• Quote of the Day

    “Surely the reason Christ said, ‘Father, forgive them,’ was because even in that terrible hour He knew that this was the message He had come through all eternity to deliver.”
    —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland

Joseph Smith: Campaign for President of the United States

In the Ensign this month is an article that discusses the Prophet Joseph Smith’s 1844 campaign for President of the United States and asks what he hoped to accomplish. For those who don’t know much about this episode in Church history, this article explains Joseph Smith’s motivation for running, as well as the platform he ran on. Most of the information in the article has been readily available to students of history for some time, but through the Ensign it will now reach a wider audience.

I find it fascinating to see how Joseph Smith’s patriotism held up under the strain of the persecutions the Saints endured, all of which were either sanctioned or permitted by local governments and ultimately ignored by the federal government. Joseph’s reaction was not to condemn the nation and its government but to seek to reform it.

In addition, I find his platform fascinating. It contains some intriguing, practical approaches to the serious issues of the day.

This article doesn’t offer a great deal of analysis, but it doesn’t need to. Its intent seems to be to give basic information about Joseph Smith’s run for President,and it does so mostly through quotations from original documents and contemporary statements. I imagine there are several people in the Ensign‘s readership for whom this article will be something completely new. This sort of thing isn’t necessarily a new direction for the Ensign, but it is something I rather hope they do more of.

(By the way, for what it’s worth, the article takes the opportunity to yet again affirm the Church’s political neutrality.)

The Other Part of Forgiveness

In this month’s Ensign you’ll find a short account of how one woman found the key to forgiving those who had hurt her. In “The Other Part of Forgiveness,” the author, Becky Dastrup, tells how she received the answer she sought after speaking to a Christian friend of another faith about her struggle to forgive. Her friend reminded her of one of the Savior’s teachings on this subject, which led her to the peace she desired.

The author then notes, “I am grateful to have had this gospel-centered conversation with my friend of a different faith. It increased my desire to openly speak about my beliefs so that I could have more enlightening experiences like this one.”

We should all remember that it is possible for us to receive this kind of enlightenment if we will open up to those who sincerely love and strive to follow Jesus Christ, no matter what denomination they belong to. This sort of sharing goes both ways.

Commentary on Ensign Article: “The Energy Drink Epidemic”

An article in this month’s Ensign has spurred some discussion on LDS Web sites, and this time, that’s a good thing. “The Energy Drink Epidemic,” by Dr. Thomas J. Boud, discusses the negative health effects of excessive caffeine use and has many charts and sidebars that make for a very interesting read (as seen in the PDF version). The article was recently praised by Julie M. Smith at Times and Seasons as “a very well-balanced article,” and the comments on her post have been quite positive about the article, as well. I can only say that I hope that there is more commentary of this sort about the Church magazines in the future. (Not that it always has to be positive, just that more of it should take place and that it should be fair.)

In addition, Meridian Magazine was prompted by Dr. Boud’s article to post a poll about caffeine on its Web site (those brave souls). You can go there to read comments generated by the poll.

By the way, don’t miss Brad Wilcox’s article in this month’s New Era, in which he tackles the same issue. His article is called “Energy Drinks: The Lift That Lets You Down,” and it contains a sidebar by Dr. Boud.

Ensign Online: Elder Marlin K. Jensen on Future Joseph Smith Papers Volume

Elder Marlin K. Jensen, the Church Historian and Recorder, has written an online article about an upcoming volume of The Joseph Smith Papers in the “Revelations and Translations” series in the project. According to the Ensign’s Web site, the volume “contains many of the earliest known copies of the revelations received by Joseph Smith and provides insights into the revelatory process.”

Church history buffs will not want to miss Elder Jensen’s insights into the editorial process of the project, as well as the specific content of the “Revelations and Translations” series, the first volume of which will be released sometime in 2009.

Commentary on Elder Nelson’s Article on Abortion

Elder Russell M. Nelson’s article in this month’s Ensign immediately received a bit of attention in the bloggernacle. In “Abortion: An Assault on the Defenseless,” Elder Nelson puts forth the Church’s position and doctrine related to the practice, and he offers a few of his own opinions on related issues, such as the debate over when “meaningful life” begins. The reactions to this article have been quite interesting to observe. Here are a few of the online discussions about it:

Now that a little time has passed and everyone’s moved on to other matters, here’s my take on all this talk.

As always, the bloggernacle ignores the substance of the article and focuses instead on the seemingly more controversial or political issues related to it. Fine. That’s their prerogative. But frankly, I’m a little less interested in whether the article was timed to influence U.S. elections than in what Elder Nelson actually has to say about abortion. Why aren’t people discussing that? Is it too straightforward for them? Too predictable? Whatever the reason, it apparently doesn’t warrant much discussion in the bloggernacle. But then again, most of what the current Church leaders are actually saying gets short shrift there, so it’s par for the course.

In addition, does anyone sincerely believe that Elder Nelson would have written this article for purely political purposes, or as a mere academic plaything for the self-appointed intelligentsia? Think about it. When was the last time a Church publication discussed this issue in such detail? If there’s any timing involved in the publication of this article, it’s more likely the long-range, multigenerational timing of the Church’s influence over its members than some partisan agenda.

If you talk to bishops and LDS Family Services counselors, many of them will tell you that they have counseled young women who either had an abortion or were considering an abortion and were apparently unaware of the Church’s teachings and disciplinary policy on the matter. This sort of situation is, in part, what Elder Nelson is trying to address in his article, I think.

Now, of course, Elder Nelson also discusses abortion as a matter of public policy, so it’s fair to talk about his article in a political context. But even if Elder Nelson carefully planned the timing of this article, in collusion with the General Authorities and Church employees who oversee and run the Church magazines, so what? Perhaps he saw election time as the perfect time for Church members to be discussing the matter since it may be on people’s minds anyway. He still doesn’t tell anyone which party or candidate to vote for. He merely infuses a bit of Church doctrine and policy into the debate. In his argumentation he is careful to label some statements as his own opinion, though those statements are made in support of a larger argument regarding the Church’s official teachings. If all of this upsets people or doesn’t harmonize with their political ideas, so be it. But it shouldn’t be ignored and labeled as purely political.

In any event, I’m glad to see that the Brethren are still speaking out on a variety of moral issues, knowing that they’ll be criticized both from without and from within. And I’m glad that the Church magazines provide a channel for them to publish their words.

Image Gallery: Pray Always

The Ensign has posted an image gallery based on the article “Pray Always” from the October issue. The article is a collection of artworks and captions related to prayer. This image gallery allows you to see them all in a similar format and size. Hopefully the Ensign will continue to post such image collections.

Coming to Church, Becoming Converted

This month’s Ensign contains a short article that gives six tips for helping investigators when they come to church. In “Coming to Church, Becoming Converted,” Dale M. Valentine (a former mission president who has passed away since writing this article) describes an experience in which he had the opportunity to ask seven converts about the thing that most contributed to their conversion. All of them said it was when they attended church. When he asked them what impressed them and what members could do to help investigators, their comments fell into the following categories:

  • Be united and dedicated.
  • Focus on people.
  • Teach investigators what to expect.
  • Live your religion.
  • Share unique truths.
  • Bear your testimony.

It should be noted that under “share unique truths” they added that we should keep it simple—always good advice.

Recognizing the needs of investigators and trying to meet them is a challenge and duty we should all take seriously when the opportunity arises.

Hope and Healing in Recovering from Abuse

In something of a follow-up to Elder Richard G. Scott’s last general conference address, the Ensign has published an article called “Hope and Healing in Recovering from Abuse.”

Written by Sister Sarah E. Miller, a psychotherapist in the United Kingdom, this article centers around the hope and healing to be found in the Savior’s Atonement. However, it also casts an unflinching eye on the hurt and suffering that result from abuse, and it offers some practical suggestions for overcoming them. Sister Miller has advice for both the abused and those who care about them. For instance, she says:

“To help the abused person forgive, leaders, friends, and family members can acknowledge the gravity of the offense, allowing the innocent person to work through his or her anger and pain. Much abuse involves the denial of feelings and truth, so people who have been abused need to be heard and have their feelings validated if they are to truly recover and regain self-worth. When the person who has been abused is pressured to forgive, he or she may feel an added measure of guilt, taking the blame not only for the abuse itself but also for being unable to forgive. Allowing the person time to forgive can be a lengthy process, but it is critical to healing.”

The article presents a realistic but hopeful outlook on the situation faced by victims of abuse. For them, it offers ways of understanding how they can see God’s love and be healed through Christ’s Atonement. For those who know a victim of abuse, it offers ways of understanding their difficulties and giving them the support they need in order to eventually be healed.

Love, Limits, and Latitude

The August Ensign contains an article with great guidelines to common-sense parenting. “Love, Limits, and Latitude,” by Craig H. Hart, Lloyd D. Newell, and Julie H. Haupt, offers advice on avoiding parenting that is too authoritarian or too permissive, focusing instead on the love parents should show toward their children, as well as the limits they should set and the ways they should encourage good behavior and discourage bad behavior. For instance, it says:

“Milk will spill; children will sometimes be less than careful on the playground; teens may let their social life sabotage their grades. These experiences can teach them that certain actions are not productive. Helping to clean up the milk, bandaging the wound, or talking through an improved study schedule would be more effective than scolding a child in an attempt to teach a lesson that is already obvious.”

The article also discusses how to foster children’s sense of independence by giving them latitude. This approach often requires negotiation and compromise on the rules at times, but it helps children prepare for real-world situations. Children can also benefit from this approach in their spiritual lives. As the article says:

“Providing latitude also gives children space to develop their own feelings about the gospel. Teens who have learned to recognize the Spirit and to make choices based on their understanding of right and wrong—rather than simply on parents’ demand for obedience—will be better equipped to make wise decisions in the face of stress or peer pressure.”

This sort of advice seems like common sense, but It’s sometimes hard for parents to follow it. The Ensign does a good service by offering reminders and examples like those in this article.

Ensign Survey

Let your voice be heard!

The Ensign has posted an online survey with a variety of questions about its content and layout. You can link to it from the Ensign home page. It asks questions such as the following:

The layout and design of the Ensign is: (Please mark all that apply)

❏ Modern
❏ Repetitive
❏ Fresh
❏ Too formal
❏ Appealing
❏ Dignified
❏ Old-fashioned
❏ Inviting
❏ Predictable
❏ Too idealized
❏ Other

The survey then asks which articles you usually read, what would like to see more of, and whether you would agree or disagree with various statements about the Ensign. There is also a space for comments and suggestions you would like to share.

So have at it. Let the Ensign know what you think.