(It’s still Monday on the West Coast!)
Having recently attended two conversion ceremonies to Islam, I thought I might throw up some posts on conversion in the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), discussing the history of conversion, the theory behind conversion, and what actual conversion entails.
The history of conversion in Islam will come tomorrow (or today, depending on one’s timezone).
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on Jesus’ lonely walk, so to speak, in his poignant talk:
Are we a Christian nation?
The technical answer is that we are not a Christian nation. Unlike many countries, we do not have an official religion. No religion or religious body receives any especial recognition or patronage. (This is one of the purposes of the First Amendment.)
Some might say that Americana is America’s religion – our volumes of scripture are the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, our prophets are the Founding Fathers, our salvation lies in furthering America’s interests, in following the American dream.
But the technicalities do not betray a very real element of America: while America, technically, as a State, is not Christian, at least not officially, the American people are Christian, and thus America is, indeed, unofficially Christian. What’s more, America is not Christian the way England is Christian. America is perhaps one of the most diverse and devout of the Christian nations.
When people go around saying, “Oh, America is not a Christian nation!” they will come off as two-faced. Why is he saying this while America is so overwhelmingly Christian? Is he trying to trick or fool other people?
Christmas means giving. The Father gave his Son, and the Son gave his life. Without giving there is no true Christmas, and without sacrifice there is no true worship.
President Gordon B. Hinckley
Last week, I had an interesting yet troubling experience. I went with Shaw (not his real name) up to Wisconsin. We attended church there. The first speaker was a girl, probably in high school, who spoke about…something. I couldn’t pay attention. I couldn’t feel the Spirit, so I ignored her and tried to catch up on my Book of Mormon reading. But Shaw was paying attention.
At one point, I began paying attention as she was talking about her experiences in various Gospel Doctrines classes in her last ward. (As a Gospel Doctrine teacher, I pay attention, or try to, when people discuss their experiences, so I can improve my ways and understand what others have experienced and need.) She talked about this amazing Gospel Doctrine teacher who taught with the Spirit. Only for the ward to find out that he was living a double life: although married, he was having a long-time affair with another women. She made a statement along the lines of this: “I know we’re all unrighteous, but not that unrighteous.” This really bothered Shaw, and it’s bothered me a lot since then.
Those of us who try very hard to obey the Lord’s commandments, particularly to remain pure and chaste according to our station and situation, sometimes take pride in our righteousness, and end up puffing ourselves up with that pride, assuming ourselves as better than those who have fallen or who are engaging in unrighteous lifestyles.
This is a pernicious evil. I believe that this is a tool used by Satan to distract the faithful of God and to have them begin their journey onto a path that will lead them away from God, for the moment any of us is proud that we are “not that unrighteous,” pride has taken a hold of our hearts, our hearts are thereby filled with a uncharity, and we have begun to stray away from God. We become, in effect, no better than those who are reviled.
For my Latter-day Saint friends: how does this attitude make any different from the Zoramites (for more details, see Alma 31), who prayed with great pride about their being superior to their brethren? Does not such an attitude make us Zoramites indeed, and thus those who have strayed from the Lord’s way?
In “What God Hath Cleansed” in Faith Precedes the Miracle by President Spencer W. Kimball, President Kimball references a passage from scripture. Come, let us read the words of the Lord:
And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray: the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men [are], extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.
And the publican standing afar off, would not lift up so much as [his] eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
I tell you, this man went down to his house justified [rather] than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.
For it is written: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilt of all” (James 2:10).
And so it doesn’t matter to what degree another has broken the law. He has broken the law. So have I. I have no grounds upon which to stand in pride before God. Without the sacrifice and grace of Jesus Christ, my faithfulness has no value whatsoever. We all need the Lord and His atoning sacrifice and grace, without which none of us, no matter how righteous, can enter into the presence of God our Heavenly Father. To puff ourselves up, that we are not as unrighteous as another, is to offend yet more against the laws of God. And if we do not repent, we put ourselves in spiritual peril.
We, all the faithful of God, should be full of love for all of God’s children, regardless of how they live. We are all broken, and so we should be thankful to God that He has revealed how, through His Son, we may return back into His presence. All, from the likes of Mother Teresa to the wanton fornicator, need the Lord and His grace and love. We should help others turn away from their sins and walk back to Heavenly Father by reaching out to them in love, and beholding them with love, and loving them with the love with which God loves His children. The Lord ministered to sinners, without excusing or accepting theirs sins, and thus we should do as well. Never, no, never, ought we at any point to feel any pride or satisfaction in that we are not as unrighteous as others, for our own faults condemn us enough, and thus we are no better than another.
I thought this was interesting:
Emergency Economic Stabilization Act – abbreviated to EESA, modified to Eesa, the Muslim Arabic name for Jesus (in full: عيسى بن مريم Eesa bin Maryam, Jesus the son of Mary).
Trivia: Muslims refer to Jesus as عيسى Eesa (عيسى بن مريم Eesa bin Maryam (Jesus the son of Mary) or عيسى المسيح Eesa-l-Maseeh (Jesus the Messiah)). Christians, however, refer to Him as يسوع Yasoo’ (يسوع إبن اللة Yasoo’ ibnillaah (Jesus the son of God) or يسوع المسيح Yasoo’ al-Maseeh (Jesus the Messiah, or Jesus Christ)). The Christian form is closest to the Hebrew form of the Lord’s name.
Let us not partake of the negative spirit so rife in our times. There is so much of the sweet and the decent and the beautiful to build upon. We are partakers of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The gospel means “good news.” The message of the Lord is one of hope and salvation. The voice of the Lord is a voice of glad tidings. The work of the Lord is a work of glorious accomplishment.
In a dark and troubled hour the Lord said to those he loved, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.) These great words of confidence are a beacon to each of us. In him we may indeed have trust, for he and his promises will never fail.
President Gordon B. Hinckley. Faith: the Essence of True Religion. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989, p. 79.
The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians says:
1. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become [as] sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
2. And though I have [the gift of] prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
3. And though I bestow all my goods to feed [the poor], and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
4. Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
5. Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
6. Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
7. Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
8. Charity never faileth: but whether [there be] prophecies, they shall fail; whether [there be] tongues, they shall cease; whether [there be] knowledge, it shall vanish away.
9. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
10. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
11. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
12. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
13. And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these [is] charity.
I find verse 3 to be the most interesting: even if we do the good thing but without true intent, it’s useless.
It is written in Moroni 7:6-11:
6. For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing.
7. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness.
8. For behold, if a man being evil giveth a gift, he doeth it grudgingly; wherefore it is counted unto him the same as if he had retained the gift; wherefore he is counted evil before God.
9. And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such.
10. Wherefore, a man being evil cannot do that which is good; neither will he give a good gift.
11. For behold, a bitter fountain cannot bring forth good water; neither can a good fountain bring forth bitter water; wherefore, a man being a servant of the devil cannot follow Christ; and if he follow Christ he cannot be a servant of the devil.
Nice Deb covered this situation in her post “Petition to Defrock Pfather Pfreaky”. News from “Update: Michael Pfleger removed from his position at St. Sabina Catholic Church.” by Defending. Contending.
Statement from Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago, courtesy of the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago:
STATEMENT OF FRANCIS CARDINAL GEORGE, O.M.I.,
ARCHBISHOP OF CHICAGO
June 3, 2008
To put recent events in some perspective, I have asked Father Michael Pfleger, Pastor of St. Sabina’s Parish, to step back from his obligations there and take leave for a couple of weeks from his pastoral duties, effective today. Fr. Pfleger does not believe this to be the right step at this time. While respecting his disagreement, I have nevertheless asked him to use this opportunity to reflect on his recent statements and actions in the light of the Church’s regulations for all Catholic priests. I hope that this period will also be a time away from the public spotlight and for rest and attention to family concerns.
I hope also that the life of St. Sabina’s parish may continue in uninterrupted fashion. Fr. William Vanecko, Pastor of St. Kilian’s parish, will be temporary administrator of St. Sabina’s and will assure the full complement of ministerial services during this period. I ask the members of St. Sabina’s parish to cooperate with him and to keep him and Fr. Pfleger in their prayers. They are in mine.
See also Chicago SunTime‘s Lynn Sweet’s post “Pfleger removed as pastor of St. Sabina in wake of mocking Clinton at Trinity Church.”
The supposed and so-called “Reverend” Jeremiah Wright claims there is the Black Church and that white people simply don’t understand the Black Church.
There is no such a thing as the Black Church. There is no White Church. There is no Red Church. There is no Yellow Church. There is no Brown Church. There is no male Church. There is no female Church. There is no free Church. There is no slave Church. We are all one in Christ, and to suggest any of us Christians are separate from the others because of race or color is…well, I’ll skip the sermonizing and simply say such a man is not a very good Christian.
It is written: “For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ” (Galatians 3:26-28).
And: “Where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, Barbarian, Scythian, bond [nor] free: but Christ [is] all, and in all” (Colossians 3:11).
Why do we still seek to be divided by race? Why do some continue to insist that, contrary to the unity demanded by Christ, we are divided, and that one does not understand the other? I’m a convert to Christianity, and this exhortation to unity is clear even to me. I do not understand how other Christians can be driven astray by preachers like serpents who poison their minds with ideas that because of their race, they are different. The black man and the white man should together sing praises of their Redeemer. To suggest the white Christians just don’t get the black man’s strange Gospel is quite astounding (not to mention something that takes a lot of chutzpah). There is only one Christ and only one Gospel.
I fear this is a source of evil, a tool of Satan. Heavenly Father, save us from men who preach the philosophy of men mingled with Scripture. Save us from such antichrists.
As the confrontation between The West and the Muslim world continues, another battle is raging on.
In The West, Muslims are free to share the message of Islam with anyone who will listen. And they get converts too. Unfortunately, this is not reciprocal: Christians are forbidden in some Muslim states and strongly discouraged in others to teach or preach Christianity to Muslims. Many Christians abide by these rules (a novel idea) because they are in the minority and, for the most part, Christians believe in obeying and following the law even if it is inconvenient.
But Christians in The West are becoming more sophisticated in developing tools with which to share the Gospel with Muslims in The West. As Christians cannot preach to Muslims in their lands, they seek to share the Gospel with those Muslims in The West. Muslims cannot outlaw preaching by Christians to Muslims in The West.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been putting a lot of time, effort, and money in developing literature in the languages of the world with which to share the Gospel. One recent effort along these lines was the complete retranslation of the Book of Mormon into Urdu. This is significant because the vast majority of Urdu-speakers are Muslims. These are efforts that portend a massive effort to share the Gospel with such peoples.
There were stories going around that Pope Benedict XVI will pray at Ground Zero, New York, for the conversion of Muslims to Christianity. I noticed that people would comment online that while this is commendable, this is a bad move as it endangers Christians, particularly Christian leaders, in Muslim lands. Someone offends Muslims and nuns, priests, and Christians are killed by mobbing hordes of Muslims.
(While this may be controversial, I would like to say that any such Christian who dies like this or for such reasons is a martyr. Christianity is built on the foundation of martyrs.)
Pope John Paul II called for a new evangelization. This was taken by most Catholics to refer to bringing lapsed Catholics back into the Church and to bring non-Catholic Christians into the Catholic Church. But increasingly, especially under Pope Benedict XVI, this is turning into promotion of efforts to evangelize non-Christian peoples.
Section Four: A Brief Note on Textual Sources
Much has been said about the textual sources of jihad by force (hereinafter simply “jihad”) in Islam. This is, of course, and important question or issue because like the other “revealed religions” (mainly Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, although perhaps Zoroastrianism and some Hindu movements may be included), what the textual sources say determine orthodoxy and orthopraxy (correct belief and correct practice respectively). This issue in Islam will now be discussed along with brief remarks on what Jewish and Christian scriptures and textual sources say about war. Read the rest of this entry »
Section Two: Comparison with Other Religions
An issue often brought up by Muslims (and the odd non-Muslim) seeking to legitimize jihad by force (hereinafter simply “jihad”) or to deflect criticism thereof, is the issue of holy war in Judaism and Christinity. The issue of holy war and violence in the Scriptures of Jews and Christians will be dealt with in a few days. Today we will discuss war in Judaism and the Crusades. (Scriptural issues will be dealt with in a later post.)
(This is the fourth version of this post: the last three were quite long. There is much to discuss when it comes to war in Judaism and Christianity, but simply not enough space to discuss them in detail here and then compare them to jihad. But as war in Judaism and Christianity are issues that are worth our attention and scrutiny, especially what with people revising history to demonize Jews and/or Christians or otherwise inaccurately protray war in Judaism and Christinity, it is a series I am thinking about doing later. Nevertheless, I apologize if the issues here are not more fully described.) Read the rest of this entry »
At around 11 am Mountain Standard Time (12 pm Central Standard Time), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced the new First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:
President BOYD K. PACKER is the new President of the Quorum of the Twelve. He was Acting President of the Quorum throughout the presidency of President Gordon B. Hinckley while President Thomas S. Monson, the actual president of the Quorum, was in the First Presidency. So this is not a new responsibility for him.
President Henry B. Eyring was the Second Counselor in the First Presidency in the last months of President Gordon B. Hinckley’s presidency.
In the English language (and, in this specific regard, many other languages), “church” is a versatile word. It can refer to a particular building (or building style); it can refer to a particular congregation; it can refer to a particular denomination. So when someone says “the Catholic Church” (and here “says” is more important than “writes” because capitalization provides more clarity than the spoken word in this case), one can be referring to a particular building (St. Mary of the Angels Parish Church, perhaps), to a congregation (those that meet in St. John Cantius Parish Church), or to Roman Catholicism as a whole. The same applies to other denominations, almost all of which can be described as the “X Church” (the Lutheran Church; the Mormon Church; the Episcopalian or Anglican Church; the United Methodist Church; the Presbyterian Church; the Church of Christ, Scientist; the Orthodox Church; the Reformed Church; perhaps even the United Church of Christ). (Obviously this does not apply for everyone: exceptions I can think of are Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quakers, Pentacostals, Evangelicals, Christadelphians, Disciples of Christ. With Baptists, often “the Baptist church” refers to a specific building and/or congregation as there is no united Church of Baptists, each congregation being autonomous even in conventions or groups.)
But this is something only in Christianity. Read the rest of this entry »
President Gordon B. Hinckley provides a good example of what truly good and effective humanitarianism is. This he does through the policies and programs he promoted within the Church. Read the rest of this entry »
President Gordon B. Hinckley will have his funeral at 11 A.M. Mountain Standard Time on Saturday, February 2, 2008. He will be laid to rest the same day.
The funeral will be broadcast live throughout the world via the Church’s sattelite broadcasting system.
I would like to say a few words about today’s technology. Only a short time after President Hinckley passed away, Sobek in the West e-mailed me in the Midwest about it. Latter-day Saints throughout the world soon found out through e-mails and text messages and phone calls. I found out before the Church even put it on their website.
When the Church posted President Hinckley’s funeral information yesterday afternoon, I got two e-mails early this morning from local Church leaders informing me of it. I was one in a long list of people, active members and less active members, who were e-mailed.
It amazes me just how fast information spreads these days.
President Hinckley was at the forefront of the Church embracing technology and using technology. While people may talk about President Hinckley’s temple initiative, the Perpetual Education Fund, inspiring the youth, flying all over the world, and having irresistible humor and wit, perhaps one of his most lasting effects will be the Church’s far-reaching use of modern technology. In this he was a pioneer, bringing the Church out of obscurity while listening to the Holy Spirit, using the many technological blessings God has blessed us with. It was certainly in this spirit, indeed, that Elder M. Russell Ballard challenged the Church to engage the world in preaching and teaching the Gospel, and educating the world about the Church, via the new media, especially blogs.
Gordon Bitner Hinckley officially became the 15th president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (which some call the “Mormon Church”) on March 12, 1995. He became the acting president when his predecessor, Howard W. Hunter, passed away on March 3. In the presidencies of a number of presidents, Gordon B. Hinckley acted as acting president numerous times before the post went to him. It may be interesting to note that he acted as acting president when the president was unable to do so due to poor health. Even though he lived to be older than any president while in the position, no one had to act as acting president for him. He served with great vigor until his death on January 27, 2008.
Although he was quite advanced in years (he was 97) and his passage through the eternal veil was expected at some time, this still comes as a shock to us Latter-day Saints. We all feel a profound sense of sorrow and loss, as well as joy, at this monumentous occassion.
We have joy because we believe that after all these years of valiant and ceaseless effort in serving the Lord, President Hinckley is now with Him, and also with his beloved wife, who passed away in 2004 (after about 67 years of being married).
We have sorrow because we will miss him.
Under President Hinckley, the Church embraced technology as a way to reach the world, to keep connected, and to facilitate better resources for all to use. President Hinckley ushered in an era of outreach and openness which was unprecedented. Before, the Church was content remaining isolated (one reason not many people know about or understand Latter-day Saints); under President Hinckley (indeed, long before he became the president of the Church), it reached out to the world.
But perhaps more importantly, President Hinckley loved the people of the world and, as such, was tireless in his exhortations for us to more fully embrace and follow Christian values and virtues, to become better people. He did not fear to admonish us, and he never hesitated to show his love for us.
His gentle yet ever-present and often impromptu humor is also something none of us will forget; it will indeed be something we will sorely miss.
I joined the Church in 1998, three years after President Hinckley became president of the Church. He is all I have known as president of the Church. I have come to love and appreciate him deeply, and to share the reverence and respect the rest of the Church has for him. This respect is well-deserved and well-earned.
I could go on and on as to why I think he was such a good person for the Church, how he had a major impact, how he was good for the world, how he contributed to uplifting the downtrodden and fallen.
Many non-Latter-day Saints have remarked how not only is he a good man, but he inspires and exhorts others to be better people.
I feel like I have lost a grandfather, a grandfather I knew and loved. No one can replace him as such, but the world will move on. The best way we can continue to honor him is by implementing his words and exhortations, and to turn our attention to Him whom he preached all his life: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only Savior and Redeemer of Humanity.
Isn’t “Our Lord Jesus Christ” grammatically incorrect on two points?
First, why are we capitalizing “Our”? It does not refer to Jesus but to us, so ought it not to start with a lower-case letter?
Second, is it not true that when specifying something, commas are used when adding additional detail to the modified phrase whereas commas are not used when the specification is truly a specification? For example, is it not true that “my son Karl” means “of my sons, the one named Karl” whereas “my son, Karl(,)” means “my son, the only one, whose name, by the way, is Karl”? Thus does not “our/Our Lord Jesus Christ” imply that other lords than Him exist, whereas “our/Our Lord, Jesus Christ(,)” means there is only one and we’re specifying His name?
There used to be a time when I did not like Christmas. I wondered to myself: why all this commotion for the Lord’s birth when the ardor for the commemoration of His sacrifice is so much less?
I learned soon thereafter that the Christian ardor and celebration of Easter is quite significant indeed. There is not public build-up to it, as in Christmas, nor such a public spectacle, but for devout and committed Christians, Easter is a very significant and special and even holy time of the year.
Because a birth is joyous, there is nothing but mirth and laughter and happiness at Christmas. Easter is solemn as it is solemnly joyous: a great thing happened but at such a great sacrifice. We rejoice in the Lord’s sacrifice but sorrow in what He had to do to accomplish it.
The significance of Christmas came to me when I read, somewhere and now I have no idea where, that without Easter, Christmas would have been just another birth, but without Christmas, there would not have been an Easter.