Saturday, May 30, 2009

She Said: Why We Should Get Rid of the TV

Dr. B. and I spent several years of our early married life without a television in our home. During these years, our tiny children learned to read, were read to several hours a day, memorized poems and scriptures, and spent time in creative play. We read books together, we exercised, we gardened, we got outside. We held family home evening and scripture study regularly. Now I see a great decrease in the amount of time we spend doing those things. I ascribe this to too much TV watching--and to some extent the time we spend on the computers.

Because our family is not very good at controlling our television habit, I think we should get rid of it completely. Every time I go downstairs, I find the TV on. Sometimes no one is watching it, but it is droning on in the background. We are a family who never watches "R" rated movies, yet some of the shows that are on cable TV are filled with profanity, sex, and violence. Dr. B. and the children are good about changing the channel when I point out that what they are watching does not meet our standards, but I am not always in the room when television is being viewed. And I hate being the one to have to nag. I don't watch TV at all, so why should I have to be the one to monitor which shows are on?

A movie called The Tube discusses the history of television and its effect on the human brain. It is truly horrifying to discover what TV is doing to our minds. High rates of television flicker can cause epileptic seizures in children, to the point that they have to be hospitalized. Others are mesmerized by the screen. There is measurably less brain activity and they lose touch with their feelings. They sit and stare at the screen and cannot get up and turn it off. It is like being under the influence of a drug.

At times I have attempted to set limits to TV watching, but I am unsuccessful. When I leave the room or the house, the TV is turned back on. The children know their father does not agree with my efforts, and they play us off against each other. Our daughter who just graduated is almost 18, and the one who is home from college for the summer is almost 20. It is difficult to set limits on the types of shows they are watching and the amount of time they spend, especially when I retire for the evening before they do.

What kinds of limits do you, our readers, set on TV watching? When do you know that your family's TV watching is out of control? When is it better to just get rid of the TV?

He Said: Why We Shouldn't Get Rid of the TV

As a kid growing up some of my favorite moments of escape were watching television. My parents had constant fights and one of the ways we would drone out the conflict between them was to watch Bonanza, Lost in Space, Star Trek, Petticoat Junction, Perry Mason, Magnum P.I., etc. We watched everything including educational TV like Mutual of Omaha Wild Kingdom, Mister Wizard, Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, Fraggle Rock, Sing Along with Mitch (Miller), Hallabaloo, Dick Clark's American Bandstand, Meet the Press, the Joker's Wild (gameshow), Jeopardy, and College Bowl. Our afternoons were spent watching soap operas like Dark Shadows or the Guiding Light. Followed by the Joker's Wild, Dick Cavett, Merv Griffith then the cartoon series of Bullwinkle, Yogi Bear, Quick Draw McGraw, Felix the Cat into the Huntley and Brinkley Show. Then usually we would sit down to dinner and discuss what happened at school or what our parents did. We would do our homework fast then watch TV until ten o'clock. On Friday we could stay up since our parents would go out and we would watch the Creeper Feature, Outer limits, or the Twilight Zone. On Saturday we would watch old movies so we saw all the classics like Turner puts on even then since living in Las Vegas Howard Hughes had a fixation on them and they played on his station 24/7. We tried to stay up and sleep in on Sunday.

One of the main reasons I enjoyed watching television was that as a boy I was a know it all and I could relate to my peers if I could tell them every intricate detail about a show. If you didn't know what was going on you were considered a loser. Even today I feel it important for my own children to be able to fit in with their peers by knowing what is happening on the hottest shows including on the Real Housewives of New York or Gossip Girls which they tend to watch when I'm not looking.

As an adult I never had much time to watch television. I married Bored in Vernal who had converted as a teenager to being an extreme Southern Baptist. She was like a Brigham Young Mormon when I first married her. Even though in her own family they were fanatical card players she eschewed card playing, television viewing, and novel reading as the devil's mischief. Trying to be a good Mormon and not wanting any more fighting than I already had I acquiesced to her pressure to put away such practices. Down deep I didn't see what the big deal was to do all three. I understand the Mormons concerns for card playing since my father was a compulsive gambler and I never understood the symbolism to the face cards. I figured that my children would be better people if they used the time to read their scriptures, play a musical instrument, and read educational books.

I saw some results in my oldest children who could bear their testimony by the age of three and recite three hundred poems including the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. Back then we were both pretty conservative Mormons and got along despite an occasional fight fully well as we had the same kind of ideological bent. After the years rolled on things changed and she began to give in from time to time in Olympic years or the time for General Conference. We ended up having more disagreements and distancing ourselves from one another. Television became a form of escape for my kids and I.

Bored in Vernal said I never did anything with my kids so I started watching television with them including American Idol which infuriated me when our contestant wouldn't make the finals or win. Even though we sat for hours watching things my kids don't know how to shut up during a show. They sing songs constantly, they discuss whacked out concepts and tell me the latest gossip about this person or that person. Since we don't sit down to dinner our dinner is spent watching Cash Cab (TV trivia show), Deal or No Deal, Jeopardy, followed by our favorites like House. My wife has been subverted also as from time to time we draw her in to House marathons. It may not be as tranquil as the ten or twelve years we didn't have a television but it is a social way for us to interact.

I recently came across an Internet paper by Amy Showmaker entitled Do Educational TV Programs Have Positive Effects on Children's Learning? She cites several recent studies that show that television is a good socializing agent and that children who learn on such shows as Sesame Street and musical concepts do better at retaining it when coupled with video.

I actually wanted to get the BYU channel and called Time Warner but they don't have it in South Carolina where I live. I am contemplating switching to Dish Network or Direct TV so we can watch them. Then we can have a reformation and compromise watching our dinner time staples followed by good propoganda. Maybe then Bored in Vernal will feel better about our content.

Take the Poll: TV Watching Habits

Friday, May 29, 2009

He Said: Disseminating the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions

Recently I have been thinking about controversial LDS issues. The LDS Church has a handbook or guidebook to give leaders guidance on just about every issue from abortion to hysterectomies to cremation. The Handbook of Instruction is verboten for anyone that isn't in a church-level, stake or ward leadership calling. General members are not given a copy. In addition there are handbooks for Temple Presidents and Mission Presidents and even for missionaries. I am sure there is a handbook for just about every position in the church.

I spend a great deal of time studying missionary work and recently asked an apostle, Elder Ballard, who I came in to contact with last week for permission to get a Mission Presidents' Handbook so I could answer questions that come up from time to time. My daughter left a missionary handbook she got from her bishop at BYU-Idaho. From time to time mission presidents slip something out there on their personal blogs. I did a post on my missionary blog a couple of weeks ago about who should a missionary call on Mother's Day when the parents are divorced. I also wrote a post entitled LDS Church Strongly Discourages Parents from Picking Up Their Missionary (Form Letter). I was hoping that by getting a handbook I could make people more aware of things that the Church wants mission presidents to disseminate to parents. I found out in a letter from my daughter's mission president that travel to pick up a missionary is strongly discouraged. I am sure there are other gems in the Mission Presidents' Handbook that other readers would like to know about.

I think LDS bishops do a poor job disseminating information from the handbook. I once had a conversation with a friend who had been a counselor in a bishopric in one of my ward who had a vasectomy in which he had no clue what the church's position was. The man considered himself an ultraconservative Mormon. It came up when he jokingly told me when I mentioned my wife and I were having my sixth child that he wouldn't be worrying about that with his wife ever again since he now shot blanks. I looked at him and said you know that the LDS Church discourages that and it is in the Handbook of Instruction. He said he didn't have a copy and never read it even when he was in the bishopric.

About a year ago my wife and I discovered that Wikileaks got in to trouble for putting up a link to the Handbook of Instruction. The Church's lawyers told them to cease and desist. I think the LDS Church should mount up all their handbooks no matter what the topic including if they have one for general authorities on LDS.Org. It is kind of weird I had to find out a few things on a non-Mormon site. I found out a few interesting things when my wife put up a post last year entitledChurch Handbook of Instructions, Disciplinary Councils, and Prop 8.

Here were a few new factoids I didn't know and I have been a member 35 years:

Members Whose Close Relatives Belong to Apostate Groups

Bishops and their counselors must take exceptional care when issuing recommends to members whose parents or other close relatives belong to or sympathize with apostate groups. Such members must demonstrate clearly that they repudiate these apostate religious teachings before they may be issued a recommend.

Persons Who Are Considering or Have Undergone a Transsexual Operation

Persons who are considering an elective transsexual operation should not be baptized. Persons who have already undergone an elective transsexual operation may be baptized if they are otherwise found worthy in an interview with the mission president or a priesthood leader he assigns. Such persons may not receive the priesthood or a temple recommend.

Surrogate Motherhood

Surrogate motherhood is strongly discouraged.

Surgical Sterilization (Including Vasectomy)

The Church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control. It should be considered only if (1) medical conditions seriously jeopardize life or health or (2) birth defects or serious trauma have rendered a person mentally incompetent and not responsible for his or her actions. Such conditions must be determined by competent medical judgment and in accordance with law. Even then, the persons responsible for this decision should consult with each other and with their bishop and should receive divine confirmation of their decision through prayer.

Sperm Donation

The donation of sperm is strongly discouraged.


The use of hypnosis under competent, professional medical supervision for the treatment of diseases or mental disorders is a medical question to be determined by competent medical authorities. Members should not participate in hypnosis for purposes of demonstration or entertainment.

Name Removal and Church Discipline

If a member requests name removal and a bishop or stake president has evidence of transgression that warrants convening a disciplinary council, he should not act on the request until Church discipline has been imposed or he has concluded that no disciplinary council will be held. Name removal should not be used as a substitute for or alternative to Church discipline. If a member requests name removal and a bishop or stake president suspects transgression but lacks sufficient evidence to convene a disciplinary council, the request for name removal may be approved. Any evidence of unresolved transgressions should be noted on the Report of Administrative Action form so priesthood leaders may resolve such matters if the individual applies for readmission into the Church.

When looking at the LDS.Org site I found the following leadership support material:

There are no handbooks or guidebooks that give specific instructions. How are we supposed to follow instructions we have no clue they exist? Being an uber-Mormon I would be more orthodox if I really knew the position of the church on sensitive issues and reading a current Handbook of Instruction would make me a more conforming member of the Church. It is hard to be judged later in the next life if I had no clue what the policies are. I don't understand why the Church leaders don't want us as general members to know our own policies and practices. I mean now that I have read the old handbook of Instructions I know that the Church feels cremation is wrong because it makes it more difficult in the morning of the First Resurrection to be resurrected. They must have reasons for not wanting certain handbooks disseminated but so far no one has been able to tell me why other than that isn't my department or stewardship so why worry about it. I guess if they were disseminated it would be used against us since they are guidelines not commandments.

She Said: Disseminating the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions

You've made me think on this topic. In some of my previous blogs on the subject, I've agreed with you, but for different reasons. I'm sure I would NOT become more orthodox by reading the Church Handbooks! I DO believe in disclosure and I think members should be aware of the Church policies concerning these many varied issues. And, like everyone else, I'm curious about what they contain. But let me discuss some of the reasons why the Church Handbook of Instructions isn't available to most members, and why liberal members like me should be glad this is so.

Policy Vs. Doctrine

Policy is a course of action or procedure which is pursued by an organization. Policies differ from doctrine because they are not principles of belief. They are intended to support doctrine, but they do not define doctrine. The Church Handbooks contain policy, not doctrine. They are intended to guide the leaders in organizing branches, wards, and stakes, but they are not binding upon the general membership of the Church. It seems to me that if the Handbooks were widely distributed, members might feel constrained to follow the policies in every instance rather than to use them as guidance for establishing procedure. By not making the policies widely available, it seems that the Church is promoting the message that these are not commandments, to be strictly obeyed in every instance.

Autonomy of Local Leaders

In the introduction to the 2006 Church Handbook of Instructions, Church leaders are told that they "should seek personal revelation to help them learn and fulfill the duties of their callings." This introduction speaks of using the Handbook as a guide along with the scriptures, the teachings of latter-day prophets, and the influence of the Spirit, to assist the leader in administering the Church units by revelation.
"These instructions can facilitate revelation if they are used to provide an understanding of principles, policies, and procedures to apply when seeking the guidance of the Spirit." ("Introduction," Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics, [2006], p. xiii).

Withholding of the Church Handbook from the general membership is helpful in allowing leaders to use their autonomy to decide how to implement procedures in their Church units. For example, despite the instruction that "Stake presidencies and bishoprics determine whether musical selections or instruments are suitable for a particular meeting," the Handbook also states that "Instruments with a prominent or less worshipful sound, such as most brass and percussion, are not appropriate for sacrament meeting." ("Music," section 14 of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 2: Priesthood and Auxiliary Leaders [1998], 289). Some leaders, especially in areas where percussion instruments are used culturally in worship services, have determined that these instruments do not detract from the spirit of the meetings. I think they feel more free to make these types of exceptions when the suggested restrictions in the handbook are not generally known.

Continuing Revelation

Because the LDS Church is a church of continuing revelation, the policies found in the Church Handbook are not intended to define procedures which will always be followed. For many reasons, these directions may change. The procedures for conducting meetings, or for calling missionaries is certainly not the same as it was in the early 1900's. Some of the policies may be based upon social and cultural conventions which shift over time. There is often a need to modify or clarify instructions which are printed in the Handbook. This is more easily done when the Handbooks are strictly controlled to the possession of Unit leaders. Letters are sent out from time to time to these leaders as instructions on policy, or the Handbooks are updated and superseded.

At one time the Church Handbooks stated as a policy that organs should not be donated, in order to better facilitate resurrection. By 1998, this policy had changed significantly. (The policy on cremation has similarly changed, as noted by Dr. B.)
"The decision to will or donate one's own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member's family." ("Church Policies," section 18 of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics [1998], 155).

In the newer 2006 Handbook, a further statement is made in addition to the above:
"The donation of organs and tissues is a selfless act that often results in great benefit to individuals with medical conditions. The decision to will or donate one's own body organs or tissue for medical purposes, or the decision to authorize the transplant of organs or tissue from a deceased family member, is made by the individual or the deceased member's family." ("Medical and Health Policies," section 19 of the Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics [2006], 184).

Over the years the Church policy on organ donation has shifted from discouraging the practice to a subtle promotion of donation as a selfless act. This is why I see the policies in the Church Handbooks as guidance for leaders to assist them in their administrational efforts rather than commandments that should be disseminated and considered binding upon all members.

So, even though I would like to see the Church Handbook of Instructions freely available on the Church's website, and though I think this would make the Church more accountable for its policies, I do think that we liberals should be more accepting of the current stringency. It actually allows us more freedom both as liberal leaders who manage Church units a bit differently than is typical, or as general members with slightly different paradigms than our more conservative brothers and sisters.

1998 Church Handbook of Instructions

2006 Church Handbook of Instructions

Take the Poll: Disseminating the LDS Church Handbook of Instructions

Thursday, May 28, 2009

He Said: Women Giving Blessings in the LDS Church

Women giving blessings is not a foreign concept to me. As a kid growing up every Sunday night my grandparents and my mother and brothers and sisters watched Oral Roberts and Kathryn Kuhlman's programs. Both shows were based on faith-promoting Christian experiences and included healings. Kuhlman's program I Believe in Miracles was more charismatic and on each program Kuhlman would tap a person on the head who was instantaneously healed of some kind of sickness or disabilities. Roberts, another faith healer would preach sermons with an occasional healing. In Kulman's service she would call on the Spirit and touch or slap them on the head. The person would fall to the ground overcome by the spirit and stand up healed usually praising God. Then Ms. Kuhlman would say "Nothing is Impossible with God." She felt "“I believe in miracles, because I believe in God" and the healings were manifestations of the power of God.

I grew up believing that she really healed people from polio, palsy, cancer and other ailments. It made for a fascinating episode each week. Sometimes I was credulous that they were healed but for the most part I accepted that she some kind of gift from God and really could heal people. I was never sure if it was their belief or the power she had but I watched So the fact that women could have the same power as men in healing the sick was not outside of my mental construct.

I remember seeing an episode where a woman with cancer was healed that is described in the Wickipedia entry below:

Following a 1967 fellowship in Philadelphia, Dr. William A. Nolen conducted a case study of 23 people who claimed to have been cured during her services.[2][3][4][5] Nolen's long term follow-ups concluded there were no cures in those cases.[6][7] Furthermore, one woman who was said to have been cured of spinal cancer took off her brace and ran across the stage at Kuhlman's command; her spine collapsed the following day and she died four months later.[8].[6]
Until today I didn't have any clue that Dr. William A. Nolen had conducted a study where no cures were ever proven. An interesting piece called The Hurt of Healing debunks Roberts and Kuhlman.

As a Latter-day Saint I don't often hear about faith-healing even among active LDS men. I do believe in faith healing having experienced it in my own ministry. A couple of weeks ago in the lesson from the Joseph Smith manual on healing only a couple of men had experiences to share. A former stake president talks about taking Gene R. Cook down to the hospital to give a sick missionary a blessing. Most of the men in the quorum talked about healing a sick child over their many years of Melchizedek priesthood ordination. I shared how I raised my child from the dead.

When I joined the church I was told that men hold the priesthood and that women support the priesthood. I have never witnessed any woman (other than once or twice allowing my wife to stand in with me) that ever exercised the priesthood with their husbands. Even among more liberal sisters including the birth of a child that had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck I haven't seen a woman attempt to heal or cure a sick person.

In my reading in Church History I read where Mary Fielding Smith healed a sick ox. I read where women exercised priest-like powers in the ordinances in the temple but I have not read where a husband nor a wife exercised the power of laying hands on a person. Recently my wife pointed out in a post "Emma Smith's Blessing to Herself" that Joseph Smith allowed Emma Smith to write herself a blessing which he supposedly signed to ratify its acceptance. When my wife told me she was writing herself a blessing I told her I would sign it also. I figured if Joseph Smith was liberal enough to do that being an ultraconservative Mormon then I could do the same.

When my wife first suggested that since I didn't have another person with me in giving blessings to my children why couldn't she put her hands on mine and assist I tried to find a way to do it that would be acceptable to LDS Church leaders and my ethical conscience. Honestly since I invoke Heavenly Father and take care of being voice in both ordinances I figure the requirements of the church are being met. In some ways I am not deep down sharing the priesthood since I don't let her act as voice. I would feel uncomfortable if I wasn't in charge of the ordinance. I figure the combined faith can only help not hurt when conducting healing blessings.

I read where women share the priesthood with their husbands but nowhere in Mormon Doctrine (McConkie) nor Answer to Gospel Questions (Joseph Fielding Smith) do I find much evidence to support women assisting outside the temple in the actual laying on of hands. In the temple I am sure in giving washings and anointings that they conduct priesthood ordinances using the priesthood with other women.

In terms of operational practice I don't see much evidence that women generally bless anyone except through prayer. I once asked a general authority about why women couldn't lay hands on and heal their sick children if the husband wasn't home and he told me that the child could just as easily be healed through the righteous prayer of a faithful mother. I told him I let my wife lay her hands on mine and he didn't say a word--just looked at me.

She Said: Women Giving Blessings in the LDS Church

I've always wondered about that--what is the difference between a woman who holds the Priesthood with her husband as a part of being endowed in the Temple versus a woman who prays for something simply by virtue of her faith?

In a published 1845 sermon, Apostle Orson Pratt explained:
“You too, my sisters, will take a part therein, for you will hold a portion of the priesthood with your husbands, and you will thus do a work, as well as they, that will augment that glory which you will enjoy after your resurrection.” (Times and Seasons 6 [1 June 1845]: 920)

What work is it we women are to do with our portion of the priesthood? Brigham Young preached:
“Now brethren, the man that honors his Priesthood, the woman that honors her Priesthood, will receive an everlasting inheritance in the kingdom of God.” (Brigham Young diary, 12 Jan. 1846, Journal of Discourses 17:119.)

And just how is it that we are to honor our Priesthood?

In the early days of the Church, women did give blessings by the laying on of hands. Although Lavina Fielding Anderson has debunked the Mary Fielding Smith and her ox story, there are numerous references to nineteenth-century Mormon women blessing their fellow sisters for illness and for childbearing, sanctioned by the Church until the early 1900's. As late as April 1896 LDS women were instructed to say these words in administering to the sick: “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ & by virtue of the Holy Anointing which I have received.” Until 1900 the First Presidency also authorized women to use the word “seal” in this ordinance. (D. Michael Quinn, "Mormon Women Have Had the Priesthood Since 1843.")

When it became common for priesthood blessings to be performed by anointing the head rather than specific parts of the body, Church leaders began to discourage the performance of Priesthood blessings by women. However, endowed females continued for some time to join in the blessings by laying their hands upon the afflicted person with their husbands. President Joseph F. Smith instructed:
"If a woman is requested to lay hands on the sick with her husband or with any other officer holding the Melchizedek Priesthood, she may do so with perfect propriety. It is no uncommon thing for a man and wife unitedly to administer to their children, and the husband being mouth, he may properly say out of courtesy, 'By authority of the holy priesthood in us vested.'" (Prophet Joseph F. Smith, Improvement Era 10 [February 1907], page 308.)

The practice gradually diminished until it was rarely seen in the wards and stakes of the Church. The only remnant of women's participation in Priesthood ordinances which survived until the 1980's was the token act of a woman holding her child during the performance of a infant's naming and blessing. By 1988 this too had been discouraged.

As Dr. B. noted in his post, I feel comfortable joining in a priesthood blessing when it is given to our children in our own home, by placing my hands on their heads with him. I feel that the current practice of limiting women's jurisdiction to perform priesthood blessings is cultural and results from a reaction to feminist tensions of the mid-20th century. This has kept us from exploring what it means to hold priesthood power through our Temple ordinances.

Now that women giving Priesthood blessings is simply not done, exactly what is the difference between a woman who prays the prayer of faith and one who has been endowed into the Melchizedek Priesthood? Do we have a gift or a power that we simply do not know how to use?

Take the Poll: Women Giving Blessings in the LDS Church

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

He Said: Should We Always Accept Church Callings?

An issue that members of the LDS Church grapple with from time to time is the release from a calling. Callings are issued with no advanced discussion of how long they might last nor why they were even extended. Sometimes a member will turn down a calling but for the most part people accept callings particularly leadership callings. Callings like primary particularly the nursery are many times turned down. LDS Church leaders frown on people who don't accept callings.

Dallin H. Oaks said on the matter of callings:

We have a great tradition of unselfish service in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints... This is the way men and women prepare for the ultimate blessing of eternal life.

Still, there is room for improvement in the commitment of some. When I ask stake presidents for suggestions on subjects I should treat at stake conferences, I often hear about members who refuse Church callings or accept callings and fail to fulfill their responsibilities. Some are not committed and faithful. It has always been so. But this is not without consequence... My brothers and sisters, if you are delinquent in commitment, please consider who it is you are refusing or neglecting to serve when you decline a calling or when you accept, promise, and fail to fulfill.

Sometimes a calling lasts for several months and other times for years. I would say the average length of time I have seen is two to four years in a calling. The expectation by an LDS leader when giving a calling is that the person will stay in the calling until the leader decides to release you at some indeterminate date.

The ward leader called the bishop or the stake leader called the stake president make the final determination after consulting with their two counselors and an organization's leader usually called a president. Sometimes a president of an organization consults with his or her two counselors but many times they don't. A member of the bishopric or the stake presidency usually extends the calling. A rare exception is for secretaries when the president of the organization can extend the calling or in the relief society or priesthood when you are called to visit other members as a visiting teacher or home teacher.

The bottom line is that in making a calling it is to be based on revelation or a gut feeling by inspiration. So the leader may or may not use any rational thought process in the calling. It is supposedly from God and the member accepts that the person receiving it is inspired in making the calling and in releasing or changing a person in a calling. Mormons like to joke that it is

Sometimes in filling a calling it is based on availability. An opening occurs and from the pool of available people the position is filled. Then you have to get clearance from the ward or stake leadership. Once as a high priest group leader I suggested ten men to be an assistant group leader and was turned down all ten times. In the end I told the leader just to pick someone and I would work with whoever was called. He called a less active member who came on the week he was in charge of priesthood meeting which I rotated every three weeks.

Only every two to five years is there a major reorganization in the groups or organizations. Then people are fully considered for all the positions. However during the remaining time in-between many times a new move-in fills a position. In making a calling a leader might consider such things as the person's family life, moral worthiness, skills sets, knowledge of the area or potential knowledge about the calling, health, financial condition, etc. Many times the leader calls a person because they just like them or feel good about them. I have issued callings mostly based on disrupting the least amount of people in an organization. I would look at the availability pool which might be a few people and say which of these men would be able to fill calling and not turn me down.

Since I move quite a bit like thirteen times in the last 25 years I have served in every organization at the ward level except Bishop or a bishop's counselor nor in the relief society which is a woman's only organization. I have served in all other callings including in the bishopric as an executive secretary and all other clerk positions (ward, financial, membership), as well as elder's quorum presidency, high priest group leader, young men's leader, Sunday School presidency and teacher (all classes every age), primary teacher and nursery leader, ward mission leader, family history coordinator, seminary and institute teacher, temple worker, ward librarian, etc. I even served at the stake level as an executive secretary for four years.

One of the best ways to understand what constitutes a calling and how they work is to read Rachel Woods LDS Church Callings at About.Com. Her basic definition is:

In the LDS Church a "calling" is a position or assignment in which members have been asked to serve or perform. Members are called of God to serve each other, and all callings are important. Callings are voluntary, are issued by the proper authority, and are usually for a few years.
In the LDS Church which is a voluntary organization a calling is extended to a member to serve in various organizations which are broken down in a congregation or ward into ten groups: Bishopric (administration/leadership), priesthood, relief society, young men, young women, primary, ward mission, family history, and Sunday School. A calling may also be extended at the stake (synd/diocese) level in the same ten groups and an additional group called the High Council (men who oversee ten groups as well as the wards and priesthood groups under direction of the Stake President): Stake Presidency, High Council, Stake Relief Society Presidency, Stake Young Men's Presidency, Stake Young Women's Presidency, Stake Primary Presidency, Stake Family History Coordinator, and Stake Sunday School Presidency. To fully understand the organization of the church check out Wood's Organization of the LDS Church to understand the discussion if you are not a member of the church.

Members of the church do not ask for callings nor are they consulted by the ward Bishop or the Stake President who consults with their two counselors and leaders of the various groups in the issuing of a calling. The expectation in the LDS Church is that a member will accept whatever calling is extended or given to a member. A calling is supposed to be by revelation.

In my church life I have never turned down a calling that has been extended to me. I only questioned a calling once when they called me to be a boy scout leader. I told the man issuing the calling did you know that I have never been a boy scout and don't even know how to put up a tent. I suggested he might want to consider that since he had numerous eagle scouts there might be a person better suited. The next week I was called to be an assistant ward librarian.

In home teaching assignments which change more often than other callings it is not unusual for the high priest group leader or elder's quorum president to discuss the two to five families and the effectiveness of the two home teachers. So from time to time new families are assigned. The expectation in the LDS Church is that you will be a home teacher from the age of fourteen until you die. LDS leaders resist not giving all priesthood holders an assignment since there are hundreds of members and only about one hundred active priesthood holders.

Recently I became ill with diabetes and high blood pressure with a respiratory infection and asked for a few months off from my assignment. The bishop was understanding and talked to my high priest group leader. Instead of agreeing the man ignored my request and only mentioned the bishop had told him about my request. No more communication ensued so I kept home teaching the one or two families I was assigned that I could get in to homes. I have another lady that is in a rest home but I don't have permission to visit her.

I have on a couple of occasions mentioned to leaders something like if you want to release me I don't have a problem. One of them said no that is alright you are doing a good job and the other one said I guess it is time to think about calling someone else. I have had a couple of other occasions where I was released when a bishop didn't like my personality. I was serving as a gospel essential class in Vernal, Utah when a less active young man came in to my class for the day. I made a quote by Joseph Smith which he questioned. I was right across from the library so I stopped my lesson and walked over and got a manual which I gave him saying he could read it himself. He reported me to the bishop. The bishop told me I was not a loving person and released me the next week. I found that interesting since I was teaching for several months one student who had some real issues and had three very active sisters who came so he wouldn't be alone. We seldom got any other new convert baptisms or returning less active people.

I feel if a person has something happen in their life that affects them physically or emotionally that they should be able to consult with their leaders in continuing in callings. In the end in the LDS Church it is the leader's decision to retain or release a person. If you are also not worthy sometimes it is necessary to clear the air. Also if you are burned out and feel you are not being effective I think leaders should know so they can consider other options.

I think ninety percent of the time people can stay in callings without anything impacting them but ten percent of the time things come up after a year or two from job problems to family problems to psychological issues that might make releasing a person necessary. I think most leaders don't always communicate well enough nor hold interviews to determine where people are in life so there are times a person needs to ask to be released.

She Said: Should We Always Accept Church Callings?

Basically I agree with Dr. B. on this subject. The lifeblood of the Church is those faithful members who are willing to serve and do their part to build the kingdom. But there are always circumstances in our lives that might make it difficult to fulfill a calling. I think members should try to accept callings that are extended to them, seeing them as opportunities for growth and service, but that they should also feel free to discuss with Church leaders their personal situations and any reservations they might have.

I had an experience several years ago which taught me something about service in the Church. We attended Stake Conference one year and the Stake President urged all of the members of his Stake to commit to performing 4 hours per week of community service in addition to whatever they were already doing in the Church. For me, this instruction was completely overwhelming. I had 5 children at the time, and they were 7 years old and younger. I also had a demanding Church calling. I couldn't see any way I could find the time to do as he asked. Surely I should be exempted from such a task! The week following the conference, I was distressed as I pondered what I could do to fulfill the what our Stake President had asked of us. One afternoon, I was taking my daughter to her dance lesson when I passed our neighbor's house. I saw their young daughter sitting on the steps and I stopped to see if she was OK. She was locked out of the house and I was able to call her mom who had been detained from getting home on time. I offered to take the daughter to dance with me. I thus gave an hour of appreciated service with very little effort on my part. From this simple situation, I had an epiphany. I realized that, just going about my week, that there were many small things I could do as service in the community if I kept my eyes open. It wouldn't have to disrupt my normal routine, but it would just take a discerning eye.

I learned that if one is willing to accept callings and perform service, it is possible that a way will be provided for us to fulfill these obligations. Perhaps it will not be in the way that the previous holder of the calling did it. But maybe we can find a way to give this service that will fit with our talents and our other obligations.

I remember a man in our ward who was called as a Young Men's President. He was in his 70's at the time. I'm sure he could have been quite overwhelmed by such a calling. He wasn't able to play basketball with the boys, or go on long hikes with them, as other YM Presidents do. But he was able to call counselors who were younger, and he was able to contribute much time to the calling, a listening ear, and years of Church experience.

I hope Ward members will be sensitive to these things, also. Sometimes members aren't very good at recognizing that their brothers and sisters who serve are performing their callings without remuneration. These members have their own ways of doing things; they bring their weaknesses and life baggage as well as their strengths to the calling. They are often stretched to the limit with their family and vocational responsibilities. If you see something you don't like in the way someone is performing their calling, offer to help!

I see callings and lay leadership as one of the great strengths in our Church. Perhaps we will never be able to go to India and do Mother Teresa-type service. Most of us do not have millions of dollars to contribute to charitable causes. But we can be open to accepting callings outside of our comfort zones and put our drop of water into the bucket. Hopefully we will feel comfortable sharing our hesitations and our frustrations and our situations with our leaders, and they will be sensitive in making these callings and releasings.

Take the Poll: Should We Always Accept Church Callings?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

She Said: The Abortion Debate

Dr. B. said he wanted to do a post on the Abortion Debate, which I thought was a good idea. But I have already written out my ideas in blog form, so I am just going to repeat the following post, which appeared at FMH back in April of 2007, and was actually written much earlier.

The Pro-Love Movement

No single issue has been as divisive of women as that of abortion. Its battle lines are so clear-cut; one is either pro-life or pro-choice. A change of opinion on the issue by a politician is tantamount to desertion and betrayal. Until this moment I did not even realize there was another option.

Until now I have been vociferously pro-life, have used all of the usual arguments, have seen all of the usual films, read the brochures, contributed to the organizations. Until, with a flash of clarity, I have finally decided: I can no longer affiliate myself with the “pro-life” movement.

Have I converted to “pro-choice?” An emphatic NO. I am now “pro-love.”

With all of my heart I believe in the existence of the soul of an unborn child. I have felt its stirrings within me. I have held my 3 pound, 13 ounce daughter in my arms and help her fight–and win–the battle to survive. I have also miscarried tiny, perfectly formed 12-week fetus. How can I support the freedom of choice to end this life-possibility?

However, with 5 children ages 7 and under, I have briefly glimpsed the feeling of emotional exhaustion that would cause a woman to feel that she could not provide for one more child. Because I have removed myself from the battle, I can now empathize with the woman who has conceived a child of rape–part herself and part horror. I can be touched by the plight of a child budding into womanhood whose life potential has been suddenly and drastically reduced by a tragic mistake.

I stand with my sister-woman on one side of the controversy as she views the rights of the unborn child and contends to save a small life. I stand with my sister-woman on the other side as she articulately expresses that the right to choose what we do with our bodies must not be taken away by a state or federal government. I love both women. I agree with both. The view is indeed different from atop the fence.

Because I believe my stance could never be legislated, I am done with one-issue politics. I find myself more free to consider the many policies of political candidates when I do not have to automatically accept or reject them because of their stand on abortion.

As a pro-love advocate, I no longer spend my energy on standing in front of abortion clinics, marching in Washington, angry debate. Instead, my efforts are focused on making a loving world where rapes are less likely to occur, where babies aren’t born addicted to drugs, where children don’t need to find their love in premarital sex. My efforts are focused on better health care, adoption and child placement possibilities, child support issues, education and job opportunities–solutions which might alleviate the need for abortions. In this world, every baby is a wanted baby.

I realize this is an idealistic view. But somehow we have to remove ourselves from the current battle over abortion which is now going on in the United States. Overturning Roe vs. Wade will solve nothing. People will continue to hold divergent opinions and the legality of abortion will flip-flop every few years as different parties gain political control. Roe vs. Wade is not a worthy goal for us as a country. We must set our sights higher. We must unite in a movement which will address the problem.

Until now, the middle of the road has had no name. The activists have been on either side of the issue. I hereby offer the “Pro-Love” movement. It’s an idea whose time has come. It’s an alternative to shooting the abortion doctor.

We need activists who will reach out with love to human beings with all idealogies in all situations. A pro-love world will take all the energy we can muster. We have none to waste on a war.

He Said: The Abortion Debate

In this weeks issue of Time Magazine there is an interesting article by Nancy Gibbs on Understanding America's Shift on Abortion she says that recent polls show that Americans are becoming more increasingly pro-life:

In 1995, when Gallup started asking the question, the split was 56-33 in favor of abortion rights. Now the lines have crossed, and 51% call themselves pro-life while only 42% say they are pro-choice. It's a shift that stretches past personal convictions and into legal constraints. For 35 years, a majority of Americans have wanted abortion to be, essentially, legal with limits. But the movement toward greater restraint is clear. In the mid-'90s, when pro-choice forces were especially dominant, only 12% believed abortion was always wrong; now that number has nearly doubled. At each extreme, slightly more people now believe abortion should be illegal under all circumstances (23%) than legal under all circumstances (22%).

One of the reasons that younger Americans are becoming pro-life according to Gibbs is that "People under 30 are more opposed to abortion than those who are older, perhaps because their first baby pictures were often taken in utero."

I think she makes a very good argument that with sonogram technology women can see that as early as ten to twelve weeks that the fetus is very developed. She also says that in some states they give stark evidence of the babies development prior to abortion.

Nebraska is the latest state to debate what activists call "window to the womb" laws, which require that women be shown an ultrasound of the fetus before going ahead with an abortion. The Missouri Senate just passed a bill that would require doctors to talk about a fetus' development and its ability to feel pain.

I think the LDS policy on abortion is one that takes in to account the possibility of terminating abortion for extreme situations such as rape or deformities. The leaders first encourage a person to keep the baby but allow for personal choice in consultation with a woman, her family, and church leaders. I am not sure how many women actually have an abortion after this process since it is not discussed.

In my own life I encountered an abortion situation which made me very much pro-life. I wasn't a member of the LDS Church nor was my first serious girlfriend. After high school when I was seventeen this first girlfriend was a fifteen year old upper-middle class girl who was very sexually active. She was your typical Catholic school girl. She had relations with three boys during the same three month period in which she became pregnant. When she discovered she was pregnant she decided to have the baby. I loved her even knowing that she had two other boyfriends being young and naive I offered to marry her. Her mother who was a radical feminist and president of the NOW group in Las Vegas did not want her daughter to repeat the same mistake she felt she had made at seventeen and scheduled an abortion. The girl and I tried to convince her that we should get married. My father met with her mother and they both decided that the best thing for us since the paternity was unclear was to not marry and for the girl to have an abortion.

The night before she was to have the procedure I went to their house and stood in the front yard and held a knife to my stomach. I was not intending to kill myself but to make a point about how I viewed abortion. For fifteen minutes I gave reasons for why what they were doing was murder in my eyes. The whole neighborhood came out and watched my performance. My parents came to get me. Finally I heard someone say that the police had been called so I threw the knife down and ran off.

My girlfriend babysat a local judge who lived one block away. I went to his house and rang the door bell and told him about the situation and asked for his help in getting some legal counsel in stopping the abortion. He told me that I had no rights in the decision and that the girl and her parent could do whatever they wanted with the unborn fetus. I hid under a cardboard box behind some hedges after my brief conversation with him as the police tried to apprehend me. They shined their light on the box but didn't see me.

I made my way home and my father and I went to see the Catholic priest. He was totally unsympathetic to me and harped on me for nothing going to church more often saying he didn't remember ever seeing me in his congregation so he wouldn't get involved and there was nothing the church could do for me anyway.

The next day I tried to go down to the hospital but my dad restrained me. My girlfriend who didn't enjoy the morning sickness had the procedure in forty-five minutes. Her family immediately sent her out of state to keep her from running off with me. I saw her one time before she left and one time years later after I joined the church and went on a mission. Sadly having the abortion made it so she could never have any children which at 21 she regretted. She had been married three times from the age of eighteen to twenty-one and felt unfilled she could never have a baby.

This experience caused me to reject the Catholic Church and embrace the LDS church which is pro-family. Three months after my experience I read the Book of Mormon, received a testimony, and joined the LDS Church. A year later I went on a mission. Eventually I married an exceptional returned sister missionary who believed at the time the same way. In fact when her father a Protestant minister discussed birth control with us she used the argument of which child should we give up if we only had two children like they suggested. After our second child my wife had toxemia and our Mormon doctor suggested she not have any more. She was adamant that with a change of diet she could have more. I briefly thought of following that counsel but respected her decision. I have never used birth control including a condom except an occasional use of abstinence my entire twenty-six years of marriage and have had nine pregnancies resulting in eight children. Personally I consider abortion a reprehensible practice and only in the case of rape would I consider it even then I would probably oppose it in favor of adoption should one of my seven daughters be raped. If a medical situation had occurred I think I would have accepted an impaired child but I would have thought long and hard about it.

Take the Poll: The Abortion Debate

Monday, May 25, 2009

He Said: Throwing Out the Hamburger

Today I went out to barbecue. I used Kingsford brickettes. I forgot to buy lighter fluid so I had to send my daughter to the store to get some I should have bought matchlite charcoal.
The coals were extremely hot so I burned the first ten burgers I made which had to be thrown out. When I tasted one of the burgers it was the most disgusting things I ever ate. It didn't taste like beef even. I hadn't really checked it when I bought the box it had 20 one-quarter inch burgers for only $7. At the time I thought they were a real bargain. Until today when I read the side of the box which said its ingredients were: beef, water, beef hearts, textured soy flour, salt, spices, onion, and dextrose. They were worse than hot dogs so I decided to go to the store and buy some real burgers. I pitched the remaining ten burgers uncooked in to the dumpster. When I went to the store I checked the burgers carefully and purchased all natural angus beef which said they had no hormones or additives. I came home and cooked them and they were mighty delicious. I had to purchase a metal flipper because I had used a cake serving plastic spatula which melted and I burned myself trying to flip the original burgers. It cost me twenty dollars get the better burgers.