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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