Friday, July 06, 2012

My Joseph Smith Book Recommendations

The subject of the Prophet Joseph Smith is important to me and I claim no spiritual, academic, or special authority on his life or teachings. But I do love him and I know he is a prophet.

I am sometimes asked by members of my stake and family and friends what books I would recommend to learn more about his life. That is an interesting question because it ought to be easy enough and yet as I have thought about it I have realized it is quite a complex answer. I suppose it all depends. It depends on the kind of study or learning you want to do. I should state from the outset that if you are looking for someone who is critical of Joseph I won't be able to recommend anything for you. I am not scared off by anything negative about him. In fact, I have read everything I can get my hands on. However, when recommending books to others I am suggesting they build a foundation of faith and testimony first. Get to know him from the perspective of his family, his friends, his followers, and himself. That has been my path. Now when I read the critical or "warts and all" histories, or the anti- publications (those two things are not the same thing), or anything else a faithful member of the LDS Church may find challenging, I can process them through my filter: Joseph Smith saw the Father and the Son, he translated the Book of Mormon, he was a prophet of God. So please know that as you read on, that is the bias from which I approach Joseph Smith.

Stories and biographies have taught me a great deal about moments in the life of Joseph Smith. However, it is in reading his revelations and teachings that have done more to help me learn about the Prophet Joseph. In other words I feel I actually know Joseph Smith and literally consider him a friend because I am familiar with his teachings and revelations. It is because of my familiarity with his mind that I feel I can recognize his motivations in his actions. And so when I hear strange things told about him or attributed to him, because I feel like I know his mind and heart, I feel like I can get to the bottom of it. Sometimes I don't fully understand the situation but because my foundation is solid I don't get rocked.

For books about his life, I would recommend Truman Madsen’s talks and his book based on his talks. They are excellent and engaging talks. Truman clearly has a passion for Joseph and it excites my own.

I also really like the Joseph Smith Papers Project books. Particularly the Journals. (Volume one and two are already out, volume three will be released later this year or early next year.) The Histories volumes are good, too. These are great because they have a very raw and real feeling to them. You can begin to get a sense of the man and the prophet in them.

Another excellent book is Joseph Smith the Choice Seer by Joseph Fielding McConkie and Robert L. Millet. The book is sadly out of print but if you can find it, get it. The book is a kind of spiritual biography--thought it doesn't claim to be. They are looking at the doctrines and understandings and teachings Joseph Smith restored.

Also, a book called, Remembering Joseph, edited and compiled by Mark McConkie is very good. It contains thousands (seriously) of recollections, organized by topic, by friends, followers, and even enemies of Joseph Smith. A very fascinating book.

There are several biographies of his contemporaries that also provide a wonderful insight into the life of the Prophet. At the top of my list is the standard, Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt. If you haven't read it you should, and if you've already read it you should read it again. There are some admittedly long and drawn out places (the Missouri conflict being one of them) but his confidence and affection for Joseph Smith is unmistakable. Also, Wilford Woodruff by Matthew Cowley is excellent. If you can get Wilford Woodruff's Journals they are a treasure trove of insights into the Prophet. The Life of John Taylor by Orson F. Whitney is another great book.

Like I mentioned above, more than anything else, reading his teachings and revelations have helped me understand and know him tremendously. So the Doctrine and Covenants is great, as is Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith edited and compiled by President Joseph Fielding Smith and Words of Joseph Smith edited by Lyndon Cook and Andrew Ehat.

I hope that is helpful for someone who may read this. The discerning reader will notice that I left off some books that perhaps you would expect to see in my list. I included the books that have helped me get to know Joseph Smith the best. I would be interested in hearing if you (the cyber-reader if there be any) have the same books or different.

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Sunday, June 03, 2012

Ethics and Morals Are Not Independent of Doctrines

Occasionally I hear that the reason some members like the Church is the good ethics and morals it teaches. In almost the same breath the person also indicates that the doctrines and the Joseph Smith story, the Book of Mormon, and the teachings of the Temple are less appealing. When I hear this I am dumbfounded at best.

From my standpoint, it is our doctrines and core beliefs that inform the ethical way in which we live. Indeed, there is not a single moral or ethic that is not connected with the restored doctrines of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Right now the Church is receiving unprecedented attention. This is occurring not only because of the 2012 Presidential Election, but because there have been an increased number of reports in the news about members of the LDS faith. In many of the reports in the media the Church is pointed out as being known for its strong family values and neighborly way in which it behaves around the world. In fact, I have heard commentators of other faiths discuss these very positive attributes and in the same breath indicate that they think our beliefs are absolutely absurd. They say we behave like Christians but aren't really Christian. Or, we are Christian in deed but not in doctrine.

From my perspective that absurd thing is that they fail to see the connection between our Christian attributes and our belief in a restored doctrine of Christ. I wish to outline just three (of the myriad of choices) Christian attributes that have been identified in the press and by those I have had discussions with and then connect them directly and unmistakably to the doctrines we uphold to be restored and true and salvific.

Family Values Ethics and Morals and Temple Doctrine
The Church is often given commendations for its emphasis on families, family time, and strong marriages. The divorce rate is lower in LDS marriages (though it should be noted that divorce is on the rise in the LDS Church and is trending toward the national trend--though it is still lower from what I understand). There is a strong sense of togetherness and sticking things out. This is not to say everything is perfect; LDS couples and families deal with the same struggles and trials that the rest of society deals with. But for outsiders (non-LDS) there is a remarkable demonstration of working through issues. Indeed, I remember hearing about a study or a national poll that was conducted that stated that when asked about Mormons most people could identify their strong sense of family values. Community members readily see their LDS friends and neighbors as having good children.

But herein lies the irony. What many non-LDS see as strong family values, LDS will (I hope) testify that there is a principle that lies under the visible surface behaviors. For me there is no question that what makes me feel my marriage is one of the most important aspects of my life and the answer is simple: Temple. Even more to the point it is my Temple Covenant. This is the same answer for my strong focus on my family. I believe that most Latter-day Saints when pressed will answer the same way. It is the Temple and its associated Covenants that cause Latter-day Saints to put so much emphasis on the family. Indeed, we believe that because we enter into a Covenant with God and one another in the Temple, there is a spiritual force that--when LDS live worthy of it--will bind and seal us together. It is in these covenants that we become "eternal families." Because we see the family as extending--not "until death do you part" but well beyond that passing moment and into the eternities, we do everything and anything to preserve and hold sacred our marriages and families. Much more could be said on this topic and writers and teachers more capable than myself have already done a better job of explaining this key doctrine. I will leave the read to study their words rather than attempt to re-explain.

Suffice it to say that the LDS belief on the family is a result of the restored doctrine of Temple Covenants. If those that laud our strong stance on the family could lower their blind bias against our doctrines they would see why our family relationships are so strong and so highly prized.

Charity and Humanitarian Outreach and the Revelations of the Restoration
The LDS Church receives a great deal of attention from the outside world about its phenomenal humanitarian outreach. And for good reason. The Church does not make public the amount of money (either in cash or in goods and services) it delivers to humanitarian aid each year. Given the scope and the reports that are made public I imagine the amount in sheer cash value to be staggering. Our leaders have been nationally and internationally recognized for the good it has done here in the U.S. and all over the world. When President Gordon B. Hinckley was recognized by the President of the United States a few years ago he said that he accepted the award in behalf of all the members of the Church. He said that "it really belongs to those men and women" (click here to read the story). The resources for this humanitarian goodness comes as freely given donations from the rank and files of the Church. The point I am trying to make is that the Church and its members are known for their charity--though it has never been done to be recognized (I believe the Church would be very satisfied if we never received any honor--in the press, in terms of awards, or otherwise). But what fascinates me is that those same people will recognize the goodness we do and criticize the very doctrines and beliefs that propel our goodness.

I believe that the goodness we do and feel a responsibility to do is a result of our understanding of scripture, our testimony of the importance of tithing, and (again) Temple Covenants. Of course the Bible and the Lord's teachings there give powerful emphasis on helping the needy and downtrodden. However, the Bible is available to all Christian peoples and yet their giving is not nearly as organized and effective as the LDS Church (in fairness the Catholic Church do a tremendous amount of good and have for many centuries). It is our additional revealed words (the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price) and the words of Christ in these canonized scripture that gives additional emphasis on charitable giving. It is in the Doctrine and Covenants that we learn about tithing. Indeed, it is in the Doctrine and Covenants that the doctrine of tithing was restored. In section 115 we are taught that members are to give 10% of their income (I believe this to gross income) to the Church. In addition to tithing we are also asked to give "a generous offering" once a month when we come to Church fasting (completely abstaining from food or drink for 24 hours). Finally in the Temple we make covenants to sacrifice and consecrate (two separate covenants) our temporal blessings as well as our spiritual blessings to God, His Church, and by extension of these things to one another.

And so for me it is interesting to see that people will speak kindly about our humanitarian efforts and yet ignore the doctrines that are at the core of collective and individual giving.

Community Leadership and the Example of a Prophet
LDS members are commonly recognized as being leaders or pillars of citizenship and decency in their communities. All over the world members are coming to the forefront and becoming the example of strong, capable elected and non-elected officials. While the media and others see the goodness Mormon men and women are trying to accomplish in their neighborhoods, we are at the same time being criticized for what they perceive as strange doctrines and aspects of Church history. Yet it is the very doctrines and historical events and figures they criticize that give members of the LDS Church their drive and moral standing to become those very same leaders.

Again, the irony lays in the fact that an area in which we are complimented is at the same time an area where people find fault. There are many areas of our beliefs that I could point to and say "that is the example to which we point." But in order to dramatize the point, I will use none other than Joseph Smith, the man we claim to be a Prophet, Seer, Revelator, and Translator. It was him that John Taylor quoted as saying, "I teach [Mormons] correct principles and they govern themselves." It was Joseph that led thousands of men, women, and children from Ohio to Missouri and from Missouri to Illinois. It was the testimony of Joseph that caused thousands to leave Europe to come to America. Books are full of examples of the leadership qualities of the Prophet Joseph Smith (I recommend this one). The legacy that Joseph left, that it was possible to believe in a higher principle and follow it all hazards has inspired countless Latter-day Saints into doing the same.

However, lest the reader fall into the same false notion that many others have in giving lip service to understanding our beliefs but really having no intention in doing so, let me clarify one major point. Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God. He was called by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. This means that all that he did as he lead the Mormon people, was in harmony with the teachings of the Savior. As a prophet in every sense of the word he communed personally with Jesus Christ and the Father. Christ taught him personally. It is my firm conviction--and the conviction of 14 million other members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--that Joseph Smith, when acting as a Prophet of God, was simply and solely following the commands of the Master Jesus Christ.

Occasionally there are members of the Church that do not follow the teachings of the Church and could not be considered a good Christian, never mind a good Latter-day Saint. There are sometimes men and women who call themselves Mormon that behave grotesquely, or illegally, or inhumanly. I believe these to be terrible examples of what a Mormon could and should be. I also believe that in contrast with the millions (literally) of good members of the Church doing all they can to live as descent upstanding Latter-day Saints should live, these bad seeds are few and far between.

I hope this brief entry will help those seeking understanding. I hope that we (both LDS and non-LDS) begin to understand that our ethics and morals that are so highly praised are simply extensions of our doctrines. We believe them to be true doctrines. We believe them to be restored doctrines in the latter-days. We believe them to be revealed by God and Jesus Christ to modern day Prophets and Apostles. I know they are and I am not ashamed of the doctrines (or morals) of Jesus Christ restored in this day--or any day.

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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Speculation Principles...

From time to time, I hear that we ought not to speculate on the doctrines of the kingdom. For the longest time, I felt that was the right course. In many ways it still is. On the other hand, I also feel that healthy speculation can be very good in learning of spiritual things. It is evident that the prophets in both ancient and modern times have received revelation (indeed some of the important revelations came this way) after some time conducting healthy speculation.

Some examples of prophetic speculation are Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon when they received what is commonly referred to as "The Vision" (D&C 76); or Joseph F. Smith when he received his vision of the Spirit World (D&C 138). Another good example of scriptural speculation is Alma when he is speaking to his son Corianton about the resurrection (Alma 40:20.) Here Alma is teaching his son many principles on this all important doctrine. But then he gets to a question that in his day had not yet been revealed. He says "I give it as my opinion..."

However, in the Church we don't call what the prophets have done "speculation," but instead call it pondering. But the manner in which I think about things it is the same. I like the word speculation because it is helps the speculator really consider what is really taking place and reminds him or her that we only accept established doctrine as our foundation. In other words, personal speculation is not a foundation on which we should build our testimonies and there should be a noted difference between the two.

Speculation by an average member of the Church should never be considered the same as that done by the prophets. But in order for a member of the Church to conduct what I call healthy speculation, I firmly believe there are some rules that must be followed in order for it to be done safely. The worst thing that could happen to a faithful and active member of the Church when speculating on points of doctrine, is to allow it to take them into fields that are not ripe and certainly not prepared to harvest. In this entry, my plan is to share my thoughts and views on how doctrinal speculation can be conducted safely and wisely and hopefully in a healthy manner.

My primary principle of safe doctrinal speculation is that each of the Articles of Faith ought to be considered as questions (instead of statements) that the speculator can respond to in the affirmative. In other words the speculation cannot cause the speculator to deny any of the canonized Articles of Faith.

That bit of counsel ought to be enough, but in the interest of fleshing things out a bit, I will add a few more ideas that may help the reader. They have certainly been an aid to me.

1. The speculative idea cannot cause damage to the revealed knowledge of Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, or the Holy Ghost.
2. The speculative idea must do no harm to the revealed principles and doctrines of the restored gospel (ie. Plan of Salvation, canon, etc.)
3. The speculative idea must NOT harm or damage your own testimony.
4. Ask yourself: Will this speculation increase my faith in Jesus Christ and His appointed and authorized servants?
5. Rinse, repeat. (Then repeat again!)

There have been times when my speculative ideas have found themselves in contradiction with the principles above. When that has happened I immediately toss them out and go back to the drawing board (aka the scriptures). It is repulsive to my soul to believe anything that the Holy Spirit is not going to confirm as truth. He will only confirm as true that which is in alignment with already established and revealed knowledge. Indeed, a "house divided against itself shall stand" (Matthew 12:25).

Perhaps a good question to address is how do I speculate? I have found that when I ponder (aka speculate) on a principle of the restored gospel, I make a list of all my questions and proceed to answer them with brief answers. Sometimes I list a verse (or verses) of scripture next to the question in hopes that it will lead me to an answer. Once I have exhausted (in my own mind) my grasp on the relevant scriptures, I turn to my book collection and attempt to find books that may shed light on my question(s). As I study "out of the best books" (D&C 88:118) I continue to make my list. When I have read everything I can find on that given topic of speculation, I turn to my loved ones and trusted friends. Everyone needs a circle of men and women they can turn to and safely and freely discuss their ideas. This sharpens my thoughts and introduces new and insightful ways of thinking about this idea. Finally, I often will begin a kind of research paper in the form of a talk. I write down what I understand on the topic. Then an interesting thing takes place. As I type thoughts and ideas flow into my "heart and mind" (cf. D&C 8:2-3) and I realize that I am being taught from the Spirit. For me this is when things get exciting. I have found that writing my thoughts down in an organized fashion gives articulation to my ideas.

Sir Francis Bacon, an English author, courtier, & philosopher (1561-1626) once wrote, “Reading maketh a full man, conference a ready man, and writing an exact man.” As I demonstrated above, I find some terrific principles in thinking about speculative ideas in Bacon's assessment. It was only after I had discovered my own way of approaching speculative ideas that I read Bacon's analysis. Certainly I agree.

When it comes to speculating about doctrinal ideas I found found no substitute for reading and studying and pondering the scriptures. Members of the Church used to approach Elder Bruce R. McConkie and ask him what his secret to scripture was and how they could do the same. His response usually disappointed members. He would reply by saying that the secret to scripture study is that there is no secret. He said the secret was not in a color coding system, reading chronologically or topically, or early in the morning or late at night. Instead he said that the secret lies solely in the intensity and consistency in which we engage in the scriptures. I believe people were disappointed because Elder McConkie's response indicated that scripture study involved paying a price.

I love the scriptures and enjoy their study. It is when I am studying most intently that my speculation is the most rewarding. Again, let me emphasize that when I say speculate I am doing so in consideration of the principles I outlined above. For the most part, the speculative things that I learn are just for me--the are personal. I don't preach them from the pulpit nor do I lobby them with members or allow them to become unhealthy and fanatical gospel hobbies. Instead when I learn something from the Spirit after much study, discussing, and writing, I allow that idea to percolate in my soul. It then becomes a part of me and my learning and studying and researching continues. Some of my most treasured spiritual knowledge has come to me as a result of healthy speculation and adhering to my personal principles above. As long as my personal ideas are in harmony with revealed doctrines and principles of the restored gospel I allow them to take root. I am always aware of what the approved doctrines are of the Church and do all I can to keep those separate and yet complimentary to my own thoughts. In doing this I am giving priority to the teachings of appointed and ordained prophets, seers, and revelators over my own.

There is much more I would like to say on this topic but I need to speculate some more. Perhaps I will have something to add later. Perhaps.

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Location:Zion National Park

Friday, March 16, 2012

Worship and Learning at Church

From time to time I hear members of the Church complain that they are not being fulfilled during the three-hour block. Most typically, the assertion is that the talks and lessons are not stimulating enough--spiritually and/or intellectually. I once felt like this as well. This is an embarrassing memory to relive, but in hopes that it will help someone else that is entertaining similar thoughts or having an experience that mirrors mine, it is worth the pain.

My wife and I were living in the Seattle-area at the time and I, along with work, school, and another ward calling, was teaching early morning seminary. Other than the fact that I am not really a morning person and on some days early morning seminary felt very early, I loved my experience teaching the youth and found it remarkably rewarding. Every day I would spend a great deal of time studying and preparing for my lessons. I learned doctrine and Church History at a level I had not done previously. It was an extremely stimulating and exciting time for me. Like many returned missionaries, I came home from the mission field and (unfortunately) didn't really continue my study habits that had become so refined while serving in Brazil. I regret that I didn't continue my scripture study behavior but nevertheless I became distracted by everything else. Gratefully, teaching early morning seminary forced me to get back into the scriptures. It didn't take long before I was right back to my habits and becoming spiritually and intellectually rejuvenated. Unfortunately there was an unexpected (and unwelcome) side-effect.

I became proud. Because I was learning so much and making so much progress (in my mind), I became dissatisfied with my three-hour block experience. I felt cheated in some way because the instructors and speakers weren't teaching and speaking at the same level as I felt and perceived my progress was making. I found myself becoming critical about the talks that were given. I would begin writing my own talk in my head and felt that I could do better. I even began thinking that it was too bad the bishop in my ward didn't have me speak frequently in Sacrament Meeting and teach Gospel Doctrine. After all, I thought, I am the smartest member here. I know more than anyone else. Who is more qualified than me? I sincerely felt that I was not being spiritually or intellectually stimulated anymore and wondered if I ever would again. No one could teach me anything that I don't already know, I thought. I actually remember thinking that! I am fundamentally ashamed these were my feelings.

I am grateful to a dear friend that heard about my proud and sinful feelings. He immediately called me and gave a well deserved rebuke. Of course, he was gentle and loving, but it was very clear he was disappointed in me. In retrospect I think it was his disappointment that caused me to reflect more seriously on my attitude. I told him how I felt and asked what I should do. He looked at me and said, "Matt, we don't come to Church to learn. The primary reason we come is to worship."

I must say that that word, worship, changed my whole outlook on my Church experience. My friend was absolutely right. Less I be misunderstood, I am fully aware that when we come to Church we do learn. But learning, I have realized, is a blessing that is associated with worship, almost a side-effect. I changed my misguided thinking and something wonderful happened. (I might add this wonderful thing has continued to happen.)

As I began attending my three-hour block with the idea of worship in mind instead of attempting to prove how much I knew or silently challenging others to try to teach me everything changed. Because I was coming to worship my heart became humble. I was no longer fixating on myself and what members were (or weren't) doing for me in order to spiritually stimulate me. Instead I was just focusing on the Redeeming sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the gift His Father gave to us. In my hymn singing, in my prayers and meditations, and as I listened to my fellow saints speak and teach, I was focused on the Godhead and expressing my eternal and boundless gratitude for them. My hope was to be worthy of the Holy Spirit and find ways to keep the covenants and commandments better. What happened next was unexpected: as a result of my change of heart I began to learn. In fact I began to learn more from my fellow congregants than I ever had alone. I still maintain that the purpose of our Church experience on Sunday is primarily to worship, however I also know that as we are humble the Spirit will allow us to be spiritually stimulated.

And so back my original reason for writing this. When I hear that members are feeling the same way I once felt, I feel sad for them and wish they had a friend like I once had. Perhaps this will serve that same function. I hope so.

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Saturday, January 14, 2012

To correct or not to correct...

When I was first called as a bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was 27 and very worried. About a lot of things. One of them was knowing when I should correct or not correct someone's doctrine from the pulpit or classroom. And then if I had to correct, how was I to do it, "for how to act I did not know." (JS-H 1:12.)

These are tough questions for bishops and for those that preside over them. It is not an easy thing to lovingly and tactfully correct a fellow member of the ward. I thought that perhaps, now that I am no longer serving as the bishop of my ward, it might be appropriate to share some experiences that occurred to me during my seven year tenure, and perhaps some personal reflections now that I am no longer serving. My hope is that if a bishop, currently serving, stumbles across this blog entry it may be of some small help.

One thing always had to be first and foremost: the principles found in D&C 121 had to be lived. No matter how a leader corrects a member of the congregation, if it happens, it must be done so that the member has no doubt that the correction was made because it was necessary. In my mind, a member will know it was necessary if the leader "shows an increase of love," and knows that the leader's "faithfulness is stronger than the chords of death." But for that to happen, the love that is given is clearly genuine and "unfeigned."

For me, the primary reason for ensuring the doctrinal purity is to always protect the integrity of the congregation. That said, my expression was usually enough to let the membership know I was at least uncomfortable with what was being said. My wife said she could always tell when I didn't like what was being taught because my face look upset or worried. Other times, such as in class, and I was teaching, if someone made a comment that I completely disagreed with, sometimes I wouldn't even bother to respond. Typically, my silence was response enough that I did not approve of what had been taught.

Another factor was that I had to weigh the feelings of the member teaching the false doctrine vs. protecting the integrity of the congregation. It seems to me that members in general don't intend to teach false doctrine. Because of that, for a member of the bishopric to stand up and correct them, can be a very embarrassing experience.

About ten years ago, I was asked to speak in my ward in the fifth Article of Faith. I gave my talk in the course of my remarks I shared an experience from the life of Elder Bruce R. McConkie about buttermilk (for the story, see The Bruce R. McConkie Story: Reflections of a Son, p. 258.). It was designed to demonstrate that we ought not to try to determine if our leaders are exercising unrighteous dominion. I thought it was a good story and illustrated my point quite well. At the conclusion of the meeting the bishop arose and said, "I just want to make a correction in regards to Brother Christensen and Elder McConkie's buttermilk story..." Then he proceeded to make his corrections. Essentially he said that we should never allow someone to exercise unrighteous dominion over us--particularly in the name of the priesthood. He said that far too often husbands do this and such practices must come to an end. I was shocked. I was shocked that I was being corrected. I was shocked that my bishop felt that I had taught something that was objectionable. I was terrified that my bishop perhaps thought that I exercised unrighteous dominion in my home with my wife. I remember the feeling I had as the bishop said that he was correcting me. I had only heard about this happening, but as of yet don't remember ever having seen it done. And not only was it being done, but it was being done to me! I was pretty bothered by it all week. Mostly because I was worried my bishop had misunderstood me and thought I was teaching false doctrine. Finally I resolved to call him. I brought up what happened at the end of Sacrament Meeting and apologized. I also tried to explain what I was teaching. To my surprise he said, "Matt, I have been meaning to call you..." Then he told me he perfectly understood and even agreed with what I had taught. His concern was for the small percentage of members who might not understand and confuse and even take license with the story and excuse their own behavior. He had something happen in the past and was not going to every let it happen again (unrighteous dominion) if he could help it.

Not long after this experience he called me as his second counselor and eventually I replaced him as the bishop of our ward. As we were going over the transition when he was released and I was called, I asked him about correcting people and how to do it. He said he had only done it publicly three times. I asked how they went. He said that only one time ended positively. I asked what happened and he said, "Matt, you ought to remember, it was you."

Another important factor that I weighed was whether or not I could correct the problem without drawing attention to the member or the doctrine. More than anything else, the one thing I tried to quickly assess in my own mind was, did anyone notice and do I need to address this? There was one occasion when a sister was speaking and said that we pray to Jesus. I knew this particular member well enough to know that she did not really believe that. Instead, I think she got flustered at the pulpit, perhaps a bit nervous, and what she meant to say and what she actually said were two different things. I know it has happened to me plenty of times. The other side of the token was I was not sure the members even noticed what was said. But in this case, because it is such a serious matter that some people in the Church don't seem to fully grasp, I felt that I had better say something. The way I determined to handle it was the best way I could in the circumstances. I arose at the conclusion of the meeting and bore my testimony on prayer: "I know that we pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost." In this way, I was able to correct the falsehood (innocent yet egregious as it may have been) and did not draw attention to it or the sister that gave the talk. In the end, I think that the only people that would have recognized that I made a correction would have been the people that heard what she said earlier in her talk.

The above situation just mentioned is also closely related to the question as to whether the member even realized that what was taught was false or in error. As in the story I shared, and many others, I think that what was said was an accident. If that was the case, as in the example above, that would dictate how I would respond.

Was it worth the time to make the correction was always an important consideration. I have noticed that often, most members don't even realize there has been a statement of false doctrine made. Of course, sometimes that does't matter and if it was egregious the statement still needs to be corrected. But sometimes I realized that it wouldn't be worth it to make the correction. This also happened sometimes when something that I personally believe to be false doctrine, or something that I at least strongly disagree with, was taught. In these cases I had to really determine before hand, when I was first called, what the parameters of what I felt would qualify as worthy of correcting. I will have more on that below.

When I would hear something that I felt was false, I had to ask myself, "could I correct the person afterwards and in private?" I had no sooner been sustained and ordained a bishop, then the following Fast and Testimony Meeting, a member of the ward stood and shared some feelings that were inappropriate. I will share what he said in his "testimony" but I wish to first say that he is a very good man. He meant very well and I know that he meant no harm by what he said. He began by saying that when he and his wife were married, his parents called him, his spouse, and all their siblings and spouses to a special family conference. I remember thinking to myself, that is a good idea. He then said that his parents gave them two pieces of counsel that he has always tried to follow: 1) always stay close to the Lord and His Church, and 2) never do anything to prevent children from coming into this world.  Then this well-meaning brother stated, "I know that many of you in this ward are newly-weds. I know a great many of you have been married for more than one year and you are not pregnant. In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I command you to repent and begin to fill the measure of your creations." Then he concluded in the usual way and returned to his pew. Needless to say the congregation was shocked (as was their new bishop). As he had been speaking the members all looked at me to see what my reaction was and to see what I was going to do. Like any good newly-called and ordained bishop, I did nothing. I was scared and was absolutely unprepared. I was teaching in Relief Society later that day and knew the sisters were traditionally more sensitive to the kind of remarks he made than the brethren. So I hoped that I could handle it there and make a correction that way. When I was in the Relief Society, when it was my turn to speak, I did not directly address what happened in Sacrament Meeting (I didn't even mention the incident). Instead I told the sisters that Heavenly Father loved them. That in our ward there were sisters from all walks of life and experience. I knew that some sisters have children that have left the house and moved on, and others are just beginning to have children. While others were still waiting and hoping to have children and others might not have the opportunity to have children in mortality. But that no one has the right to judge them and that they just needed to stay close to the Spirit and he would teach and comfort them. Later that week I had this man and his wife in my office for tithing settlement. After they declared their tithing status, I told them we needed to talk about what happened in Sacrament Meeting. I thanked him for his testimony and told him that I felt that what his parents had shared with him and his family was very appropriate in that setting. But that it was absolutely inappropriate to share that in a setting at Church even worse to call the congregation to repentance. The brother was surprised but humble and took the correction well. Especially for the fact that he was old enough to be my father (and for me to be his son). I then asked if he was aware of the policy on birth control as stated in the Handbook. He was not. I shared it with him: no member had the right to judge another member, that the decision as to when and how many children to have was deeply personal and only between the member and the Lord. This good man then said that of course, if I felt it was time for a couple to have children, I could call them in and tell them so. I reminded him what the Handbook said (no member can judge and it is between the couple and the Lord), and indicated that given the way the policy reads, not even a bishop could involve himself in that personal and sacred decision. At this point, his wife began to cry. We both looked at her and asked what was wrong. She said that she has been listening to her husband tell this to people their entire marriage (I think around 35-40 years). She had had four miscarriages and the MD's had told her to stop trying to have children because it was too dangerous for her. But because her husband had been so active in sharing the message, she felt too guilty and never felt she could stop having children (or at least trying). Her husband had no idea this good sister had been going through this agony for so many years. They both wept and some healing began. I wept too. In this case I was very glad that I didn't rebuke from the pulpit, because this healing moment would not have happened.

I am confident that there are other reasons and factors that need to be weighed in making these decisions on whether or not to correct someone in Church. These are just a few of that came to mind as I have reflected on this particular aspect of my service.

As I mentioned above, I had to make some determinations early on as to what I felt constituted "correction" worthy. I personally felt that anything that did damage to, disparaged, or taught contrary to a few central doctrinal points, I would of necessity need to take a stand. These things included some of the following: anything that taught that God was not our Father, Jesus was not the Christ, or we could not worthily maintain the companionship of the Holy Ghost. Also, if someone taught something that was contrary to the Plan of Salvation as revealed in the Last Dispensation would require me to speak up. And if a speaker or teacher taught or spoke out against Joseph Smith or any of his successors, or the General or Local Authorities, or the revealed order of the Priesthood, I would feel compelled to rebuke that person. Finally, if a member were to speak evil or disparage another member of the Church or community (local or global), I would need to correct that member. Now, if something were taught that touched on any of the above points, I would use my best judgment and discretion to determine if I need to involve myself in making a correction.

I am sure there are a host of other things that I could have or should have included. Perhaps I will think more on this and include an additional entry later. Perhaps not. My worst fear is that someone who presides over me will read this and find something that is out of line or in need of correction. Of course, if that happens I pray that I am willing to take the correction.