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Strange Mormon Customs: Living Prophets

Shall we begin with an uncomfortable topic?

The Bible was written so long ago by so many different authors and translated so many times that  it is hard to know what is applicable to us in this time period and what is, well . . . not.

There are a lot of topics that seemed pretty important at that time. There were a lot of “rights” and “wrongs.” Here is a short list: circumcision, baptism, priesthood authority, animal sacrifice, polygamy, sodomy, adultery, forgiveness, homosexuality, and that women should have long hair and remain silent at church.

Hm.

Which teachings of the Bible should we apply? Which should we ignore?  If some verses of the Bible don’t fit in with modern society what do we do? Just skip them?  And if our reasoning for believing this and not that is because we think that some of it is doctrine and some of it was just the social custom of the day, how do we decipher which is which? And once we’ve interpreted it to our own satisfaction, what if others of our same church come to the opposite opinion? Perhaps the easiest thing to do is just throw our hands up in the air and try to not think about death.

Prophets Then, Prophets Now

In the Mormon church we believe in all the prophets of the Bible. We revere them and honor them and we tell their stories to our children over and over. However, we believe that the most important prophet of all is the one that is alive now.

The structure of leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints is patterned after the way Christ built His church while He was on the earth: with prophets and apostles. That is why we sometimes call our church the “restored” church.

President Thomas S. Monson (First prophet on Facebook!)

Quorum of the Twelve Apostles

The Purpose of Living Prophets

Like the past prophets, living prophets help us apply God’s laws and doctrines to society’s constantly evolving morality. He does not change church doctrine to reflect the current social standards, but instead guides us on how to use the doctrine to sail through the changing tides . . . and sometimes against the tide. He provides the confidence and stability we need when we are in doubt or are confused. To do this he also needs to have authority from God (which is a topic for another day).

However, there is . . .

The Downside of Being Prophet

Part of the burden of a prophet is that people think you are crazy.

It happened over and over in the scriptures, so it is no surprise that it happens now. Just pick a prophet: Noah, Moses, Elisha in the Old Testament. Peter and Paul in the New Testament. Lehi, Nephi, Abinadi, and Samuel the Lamanite in the Book of Mormon. Sometimes the most vicious unbelievers were members of their own families.

Those who find a prophet’s words hard to stomach are quick label him as old-fashioned, senile, stubborn, or fallen. That is because prophets have a hard task: they tell people to repent and change their ways. That is not exactly the fastest way to win friends. Here is how one ancient prophet put it:

“…If a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil. But…if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.”  Helaman 13:26-27

If Ye Believe These Things . . . 

Believing the prophet is one thing, following him is another.  There have been times in the history of the Mormon church when it would have been more tolerable to light yourself on fire than do what the prophet asked. Take polygamy, for example. Contrary to what you may have heard, the early Mormons were not jumping up and down to start practicing polygamy. It went against everything they were previously taught. It went against all the social norms. Even Joseph Smith and the other apostles recoiled at this revelation from God. But Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were not just prophets, they were seers. As in see-ers. A seer is someone who sees more than we can see. Someone who has a clearer understanding than we have. Polygamy changed the church in a way nothing else could.  I can bet money that most of the people in the modern LDS church are decedents of polygamous ancestors (I am) and if they are not decedents, then they were baptized by someone who was a decedent. We don’t know all the reasons why the church had to briefly live the law of polygamy, but in many ways, polygamy is what made our church what it is today.

Does The Prophet Speak To God Face-to-face?

I don’t know. I’ve never heard a modern prophet say so in those words. I don’t think he would tell us if he did, since that would just make people think he was even crazier, and they would want proof, as people always do.

But we believe God spoke to the prophets of old, and I believe He spoke to Joseph Smith, and since our world is a lot more confusing than it was back then,  I don’t see any reason why He shouldn’t speak to a prophet now.

Prophets or Wolves

What is the difference between a prophet whom some think is crazy and a man who really is crazy? They are out there, you know. Those people who say they are prophets. How is one to know the difference?

1. First,  judge them “by their fruits.” When members of the church follow the direction of the prophet the church flourishes.  It stands to reason that if the Savior created a church on this earth to be “His” church it would be a church that is growing, not shrinking. It would be a church that is alive, not dead. But the real fruits of our church are the lives of the members and the blessings that come into our lives as we live the gospel. It is pretty incredible, actually.

2. Personal revelation.  If the prophet speaks and it causes conflict inside of us, we are not expected to blindly follow. But we are expected to search the scriptures and pray about it. We are encouraged to ask God for ourselves if what the prophet says is true. If it is of God, the Holy Spirit will let us know. Sometimes the words of the prophets and our own opinions clash so much that we just have to trust. Sometimes we have to be like the widow who served the prophet Elijah. She and her son were starving and Elijah asked her to make him a cake with the very last of her flour and oil. That didn’t make any sense. But she was obedient and trusted him. After he left her house her casks of oil and flour were never empty again.

Back to the Bible

Back to our original dilemma:  What should we believe about the Bible and what do we ignore? And if we are picking and choosing what we are willing to believe, is the book useful to us at all?

Since God is the author of order, not confusion, there is a prophet on the earth today who does have the authority to highlight what is most important for us to know and do right now.  He makes it clear what in the scriptures is still very relevant and what is not.

This is a big claim, I know. Especially since what the prophet says is not always in vogue. But when has a prophet ever been in vogue?

 

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Strange Mormon Customs: Big Families

Once, when my husband told a co-worker that he had four children the man joked, “So are you Catholic or Mormon?”

Ha! And that was only for four.

It is obvious why devout Catholics end up with big families. But Mormons? What is their deal? Do they not use birth control either? Do they get a tithing discount for every child they have? Are they doing it for tax incentives?

Or are they trying to take over the world?

Perhaps.

Or perhaps it is because it makes us happy. My husband’s mother bore six children and my mom had seven. We both loved growing up in large families.

I have three amazing sisters to laugh with, cry with and swap kids with. I have older brothers who picked on me mercilessly but also stood by me when I was in trouble. Growing up, I adored my many cousins and still keep in contact with them.

As a child in a big, loving family I never even considered having less than twenty.

It is no secret that our church leaders tell us regularly to “multiply and replenish the earth.” The fact that we would take such counsel seriously makes some people squirm.

But before you think we are all just mindless rabbits, let me assure you that we are faithful people, not stupid people.

There is no quota. We are not asked to procreate at will without considering the mother’s health (physical, mental and emotional) and many other factors that may make it difficult to support a large family.  Whether or not birth control is used is up to the couple’s agency and discretion. In my opinion, to keep adding children into a family without thought and planning is as bad an idea as using abstinence (in marriage) as birth control. Having a child is a huge decision, but having a healthy relationship with your spouse is paramount.

Church leaders are simply asking us to not let selfishness or fear of the future overcome our desire to have children.  Once, when Scott and I were deciding on when to have our third child, it seemed as if there was always some impediment nine months away that would make it difficult to have a baby. But we decided that if we waited for the “perfect time” to have a baby it would never happen at all.

More often than not babies find a way to be welcomed, cared for, loved, and never regretted–even when at first it seemed like it would be impossible.

Many people who don’t have large families can’t understand the desire to have one. My grandmother, for instance. Each time my mother would call my grandmother–who was not a Mormon–and announce  she was again pregnant, my grandmother would tell her she was a “glutton for punishment.”

Since I am number six, I’m glad my mom didn’t listen to her.

I have found that the blessings of having a big family are innumerable. When you have a large family you are automatically part of something. You belong. (And if you have a big enough family you are sure to have at least one sibling that you like.) Everyone needs to belong, to be inherently admired and loved…not because they have done something special, but merely because they exist.

That is why people who don’t have supportive families join gangs.

When you have a big family every day is a party. There is always someone to play with, to serve, to talk to, to commiserate with, to make you laugh.

There is a reason why they call families of lions “prides.” You feel great pride when you are part of a large, respected family, headed by a matriarch and patriarch who lead and teach with love and a great affection for their posterity. You feel that you have a stewardship to your family and you are constantly encouraged to honor the family’s name, to keep it untarnished.

People who have never grown up in a family like this don’t think that it is possible.

But it is.

I do know of one Mormon friend who felt “lost” in her family. She felt like there were so many kids that she didn’t matter. She was one of 15. All the more reason for parents to be wise and thoughtful when making decisions to have another child.

Another reason we have lots of kids is because Mormons are alwasy on a quest for self-improvement. We have a great desire to become better, to refine ourselves, to achieve excellence. Is there no greater refiner’s fire than to raise a child? 

Peter de Vries wrote “The value marriage is not that adults produce children but that children produce adults.”  I know of no other occupation that demands so much focus, creativity, endurance, wisdom, unconditional love, selflessness, generosity, humor, patience, sacrifice, kindness, innovation, organization, composure, self-control, cleanliness and tolerance. The more I try to “master” my children, the more I learn that it is more about mastering myself.

It is true that kids can be a pain sometimes, but they are also a lot fun.  They are fun to tickle, to teach, to hold, to laugh with, to cuddle, to sooth, to heal, to learn from. They each come with their own very unique personalities–even my identical twins–and it is fascinating to get to know them as they grow and mature.

As Latter-Day Saints we believe in the eternal nature of families. The family relationships we nurture here will be one of the few things we can take with us to the next life. If being with your family forever and ever and ever doesn’t give you motivation to get along, nothing will.

I used to think that the things that would give me the greatest joy would be to sing on big stage in front of thousands (which I’ve done) to go kayaking on a glass-smooth river (which I have done) or to publish a novel (haven’t done that one yet). But the greatest joy I have is to hear my kids laughing  together. To watch them playing together. To witness them doing something kind for a sibling without being prompted.

That is true joy.

Perhaps I will change my mind when I finally publish a book, but I doubt it.

 As I sit here and finish this post I am entering my ninth month of pregnancy.  I am large and so obviously pregnant that it is no longer taboo for perfect strangers to ask me how far along I am. And they almost always add, “Is this your first?”

I love to smile and say, “No, this is my fifth.”
This post was first published on February 26, 2013 on Turkeyboys Girls

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