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We’re rockin’ the $10 grocery store pool.  These two wouldn’t have been more impressed if it were olympic sized. The only thing that could have made this moment sweeter would be the California sunshine.  The slanting Utah sunset was a close second.  However, nothing is second to these sun-kissed sweethearts of mine.  They are more lovely and more temperate than anything I can imagine.

 

Today I am nearing the completion of my goal to re-read the Book of Mormon afresh.  If you’ve ever read the book, you might have felt (as I do) that the beginning chapters limp along at times, albeit interspersed with sparkling gems of wisdom.  However, once you near Helaman:13, things start to really heat up. At that point, this book of holy writ holds my attention like a teenage romance novel.  I find myself flying through chapters and relinquishing the book with reluctance when it becomes necessary to rejoin the functional world.  My mind looks ahead to my study the next day with happy anticipation, I want to hear what happens next!

The central event in the Book of Mormon is the story of the Savior’s visit to the American Continent— after his resurrection in Jerusalem. The book of Third Nephi, begininning chapter 8, picks up right at the time of the Savior’s crucifixion, telling the story from the point of view of another nation (which attests to the veracity of the bible, which is—as you know— told from the perspective of the Jewish people).

The Book of Mormon recounts a history of the Lord’s ministry to the “other sheep He has which are not of this [the Jewish] fold“.  It relates the Savior’s message and mission.  When I read those chapters of the Book of Mormon, I find myself transfixed, in awe, with much food-for-thought.  Suddenly, much of the other history recounted in the book (although valuable) becomes peripheral in comparison.  You cannot read these chapters about the Savior’s ministry without being touched.  It is the central, most pivitol event the world has seen—and once you sense this, it becomes strikingly clear that all other events and circumstances THROUGHOUT THE HISTORY OF THE WORLD are but appendages to it!

We are here on earth to learn.  We are here to exercise our free will and determine our own fate.  I don’t mean that in the way that it is traditionally meant when we think of making our fate—NOT in relation to what we might accumulate in life, or to define ourselves in relation to what others may accomplish (though that is what the purpose of the rat race often appears to be).  BUT WE ARE HERE TO DETERMINE OUR FATE IN RELATION TO THE SAVIOR OF MANKIND and our desire to be counted on His side.

So, when I read the testament of Jesus Christ as recounted in the Book of Mormon, I similarly realize that all other ambitions in my life (although valuable) should be peripheral to my goal of following the Savior, Jesus Christ.   And, when my heart really takes hold of this thought, everything fits.  I feel at peace.  I feel (an increasingly rare sensation for me) that I AM ENOUGH.  That being sometimes simple and unheralded and imperfect is okay because all my other concerns are swallowed up in my vision of the Savior and the miracle of His love, the power of His Atonement, and the surety of His promises to me.

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Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Religious Freedom Annual Review held by the BYU International Center for Law and Religious Studies.  I was blown away.  The conference itself was exceptional, but I was shocked to discover how our religious freedoms in America are eroding rapidly.  A few days ago I would have thought, ‘that would never happen in America’.  I was caught off-guard by the rapidly changing tides.

In light of the US Supreme Court decision legalizing homosexual marriage nationally, handed down just 11 days ago, the religous freedom conference was filled to capacity and overflowing.  All were invested in understanding how these legislative changes will affect the nation. I could write several posts about what I learned but I’ll share a few points here.

Of primary concern is that in the United States, the First Amendment right of free exercise of religion is coming under pressure from proponents of same-sex marriage.

Some important issues to watch regarding recent changes:

Free Expression:  Will religious viewpoints be suppressed in the public square and other places where people live out their lives? (With regard to same-sex marriage, can we speak freely of our religious beliefs? It may not be illegal to speak your conscience, but generally, the violation of social norms leads to prohibitive unpleasantness).

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Orthodox Jews protesting outside the Supreme Court during Same-Sex Marriage debate.
Orthodox Jews protesting outside the Supreme Court during Same-Sex Marriage debate.

(Above are two examples of the opposing opinions in extreme as evidenced by protesters outside the Supreme court.)

Parent’s Teaching Children: Will parents of school children be able to ensure that their religious values aren’t undermined through classroom instruction or intimidation? (This is already happening.  When public schools in Massachusetts began teaching students about same-sex civil marriage, a Court of Appeals ruled that parents had no right to exempt their students. 1)

The Workplace: Will employees be able to maintain their religious identity in the workplace and be reasonably accommodated when work and religious duties conflict? (Here is a story of a young Muslim woman frighting for the right to wear a headscarf.)

Professional Credentials: Will professionals lose or be denied licensing for expressing religious views or declining to provide services that are available elsewhere but that are at odds with their beliefs? (For example, a Georgia counselor contracted by the Centers for Disease Control was fired after an investigation into her decision to refer someone in a same-sex relationship to another counselor. In New Jersey, a ministry lost its tax-exempt status for denying a lesbian couple the use of its pavilion for their wedding. New Mexico’s Human Rights Commission prosecuted a commercial photographer for refusing to photograph a same-sex commitment ceremony. 2)

Small Businesses: Will family and religiously oriented businesses be able to maintain their values in the face of discrimination laws? (As with the Hobby Lobby abortive contraceptive issue.)

College Campuses: Will campus student groups be able to select their own leaders or express a religious message? (As with the Vanderbilt University issue of college Christian groups being de-recognized at California State University campuses.)

Freedom from Retaliation: Will those who voice beliefs be retaliated against? (As happened when Mozilla Firefox CEO was forced to resign for his support of California Prop. 8)

Religious Employment: Will churches continue to have the right to employ people that affirm and live the church’s beliefs?  Will they be forced to provide employment benefits that contradict their beliefs?

Private Property: Will churches be able to build and maintain houses of worship and other facilities?  Will they be able to preserve their religiously important properties for activities that are consistent with their religious beliefs?

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Tax Exempt Status: Will churches and schools that affirm the traditional definition of marriage lose their tax-exempt status?  Will donors’ contributions be tax deductible?

Access to Government Resources: Will religious organizations be able to participate on equal terms with other non-profit organizations in government facilities and properties?

Religious Schools: Will religious schools be able to maintain their religious values and standards while also retaining their accreditation and the ability to participate in federal educational and research programs? (As recently happened at Trinity Western University in Canada.)

In light of the RAPIDLY changing public opinion and policy, this quote on irreligion as the state religion is timely:

“We shall see in our time a maximum if indirect effort made to establish irreligion as the state religion. It is actually a new form of paganism that uses the carefully preserved and cultivated freedoms of Western civilization to shrink freedom even as it rejects the value essence of our rich Judeo-Christian heritage. Brothers and sisters, irreligion as the state religion would be the worst of all combinations. Its orthodoxy would be insistent and its inquisitors inevitable. Its paid ministry would be numerous beyond belief. Its Caesars would be insufferably condescending. Its majorities—when faced with clear alternatives—would make the Barabbas choice, as did a mob centuries ago when Pilate confronted them with the need to decide.” Neil A Maxwell

What can we do to protect Religious Freedom?

MY PERSONAL TAKE-AWAY FROM THE CONFERENCE WAS THAT WHEN PEOPLE BECOME APATHETIC, THAT IS WHEN THE NEGATIVE INPUTS TEND TO RULE.

As a nation, we are losing our religion.  The statistics are startling.  We need to educate our children religiously.

We need to celebrate and acknowledge the blessings that religion brings to society. Democracy and capitalism are both dependent on moral behavior.

We need to speak out.  That’s something each of us can do.

As a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I have a particular investment in these issues.  However, something particularly stressed at the conference was that religious freedom is only possible when we can trust that even when our views differ from each other, all will be protected by that same religious freedom.  This is fundamental.

As people of faith—all faiths—we need to counter the fear-mongering that the media presents. We can work to show respect and compromise in the midst of difficulty.  It is better to coexist  peacefully as a nation with divided beliefs. We must continue to work to improve our nation, educate and lift our fellow man.  May we continue to defend the ideal of liberty and justice for all, I pray.

More to read:

Resources on Religious Freedom

The Divine Institution of Marriage LDS Newsroom

Meeting the Challenges of Today by Neal A. Maxwell

Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam

References:

1) Sherif Girgis, Ryan T. Anderson, and Robert P. George, What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense (New York and London: Encounter Books, 2012), 62–64.

2) http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/the-divine-institution-of-marriage

3) Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVIII, p.237

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We needed this little trip more than I realized.  Earlier, I got a bit caught-up in the trip-prep chores.  It takes a fair amount of work to have a little family fun.  However, the kids were so thrilled to get our undivided attention for two days.  It’s true what they say, when it comes to family, love is really spelled T-I-M-E.

Marriage is not for the individual alone, it is for the family of man.

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“Marriage is more than your love for each other. … In your love you see only your two selves in the world, but in marriage you are a link in the chain of the generations, which God causes to come and to pass away to his glory, and calls into his kingdom. In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than something personal—it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. … So love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I have felt this many times but never found the words to say it. I am grateful for this wise man.  We need his words today. There is so much discussion of marriage as a right or a possession.  The idea of marriage as a post of responsibility towards mankind is a much more elevated concept, one that we may have lost sight of as a society.

In what ways is marriage an office?  In what ways is marriage a responsibility—like a promise to society as a whole?

Let’s look at the most basic level first. Statically speaking, one of the fastest ways to become poor in this country is to become a single mom.  Marriages are a powerful barrier against poverty.  How many families would no longer need government assistance if more fathers viewed their marriage as Bonhoeffer describes?

Secondly, marriage is more than just your love for each other and more than just a piece of paper.  In fact, that barely scratches the surface.  Marriage is a promise before God to be completely faithful—to be one.  It is also a promise in the eyes of the civil government to be responsible to and for each other.  We need to stop thinking of marriage in terms of what it proves—like a banner, prize or statement.  Wouldn’t we all benefit from the understanding of marriage as something we build, not something we claim?

Last and definitely most importantly, marriage is for our children.  With all the attitudes of entitlement that plague our American society, this is one application where entitlement is actually appropriate.  It is my firm belief that children are entitled to birth within the bonds of matrimony.  One of my favorite articles on this subject states in part:

Of utmost importance to the well-being of children is whether their parents were married, the nature and duration of the marriage, and, more broadly, the culture and expectations of marriage and child care where they live. Two scholars of the family explain: “Throughout history, marriage has first and foremost been an institution for procreation and raising children. It has provided the cultural tie that seeks to connect the father to his children by binding him to the mother of his children. Yet in recent times, children have increasingly been pushed from center stage.”

A Harvard law professor describes the current law and attitude toward marriage and divorce: “The [current] American story about marriage, as told in the law and in much popular literature, goes something like this: marriage is a relationship that exists primarily for the fulfillment of the individual spouses. If it ceases to perform this function, no one is to blame and either spouse may terminate it at will. … Children hardly appear in the story; at most they are rather shadowy characters in the background.”

[The leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] have taught that looking “upon marriage as a mere contract that may be entered into at pleasure … and severed at the first difficulty … is an evil meriting severe condemnation,” especially where “children are made to suffer.” And children are impacted by divorces. Over half of the divorces in a recent year involved couples with minor children.

Many children would have had the blessing of being raised by both of their parents if only their parents had followed this inspired teaching in the family proclamation: “Husband and wife have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. … Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another.” The most powerful teaching of children is by the example of their parents. Divorcing parents inevitably teach a negative lesson.

There are surely cases when a divorce is necessary for the good of the children, but those circumstances are exceptional. In most marital contests the contending parents should give much greater weight to the interests of the children. With the help of the Lord, they can do so. Children need the emotional and personal strength that come from being raised by two parents who are united in their marriage and their goals. As one who was raised by a widowed mother, I know firsthand that this cannot always be achieved, but it is the ideal to be sought whenever possible.

Children are the first victims of current laws permitting so-called “no-fault divorce.” From the standpoint of children, divorce is too easy. Summarizing decades of social science research, a careful scholar concluded that “the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.” A New York Times writer noted “the striking fact that even as traditional marriage has declined in the United States … the evidence has mounted for the institution’s importance to the well-being of children.” That reality should give important guidance to parents and parents-to-be in their decisions involving marriage and divorce. We also need politicians, policy makers, and officials to increase their attention to what is best for children in contrast to the selfish interests of voters and vocal advocates of adult interests.

Children are also victimized by marriages that do not occur. Few measures of the welfare of our rising generation are more disturbing than the recent report that 41 percent of all births in the United States were to women who were not married. Unmarried mothers have massive challenges, and the evidence is clear that their children are at a significant disadvantage when compared with children raised by married parents.

Most of the children born to unmarried mothers—58 percent—were born to couples who were cohabitating. Whatever we may say about these couples’ forgoing marriage, studies show that their children suffer significant comparative disadvantages. For children, the relative stability of marriage matters.

(From Dallin H. Oaks, Protect the Children, General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, October 2012)

His words ring true to me.  I believe that marriage is vitally important to children, to society and in the eyes of God. My prayer is that we, as a nation, return to a tradition of marriage—not only for ourselves but for each other.

Today I’m thinking about my greatest gifts from God.

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“If you suppose that the full-blown rapture of young romantic love is the sum total of the possibilities which spring from the fountains of life, you have not yet lived to see the devotion and the comfort of longtime married love. Mature love has a bliss not even imagined by newlyweds…Romantic love is incomplete; it is a prelude. Love is nourished by the coming of children, who spring from that fountain of life entrusted to couples in marriage…The greatest reward we have received in this life, and the life to come, is our children and our grandchildren.  The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.”  Boyd K. Packer