Asking and Answering Questions

Excerpts from a talk given by Scott Ferguson, Dept. of Religion, BYU-Idaho

The quality of our instruction can be measured by the level of inquiry it produces in our students. One way to measure the quality of inquiry is to observe the depth of the questions that flow from our teaching and assigned work. Knowledge gained through our own inquiry is more likely to facilitate understanding than learning not preceded with similar effort. Understanding born of inquiry generally produces longer-term growth. Learning that results from inquiry is not necessarily measured by having access to the right answer.

What is the value of knowing the right answers to the wrong questions? Rather it is recognizing the correct question to ask at the right time.

Richard Paul notes: “Every intellectual field is born out of a cluster of questions to which answers are either needed or highly desirable. Furthermore, every field of study stays alive only to the extent that fresh questions are generated and taken seriously.”

Instructional models designed to inspire inquiry and questions are dependent on the exercise of students’ agency. Agency coupled with inquiry will always produce greater understanding. In inquiry-based instruction, a student’s inspired question becomes a summation of understanding as well as an invitation to expand understanding. I cannot expand that which I don’t understand in the first place.

All too often we want new knowledge without any effort on our part. This seems to be a universal characteristic of too many of our students. Perhaps we should share in the lesson Oliver Cowdery received from the Lord: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right … Now, if you had known this you could have translated” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8-10).

Oftentimes our present knowledge is biased with self-deceit, and challenging it can be difficult. I cannot even ask an inspired question until I possess enough information or willingness to challenge this safe, inside boundary. A person’s bias might be as simple as: “This information isn’t that important.” Or it might be more complex: “If idea x is true, then I must be wrong about y.” This, I believe, is one of the major duties I have as an instructor of the scriptures—motivate students to ponder and search the scriptures sincerely enough to willingly make adjustments as a result of inquiry.

At the moment my inquiry produces new and exciting questions — inspired questions — I am inviting new knowledge; I am willingly expanding When inquiring, we must discern the right questions. Learning how to ask and answer inspired questions at truly inspired moments enhances our students’ ability to become inquirers.

To the prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord said, “As often as you have inquired, I have given you knowledge.” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:14). If we are not actively seeking all knowledge, we become careless and casual in the inquiry process. Over time we become too much like the individual Winston Churchill spoke of when he said: “Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened.”5 Too many of our students have become casual truth seekers. I am fearful that Latter-day Saint culture has become one of talking, talking, and still more talking, but little or no inquiry.

An Impostor to Inquiry

The Book of Mormon provides a wonderful key to recognizing instruction born of the spirit (see also 1 Corinthians 2:10-14). The ideal teacher/learner relationship was described in this manner: “The priest, not esteeming himself above his hearers, for the preacher was no better than the hearer, neither was the teacher any better than the learner; and thus they were all equal” (Alma 1:26). That is, equal in the process of inquiry, each is able to expand or stretch the boundaries of his or her learning according to the several abilities and desires for learning.

Let me suggest a workable approach that I have found.

  • First, define what “true” means. What do you mean when you ask “is the church true?” or “is the Book of Mormon true”? You have to be more specific and have a definite question in mind. For example, is the story of the Book of Mormon factually true from a historical standpoint? Is the story of the translation of the Book of Mormon (Gold Plates, Urim & Thummim) true from a historical standpoint? Are the principles taught in the Book of Mormon really going to bring a person closer to God? Are there unique principles taught in the Book of Mormon that are not taught elsewhere, or same principles with a fresh perspective, or nothing new?
  • Second, you have to study out the question to the best of your ability in your own mind and form a conclusion, a proposition, or a hypothesis.
  • Third, you are now ready to take that proposition to the Lord: “Lord, I have asked this question, studied it out, and this is the best answer I can come up with. Is this answer correct?”
  • Fourth, listen for the answer. It may come immediately. It make take a couple of tries. Sometimes, the Lord answers you before you even form the words in your mind. I sometimes get this, and by this, I know that I am really on to something.
  • Fifth, the Spirit only bears witness to TRUTH. The Spirit testifies if something is true. The Spirit does not testify that something is false. If you bring a up a proposition that it false, you may receive a stupor of thought, which means you won’t be able to hold a clear thought in your mind, or you might even forget what you asked for. Or you might receive nothing. It is only if the proposition is true that you receive a confirmation.
  • Sixth, what kind of confirmation? The burning in the bosom, or something stronger. This is not an emotion. This is a higher tone or vibration than an emotion. It is more like intuition. Joseph Smith said that you will feel intelligence flow into you. This has happened to me on occasion. I start getting all sorts of new ideas I never thought of before. I get different insights into my original question. I sometimes get the feeling that I could ask God any question at that particular moment and receive an answer.
  • Seventh, God told Oliver Cowdery this same process, essentially. He said it was how the Spirit of Revelation works. He said this was the spirit by which Moses led the children of Israel. You may even feel the urge to write down your impressions, while you are feeling the spirit. If you do, then that’s the same process by which Joseph Smith, and other church leaders received revelation. Save what you receive. If it contains predictions, you may notice them being fulfilled in course of time.
  • Eight, commit yourself to follow whatever answer you receive. You may ask a second time for confirmation, but don’t keep second-guessing your answer, and don’t ignore it. If you make a practice of non-commitment, the Spirit is grieved and will withdraw from you.
  • Nine, if you receive a positive answer, probe a little to see whether the Spirit is confirming all of your answer, or just part of your answer. Sometimes, the Spirit may just tell you that you are getting warmer.
  • Ten, in some traditions, the Holy Ghost is considered to be a female. I find it is helpful to consider her a female, and to court her as you would a female. You are on a date with her and you want to bring your best self and treat her with respect. In one Hebrew tradition, God is saying that he has to leave, but he will leave his (female) companion (the Spirit) behind, to remain with us, as an assurance that he will return.

In response to somebody who finds faith confusing and contradictory

I thank the church for teaching my about Christ and His Gospel. I thank the church for teaching me the principle of personal revelation. Thanks, church, but I am no longer a child. I can take it from here.
I know that anybody who takes this issue directly to God will discover that there is NO conflict. Fallible men who seek authority over others try to interpose themselves between you and God. They teach arbitrary doctrines that have nothing to do with the Gospel, and drive you further from God instead of bringing you closer. There goal is not to enlighten you or empower you. Their goal is to CONTROL you.
Well did Christ describe their counterparts in his day. They will not enter the Kingdom of God, but instead block the way so that nobody can enter. Fortunately, they only guard the front entrance, through which only the proud and haughty can enter. The back entrance is the servants’ entrance. It is only available to those who truly humble themselves and seek to be servants and co-workers of God.
I find FAITH to be totally rational and not contradictory in the least, but is a straightforward, cohesive path forward from belief to KNOWLEDGE.
“Faith” when used to designate a belief in a church is not the true definition of faith as used in the Bible. Faith is something you exercise, not a set of teachings that you just believe. Everywhere in the NT where it says “believe”, a passive verb, the actual Greek word has no English equivalent, but it means to exercise faith. That is the closest equivalent.

Looking for leaders, not followers, and certainly not people who just complain, no matter how eloquently

It is one thing to complain about the faults of people and institutions, but it is quite another to take active positive steps to effect change, or create a better alternative. This is what I have been about for the past 30 years, and I’m not about to throw in the towel. The change I am talking about involves all of us taking responsibility for the conditions we find ourselves in.

The Restoration is far from over. If we don’t renew and reinvigorate it, apostasy will and already has begun to creep back in. I’m ready to step up to the plate and make sure it doesn’t die with Joseph Smith, but this time it will not founder or fail. Why? Because this time it will not be the work of just a couple of men, followed by wave after wave of uninspired caretakers. It will be the shared vision of MANY people, all working in concert, all working together, all connected to God, all able to reach out to others in ways they have never been reached before.

The supper of the Bridegroom has been set, and the rich, the wise, and the able have been invited, but they turned up their nose at the offering, while casting out the despised and rejected, the thinkers, and those who care enough to make a real contribution. Now, the invitation is sent out again, and again, all are invited.

You can read the invitation at Joseph Smith said we ought to have the founding of Zion as our greatest object. Is it your greatest object? Is it even on your radar?

Read the invitation at the address above, then, don’t RSVP to me. RSVP to the Lord. In other words, pray about what you read and do as the Spirit directs you.

I am looking to start or join any organized church. I am not looking for disciples, followers, or sycophants. I am looking for co-workers and fellow servants.

God and Man

God and man exist upon the same principles. There never was a father without there first being a son, meaning that the being that we consider God the father, was first a son to another father, just as Christ showed us how we could become sons to him as our father.

One thing the endowment teaches so plainly and so up front that most miss it. The players in the drama are playing ROLES. They are acting in certain offices, just as the patrons are to consider themselves in the roles of Adam and Eve. The art of the drama imitates the life of the reality.

God is our god and our father, not only because he demonstrated a superior intelligence, but because we all sustained him/her as such. Satan demanded God’s honor, which is his power. God’s power comes as much from our faith and support as from his/her ability to marshal, command, and channel that faith and support.

We are really much more powerful beings than we give ourselves credit for. And the path to full godhood is as much learning how to become a god as it is to unlearn that which us prevents us from being a god.

Joseph Smith said that “man will be punished for his own sins, and not for Adam’s transgression”.

93:38 Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God.

93:39 And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

If we find ourselves out of the presence of God, as Adam and Eve were, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. We have an awful lot to unlearn, and churches do us no favor by forcing us to conform and avoid sin, rather than taking responsibility for it, learning from it, as we are supposed to do. Your church that preaches against damnation is actually damning or condemning you by holding back your progress.

But the course of God is one eternal round, and I don’t mean “God” in the sense that most religious people think of it. In fact, I can’t find an English word or words the corresponds to what I mean. I guess the closest I could come is the concept of god, not as a being, but as a principle, a pattern, or an order which is repeated throughout eternity.

We we say “in the beginning”, or we talk about God surrounded by intelligences, we are taking the ring of eternity that Joseph Smith spoke of, and cutting it at an arbitrary point, for the same of explaining an eternal principle to finite minds. In the book Dune, Herbert had in mind a huge back story leading up to the Saga of Paul. This is why he said, and why the historian Irulan said “beginnings are such delicate times”. Where to begin? Where to begin?

Just think about it and see if it doesn’t make more sense to you.

My Personal Belief in God

As far as my personal belief in God, I see God as the combined intelligence in the universe. As such, we are each part of God, and as we humans become more united in heart and mind, we are able to begin to collectively exercise the kind of power we normally associate with a God. Joseph Smith and John Taylor both taught that no man (you could just as well add women), exercises the Priesthood alone, but does so in concert with all who now hold and have held the Priesthood in the past.

Churches, such as the LDS church, think they own and control the Priesthood, but the power of god is nobody’s exclusive right. To think otherwise, is like claiming an exclusive right to air, rain, and sunshine. They are available to everyone.

But, I also believe there are multiple planes of existence, and those who have evolved farther than us, exist on these higher planes, and through the exercise of natural laws, which we don’t fully understand, and aren’t yet ready to live, are so much more advanced than we that we would consider them gods, though they are really our friends and co-workers, possessing enough enlightened self-interest to understand that when they reach down to assist us, they are, at the same time, reaching up to beings above them, and we are all lifted up together.

Therefore, I see god as somebody I relate to on a personal and daily basis as a friend and co-worker — somebody I can deal with as an equal.

The Law of Chastity as of 1990

Many people object to discussing any and all aspects of the LDS Temple Endowment in or out of the temple. While there are specific items which we are under covenant not to divulge, I believe it is important to know and understand the various covenants which participants will take upon themselves in the ceremony.

As I have mentioned in other articles in this blog, it is of utmost importance to our personal salvation and to the salvation of society, that we voluntarily make and keep various covenants. And, in order to make and keep these covenants, we must first understand them. And, in order to understand them, we must first be able to read them.

If it was important for the children of Lehi to have the brass plates in order to have the laws and covenants of God, then it is equally as important for modern-day saints to have access to the written versions of the covenants which they will take upon themselves. To this end, you can search for these on the Internet.

But, this blog will concentrate on one specific covenant — the Law of Chastity.

The Law of Chastity, having to do with marriage, is one of the foundational covenants, as it grounds the marriage and family, which in turn, are the building blocks of society.

Unlike previous versions of this covenant, this covenant does not explicitly state that the daughters of Eve are restricted to sexual relations with their husbands, nor are the sons of Adam restricted to sexual relations with their wives, leaving open the future possibility of the daughters of Eve taking wives, and the sons of Adam taking husbands.

… the Law of Chastity, and to put them under covenant to obey this law, which is, that the daughters of Eve, and the sons of Adam shall have no sexual relations except with their husbands or wives to whom they are legally and lawfully wedded, …

I am assuming that Church authorities read this blog from time to time with interest. They should. And, if they do, they are free to take anything they find here, publish it unaltered, and call it a revelation, with the proviso that they give proper credit for it.

No, not me.

But, taking a negative view of things, once this change in the covenant is pointed out to them, they will hasten to amend the wording yet another time so as to preclude any possibility that two men or two women in a committed, monogamous, and legal relationship actually could be keeping the Law of Chastity.

The Truth

Here is a recent conversation on Facebook

Comment 1: I Know that, but i still believe that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day saints still moving and no one can stop it.

John Crane: The fundamental ideas (like eternal progression, knowing the truth, seeking wisdom through study and faith, direct human experience with God, building a society where each person esteems his brother as himself, a person is saved no faster than they gain knowledge, etc.) behind the church will keep moving and no one can stop them. These are ideas that appeal to everybody, once they hear them explained. However, it seems to many people that the church, as now constituted, is no longer the vehicle for spreading and supporting these ideas, but has degenerated into a conservative, reactionary relic of the 19th century.

Read this quote from Joseph Smith. He doesn’t say a thing about the church:

“The Standard of Truth has been erected; no unhallowed hand can stop the work from progressing; persecutions may rage, mobs may combine, armies may assemble, calumny may defame, but the truth of God will go forth boldly, nobly, and independent, till it has penetrated every continent, visited every clime, swept every country, and sounded in every ear, till the purposes of God shall be accomplished, and the Great Jehovah shall say the work is done.”

Rob Lauer said: “The truth of God will go forth boldly…” As soon as anyone reduces the truth of God to nothing more than an organization, or one particular creed or nation or program or group of people–then amen to the priesthood of that person. The Spirit–the Light of Truth that is in ALL things and through ALL things; the same Light that is in ALL people, that quickens the understanding of ALL people–this Spirit is grieved and withdraws.

Kate Kelly and Ordaining Women

She’s exercising Priesthood right now. She’s speaking. She’s teaching. She’s writing. She’s organizing. She’s serving others as she sees it. Those are all Priesthood functions. They are just not in the church.

It’s easy to stand on the outside and look at the men in the church and think they have so much power. But, that is not true. Any male who has ever held the priesthood and tried to exercise it within the LDS church knows how little power he really has.

As a local leader, he has very independent latitude to make decisions, because all the thinking has already been done for him and placed in the handbook. Teaching by the Spirit? Not likely. Teachers have to strictly follow the manual. Speaking by the Spirit? That used to be one of my delights in the church. But, I understand now that topics for Sacrament Meeting talks are now assigned.

Even if a general authority says something in General Conference that is not in line with the current thinking of the authorities. Google “Ronald Poelman” and find out what happened to him when he dared stand up and say that members ought to follow their free agency.

We all hold the priesthood. The church never gave it to us, and the church cannot take it away from us. The power of God is a gift we all have from God, simply because it is one of the attributes we inherited by virtue of being children of God. The question is whether a person can develop power in their Priesthood and whether or not he or she can function in their priesthood within the LDS church, or any other church that believes in the Priesthood.

If we have desires to serve God, we are called to the work, but sometimes God calls us to do requires that we serve OUTSIDE the church. This is a shame, because the Priesthood is best exercised in concert with other Priesthood holders, as Joseph Smith and John Taylor taught. But it can be done, if God wills it, and if we have the faith to do it, He will provide all the assistance and support we can use.

If nothing else this Kate Kelly thing has got me thinking. I don’t agree with her methods, but I agree that women should be ordained. I have been scratching my head trying to figure out with scriptural justification for denying women the opportunity to serve. In the Bible, there were female prophets, judges, deacons, and priests. I just saw a problem on Islam today. It explained that the way they treat their women came from a misinterpretation of the Koran and a long-standing cultural norm that predates Islam. In other words, there’s no reason other than “we say so”.

However, lets not get the cart before the horse.

  • First, priesthood leaders must be open to the IDEA that God has Priesthood callings for women as men, and that a women could fulfill the office as well if not better than a man could.
  • Second, ordination to the Priesthood for ANYBODY should be by inspiration, and not done because a person has reached a certain age, or they are related to a high church official, and certainly not done because a person demands it. (Remember the story of Simon in the Book of Acts. Remember also, the story of Mozart’s Magic Flute.)
  • Third, women as well as men must be trained in their duties as priesthood holders.
  • Fourth, women as well as men must be held accountable for how they use their priesthood.
  • Fifth, women as well as men must be unleashed and unmuzzled from the constraints of the church handbooks and encouraged to follow the promptings of the Spirit, which always accompany who answers the call to serve and humbly seeks guidance.

There, ladies, still want to be ordained? The field is white already for harvest.

Holiness and Perfection

There is really only one great commandment, which, if you live, you are automatically living all the lesser commandments.

Moses said be holy. Christ said to be perfect. That is essentially the same commandment. (Lev. 19:2). Holiness and perfection both mean to be whole, finished, complete.

But, HOW does one become “holy” or “perfect”? For those who need elaboration, Moses and Christ expressed the same principle as two commandments.

“And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut 6:5)

“Love thy neighbor as thyself” (Lev. 19:18)

Knowing God and your neighbor and loving God and your neighbor go hand in hand. The more you know the more you love, and the more you love, the more you know.

The three great principles of the Gospel are in the old and new testaments. You can’t really love God or your neighbor, completely, totally, and without reservation, unless you are a whole and complete person with integrity. If you are fighting yourself, or you heart says one thing, but you mind says another, you are not a person of integrity or wholeness.

But, one or even two commandments were too simple for a people who constantly wanted to look beyond the mark. They wanted more commandments. They wanted to be told what to do in every given situation so they didn’t have to think about it, or rely on the transforming power of the Spirit to change their nature, as the Book of Mormon teaches. This need was as true for the children of Israel as it was for the Jews of Christ’s time as it is for today’s Mormons.

So Moses and the LDS church multiplied commandments. “Meet the new schoolmaster. Same as the old schoolmaster.”

Then, Mormons moan and groan about how they are “striving” for perfection, but can never quite make it. But, why would God give us a commandment if it were impossible to live it? That would really make God a cruel and jealous God. Once, you understand what perfection and holiness really mean, and once you develop love connections with God and your neighbor, living a life of perfection and wholeness is not only natural, it’s a joy.

Judgment and Righteousness

Righteousness has more to do with judgment than it does with personal morality. Judgment is an attribute of God. We are all gods in embryo and one of the purposes of the nursery school which we all are attending is to “learn how to be gods ourselves”, as Joseph Smith put it. We learn judgment by exercising judgment. i.e. making decisions.

What is God’s will? God’s will is not to much what we decide as THAT we decide. If our decision has undesirable consequences, we can always repent and decide again. If our decision has desirable consequences, we can continue to pursue that course. That is God’s will. There is no guesswork. There is only an application of eternal principle. The only times eternal principles don’t work is when we fail to apply them.

The Doctrine & Covenants has clearly spelled out how we may discern the will of God. Sometimes, its obvious. Sometimes, we have to think about it or consult others. Sometimes, we have to plunge into the darkness and “guess”. But, there’s no harm in guessing as long as you know you are guessing, and you are prepared to take responsibility for the consequences, whatever they may be.

Here is a good, workable definition of humility: know where you are on the path and act accordingly.