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Sunday, November 9, 2014

LDS Members Caught Up In The Struggle Between The Ukraine And The Secessionist Donetsk Republic

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have found themselves caught up in the strife between pro-government forces and secessionists in the Ukraine. In fact, pro-Kiev and anti-Kiev Mormons find themselves at odds. RT.com, formerly known as Russia Today, has published the story of one LDS member who's serving in the Donbass militia in the Donetsk area, where the people are more sympathetic towards Russia. The Donbass militia has approximately 16,000 members, 70 percent who are natives of Donbass, 20 percent are from the rest of Ukraine including its western regions, and 10 percent who are volunteers from Russia.

Summary: The man, identified only as Sergey, is married with three children, although he sent his family to the Crimea once fighting broke out in the Donbass. He is identified as an observant Mormon. Sergey has been fighting since May 21st, 2014 and participated in the bloodiest battle near Semyonovka, which is not far from Slavyansk. He was one of the first soldiers to receive a medal, and currently commands a military unit. Sergey states that three other Mormons also serve in the militia, and that 80 percent of the estimated 100 Mormons in the Donbass support the Donetsk Republic.

Sergey adds that before the war, there were three LDS meeting houses in Donetsk, one in Makeyevka and one in Gorlovka, but now only 30 LDS members remain in Donetsk, meeting in private homes. All four meeting houses were taken over by the militia (a Pentecostal church was also seized by the militia), and they may be turned into hospitals if needed. Access to the Kiev Temple is denied for Sergey because of the risk he might get arrested because of his militia activities. Sergey says that the Salt Lake City Central Mission doesn’t interfere in their followers’ political life. The president of their mission, an American, left when the situation began to heat up. Local LDS members gathered humanitarian aid and took it to Semyonovka under fire through Ukrainian checkpoints, and Sergey claims that LDS leaders have sent millions of dollars to help the Donbass.

Sergey is dedicated to fighting for Donbass, but does not look upon the struggle as Ukraine vs. Russia or Ukrainians vs. Russians. This shows that he's thinking about the future -- and the need for reconciliation once the conflict is resolved.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

LDS Bishop Mark Paredes Channels Samuel The Lamanite, Implicitly Questions Senator Harry Reid's Temple Worthiness Over His Democratic Party Politics

A Mormon bishop has publicly questioned the temple worthiness of Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), triggering a media frenzy, leftist outrage, and even a statement from LDS Public Affairs distancing the Church from the bishop's statement. The Salt Lake Tribune has the lead media story.

The bishop is Mark Paredes, the longtime editor of the Jewish Journal website. Bishop Paredes shepherds the Wilshire Ward in the Los Angeles area, and specializes in the history of Jewish-Mormon relations; he worked as a journalist in Milan and lived in Moscow before graduating from Brigham Young University with a degree in Italian and joining the Foreign Service. Following his diplomatic service in Mexico and Israel, Paredes studied law, clerking at leading international law firms in Dallas, Texas and Rome, Italy. Nevertheless, being a learned man has not diluted his interest in and dedication to the Gospel. On November 5th, 2014, in a post entitled "Good riddance to Harry Reid, the Mormon Senate leader", Bishop Paredes claims that Senator Reid's politics implies he does not take his religion seriously. Paredes writes:

"Harry Reid apparently believes that the church’s teachings on the evils of gambling, abortion, and same-sex marriage don’t apply to opportunistic politicians. I have no problem with an average Mormon in the pew who supports the Democratic Party because one of its issues or positions appeals to him. However, occupying a national Democratic leadership position is an entirely different matter. The LDS Church’s political neutrality can’t hide the fact that on virtually every important contemporary moral issue, at least from an LDS perspective, the Democratic Party opposes our positions. I have no doubt that Harry Reid is a wonderful man who loves his wife and kids, attends church, and is kind to animals. However, he is not a man of serious religious faith. Both Mormons and non-Mormons need a person with more integrity to lead the Senate. For Mormons who care about their church, the most appropriate word to describe Reid is one that he once used to condemn Justice Clarence Thomas: an 'embarrassment'."

In this statement, Bishop Paredes also implicitly questions Senator Reid's temple worthiness:

"As a bishop, one of my responsibilities is to interview members who wish to enter Mormon temples. During our conversation, I have to ask them 13 or 14 questions (the number depends on whether the person has previously entered a temple). Although I can ask them follow-up questions based on their answers, I am not free to omit a question or substitute other questions for the standardized ones. One of the questions appears above, and I do not know how someone who is a standard-bearer for the Democratic Party can respond in the negative".

The Democratic Party officially favors a number of practices condemned by the LDS Church, to include unrestricted abortion, same-sex marriage, and the Equal Rights Amendment. While Reid has a mixed record on abortion personally, he is still a major leader of a pro-abortion-on-demand political party. Thus Bishop Paredes could be on solid ground if he was to deny Reid a temple recommend, although the LDS Church officially stands for political neutrality.

On the other hand, temple worthiness is customarily only between an individual and his bishop. Mark Paredes is not Harry Reid's bishop. Consequently, LDS Public Affairs released the following statement by spokesman Dale Jones to the Salt Lake Tribune:

"Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are, of course, entitled to express their own political opinions. However, publishing such views while using a title of a church officer, even if only as a leader of a local congregation as in this case, is entirely inappropriate."

The only recorded reaction from the Reid camp was reported on The Blaze. Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman simply released a letter from Charles Zobell, a 56-year member of the LDS Church, a Democrat, and a former longtime editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, to Paredes. An excerpt:

"Your very public comments on Sen. Harry Reid, a faithful member of the Church, were outrageous and unbecoming a priesthood holder in your position of influence. In short, they were un-Christian...You should apologize to (him) and to every LDS Democrat you have so viciously disparaged. ...I am so tired of self-righteous members of my own Church telling me I cannot be a Democrat and a good Mormon ... I cannot see how anyone can read the Book of Mormon and the New Testament and not have more compassion and charity for others. Those have been hallmarks of the Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and earlier."

Numerous comments have been appended to Paredes' original post, many expressing disagreement with him, and some even accusing him of flirting with priestcraft. In contrast, Paredes gets much more support on The Blaze.

Afterwards, Bishop Paredes backed down a bit, acknowledging that he is not in a position to assess Reid’s temple worthiness and saying he likely wouldn’t deny the Nevada senator one. He added that he neither knows nor cares about the political leanings of those in his ward, and that political labels don't surface during the worthiness intervies he conducts.

The real value of Bishop Paredes' outburst is that it shows that, despite the Church's campaign to be a "popular people" waged in order to take advantage of the window of opportunity to evangelize the world that was opened wider by Mitt Romney's Presidential campaign, there are many of us who are willing and anxious to go back to being a "peculiar people" once again. God's people have rarely enjoyed the approval of the world, and when the world approves of us, the hairs begin to stand up on the back of my neck. We need to prepare ourselves to channel Samuel the Lamanite and raise the voice of warning to the world once again.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

LDS Church Issues Revised Video On Sacred Temple Clothing

While it is well-known that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued an unprecedented video showing the unique clothing worn in the temples, that video has now been rendered private. A revised video has been issued by the LDS Church:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SkTz_NQqKA8



After the initial video was released, the Church learned that one short clip used in the original video came from stock footage filmed several years ago, and that the Church member shown in the clip was the subject of criminal charges. Only those who maintain optimal standards of personal behavior may "star" in an official LDS video. So the Church replaced that eight-second clip with new footage, but the script, imagery and all other aspects of the video remain unchanged.

While the original video was well-received both inside and outside the LDS community, some devout Mormons were a bit discomfited by the casual public display of temple garments. Many older Mormons were originally briefed upon receiving their endowments that the ceremonies and clothing were secret, and promised dire symbolic penalties if they ever publicly revealed the information. So the Church's outburst of transparency surprised them, and they wish they had been warned in advance. Nevertheless, they also accept the change.

LDS temple garments serve as a personal reminder of covenants made with God to lead good, honorable, Christlike lives. The wearing of temple garments is an outward expression of an inward commitment to follow the Savior. People of other religions also wear special garments to symbolize their own covenants, including Jews with their yarmulkes and sheitels, and Muslims with their hijabs, burkas and chadors. Accessibility to temple garments is considered so important that the LDS Church authorizes the use of Desert Sand garments for those who require camouflage clothing on the job; the Church provides special garment guidelines for military, police, and firefighters who require camouflage. While temple garments have actually evolved over the years to maintain a proper balance between functionality and spirituality, the area of the body covered is basically unchanged.

Read the LDS Church's topical guide on temples for an overview of ceremonies conducted therein.

LDS-Affiliated AgReserves Australia Puts 47,000 Hectares Of Farmland On The Market

AgReserves Australia, which is affiliated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has put four different Riverina properties worth $100 million on the market in Australia, and there are at least four prospective buyers nosing about as of this post. The 47,000 hectare aggregation includes Kooba Station at Darlington Point, Bringagee and Benerembah stations at Carrathool and Booberoi near Euabalong. All are located in the Australian state of New South Wales. It is understood the portfolio includes river water entitlements and bore water extraction rights; sheep and Wagyu cattle are also part of the package.

US-based Westchester Group (owned by American financial services giant TIAA-CREF), Auscott (owned by J. G. Boswell Co of California), the Harvard Endowment Fund, and Bengerang, the newly renamed PrimeAg, believed to have teamed up with Walnuts Australia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Webster, are all said to be interested in the four farms. Bids were due several weeks ago and price expectations are in the range of $100 million to $120 million. Thus a profit of as much as $50 million could be realized as a result of the sale.

The four properties, where wheat, corn, beans, rice, stonefruit, olives, and other crops are grown, were bought by AgReserves in 1997 for about $70 million from the renowned South Australian family business G. H. Michell & Sons, an institution in the wool industry. At the time of the purchase, then-President Gordon B. Hinckley explained, "We have felt that good farms, over a long period, represent a safe investment where the savings of the church may be preserved and enhanced. At the same time, they are available as an agricultural resource to feed and support people should there come a time of need." In addition, pioneer treks were operated out of the Benerembah Station for interested parties; there was a $15 charge assessed per person for handcart and site maintenance. Along with some facilities, handcarts with boxes containing equipment, portable water cart and portable toilets were available. It is unknown if the new owners will continue the pioneer treks.

AgReserves Inc. is a for-profit company, owned by the LDS Church, which together with other Church-run agricultural affiliates, owns about 1 million acres in the continental United States on which the Church has farms, orchards, ranches, and hunting preserves. AgReserves also operates in Britain, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil. Some of the Church-owned land is leased to farmers. The Church does NOT use tithing funds to purchase commercial properties. The Bare Record Of Truth blog provides a partial list of properties owned by the LDS Church as of March 2014.

Monday, October 20, 2014

LDS Public Affairs Unaware Of Any Proposed Changes To Temple Marriage Policy

A spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Public Affairs office has downplayed reports that the Church is contemplating a change to its current temple marriage policy. The change would only be effective in the United States, Canada, and South Africa. In a statement published by the Provo Daily Herald, spokesman Dale Jones submitted the following:

"Church leaders are well aware of the issues surrounding marriage and continue to examine them carefully, but we are unaware of any meetings where changes to temple marriage policies have been discussed".

This statement was prompted by a post on the This Week In Mormons website, in which Geoff Openshaw claims that temple workers, specifically in Bountiful and Rexburg, have been informed of a pending change at temple training meetings, and that there will be a public announcement in December with implementation beginning in January 2015:

However, it appears that this past weekend, in temple training meetings, workers were informed that a change is, indeed, on the way, and in the United States, prospective spouses will need to be married civilly (at a courthouse or wherever) before heading to the temple for their sealing, requiring them to present their marriage certificate (not just a provisional, to-be-signed license) at the temple office.

This change would put an end to the sometimes-awkward spectacle of non-member and less-active guests at temple wedding ceremonies having to sit downstairs while the ceremony takes place in the upper room. It would allow for friends and family unable to enter the temple to have full involvement in a wedding of their loved ones. A "ring ceremony" is a poor substitute for the real deal.

Note that the LDS spokesman merely said he wasn't aware of any impending changes; he didn't issue a flat denial. This indicates a strong possibility that at least some of the General Authorities find the present dichotomy awkward. This shows that the Brethren are indeed in touch with the membership, even if they react with glacial speed at times. It could also be in response to the current kerfluffle in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where the city government is threatening to sanction a minister under local nondiscrimination laws with a 180-day jail term and $1,000 per day fine for refusing to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. In that case, Donald Knapp and his wife, Evelyn, both ordained ministers of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel who also run the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel, have responded by filing a federal lawsuit and a motion for temporarily restraining Coeur d'Alene city officials from forcing them to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies. However, Coeur d'Alene city officials maintain that the Hitching Post Wedding Chapel does not qualify for a religious exemption because the Hitching Post is a for-profit company registered with the Idaho Secretary of State's office as a business, a limited liability company. So maybe the LDS Church might want to position itself to get out of the civil marriage business altogether if push comes to shove.

But for the time being, ministers who don't charge for weddings shouldn't have any problem. However, the day could come when that might change. After all, the LDS Church was threatened with disincorporation in the 19th century by the Federal government for its practice of plural marriage. If churches and ministers can be persecuted once, they can be persecuted again.