I Have a Question

Russell M. Nelson

Sunday School General President

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    Beginning in this issue of the Ensign is a new department: “I Have a Question.” Readers who have questions relating to Church doctrine, history, and programs, as well as questions that deal with living the gospel today, are encouraged to submit their questions. Gospel scholars and Church leaders will be invited to answer these questions, which will deal with a wide range of gospel-related subjects.

    The Ensign cannot, of course, replace counseling services and other such functions of bishops, home teachers, and stake presidents in answering questions of a personal nature or that should properly be referred to them by the Saints. However, we will attempt to offer perspectives on special questions of interest and importance to Latter-day Saints today.

    Address your questions to “I Have a Question,” Ensign, 50 East North Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah 84150.—The Editors

    My missionary son seems to be discouraged about his mission. What can I do to help him?

    A. [Note: In response to this question, President J. Murray Rawson of the Missionary Home in Salt Lake City has assumed the position of the father of a missionary and shows by example the attitude parents might take in counseling their sons who have difficulties in the mission field.]

    My dear son:

    As I read your letter today I felt your discouragements.

    I want you to know that I understand how you feel. I am grateful that you are determined to succeed. I want you to know that I love you and pray for your success every day. I know also that you are blessed with many talents. As you develop these talents under the direction of the Holy Ghost, your problems will diminish.

    For instance, you say people are not responding to your message. Success in the mission field is measured by your efforts, not by the number of your baptisms. Are you living the mission rules? Are you using the mission proselyting program?

    You are sent to “cry repentance” and teach the message of the restoration. Let me give you a suggestion to help you do this. Each morning as you offer your personal prayers, commit yourself by telling the Lord you are going to do your very best this day; then do it. Go the extra mile all day long so you will be able to say, as you report your activities at night to the Lord, “I have done my best today.” I promise you, my son, that if you will follow this formula, you will begin to feel successful. You will begin to be blessed with the constant presence of the Spirit of the Lord.

    I have a suggestion regarding your study of the scriptures. The ready references in the center of your Bible have been specifically prepared for the use of missionaries. Each subject of the gospel is discussed, using the pertinent scriptures listed for easy reference. The scriptures pertaining to each Article of Faith are listed. Use these to help you study by subject each principle of the gospel listed in your missionary study guide.

    I am sure your companion presents some challenges to you. He probably thinks you present a few yourself. You say that you and your companion have nothing in common. The Lord must have intended it that way. Not every person you meet will respond to someone with your personality, but between you and your companion you will have something in common with nearly everyone. The Lord loves you. That’s why you have him.

    Mother and I are so grateful for you. You are a wonderful son. We marvel as we see the hand of the Lord in your calling. We have your high school graduation picture and the picture you just sent sitting side by side. In the first you are still a boy and in the other you are a man. Your mother’s heart is very tender. I notice a tear in her eye as she looks at your high school picture, remembering many wonderful days belonging to just her and you. Then as she looks at her handsome, mature-looking missionary, there comes a faraway look in her eye as she tries to picture the growth that has come to her boy.

    We know you are happy now. We heard little Mary ask the Lord to bless you last night, and you know how she talks to the Lord.

    My love as always, Dad.

    Was Joseph Smith a serious candidate for the presidency of the United States, or was he only attempting to publicize gospel views on public issues?

    James B. Allen Assistant Church Historian

    A. To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this question, primarily because Joseph Smith’s full intentions are not clear from the sources available, and the issue is still a matter of debate even among Church historians. Allow me to summarize a few facts, suggest some of the arguments, then state my own opinion.

    On January 29, 1844, Joseph Smith, the Council of the Twelve, and a few other individuals met in Nauvoo and decided to support Joseph Smith as an independent candidate for the presidency of the United States. The Prophet soon wrote his View of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States. A nationwide campaign got underway, and at the April conference of the Church a call was issued for volunteers to “preach the Gospel and electioneer.” On May 17 a convention was held in Nauvoo at which Joseph was officially nominated, with Sidney Rigdon as his running mate. But the Prophet was so deluged with other problems that he did not personally pursue the campaign trail, although many missionaries did so in his behalf. On June 27, 1844, his tragic assassination cut short any further plans he may have had.

    The election campaign of 1844 was complex, for divisive sectional issues, such as slavery, as well as the broader issues of economic depression and American expansion, were fragmenting both major parties. For Joseph Smith, national politics were especially frustrating. Since 1839 he had been pursuing a losing effort to get the federal government to respond to Mormon appeals for relief from their tragedies in Missouri. Having been driven from the state by mobs, having had their property confiscated, and having been unable to obtain redress from the state, the Saints had appealed to the federal government to intervene and somehow force the state of Missouri to honor and protect their rights. “States’ rights,” however, was a sensitive issue at the time, especially among Southerners, and there was strong public feeling that the federal government had no constitutional authority to intervene in the affairs of any state.

    To the former U.S. president, Martin Van Buren, the issue was loaded with political danger, and for that reason he told the Saints as early as 1839 that he sympathized with them but could do nothing for them. Joseph Smith, dismayed at the injustices the Saints had experienced, could not accept the principle that the federal government had no power to protect victims of mob violence, and he began to advocate a constitutional interpretation that would demand the necessary intervention.

    The issue had become so paramount to the Prophet by 1844 that he found himself unable to support any of the leading candidates for the presidency.

    I doubt that we can say that Joseph Smith, in running for the presidency, was attempting to circulate strictly “gospel” views, for in none of his own statements did he imply that he was speaking for the Church or by the power of revelation. He often made it clear that his political views were personal, and on one occasion he even went so far as to state that he had never asked the Lord for a revelation on politics and did not intend to do so.

    In his campaign document he proposed his own solutions to the major problems of the day, and one of those problems was law and order. He proposed that the president be given full power to send an army to suppress mobs within a state. Under the Constitution the government could intervene in cases of “domestic violence” only at the request of the state legislature or governor (Article IV, Section 4). This provision the Prophet dubbed as “that relic of folly,” for the governor himself might be a mobster.

    James B Allen

    This advertisement for Joseph Smith’s presidential candidacy appeared in The Prophet, a Church periodical published in New York in 1844.

    Did the Prophet really want to become president, and did he seriously believe he could be elected? The traditional view is that he entertained no such thoughts. Rather, he was primarily interested in giving his own people an acceptable alternative as well as avoiding further partisan political involvement in Illinois. Evidence for this perspective is seen in the following:

    1. Joseph Smith said on March 7, 1844, that he cared little for the presidential chair, would rather be lieutenant-general of the Nauvoo Legion, and even feared the idea that he might be elected.

    2. At the same time that he was involved in the election, he was also actively developing plans for the removal of the Church from Illinois to the West, and he could not devote full attention to both tasks.

    3. The Prophet was certainly astute enough to realize that a minor candidate such as himself, running with no national image or support, had no chance of winning such a political contest. The best he could hope for would be to so publicize himself and his views that it would create greater awareness of the Latter-day Saint cause.

    4. After the campaign began, he took little part in it.

    In recent years some writers have suggested that Joseph Smith was more serious in his quest for the presidency, and they have used the following evidence to support their ideas:

    1. On February 8, 1844, after his political platform was read for the first time in public, the Prophet made the following statement:

    “I would not have suffered my name to have been used by my friends on anywise as President of the United States, or candidate for that office, if I and my friends could have had the privilege of enjoying our religious and civil rights as American citizens. … Persecution has rolled upon our heads from time to time … and no portion of the Government as yet has stepped forward for our relief. And in view of these things, I feel it to be my right and privilege to obtain what influence and power I can, lawfully, in the United States, for the protection of the innocent.” (Documentary History of the Church, vol. 6, pp. 210–11.) This seems to be the declaration of a serious contender.

    2. The Prophet’s campaign was placed under the direction of the influential (though not well known) Council of Fifty, which included most of the General Authorities of the Church. All available elders were sent out both to preach the gospel and to campaign. Some 340 missionaries, all carrying the Prophet’s political tract, were sent to all 26 states and the Territory of Iowa.

    3. Since Joseph Smith believed in a divine destiny for America, it would not be unreasonable for him to believe that the Lord might also cause him to be elected president, say some observers. To the harassed but faithful Saints, it may have seemed a logical step toward the establishment of the kingdom of God on earth.

    Both positions sound convincing, and there are shades of opinion in between, yet all are based on circumstantial evidence and subjective reasoning, with little direct information from Joseph Smith himself as to his ultimate intent. All this, it seems to me, strongly suggests that we must avoid dogmatic, “either-or” approaches on such historical issues, and leave the door ajar for differing points of view.

    For what it is worth, my own opinion is that Joseph Smith’s candidacy was more than an alternative vote for the Saints. He was serious in his dislike for the doctrine of states’ rights and was clearly unable to support any candidate who could not agree with his views regarding the power of the federal government in protecting the rights of persecuted minorities.

    But although he was serious in attempting to influence public opinion by using every possible means to promote his own political views, it seems unrealistic to suppose that Joseph Smith seriously thought he would actually become president. If and when I ever meet the Prophet, however, I am prepared not to be surprised if I find my view is wrong.

    [illustration] Right, the Prophet Joseph Smith flourishes his sword during the last public address he delivered as a candidate for the U.S. presidency.

    Should my wife and I adopt a child of another race?

    Audrey Perkins Adoption Supervisor, Church Social Services

    A. When couples consider adopting a child, they should carefully examine their motives to insure that the adoption is in the long-range interests of the child as well as themselves. Raising any child is a challenge in today’s society. Rearing a child of another race may be an additional challenge. Some adoptive parents have met these challenges very adequately. Others have found that they did not consider all the implications or did not think in terms of long-range adjustments, and so have been unable to meet the child’s needs.

    The following are some of the questions parents might ask themselves before adopting a child of a culture or race different from their own:

    1. Is our desire to adopt this child based on our interest in meeting the individual needs of the child or is it only an intense desire for children?

    2. Can we honestly accept this child, with his differences, as a full-fledged family member?

    3. Will other family members, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc., accept the child fully and wholeheartedly?

    4. Will he be accepted in our community?

    5. As he grows up, will he have social opportunities, acceptable peer group relationships, and opportunities for achievement in our area?

    6. Can we help him take pride in his native genetic background and understand his native culture as well as the background and culture of his adoptive family? One day he may wish to mix or even marry within that native culture. Some children born of one race and culture and reared in another feel they don’t really belong to either. Ideally, they can feel an identity with both.

    7. Is adequate background information, such as knowledge about both natural parents, and a health record available on the child so that we might anticipate and plan for his physical development and care?

    8. Are we focusing beyond the cuddly baby stage? Are we looking forward to raising him and meeting related challenges as he grows from infancy to school age to maturity, becoming an independent person?

    As prospective adoptive parents talk over these questions and try to answer them perceptively and honestly, they should be better able to answer the question of adopting a child of another race. Since families and children vary so greatly in their needs, desires, and resources, this question is one that can only be answered individually after prayer and fasting and after careful assessments have been made.

    Occasionally during Sunday School or priesthood classes I hear things preached about the gospel that I’m not certain are Church doctrine. How should we respond in such situations, especially when one does not wish to challenge the respect for and testimony of the teacher?

    A. The need for teaching sound doctrine is and always has been basic in the Church. The word of the Lord as recorded in the Doctrine and Covenants, section 88, verse 77, states, “And I give unto you a commandment that ye shall teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom.” [D&C 88:77] And further (D&C 88:118), “Teach one another words of wisdom; yea, seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom.” [D&C 88:118] Meanwhile, we remember that love of our neighbor is always to be maintained.

    It is the teacher’s responsibility to build faith and conduct his class in the spirit of these scriptures, thereby avoiding speculations and personal opinions. Should this not occur, the class members should be obliged to have matters in question clarified. The manner of doing this is an area of sensitive concern, however, and should be given careful and prayerful consideration.

    Preferably, the concerned person should evaluate the questioned doctrine by appropriate study of it as contained in the standard works. He should be able to support his differences of opinion by chapter and verse documentation. With this evidence he should seek private audience with the involved teacher and, as the Lord has directed, “reason together.” (D&C 50:10.)

    It would be appropriate to request an opportunity to review the matter perhaps at the next class session. Should the teacher not agree to this and persist in expounding unsound doctrine, the problem should then be reported to the Sunday School presidency of the ward or the branch.

    Sunday School teachers who have completed the teacher development program basic course and who participate in the inservice lessons will know how to avoid these problems. An open confrontation, particularly one pursued in sharp criticism or emotionalism, should be avoided at all cost. Love for God and our fellowmen should characterize all of our thoughts and actions.