Monday, February 16, 2015

Cleaning The Chapel Is Not Only About Saving Money For The LDS Church, But Also About Building Character Through Additional Service Opportunities

One of the practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints which has triggered some controversy and attracted criticism from anti-Mormons is the practice of asking Church members to participate in the weekly cleaning of our chapels during the past 14 years. An article published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner on February 5th, 2015, highlights this practice. Here's the critical excerpt:

For the last several years, members of LDS congregations worldwide have been asked to clean their own buildings, replacing what was once the task of janitors hired by the church. Though meetinghouses still hire out help for repairs, congregation member volunteers do the weekly cleaning.

According to church leaders, the primary purpose of member participation is to benefit and bless all, including the youth and less active by providing opportunities to serve. It also reinforces and deepens respect for the Lord’s houses of worship. It is noted that the opportunity to clean the meetinghouse is not about saving money, but about a spiritual opportunity to show respect to the Lord.

An unofficial estimate from a Mormon-skeptic blog, Nearing Kolob, projects that the Church saves $50 million per year in janitorial costs worldwide by having members clean the chapel. This estimate has not been confirmed by the LDS Church.

In my ward, we share the task with two other congregations, so it becomes our turn every three months. Because I was inactive, it was a great opportunity to get involved and serve at a level at which I could do so. I have since resumed regular activity in the Church (and I may have to change my user nickname :lol:). Participation in this effort is not a criterion for temple worthiness.

But how, when, and why did this practice evolve? This practice began with a letter from the First Presidency sent to various Church leaders in the Fall of 1998 calling upon the membership to assume a greater responsibility for cleaning and caring for Church meetinghouses. As a result, a number of full-time janitors became redundant as professional cleaning became restricted to big-ticket items such as carpet shampooing. In an article published in the June 1999 edition of Ensign, then-Presiding Bishop H. David Burton explained the change more fully. While Bishop Burton admitted that this was partially prompted by the fact that members no longer donated excess funds above normal tithing and fast offering levels, reducing available revenue to pay for fully professional cleaning, the real issue was that respect and appreciation for Church buildings by the membership, particularly among young people, had eroded. The change provided a greater opportunity for individual Church members to develop greater personal character and receive more eternal blessings by participating in the cleaning of their buildings; their sacrifice would prompt them to accord greater honor and respect and love for our beautiful houses of worship.

Additional refinements were announced in June 2010. The main point of coordination and leadership of this program is through stake presidents, the high councilor assigned as the stake physical facilities representative and the bishops and branch presidents. The LDS Church published "Cleaning Cards" which laid out the weekly tasks. Typical tasks for Church members include vacuuming the chapel, classrooms, corridors, and foyers; cleaning rest room floors, wiping counters, and replacing paper products; cleaning chalkboards, drinking fountains, and kitchen areas; sweeping the cultural hall floor, platform area, and exterior entrance walks; picking up debris; emptying trash and relining wastebaskets; setting up and putting away chairs and tables; cleaning and repairing hymnbooks, folding chairs, and sacrament trays; cleaning grounds, parking lots, landscaped areas, and adjacent Church-owned property; planting, weeding, and caring for flower beds; and removing snow from sidewalks as needed. Most often this is done on Saturday. Depending on the number of people who show up, the tasks can take anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours.

For the tougher cleaning tasks, facilities management personnel enter meetinghouses once a week to perform the more difficult maintenance responsibilities, such as refinishing cultural hall floors, cleaning the grouting in rest rooms, and shampooing carpets. They also maintain the equipment used by members and stock the cleaning supplies necessary for members to perform their roles.

Personally, from the perspective of one who has participated in this endeavor frequently, there is another reason this is a good idea. Cleaning the chapel can be a humbling experience. It reminds us not to get too full of ourselves. It further reminds us that, although not all work is equally valued by society, the Lord believes there is equal dignity in all work. It might even persuade us to behave more charitably towards the "hewers of wood and drawers of water" in our society whose jobs we don't want to do but whose products and services we're quick to use.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Another "Tare" Plucks Itself: Mormon Stories Editor John Dehlin Excommunicated From The LDS Church, LDS Church Issues Official Statement

In the Parable of the Sower presented in Matthew Chapter 13, Jesus Christ discusses wheat and tares. He cautioned against prematurely gathering up the tares, since there is a danger of gathering up wheat also. From Matthew 13:28-30:

28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?

29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.

30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.

Nevertheless, there is no constraint against the tares plucking themselves before the appointed time. And just as both Denver Snuffer and Kate Kelly revealed themselves to be tares, so they have now been joined by John Dehlin, the editor of Mormon Stories. On February 10th, 2015, Dehlin reported that he had received written notification of his excommunication from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The decision grew out of his disciplinary council held on Sunday, February 8th, triggered by his public support of same-sex marriage, the LGBT community and the Ordain Women movement, as well as his decade-long website and podcast, Mormon Stories. He had been given a number of preliminary warnings by his priesthood chain of command over the past decade, so the disciplinary council was not a surprise.

-- Read the text of the official excommunication letter published by the Deseret News.

Dehlin's Mormon Stories website was specifically tailored to reach out to LDS members who had doubts regarding doctrine and practices of the LDS Church. One of the outcomes Dehlin frequently cited in his defense was that his outreach prevented many of these doubters from leaving the Church altogether. Nevertheless, the disciplinary council felt this had become outweighed by Dehlin's belief that the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham are fraudulent and by his rejection of the LDS Church being the true church with power and authority from God. Dehlin also took some heat over the financial compensation he receives from the Mormon Stories website; for his work, Dehlin received nearly $90,000 in 2013, according to his foundation's public financial records. A detailed response by Dehlin was published by the Salt Lake Tribune on February 9th in which he points out that his work was supported by voluntary contributions, that had pledged he would use the money to help pay for groceries, health insurance and medical bills (both of which he pays out of pocket), employment taxes, clothing for my children, tuition, etc., and believes he has used the money exactly as promised

When Dehlin arrived at the North Logan Stake Center on February 8th, he was greeted by up to a maximum of 200 supporters. Dehlin gave a brief address to his supporters, but counseled them against behaving abusively, asking a few who were displaying uncomplimentary posters about Stake President Bryan King to put them away. The Cache Valley Daily reports that the hearing, which began at 6 P.M. MST, lasted four hours, and that Dehlin characterized it as difficult, sad and at times heart-wrenching. Dehlin also said that five people — three family members and two friends -- were permitted to speak on his behalf before the council consisting of 15 regional LDS church leaders. Most commonly this includes the Stake Presidency and the 12-member Stake High Council. Dehlin opined that evidence presented by church leaders seemed to paint him in the worst possible light, making it hard for him to imagine an outcome other than excommunication.

Nevertheless, President King decided to pray and wait a day or two before making a decision regarding John Dehlin to ensure that he was not merely reacting to the heat of the moment. But the council concluded that although they acknowledge Dehlin's right to criticize the Church and to share his opinions, they cannot allow him to continue as a member in good standing. BYU Professor Daniel Peterson served on disciplinary councils as a bishop and notes that they are always sad occasions; he believes excommunication should always be a last resort.

After being notified of his excommunication, Dehlin gave a short statement to the Salt Lake Tribune:

"My wife, Margi, and I are proud to stand in support of both free expression and gender/marriage equality within Mormonism...While we are saddened that the LDS Church has chosen to excommunicate me for publicly supporting these values, we support the church's right to make this decision."

Another statement attributed to Dehlin was published by KSL Channel 5:

“Margi and I would like to express our appreciation to President Bryan King and others who assisted in this very difficult process. Our observation is that President King worked very hard to comply with church policies and direction, during what we know was a very difficult time personally for him and his family. We respectfully request that President King be shown respect for his professionalism and commitment to LDS Church leadership and policies, and we express our preference that any frustrations be constructively directed at examining LDS Church disciplinary policies, and not at President King personally."

The LDS Church does not customarily comment on the outcome of disciplinary councils. But because John Dehlin has commented publicly and because the case has stirred up such a media frenzy across the country, the Church chose to release the following official statement (here's the most applicable portion):

Such councils are always far better when all involved respect the principle of confidentiality. At the very least, this principle helps those members who wish to return to full fellowship at a later date. When the member has chosen to air their grievances in public, the Church reserves the right to correct the public record. In this case, attempts have been made to create the impression that the disciplinary council convened on Sunday, February 8, 2015, and which has resulted in a loss of Church membership or excommunication of Mr. Dehlin arose largely because of his views on same-sex marriage and priesthood ordination for women. Although his stated positions on those subjects are not consistent with the Church’s teachings, they were not cited in the local leader’s letter delivered to Mr. Dehlin on February 9, which spelled out the reasons for the local council’s unanimous decision, as follows:

-- Disputing the nature of our Heavenly Father and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
-- Statements that the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham are fraudulent and works of fiction.
-- Statements and teachings that reject The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as being the true Church with power and authority from God.

The Church also points out that excommunication is not necessarily the end, but can be the beginning of a new journey back to full fellowship. Dehlin is welcome to attend weekly worship services and is always welcome to return to Church membership through the grace and Atonement of Jesus Christ. He has 30 days to appeal the decision to the First Presidency.

Reaction: Despite the dignified way in which John Dehlin reacted to his excommunication, his refusal to consider repentance ensures that most LDS members approve to the council's decision. Some maintain that Dehlin left the Church spiritually quite a while ago. Even some who are supportive of Dehlin concede that he might be better off outside the Church. One KSL commenter, FlaCougar, wrote "He's lucky it's the LDS with excommunication and NOT ISIS with execution by beheading".

-- LDS Freedom Forum: Surprisingly, Dehlin gets more support in this venue even though it is billed as pro-LDS. This thread is about three weeks old and provides some perspective on the evolution of opinion by rank-and-file LDS membership.

-- Mormon Voices: Endorses the excommunication of John Dehlin; points out that this drama has been going on since 2007. Thus the Church bent over backwards to avoid going this far. Mormon Voices explains succinctly why Dehlin's conduct constituted apostasy:

As used in this context, apostasy consists of “repeatedly act[ing] in clear, open, and deliberate public opposition to the Church or its leaders.”

John Dehlin’s behavior clearly meets this standard. For example, he provided audio files regarding LDS temple ceremonies—which are regarded as both private and sacred—to an audience of hundreds, encouraging them to share them further. He later made such files public. He also applauded and encouraged the distribution of deceptive “pass-along cards” that used the Church’s logo and typeface, apparently intended to give the impression that the Church supported same-sex marriages. He refers readers to overtly anti-Mormon works, and declares that vintage anti-Mormons Jerald and Sandra Tanner “were right. About pretty much everything.”

The LDS Church really didn't have much choice left, since John Dehlin refused to meet them part way.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

LDS Missionary Elder Nathan Castle McBride Passes Away From Heart Attack After A Ward Soccer Activity In Mexico

The first missionary fatality of 2015 has been recorded. On Friday January 16th, 2015, 20-year-old Elder Nathan Castle McBride collapsed during a ward soccer activity in Mexico and subsequently passed away. Elder McBride, who came from the Pasco Washington North Stake, had been serving in the Mexico Merida Mission since January 2014. A preliminary autopsy indicates that Elder McBride suffered a heart attack.

His father, Robert McBride, told media outlets that after a break in the game, Elder McBride was running to get the ball when he fell down and never got back up. Although other players performed CPR and paramedics tried to resuscitate him, he was pronounced dead at a hospital.

Elder McBride experienced no health problems and had been an active young man who loved hiking, fishing, pole vaulting and other sports. Missionaries are required to obtain extensive medical and dental exams before deployment. Elder McBride was described as a quiet leader, well disciplined, very driven and a perfectionist who once had considered retaking a CBC math class because his grade fell below his usual A’s. He amassed a 3.8 grade-point average when he got his associate degree from CBC, which was going to help him get into Brigham Young University as a transfer student after his mission. Although he had a passion for animals, as evidenced by his involvement in the 4-H program, Elder McBride wanted to become an orthopedic surgeon.

Elder McBride is survived by his parents, two siblings, grandparents Elaine and Bob McBride of Benton City and Fern and Alvin Harris of Pasco, and many aunts, uncles and cousins. Robert McBride said the family is working with the American Consulate to get his son’s body home and project the funeral to occur on January 24th.

A photo of Elder McBride and his companion, Elder Granilla of Puebla, Mexico, is available HERE. His name will now be added to my partial list of missionaries who gave their lives while on the Lord's errand.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Motorist Dies After Crashing Into The Base Of The Lubbock LDS Temple

Media outlets are reporting that a man crashed his car into the LDS temple in Lubbock, Texas, but the temple itself only sustained minor cosmetic damage on the exterior. News video available from KCBD NewsCenter 11 (doesn't embed properly).

Lubbock Online (5 free views per 30 days) has the most complete account so far. Cameron Tanner Alldredge, 25, was traveling east when he drove through the intersection at 7100 Genoa Avenue sometime after noon on December 8th and struck a metal fence at the east side of the intersection. According to Lubbock police, Alldredge continued east and struck a retaining wall on the west side of the temple in the 7000 block of Frankford Avenue, coming to rest at the base of the temple. No other vehicles or individuals were involved. Although first responders initially reported Alldredge had critical injuries, by 2:30 P.M. he was pronounced dead. The Lubbock Police Department is continuing to investigate to determine if there were other contributing factors, although KCBD reports that Alldredge wasn't wearing a seat belt.

The Lubbock Texas Temple, dedicated in April 2002, serves an estimated 13,500 LDS members from 6 stakes and 1 district based in West Texas and Southeast New Mexico:

-- Abilene Texas Stake
-- Amarillo Texas Stake
-- Fort Stockton Texas District
-- Lubbock Texas North Stake
-- Lubbock Texas Stake
-- Odessa Texas Stake
-- Roswell New Mexico Stake

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., 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.