Amid current headlines about the living and enforcing of Honor Code guidelines at Brigham Young University, Roger E. Olson,  Foy Valentine Professor of Christian Theology of Ethics at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University posted the following essay. We include it here for your edification.

Thank God for Mormons

I’m not a Mormon; I could never be one. I disagree with many teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I disagree with its emphasis on “temple work” and many other things. My own personal opinion is that the LDS Church is not a Christian church, but I have come to know some Latter-day Saints who I consider Christians anyway.

I write this essay in response to an article entitled “Students at Mormon-owned BYU urge code compassion.” (April 13, 2019) The article, written by Brady McCombs of the Associated Press, reported on a controversy about lifestyle code enforcement at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah which is operated by the LDS Church. I have no dog in that fight, as the saying goes. However, I do admire much about the traditional LDS lifestyle.

I have been invited to BYU three times now. Each visit was for dialogue with LDS religion scholars and students. Usually there were other Christian theologians and church historians present for these events. It is clear to me that LDS religion scholars want Christians to recognize and embrace the LDS Church as equally Christian with us. I see the LDS Church moving in the right direction and pray that it keep moving “our way” (toward orthodox Christianity).

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

In the meantime, I wish some of us orthodox Christians would move more toward LDS values and lifestyles. Too often we have simply shifted with the secular and pagan culture around us without serious consideration. We tend to either limp or run to catch up with secular-pagan culture. Mormons (excuse me, Latter-day Saints) are much more cautious about that. The church changes, but with caution and consideration.

My LDS friends at BYU invited me to speak at the university’s November, 2017 celebration of the birth of the Protestant Reformation five hundred years earlier. Other speakers came from many different Christian traditions. LDS scholars spoke glowingly about Martin Luther as BYU students sat enraptured (I assume) by this new admiration for a great Christian reformer. Some of us who have studied Mormon history and theology were amazed at it. This was not my father’s Mormonism! (He was an evangelical pastor who considered the LDS Church a cult.)

During the breaks between sessions of the symposium I wandered around campus. I also stayed overnight on campus in its pristine and extremely comfortable guest house. Everyone hosted me with grace and favor; I felt nothing “cultic” about the place (unlike perhaps at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City). The “vibe” at BYU was conservative Christian. Clean, nice, modest, friendly—all seemed more than normal there.Of course I didn’t go everywhere on campus, but where I walked and observed, both indoors and outside, I saw every student well-dressed, respectful of the academic environment, clean cut, and friendly to each other and to visitors. I asked a group of male BYU students if I could sit with them in the student lounge area and ask some questions. They were eager that I do so.

I asked about their lack of facial hair. They said they are required to shave every morning. I asked if that bothered them and they said no. I asked if they listen to “contemporary Christian music” on Christian radio and CCM CDs. They asked me to name some artists. I mentioned David Crowder and Matt Redman. Yes, they said, and went on to name Chris Tomlin and other giants of CCM.

Each time I have visited BYU I have been impressed by the ethos of the place. I disagree with distinctive LDS doctrines and find no inspiration in the Book of Mormon or other writings they consider Scripture that I don’t. However, in conversation with LDS scholars of religion over coffee (excuse me, non-caffeinated soft drinks), I have been assured that they are moving away from doctrines most critics bring up to prove them a cult and I have become convinced that their leaders are slowly but surely moving toward orthodox Christianity. I pray that shift continues all the way. But, in the meantime, I wish we more “mainline” Protestant Christians would move back toward a greater appreciation for traditional Christian values such as modesty in public attire and reverence in worship. As an outsider to BYU I urge them to hold fast to their admirable code of conduct while showing compassion to those who violate it and truly repent and return to the lifestyle they agreed to live when they enrolled.

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined.


Steve Collis, Dilpreet Jammu, Elder Thomas Priday, Pastor Del Phillips, Dr. Don Sweeting, and Deacon Geoff Bennett (Left to Right. Not pictured: Rabbi Black)

Yesterday marked the beginning of a new day in Colorado. Governor Jared Polis shared remarks with a standing-room only crowd after signing a proclamation declaring April 12 Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Heralding in the news with prayer and speech were religious leaders representing Jewish, Catholic, Sikh, and Christian faiths. Elder Thomas T. Priday of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints conducted. An interfaith choir directed by Kent Jones filled the air and hearts of participants with songs of patriotism and gratitude. Local Muslim leaders, who supported the efforts of the day were unable to attend because of their Friday Congregational Prayer, look forward to joining next year.

Rabbi Black of Temple Emanuel opened the event with a prayer soliciting unity. Elder Priday read the proclamation declaring Colorado Religious Freedom Day. Pastor Del Phillips, of the The House Worship Center, and Mayor Hancock’s Faith council, followed with opening remarks. “We not only advertise religious freedom, we practice it. The practice of religious freedom is personified by the presence of so many people here…. We must have the freedom for many types of faith to coexist,” he said. Pastor Phillips further reminded all of the crucial need for a unified front for tolerance. “If men and women of faith don’t know how to demonstrate tolerance, we can’t expect those not of faith to find faith, to respect faith, and to respect houses of worship.” He closed with the reminder for all to “remember when you enter your private space of worship, you are not the only one praising God and praying for Colorado.”

Pastor Del Phillips, of The House Worship Center kicks the event off with rousing remarks.

Following Pastor Phillips was Dilpreet Jammu of the Colorado Sikhs. He focused on the equality of mankind, the attributes we share, and the duty to accompany our prayers with action. “We share far more than we differ. All humans are equal. Our actions matter more than words and belief. What matters is you are a human being and you are hungry. If you are suffering, it is my duty to help you.” He reminded faith leaders of their opportunity to promote civility and mutual respect. Jammu also taught about the power of prayer to provide dignity. He said, “Prayer has the greatest power when it is made manifest. You cannot pray away hunger or pray for compassion without action.” He called all to “move beyond words to actions,” and invited those in attendance to Lunger, a meal they will be sharing with all in need, regardless of faith belief.

Deacon Geoff Bennett of Catholic Charities spoke next. Highlighting the power of unity in action, he invited all to do as is said at the end of each service and “Go live this faith outside of our walls.” Without watering it down, he said, we should “practice proudly and recognize that our faith is what brought us together and makes us who we are.” He called for us to see that it is all about relationships and working together. Highlighting the joint efforts of Catholic Charities and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Deacon Bennett shared the good works that have been accomplished by working together, to include furnishing an apartment building built in Broomfield for the homeless, and feeding those in need. Deacon Bennett invited everyone to “celebrate each other and work together so our faith becomes contagious.”

Governor Polis’ remarks, noted the day of religious freedom that would heretofore stand in Colorado. He told those gathered “to reflect on and never take for granted what we have.” He said, “We have a welcoming environment for all faiths, whether they have it or not. Our diversity is what gives us strength. We are all better off because of our diversity before the almighty.”

Governor Polis acknowledges Colorado Religious Freedom Day

Steve Collis, chair of Holland & Hart’s nationwide religious institutions and First Amendment practice group, gave the final remarks. He taught that a lack of religious freedom is what has led to persecution in the past. He said that religious liberty is more controversial today, and we should treat it with reverence. “We all have religious views,” whether or not we identify with a specific religion. Answers to the questions “Is there a God? “Why am I here?” or “What happens after I die?” are all religious in nature, even if the answer is “I don’t know.” Using an example from the early days of the United States, Collis shared the story of the Quakers. Given their bedrock belief against conflict, they sought exemption from the War of Independence. Instead of forcing them to their civic duties, George Washington assured them that the “conscientious scruples of their members must be respected.” They were able to contribute to the effort without conflict. In like manner, today we need to show civility and respect for others’ beliefs. In direct tones, Collis reminded listeners that “if we lose religious liberty, everyone loses, including those who think they have won.”

Steve Collis, of Holland & Hart calls for the need to maintain religious liberty.

Following Collis, the interfaith choir sang “America the Beautiful.” Kent Jones directed, and two soloists were featured, including a veteran Navy admiral who sang the fourth verse. The crowd of attendees were then invited to stand together and sing, “The Star Spangled Banner.” The refrains of our National Anthem echoed in the halls of the state house, as children, leaders, and legislators alike sang together.

The standing-room only crowd sings “The Star-Spangled Banner”

Dr. Don Sweeting, President of Colorado Christian University, gave the benediction. In solicitous tones of reverence and gratitude, he thanked God for the ability to be together, called on all for action, and prayed religious civility going forward.

CCU President Don Sweeting leads the group in a closing prayer.

All in all, the event was a smashing success and a wonderful sign of things to come. Next year’s Religious Freedom Day event will be Monday, April 13, 2020. For further information, see ColoradoReligiousFreedomDay.org


One of our favorite, most oft-repeated family stories goes back to the toddler days of the oldest grandchild. When Abby was 2 years old, my mom and dad (Grammy and Pops) were in Utah visiting my brothers and their families. Abby wanted McDonald’s for lunch. But it was Sunday. My mom reminded Abby that we don’t eat out on Sundays. She said that we follow the prophet, and keep the Sabbath day holy. Trying to keep it on Abby’s level, Grammy started singing the familiar primary song, “Follow the prophet, follow the prophet, follow the prophet, he knows the way!”

At this point Abby impatiently waved her hands, dismissive of any singing sermons. “I don’t need to follow the prophet. I know the way to McDonalds.”

She went on to describe how to get to her dream lunch. Yet the vision she had for her short-term fulfillment was not the vision the adults had for teaching her about the Sabbath day. Precocious Abby is now a beautiful, faithful young woman, and if we asked her why or how she follows the prophet, she would have a different answer. Not to mention, she could drive herself.


This weekend we get to sit at the virtual feet of God’s living prophet, President Russell M. Nelson. The 15 months since he’s become prophet have been filled with announcements, refinements, and exciting changes. While we may use the terms “prophet” and “president” most often in referring to President Nelson, we can also interchange his calling with the words “seer” and “revelator.” As Ammon explained to King Limhi, “a seer is greater than a prophet (Mosiah 8:15).” And in terms of our discussion of vision, a seer is just what we need.

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Mayor Hancock, Elder Priday and friends at the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square’s Christmas Concert

It was a big weekend for Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and local leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Elder Thomas T. Priday, Area Seventy, and Denver South Area Public Affairs Director Craig McIlroy accompanied Mayor Hancock to Salt Lake City for a red carpet weekend. Activities kicked off with a tour of the Bishop’s Central Storehouse.

Shawn Johnson and Mayor Hancock prepare care packages

Not your average service mart, Mayor Hancock was blown away by “so expansive an undertaking.” With the idea that so much of the needed goods are paid for through members’ fast offerings, Pastor Del Phillips, who accompanied Mayor Hancock, said he felt inspired to implement Fast Sundays and Fast Offerings with his congregation. Home to thousands of pounds of food, its own trucking line, and many unique features that enable the Church to be first on the scene at natural disasters, the Bishop’s Storehouse is an impressive sight.

Elder Priday shows Mayor Hancock the Light the World giving machines

Next on the agenda was lunch at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. The team got to visit the charity vending machines unique to the Christmas season and used in connection with Light the World. Buyers can choose to give a goat, fresh water, or a myriad of other necessities to people in need around the world. After Mayor Hancock’s introduction to these vending vehicles for good, maybe Denver can be home to a giving machine next Christmas.

 

Mayor Hancock receives instruction at the Family History Center

After lunch, Mayor Hancock was introduced to Salt Lake City’s Family History Center. With one on one attention, he and his associates had access to millions of records, including access to the Freedman’s Bureau. On the trip with Mayor Hancock was Shawn Johnson, Director of Community Relations. She reports being pleased to “have the opportunity to dig deeper into [our] family’s roots.”

Saving the best for last, Mayor Hancock, Elder Priday and their teams rounded out their evening with dinner and a show. Dinner was hosted by Elder Wilford W. Andersen, General Authority Seventy. He presented each couple with their own “Faith in Every Footstep” sculpture. Dinner was followed by the Tabernacle Choir on Temple Square’s Christmas Concert. This was a highlight for multiple reasons. Earlier that day, the USOC announced Salt Lake City as the US nominee for a future Winter Olympics games. Mayor Hancock was able to congratulate Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski in person at the conference center.

Elder Wilford W. Andersen, General Authority Seventy hosts Denver guests for dinner before the show

 

Tale of Two Cities – Denver Mayor Hancock and SLC Mayor Biskupski meet

The biggest highlight was of course hearing Christmas music sung by the Tabernacle Choir. While beautiful in and of itself, the icing on the cake was enjoying special guest artist Kristin Chenoweth sing. Her first number received a standing ovation. Brother McIlroy reported, her presence was “breathtaking from start to finish.”

One year ago, Elder Priday and Brother McIlroy first met Mayor Hancock in his office. Since then, their relationship has blossomed with joint ventures in community service, working together on a faith council, and attending musical events together. Said Elder Priday, “We were able to have substantive discussions with the mayor and his team that will build significant goodwill and relationships for the Church in this area for years to come. It was apparent that they had been touched by the Holy Spirit.”

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Colorado Gives

 

For all who have volunteered time, talent or energy to others in need, it’s easy to understand the feeling of wanting to do more. You might wish for deeper pockets or unlimited resources to make your giving more significant. Today is the day where a bit of that wish comes true. December 4 is Colorado Gives Day, which means that as each of us goes online to give, our donations have potential to be magnified by the $1 Million Incentive Fund. You can help through ColoradoGives.org, a year-round, online giving website featuring more than 2,300 nonprofits. Last year brought in $36 million in a 24-hour period.

Wondering where to start? Below are a few JustServe partners who stand in extra need and would benefit from a boost on this day of giving.

 

 

Volunteers of America

The Volunteers of America provides a variety of year-round support to those in need. Areas that need the most right now include serving meals at a daytime shelter and helping with yard clean up for senior citizens. They also have several volunteer from home ideas that include writing letters to veterans, decorating bags for meals on wheels, or even putting together a craft kit for low income preschool students.

Catholic Charities

In like manner, Catholic Charities offer a variety of services and can use volunteers to help pull together. Current opportunities include helping at a women’s shelter, either serving dinner, decorating cookies, or hosting a movie night. You can also host a Christmas party for residents of Catholic Charities housing, or adopt a family for Christmas.

 

Lutheran Family Services

Lutheran Family Services (LFS) is the largest refugee resettlement agency in the Rocky Mountain region. Every year LFS responds to needs of 30,000 people. One simple but constant need is for diaper donations. Clients often have large families and always need diapers. You can also help with creating baby baskets for refugee families who are either expecting or have just had a new baby.

In this season of giving, and as we Light the World, we hope you will consider joining in this day as Colorado Gives.

 


Thursday, September 13 was an inspiring night. Thanks to the joint efforts from the Front Range and Columbine stakes and the Colorado Catholic Conference, 400+ attendees gathered for a Religious Freedom Forum in Columbine. With a full line-up of speakers, Colorado Mormon Chorale’s powerful patriotic numbers, and a timely message – the combined result was one to remember. Attendees learned the importance of standing for religious freedom, and increasing the ability to do so. Presenters tied together both examples of early leaders who created a framework to protect our freedoms, and the efforts that continue to maintain said freedoms. Elder Thomas Priday, Area Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, opened the evening, sharing gratitude for the opportunity for multiple faiths “to come together in unity.”

Rebecca Jenson, Public Affairs Director, North America Central Area, stands at attention during “The Star Spangled Banner”

As members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we are reminded regularly of our civic duties. Elder Bednar said recently, “There is a paradox in religious freedom — if I want my religious freedom to be protected, then I must protect the religious freedom of those who believe in a basically different way from my own. This is our task. And it will be our ongoing challenge. Religious freedom is more than a right; it is a duty.” (more…)


There might be a reason why it seems members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t spend much time on the question: Are Mormons Christian? Perhaps it’s because it feels like an obvious conclusion. A straightforward definition of Christianity is believing Jesus Christ to be our Savior and Redeemer. And we do. With that, the discussion seems over. However, even as a child, I remember being challenged on this topic by classmates, and as an adult, it still comes up. It made no sense to me how a church called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints could be seen as anything but Christian. Yet in the meantime, I’ve learned that there are some Christians who have a more specific definition of Christianity, and that is where we might diverge. Here are the important basics:

  1. Latter-day Saints do not accept the creeds, confessions, and formulations of post–New Testament Christianity.
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints does not descend through the historical line of traditional Christianity. That is, Latter-day Saints are not Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant.
  3. Latter-day Saints do not believe scripture consists of the Holy Bible alone but have an expanded canon of scripture that includes the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

In unequivocal terms, we as members of the church assert belief in God, our eternal Father, his son Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Ghost. Some creeds call for a belief in the Holy Trinity, where it is understood that all three are without form and are one. We do not believe in a trinity. From there, other distinctions include (more…)


 

Two young scouts make their way to their next activity

He’s not a bad kid. He’s actually a pretty good kid. But over the last several months, as my son Landon approached his twelfth birthday, I’ve wondered exactly how hairy the highly anticipated teen years would be. What I didn’t realize was the change that could take place in a short 5 day time period during the summer. You could almost call it a priesthood “enhancement.” From July 23-28, 19 stakes from the greater Denver area participated in an Aaronic Priesthood Encampment at Peaceful Valley Ranch, and my son was one of the lucky ones who went.

To begin with the end, you might want to know that at the end of the week, he celebrated his first night back in his own bed by waking early to attend a 7 am stake priesthood meeting.  He came home singing. There was no sulking or dragging about after a week of sleep deprivation. As I heard the phrase “Rise up O men of God!”(and every subsequent lyric) reverberate throughout our home, my heart rejoiced along with his. Here are the blessings I have seen:

 

“Rise up, O men of God! Have done with lesser things.”

It’s a big time commitment to leave before dawn on Monday and stay through Saturday morning. So many other things can pull at your schedule. yet the opportunity to spend all day, every day surrounded by faithful priesthood holders who have set aside their agendas to be at encampment is priceless.

 

“Give heart and soul and mind and strength to serve the King of Kings.”

Rain pours over Peaceful Valley Camp

 Over the past 2 years of preparation for the camp, church leaders selected a theme and plan that was inspired. “Qualified for the work,” from Doctrine and Covenants 4, became the theme, and from sunup to sundown, this was at the forefront of activity.

All the boys can report that the weather did not hold off for this week of camp. There were times when it was rough. But for all who stuck it out, their offering of “mind and strength” paid off in “heart and soul.”

 

Boys and their leader pause for a “groupie”

“Rise Up, O men of God, in one united throng.”  What happens when 19 stakes of young men, their leaders and their fathers gather under the direction of priesthood leadership? One benefit is strength. Our boys know they are not alone. For 51 weeks of the year, every time they walk down the halls of school, skip parties they know don’t hold their standards, or leave sports tournaments before Sunday’s championship games, they’re reminded that they are different. But for 5 days, surrounded by each other, they could unite in faith and brotherhood. Encampment rang in the day and closed out the night singing these very words. Every day. Twice a day.

 

“Bring in the day of brotherhood and end the night of wrong.”

Hundreds gather under a beautiful Colorado sky for a fireside

Their days and nights were bookends of brotherhood. Every morning started with a devotional. And every evening featured  inspired fireside speakers. Luckily my son is my talker. He tells me all sorts of things. I heard a bit about shooting, hiking, and adventure activities. But the events I heard about in greatest detail were the nightly firesides. Guest speakers and musicians ran came from a variety of backgrounds. A couple included former NBA player Jimmer Fredette,  and Bill Tolbert, whose personal experience with the Challenger is a story worth hearing. Another speaker shared his story about surviving a bear attack. He taught those listening about the benefits of listening to the Holy Ghost, and the tender mercies and miracles found even in terribly hard things.

 

A scout gets a photo op with leaders, including Charles Dahlquist and Elder Thomas Priday

“Rise up, o men of God! Tread where his feet have trod. As brothers of the Son of Man, rise up o men of God!”  Leaders at Camp included President Stephen W. Owen,  Young Men General President, Elder Thomas T. Priday, Area Seventy, and Charles Dahlquist, national commissioner of the Boy Scouts of America, and former Young Men General President. What a privilege to have them among the ranks.

One day my son and his quorum friends happened to eat lunch with these leaders, and the ensuing conversation added more fuel to the young boys’ fires. As these new deacons talked with, answered and asked questions of their own, they were reminded once again of the awesome responsibilities that come with being a priesthood holder. Their 15 minutes with fellow brethren who have long before started on the path of discipleship wasn’t spent discussing the weather (though they could have. The rain – oh the rain!). Instead, they discussed who in their quorum needs fellowshipping, what they are doing to help, and other topics on a similar vein. As Landon recounted the story, I offered a silent prayer of gratitude for the example of righteous men, even at a simple lunch.

 

Qualified for the Work

My son came home ready to pitch in. He came home ready to lead out. He sits on his bed every night, writes in his journal and reads his scriptures. As I see these new habits come into place, the same we’ve been modeling and talking about for years, I see how his time at Camp is helping qualify him for the work. Certainly, all who attended heard the message, and I know at least one young man was inspired to “Rise up!”

Additional photos from the week can be seen here: 

Photo credit: Royd Despain