s get some of this land for ourselves as prices go up.” So when Joseph arrived and he found out that they’d been doing this, that they’d been doing some land speculation on their own, he chewed them out and it caused a rift and I would say rightfully so, that Joseph was angry. He was caring about the poor and the needy and all the people who are going to have to move there, displaced. And so he chewed them out and they actually turned against Joseph. They went to some of the local newspapers and with some of their testimony and comments, that riled the crowd against him, and that led to the to the Missouri War of 1838 that caused the death of some individuals caused Joseph Smith and other leading brethren to be incarcerated for a number of months. You can go and read some of the letters that Joseph wrote to his wife during that period. It is tender. He’s more worried about her in many ways than he is himself, which again reflects more on his character.
But because of that W.W. Phelps basically left the Church. He wrote to Joseph sometime later. He says, “Brother Joseph, I’m alive, and with the help of God, I mean to live well still. I am as the prodigal son; though I never doubted or disbelieved the fulness of the gospel, I have been greatly abased and humbled, and I blessed the God of Israel when I lately read your prophetic blessing on my head as follows, ‘The Lord will chasten him because he taketh honor to himself. And when his soul is greatly humbled, he will forsake the evil. Then shall the light of the Lord break forth upon him as the noon day, and in him shall be no darkness.’” Joseph responded, “Had it been an enemy, we could have borne it… ‘In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day when strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Far West, even thou wast as one of them; but thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day that he became a stranger, neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.’ [See Obadiah 1:11–12.]” He had requested readmission to the Church and they had a vote and they agreed. He closed his epistle to him, “Come on dear brother, since the war is past, for friends at first are friends again at last.” Something you may not know is it before the Kirtland Temple was completed, Joseph called W.W. Phelps and his wife into the John Johnson store and sealed upon them their exaltation. Is that really the way [of] somebody who wants all the attention on himself? What does that say about the character of Joseph? He spent years in jail. He saw friends die. He saw his efforts thwarted. They got driven again out of Missouri, had to start over in Illinois, in Nauvoo. What does that tell you about the character of Joseph Smith? That right there, that’s documented. It’s undeniable. So brothers and sisters, I encourage you to think about these things.
I encourage you to be wary of extremes, both yourself as well as with the people that you’re helping. If you think about following the prophet, if you have your identity to a political group or anything else, far left or far right, oftentimes doing that draws you away from the prophets. I watched as people from the left of the political spectrum of the United States became upset and incensed when the Church stood behind Proposition 8. I then saw when the Church stood behind immigration reform, those very people that stood up and defended the Church for Proposition 8 came out and decried it from the other side. The problem here is one of identity. If you identify with a group and you have a greater affinity for that than you do for your brothers and sisters in the prophets and apostles of God, then you draw yourself oftentimes away from them.
When I was in the Missionary Training Center, we had a pumpkin that was passed from district to district in one of the classrooms, and the MTC presidency came out and said, there will be no secret combinations in the MTC, and we thought, “Are you nuts? It’s a pumpkin.” And then I thought about it. The thing was, is that the pumpkin was an identity thing, right? It was that district and that district, you know, they carry the same name and it was an affinity to that group, not the principle. Secret combinations cause you to have affinity for a group, secretly. Open combinations do the same thing. It’s just you admit it. It can be political parties, it can be causes, it can be whatever it is. I just caution you to be aware that you’re not allowing yourself to be pulled in either direction.
This kind of illustrates it, I think, in a better way. You know, if you feel to protest, and your affinity shifts to the group protesting, what you’re doing is you’re drawing yourself away from your Heavenly Father, from his Church, from his ordained leaders, and I encourage you not to do that.
I’ve got a few things for you who are helping. Replenish and fill your cup of service. Whether you’re the person going through the faith crisis, make sure that you’re serving other people, because I have found you want to get my hands dirty in the service of the Lord. I feel the Spirit, it changes my mentality. My anxiety goes away. I feel better about myself. My endorphins must increase, so replenish and fill your cup with service.
Make sure you balance your influences. We found this with FairMormon. We on a daily basis, get questions and comments and deal with challenges to faith and testimony every single day, sometime to the tunes of 100 or more emails. I find it personally that I have to give the Lord equal time. I can’t spend all my time on that and not go and fill my cup by speaking with my Father in Heaven, by delving into the scriptures, by finding spiritual strength to the Spirit I feel there. You can’t rescue someone from the kiddie pool when they’re treading in deep water. Make sure that you know that if you’re going to go out and help them, you’re going to have to get just as involved in dealing with these issues as they do. You can’t just grab stuff from FairMormon necessarily and give it to them. We’ve got a lot of really good stuff, a lot of really good information, but you’re going to have to process through it. You’re going to have to understand it. You’re going to have to take it to the Lord. Make sure that you’ve got those right assumptions, that you’ve got the right information, that you’re including everything that needs to be included, that you’re interpreting it correctly so that you can apply it correctly.
Be prayerful, patient and calmly persistent. If nothing else, just know that it’s not going to do to ignore the ups and downs because they’re going to be there. When I was dealing with Carol, I dealt with a lot of that. Some days she’d be better, and other days she’d be a lot worse. This is chocolate wisdom. Actually, they were giving out Dove chocolate in the back and I opened it. I saw this and it actually says “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” Sister Burton said, “When the Lord’s timing conflicts with our own desires, trust that there might be some preparatory experience the Lord needs us to have before our prayers are answered.” Elder Anderson pointed out in his talk, Faith is not by chance but a choice. He says, “Faith never demands an answer to every question, but seeks the assurance and courage to move forward. Sometimes acknowledging I don’t know everything, but I do know enough to continue on the path of discipleship.”
Last night I was talking to Carol, and late last night she sent me this email and this is a quote from her. She said, “After thinking just a little bit more about your question, I want to add one thing to my answer.” [I need to finish the story here. Bear with me. For a number of years we went back and forth. We invited her to the FairMormon conference. She came, very nervous about doing it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to, but she came and on Friday night a group of us went out to dinner and she came out with us and she met one of our volunteers, Bob and his wife, and they developed a pretty good friendship right there at the event and she travels from her state to Salt Lake on occasion because of her profession, and so she would look them up and spend time with them. And I continued to correspond with her. So we’re kind of getting it from two different angles. And one day she was at one of the pizza places, if I remember down here in Provo and they invited her out to dinner. There was another couple there, a gentleman who was a bishop. They were sitting there and they started asking her questions about, “What’s going on? How are you doing? You know, I understand you’re struggling with your faith. Why is that?” Remember she’s feeling pressured, she wants out, and she described to me that as she sat there and she was listening to that the pressure began to be insurmountable and she just fought and she said, “I haven’t thought about having a blessing in 20 years,” and I thought, “Okay, Heavenly Father, maybe I need a blessing, but, oh my goodness, if they give me a blessing maybe then.” And sure enough, by the end of the evening, Bob turns to her and says, “Carol, would you like a blessing?” And she was just so tense. As soon as he said that, she just relaxed. They went home, gave her a blessing. The next day she went to the temple and sat in front of the reflecting pond and had this wash of love come over her and she said all of her stress relaxed.
Now I’m going to read this to you. “After thinking just a little bit more about your question, I want to add one thing to my answer. One thing that I think should be emphasized more: love and be present with those struggling and engage wholeheartedly in such a way that both parties can feel the power and love of God. If I had to choose a common denominator, a thread that ran through the impactful experience that I had with you, with Bob and Gary and Laurie (still can’t remember their last names) and with President [redacted], it would be the love I felt in certain specific instances. None of my most sacred and powerful spiritual experiences have happened in a temple, a sacrament meeting, an interaction with the missionaries, reading the scriptures, etc. For me, they have happened and still happen one on one, or in small groups where genuine compassion has been offered and received. Truly, we create and provide a portal to the love of God through sharing our faith, strengths, experiences, compassion, etc. When we walk hand in hand, with and not in an above or superior position to others, and as we become one and our desire and intention and dedication to feel and recognize and share the real love with others, Heavenly Father provides opportunities and answers for our prayers. There are so many things I still don’t know. There are plenty of questions in my mind and heart, but I will say this: ‘Once I unmistakably and undeniably felt the love of God during that blessing, in answer to that very specific unspoken prayer, I’ve never been the same. Doubts and fears still come. Maybe they always will, but I do have a different response, a different relationship to the faith challenge that plagued me for over 20 years. I have a measure of peace that I didn’t have before, and that makes all the difference in the world.’” I will report that one of the things she struggled with was the temple. She had a hard time going back to the temple and I think it was about a year and a half after she had that experience on the reflecting ponds, Carol renewed her temple recommend and went one time to the temple. It was a huge, huge accomplishment. With that, I thank you.