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Thursday, April 12, 2018

Response to Recent Content Published on the LDS Church Growth Blog--Part Two: The Role of Women in the Church

Hello again, everyone! I am back with the second post I promised that will share my thoughts in response to things recently posted on the LDS Church Growth Blog. Again, I hope it is clearly understood that I have the utmost respect for Matthew Martinich and the work he does to bring us the latest Church growth developments, and that respect is extended to everyone who shares their thoughts in response to his posts. In another recent post, Matt highlighted the many major milestone announcements, including all developments noted in the April General Conference.

He then went on to share some developments he is predicting for the future of the Church as President Nelson's administration continues. One such prediction was that the role of women in the Church would be more prominently felt in terms of additional administrative responsibilities in missionary and temple/family history work.

And that prediction is the springboard for my post here. There seems to be a mistaken idea in the Church that, unless women are given equal authority and responsibility in the Church, they are somehow seeing themselves or are being seen by their male counterparts as inferior in the work. That idea also stems from the negative response some had to the way that President Nelson and his counselors answered the question that was asked about the role of women in the Church.

Let me be clearly understood: I honor, respect, and, to the degree that I can, revere the women in my life, particularly the mother who gave birth to me and took care of me through the course of numerous health challenges, including hospital stays, multiple surgeries, and extensive illnesses, and the woman I married, who saw in me not the broken man I felt I was at the time, but the man which I am capable of becoming, and who continues to encourage me to rise above present ongoing illnesses that at the best of times limit my capacity to get things done.

But the role of these wonderful women in the Church, and their divine identity and purpose, seems to have been lost in the midst of those who perpetuate the idea that, unless women are given greater opportunity and authority to serve in the Church, their value in the eyes of heaven is somehow lessened.

So let's talk about this for a little bit. As a man who grew up with a loving mother and excellent sisters, I never once saw myself as being of more value to the Lord than they were. To the contrary: In moments when I have had the opportunity to give them priesthood blessings (which has been repeatedly extended further to administering to my wife in the seven years of my marriage), I have felt, even to the very smallest degree, how important, treasured, unique, and special these women are, and how much Heavenly Father loves them.

I have also been gratified to hear prophets (particularly Presidents Hinckley, Monson, and Nelson) highlight the important role of good women, and their value in heaven's eyes. So the idea that they could have more value to the Church and its' leaders if they were given more responsibility and prominent roles in the work of the kingdom boggles my mind. While I never have and likely never will serve in capacities where I would frequently participate in ward councils, I have had one opportunity (as a member of the Ward Sunday School Presidency) to sit in one particular ward council where women were present, and being in the Sunday School Presidency, I also had the opportunity to orient teachers, regardless of gender, to their new responsibilities. The women especially showed understanding of the importance of their calling to teach the youth, male and female, and to share insights that would bless them in their future lives.

And since getting married, I have frequently received input from my wife about things I need to change or do better. In such moments, when my heart has been right and when I have accepted such advice and correction, I have been all the better for it. But my wife has been very clear that she doesn't need or want a more prominent role in the Church.

I will take this a step further. One of the things Matt specifically predicted was that women would be given more of a role in temple and family history and missionary work. As a former temple worker myself, I can say that the work I did in the temple would never have been possible were it not for the women on our shifts (including the one I would later married) being there doing their parts as well. I have sat in numerous training sessions for temple workers where the insights from our sister counterparts changed the course of both the conversation and our ministry. And I have seen priesthood power at work within the women alongside whom I served. It was amazing to behold.

Here is the problem that I have with the idea that women should be given more of a role in administering the Lord's work: In asking any missionary who has ever served under any mission president, I have learned that the real work of the mission is directly facilitated by the women who serve alongside their husbands in the mission presidencies of the Church. The same is true for area presidencies, stake presidencies, and bishoprics. I have often heard bishops say they have been advised that their wives should be their main counselors in their ministry, and I have seen that at work.

Nearly three years ago (in August 2015), the Church announced that women would take part in three major Church councils, with the Relief Society President serving on the Priesthood and Family Executive Council (formerly the Priesthood Executive Council), the Young Women General President serving on the Missionary Executive Council, and the Primary General President serving on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. That was an important step forward in the Church.

But the main problem I see with such women having expanded responsibilities in the Church, particularly those relating to day-to-day administration, is that, unless I am mistaken, all general authorities are called to full-time service, while the auxiliary presidencies of the Church serve on more of a part-time basis, comparable to area seventies or ward or stake leaders. That difference makes it difficult (but not perhaps impossible or out of the question) for more responsibility to be given to general officers of the Church, who retain their occupations, where applicable. Could it be done? Absolutely, but that would involve greater regulation of the time spent in such callings, which might potentially lead those so asked to have less time to be with their families.

That said, it has also been a relatively recent development for one member of each of the five Church auxiliaries to serve as an advisor or assistant editor for the Church magazines. So in that respect, the influence of the general officers, and therefore the scope of their obligations, has widened very recently. The Church may opt to give general officers more responsibility, but I am not sure how that would work, unless those given such responsibilities are asked to commit more time to the calling.

In summary, I think that people who claim that women do not have enough prominence or responsibility may miss the mark or have failed to consider just how pivotal the contributions of women are to the furthering of the Lord's work. Truth be told, were it not for 15 women, we would not have our current 15 apostles, which all of them have been frequently mentioning. I do not say by any means that birthing children is the one and only role of a woman. What I am saying is that the influence of women is felt to a much larger degree by those of us fortunate enough to be within the scope of their influence than many people realize or acknowledge.

A quick internet search for "Women using priesthood power" yields over 800,000 results. Among the very best of those results are this article from 2014, this classic talk from General Conference, this essay, which includes relevant links to several other brilliant resources, this LDS Living article featuring general insights on the subject, and this one, in which Elder Dale G. Renlund and his wife Ruth share thoughts on that subject. There are many other wonderful resources, which, as noted, can be found with a simple internet search.

I think the bulk of the misunderstanding comes from a misconception about the difference between roles, responsibilities, capabilities, and influence of men vs. women, Every man in the Church with whom I have conversed on this subject have quickly observed that they would not be who they are today without the support and influence of the women in their lives.

So that brings the question: Could or should women be given more administrative duties in the Church? With God, nothing is impossible, and if General Conference earlier this month proved one thing to me, it is that the Lord's ways, thoughts, and timing is vastly different to ours. With that in mind, if the Church sees a way in which the influence of women can be more fully felt in key decisions, policies, and doctrinal determinations within the Church, a way will be open to enable that to happen.

Will women ever be given the priesthood? That is a different question, to which I think the answer is no. The main reason I say that is because the Lord seems to have entrusted that responsibility to men like myself, not because we are any more important in heaven's eyes, but because of what the Lord needs us to become through administering to our fellow man. Women don't need to have that experience because their very nature is geared towards doing whatever they can to influence others for good. Women would never be prone to exercising unrighteous dominion or to any improper tendencies. Perhaps the Lord is telling us as men that we need to not only become better, but that we should more fully emulate the qualities that women already innately have.

That said, I fully believe that the Brethren recognize the ways in which the world would try to suggest that women currently have a diminished role or decreased importance in both the Church and, by extension, the eyes of heaven. We have recently seen things occur that put women on the same plane and footing as men (for example, home and visiting teaching being replaced with a "minsitering" program that has the same guidelines for men and women), and I fully believe that when the timing and circumstances are right for it, the Brethren will seek for and determine ways in which to continue to expand the opportunities for our dear sisters of the Church, and will both now and in the future continue to regularly emphasize the important influence, place, and standing of women in the Church.

The way I see it, there is a reason that the Lord saved the process of creating women as the final step of the process of creating this world. The creation of the fairer, gentler, and, in many ways, more superior counterpart to man was the crowning part of that process. And all of us, men and women alike, will be blessed as we come to understand just how amazing women really are.

Thank you for wading through this, which wasa longer than I intended to be. That does it for this post. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated. Thank you for the privilege of your time. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.

Response to Content Posted Recently on the LDS Church Growth Blog--Part One: The Top 10 Dependencies With the Strongest Church Presence Without a Temple in Any Phase

Hello again, everyone! As the title of this post implies, this will be the first post in a miniseries which I will do to share my thoughts about content recently posted on the LDS Church Growth Blog. As an introduction to this series, I just want to establish right off the bat that I have a profound respect and appreciation for the work Matthew Martinich does on that blog, and for those who take time to comment on the things he posts there. That said, there have been a few times (which will likely not be the last) when something that is said by either Matt or those who comment on the topics about which he posts which I feel warrants further analysis from me here on this blog.

Matt recently put up this post, which continues his intermittent series on the top 10 nations or dependencies in the world that have the strongest Church presence but have not yet had a temple announced. I appreciate the work he does to frequently post those, especially when one or two locations previously on his list of the top 10 have a temple subsequently announced in General Conference, which makes it necessary to revisit that list.

While he has done very well to consider the current composition of temple districts and to share unit information that backs up his rationale for each nation's place on the list, I wanted to get more into the numbers behind those picks. So I ran distance calculations between each of those nations and their currently-assigned temple (or, where applicable, those temples announced or under construction that would cover those locations when they are dedicated).

I grouped them in that order, and then, in a note below that list, shared my feelings regarding the order in which those locations might potentially have a temple announced, along with any pertinent information I had available that has led me conclude that any of them could be announced in a different order. The results of that research follows below.

In order to not interrupt the flow of that information, I want to end now as I always do. That does it for this post. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated. Thank you for the privilege of your time. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.

1. Papua New Guinea. Members in Port Moresby travel 2,178 miles to their assigned temple in Suva Fiji, which is more than 10½ times further than the 200 mile distance specified by President Monson. And although the Sydney Australia Temple is slightly closer (at 1,704 miles, which is still 8½ times further than that 200 mile distance), it appears that, for whatever reason, the determination was made to assign the Saints in Papua New Guinea to the more distant temple. It is therefore likely that a temple will be announced in Port Moresby in the near future, especially since land has reportedly been held in reserve for that purpose for a while now.

2. Puerto Rico: Members in San Juan travel 251 miles to reach their assigned temple in Santo Domingo Dominican Republic, which is just above the 200-mile goal. Although there have been significant natural disasters there within the last year, a temple in that nation may just be a matter of time.

3. Kiribati: Members in Tarawa currently travel 1,402 miles to their assigned temple in Suva Fiji, and no other current or potential future temple is closer than that. Since that is over 7 times further than the 200-mile goal that has been set by other Church presidents, a temple in Tarawa could just be a matter of time.

4. Sierra Leone: Members in Freetown currently travel 1,272.4 miles to reach their assigned temple in Accra Ghana (which is a little over 6 times further than the 200-mile goal). Once the temple in the Ivory Coast is built, that distance will be cut to 942.1 miles (which is still over 4½ times further than that 200-mile goal). So a temple in Freetown may just be a matter of time.

5. American Samoa: Members in Pago Pago currently travel 101 miles to their assigned temple in Apia Samoa. Although that temple is within an easy distance (101 miles, which is half as far as the 200-mile goal), it is not impossible to believe that a temple could be built in Pago Pago at some point, with the one question being how soon that might occur.

6. Uganda: Members in Kampala currently travel 2,565.6 miles to their assigned temple in Johannesburg South Africa. That distance will be cut to 1,882.2 miles once the Kinshasa Democratic Republic of the Congo Temple is dedicated, and will be cut further to 1,795.5 miles once the temple in Harare Zimbabwe is built and dedicated. But the significant distance cut will occur when the Nairobi Kenya Temple is built and dedicated, which will cut the distance to 404.5 miles. While that is only slightly more than double the 200-mile goal, it is not hard to believe that Kampala could (and likely will) get a temple in the not-too-distant future.

7. Cambodia: Members in Phnom Pehn currently travel 963 miles to their assigned temple in Hong Kong China. Once the Bangkok Thailand Temple is dedicated, that will cut the distance to 413.7 miles, which is just over twice the 200-mile goal. Since the only other announced temple in Asia (for Bengaluru India) will not cut that distance further (as it will be over 10 times further from Phnom Pehn), a temple for Cambodia may simply be a matter of time.

8. Cape Verde: Members in Praia currently travel over 10 times further than the 200 mile goal  (2,125 miles, to be exact) to attend the temple in Madrid Spain. When the Lisbon Portugal Temple is dedicated, that distance will be cut to 1,861 miles, which is still more than 9 times further away than the mileage goal that has been set. For that reason, a temple in Praia may just be a matter of time.

9. Liberia: Saints in Monrovia currently travel almost 5 times further than the 200 mile goal (the exact distance is 973.8 miles) to attend the Accra Ghana Temple. That distance will be cut to 643.5 miles when the Abidjan Ivory Coast Temple is dedicated. If the Church announces and builds a temple in Sierra Leone, that distance would additionally be cut just about in half to 338 miles. While that distance is not even 1.5 times the 200-mile goal, there may be enough reason to believe that a temple in Monrovia could happen sooner rather than later.

10. Madagascar: Saints in Anatananarivo currently travel 3,658 miles to their currently assigned temple in Accra Ghana. That would be cut to 2,390 once the temple in Kinshasa is dedicated (assuming Madagascar would then fall under that district), and it would be cut further once the temple in Harare Zimbabwe is built and dedicated (with that distance being 1,082 miles). But since even that distance is 5 times further than the 200-mile goal, it is not hard to believe that a temple in Madagascar might be announced sooner rather than later.

Final note: Based on the factors mentioned above, and other elements I have studied on my own time, if I had to pick a potential likely order in which any of these nations might have a temple announced, I would do so as follows: Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Cambodia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Cape Verde, Kiribati, Madagascar, , Liberia, and. It is also interesting to consider that, among these 10 nations, 3 (Kiribati, American Samoa, and Papua New Guinea) are in the Church’s Pacific Area, 2 more are in the Africa Southeast Area (Madagascar and Uganda), 2 are in the Africa West Area (Sierra Leone and Liberia) 1 is in the Caribbean Area (Puerto Rico), 1 other is in the Asia Area (Cambodia), and the remaining 1 is in the Europe Area (Cape Verde). It is also worth noting that Church growth experts have stated that the trends of such growth in Africa is such that the number of current temples within the African continent could potentially double (if not triple or quadruple) within the next 20-30 years or so. It continues to amaze me how the Lord moves his work forward in unexpected ways. Since two of the previous top ten from 2017 saw a temple announced this year (Nicaragua at #1 and Russia at #4), it is not hard to believe that the top ten list will continue to change based on future announcements. And I believe that many (if not all) of these current top ten could potentially have a temple announced within the next 15-30 years, although some will obviously be more imminent.

Miscellaneous Church News Items Reported

Hello again, everyone! I am pleased at this time to bring you several Church News items that had a profound impact on me. Many of them brought my emotions very close to the surface. There is a lot to get to, so let's get started.

First of all, on Tuesday, the Church News reported on an address given by Elder Neil L. Andersen the day before at a BYU-Provo devotional gathering. Elder Andersen used his address to provide more context to the ministering announcement that President Nelson made in the last session of General Conference. Before I share a link to Elder Andersen's address, I have felt a need to point out something:

In many venues of discussion in which I have participated, many people have expressed surprise about the ministering announcement, saying that it is a new concept that will take some getting used to. But in this address given by Elder Holland during the Priesthood Session of the October 2016 General Conference, Elder Holland was very clear about what effective home teaching should look like, with his counsel echoing the oft-repeated phrase of other Church leaders: "Never let a program to be run become more important than a person to be saved." Effective home teaching, if I have understood what the Brethren have said on the subject, was always supposed to be more focused on showing genuine love and concern than it was to be more concerned with just getting it done or sharing an assigned message.

The fact that the Brethren have repeatedly reiterated what effective home teaching should look like and the fact that the concept of home and visiting teaching as we know it has been retired indicates to me that most of the Church is missing the mark on this. The so-called "new practice" of ministering is simply placing greater emphasis on something that should have been done all this time.

Sorry to get on my soapbox there. I have just been so bothered by everyone talking about a "new program" when what has actually been done is to put the idea of caring for our fellow Church members in its' proper perspective. Getting back to Elder Andersen's BYU address, what he said to those in attendance reiterates the idea that it is not a "new program" at all, but rather a refinement of something that was misunderstood or being done improperly. You can read more about his remarks here.

Having taken a chunk of time on one news story, I will try to be more concise in covering the others I wanted to share. In an effort to better serve the needs of members worldwide, the Church has noted additional changes to temple garment styles for endowed Church members. Next, with it being early Friday morning now London time, the Church News has reported on President Nelson's visit with members and missionaries. It is great to see his enthusiasm, vigor, and desire to be out among the people of the Church.

Next, the Church News has covered the publication of the next volume in the Joseph Smith Papers Project. The latest volume covers the Saints efforts to recover and seek governmental redress from their persecutions in Missouri after they relocated to Illinois. Among other interesting insights, the newest volume provides more context for the response of US President Martin Van Buren when he told early Church leaders that come to see him: "Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you." That was an intriguing article to read.

And rounding out these newest articles I wanted to cover, there are two others. First, we have one that highlights the reactions of Church members in Russia, India, and Nicaragua to the temples announced by President Nelson for a major city in Russia (which apparently means the temple will be located in Moscow, St. Petersburg, or Saratov, where the 3 stakes of the Church in Russia have been established), Bengaluru, and Managua respectively.

Before sharing the last article, I just wanted to interject here that the article about the reactions to those temples was one of the two that brought tears to my eyes. To hear of the sacrifices these Saints have made to get to the temples closest to their nations (which has involved extensive travel, and at times, some Saints having to miss their children's marriages due to visa issues) made my heart ache for them. But each one interviewed expressed gratitude for a temple in their midst. Particularly in Russia, it appears that, whichever of the three cities are chosen, the Saints in the other two locations will still have an extensive journey, although it will not be as lengthy or as costly as going to their currently assigned temple.

It is also worth reiterating something I have said before: For the Nicaraguan Saints, they have waited for a temple for a while. Six years ago, in January 2012, then-Elder Nelson felt to make an apostolic promise to the Saints in Nicaragua that they would have their own temple in the future. And now, as Church president, he has fulfilled that promise by announcing a temple for Managua. I do not think it is an accident that President Nelson has come to the Church presidency at a time when Managua was on the list of potential locations for which a temple could be built. With land having been held in reserve for such a temple for a while now, I would imagine that President Nelson will do everything in his power to ensure that he is around to preside at that temple's groundbreaking ceremony himself.

In the meantime, I also do not believe that it was accidental that temples have been announced recently in Russia and in India. As some of you might recall, I was one of many who, in offering thoughts about potential future temples, noted that such edifices might be a more distant prospect. In regards to that, I was grateful for the reminder that the Lord's ways, thoughts, and timing are higher than those offered by myself or anyone else. The timing of these announcements has always been the Lord's to govern. With that said, I also fully believe that the Lord held such announcements in reserve until President Nelson could make them as the new Church president.

The fact that the Lord's ways, thoughts, and timing are higher than ours also applies fully to the last Church news article I wanted to share. As many of you are aware, before General Conference, I had shared my opinion that, while I would love to see both of the newest apostles hail from outside the US, it was more likely that the Church would opt for someone American-born who had extensive international experience.

I was never more pleased to be proven wrong in that regard. Elder Gerrit W. Gong was born in the US, but has Asian ancestry, and Elder Soares is both the first South American and first Brazilian-born apostle appointed. With these appointments, 1/5 of the current 15 apostles were born outside the US, something we have not seen in Church history before now. Because Elder Gong is just short of 2 years older than Elder Stevenson, while Elder Soares is the new youngest apostle, it may be a while before we know how likely it might be that either could become president of the Church at some point.

But these appointments are very historic and significant, and demonstrate that President Nelson may be more willing to look at other internationally-born apostolic candidates than his predecessors might have been. That said, of the current apostles, all but one (President Ballard, who will be 90 later this year) are in their mid-to-late 70's or younger. With that in mind, it is hard to know how many (if any) other apostles might pass before President Nelson does. That will be interesting to see. Whatever happens, perhaps seeing President Nelson's willingness to appoint two international apostles as his first picks may mean that his successors in the presidency, whomever they may be, might be more willing to do so as well.

Sorry for that tangent, but it set the context for the final article I wanted to mention. In keeping with their tradition of publishing articles to introduce new Church leadership to Church members, the Church News as published one to introduce Elder Gong. His extensive experience includes being well educated, and time spent as a BYU-Provo administrator. As some of you might also recall, he was called as a General Authority in April 2010, and he was called to serve in the Presidency of the Seventy following Elder Rasband's October 2015 call to the Quorum of the Twelve.

If I may, I would like to share a personal experience I had with Elder Gong. He was an area seventy assigned to the Utah South Area who had been asked to accompany the General Authority Seventy visiting the conference in my parents' stake during the years I served in the temple. I was greatly impressed with his message, in which he demonstrated a clear understanding of the scriptures and encouraged us to improve ourselves in the ways that were suggested during that conference. After the session was over, I took the opportunity to greet him, and was impressed by his personal warmth and manner of expressing himself.

Because of this encounter, I can witness firsthand that he has been prepared throughout his life for his new calling. Although he has only given three talks in General Conference, two of those three (given in response to his apostolic call earlier this month, and one other given two years ago this month) spoke of the Savior and the important role He should have in our lives, while the other (given in October 2010 in response to his call as a General Authority) focused on the important role temples should have in the lives of Church members. I imagine these two topics will have a highly important emphasis during his ministry, among other subjects.

But I have rambled on long enough. That concludes the discussion of the articles I wanted to pass along to you all, so that does it for this post. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated. Thank you for the privilege of your time. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.

Additional Progress Noted for the Kinshasa DR Congo Temple

Hello again, everyone! In the early hours of April 12, I am back to unexpectedly report on progress that has been noted on the Kinshasa DR Congo Temple. I say it is unexpected primarily because I just posted a few short hours ago my revised estimates for future temple events. In that update, I had adjusted the time-frame in which that dedication might occur, pushing that estimate back to early-to-mid June 2019.

This was primarily because the Fortaleza Temple had, by comparison, progressed more consistently. With the updates I discovered a few hours ago for Kinshasa, I may again be changing my thinking. Those updates indicate that the exterior staircases have been poured for that temple, and that interior work continues to progress.

With that update in mind, there are a few questions to consider: Is this reported progress sufficient to warrant yet another change to the previously-offered estimates? If so, how might the reported progress affect those estimates for this and all other temple events? Could there be any additional delays for this temple, or will things go smoothly enough that it could be the next temple to have a dedication scheduled before any other events are?

I can answer all of these questions in the same way: I have no idea. The reported progress does give me hope that this temple is on track to be the next one dedicated. How soon we might hear of the next scheduled temple events is a question that is more difficult to answer. There are currently three temples (Frankfurt Germany, Oklahoma City Oklahoma, and Memphis Tennessee) that are anticipated to be rededicated and two new temples (Kinshasa DR Congo and Fortaleza Brazil) that are anticipated to have their dedications all within the same general time-frame (early-to-mid 2019, which I interpret as referring to anytime between the beginning of January and the end of June).

And there are so many unknowns regarding those five. We do know that the Fortaleza Brazil Temple was moved up on the list to where it now is prior to the end of last year, since new updates indicated that temple was ahead of schedule. But for the Kinshasa and Frankfurt Temples, their estimates have been moved around extensively. And although the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Temple closed around half a month after the Memphis Tennessee Temple, of the two, the Oklahoma City Temple seems to be progressing more rapidly and maybe even ahead of schedule.

So there is a lot to consider when suggesting general completion estimates for such projects, and it gets even more tricky to try and pinpoint a more specific time-frame for such events. At this point, the feeling I have on the estimates provided earlier today is to wait and see what else might develop. If any of these temples get ahead of schedule or fall behind what is currently anticipated, that will, of course, necessitate further adjustments.

For now, just know that I continue to keep an eye on all of these things and that, if I see a reason that necessitates further adjustments to those estimates, I will be sure to make them and post them here ASAP. That does it for this post. Any and all comments are, as always, welcome and appreciated. Thank you for the privilege of your time. Until my next post, I wish each one of you all the best and pray that the Lord will bless you all in everything you do.