Democratizing Digital Analytics with Google Data Studio

On Dec 3, 2019 I spoke at Digital Summit Dallas about how I was able to better democratize digital analytics with Google Data Studio in my work at Hilti. If you saw the presentation and want the deck, you can download it from Slideshare. If you missed the presentation, feel free to read a rough transcript of my speech below. Enjoy.

John Wanamaker (1838 –1922) is considered by some to be one of the pioneers of modern marketing. Wanamaker started the first department store in Philadelphia and he pioneered a radical new policy–that customers could return goods to get their money back. Wanamaker was the first known retailer to place a half-page newspaper ad (in 1874) and the first full-page ad (in 1879). He was innovative and creative in his work, and he was one of the first proponents of the power of advertising. But Wannamaker had challenges regarding marketing data that he was never able to overcome in his lifetime. A popular saying illustrating how difficult it was to quantify the results of marketing in that era is attributed to Wanamaker. He said: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Wanamaker)

Then: Dearth of Data. Today: Drowning in Data.

The problem John Wanamaker had in improving and making the most of his marketing efforts was a lack of data. The problem we have today is, in some regards, the complete opposite—we are drowning in data. We are operating in a business environment today where we can know where every dollar is spent and exactly which tactics drive business results, down to specific ad placement and copy. We have data from Google Ads, website analytics data, SEO data, and social media data. We have customer sales data, competitor data, and the list goes on and on. Yet just because there is a flood of data available to us, doesn’t mean marketers are using it to drive performance improvements in our marketing campaigns.

Most Companies Leverage Little or No Marketing Data

A 2017 study on the analytical maturity of marketing organizations was published by DataFloq that reported that 42% of companies can only run rudimentary reports on past marketing performance, and 13% of companies don’t even know where to find their marketing data and thus don’t utilize it at all. That combines to 55% of companies that leverage relatively little or no marketing data to improve performance (https://datafloq.com/read/data-driven-marketing-2017-marketers-data-critical/2859).

companies leverage little or no marketing data

De·moc·ra·tize (verb), to make accessible

Again, the problem isn’t the lack of data, but the lack of data democratization. And by democratize, I do not mean the first dictionary definition of the word, the common connotation of the democratic form of government with voting rights and so forth. I mean the second definition of democratize which is “to make (something) accessible to everyone.”

What is Google Data Studio?

And while I am defining things, I should probably also define Data Studio. It is a relatively new product from Google that was introduced in 2016 and only came out of beta in 2018. It is a data visualization tool similar to Tableau or PowerBI. It can be used to create dashboards and reports, and like many tools from Google, it is free to use.  You can bring data into Data Studio from a variety of sources such as:

  • Google Marketing Platforms (Google Ads, Analytics, Display & Video 360)
  • Google consumer products (Sheets, YouTube, and Search Console)
  • Databases (BigQuery, MySQL, and PostgreSQL)
  • Flat files via CSV file upload and Google Cloud Storage
  • Social media (Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter)

What this Talk is and is Not

Before I go further, I want to be clear that this is not a paid commercial for Google or their Data Studio product. I have no affiliation with Google, other than as a customer and user of their products like most of you. Nor is this talk designed to be a step by step demonstration of how to build reports in Data Studio or how to use all the features. There is plenty of online documentation if you are looking for that kind of help. What this talk is, is a story of how Data Studio has helped me democratize digital analytics data for increase usage by the marketing team, thus making us a more data-driven organization. And hopefully in the process of telling that story, you will get some ideas for how you can use this tool in your work.

Data-Driven Quest

I am a believer in the power of data and I have been on somewhat of a quest throughout my career to make the marketing world more data driven. I had the privilege to start my career in a very data-driven company—FedEx. There I learned many best practices about how to use data in marketing tests to determine what is most effective, but not all companies are as data-driven as FedEx. In fact, a few years later I found myself working for a large, non-profit organization where I oversaw web analytics. The cultural difference between FedEx and the non-profit was dramatic, particularly with regard to being data-driven. To be fair, it wasn’t that the non-profit organization didn’t want to utilize data, it was just hard to quantify the output of many of the activities they were engaged in.

Employees’ Use of Web Analytics Tool

I was frustrated that though my colleagues had access to vast data and reports that could have been used to inform decisions about marketing and the website, it went largely unused. For example, the company had installed Omniture SiteCatalyst, now Adobe Analytics, to track the analytics of the website, yet very few people logged in, looked at the data, or used the reports. Well, I set out to see if I could help change that.

I went on an internal awareness and training campaign to try to get those involved with the organization’s website and digital marketing efforts to utilize the wealth of analytics data at our disposal. Great strides were made, and much improvement was gained, yet at the end of the day, login data showed that only 40% of people with access to the analytics had logged into look at it over a six month period. Only 11%, logged into the web analytics platform on a monthly basis to look at data regarding the website performance. I’m sure, if you were to look at the usage data in your company, many of you would see similarly low rates of people logging into your digital analytics platforms.

Employees' Use of Web Analytics Tool

Hilti Digital Marketing Team

A few years later, I landed at my present company, Hilti. For Hilti’s US website, our digital marketing team produces an average of more than 50 landing pages a month for a variety of purposes, including education, awareness, technical documentation, and marketing activities. As I dug into the data for these pages, I became aware of opportunities for improve of the engagement metrics, particularly with regard to the conversion rates and bounce rates.

Evolution of Digital Analytics Reports at Hilti

Still on my journey to make the marketing world more data-driven, I once again set about to democratize the web analytics data at Hilti. It was a winding road before I finally arrive at the Data Studio solution, but this is how it happened.

  • SharePoint. One of the first things I tried was putting the digital analytics reports on Microsoft SharePoint. Hilti had a robust intranet built on SharePoint, so I gave it a shot, posting monthly reports and other supplemental reports on SharePoint. Despite my efforts, it never took hold. It was too difficult to find and access, and the layout options and features were restrictive. I stopped doing it after a year or so.
  • Google Analytics. Next, I started to try to get the team to use Google Analytics reports more. I began doing training classes and sending out reports for Google Analytics. We saw modest improvements from this effort, but ultimately is was not as successful as I had hoped. We ran into access issues as well as issues with the flexibility, or lack thereof, in GA reports.
  • PowerPoint. Then I migrated into reporting through PowerPoint slide decks. This was more effective in our organization, but it was mainly high-level performance metrics. The reports were primarily shared via email and they were was not scalable for reporting on metrics for individual campaigns. While it had it limitations, these PowerPoint reports saw some success and I continue to use them today. But it wasn’t the kind of huge success I was hoping for, so I kept looking.
  • Power BI. Next I tried using Microsoft’s Power BI tool to create and democratize the digital analytics data. I liked a lot of things about Power BI, but ultimately, we had too many access issues. Licenses were limited and usage of the reports was also severely limited. I haven’t given up yet on Power BI, there are more and more people in our organization using it, so it may yet catch on. But it wasn’t the success I was hoping for to democratize the digital data.
  • Data Studio. Then one day in 2018 I decided to give Data Studio a try. It was still a beta product from Google at the time, but I had heard good things about it. When I tried Data Studio, I found it was easy to learn, and I had lots of flexibility in designing reports. The dashboards were easy to share, and scalable so I could build one report that could be used on many pages or campaigns. And you know what, this amazing thing happened, when I shared the Data Studio reports, my colleagues actually started using them. They voluntarily told me how much they appreciated the reports and they began asking questions about the data and asking for enhancement, which I made and will detail later. I would walk by colleague’s desks and see them using the Data Studio reports I had created and this gave me great satisfaction. From my experience, this type of high usage of digital marketing reports was rare and I knew I was on to something great.

What Makes Data Studio Superior to Other Solutions

Even if you are using Data Studio to only report on Google Analytics data, I have found it to be a superior medium of getting the data into the hands of marketing decision makers. The benefits of Data Studio can be summarized into these three areas:

  • Flexibility in Design and Layout: Google Analytics dashboards have many limitations such as a max of 12 widgets and they force you to use a three column grid and there are other look and feel constraints. With Data Studio, you have much more flexibility in how to arrange charts and graphs however you like. You can add brand themed colors and images, and overall you’ll run into fewer design and layout limitations. For me, I love the flexibility to put all the essential data, charts, and graphs on a single page report that I can give to my marketing partners and Data Studio gives me that ability.
  • Interactive Elements and Filter Controls: One of the things I really like about Data Studio is the ability to add filter controls and other end-user customization elements. Filter controls let me build a single report that can be used for reporting on countless pages and campaigns. Filter controls give end users of the report the ability to select a specific page or campaign that they are interest in and the report refreshes to be based on that selection.
  • Sharing and Ease of Access: The ease of sharing and granting access to other is a major reason why I think Data Studio has taken hold with our marketing team. I can have complete control of permissions and who can access the report, yet sharing it is as easy as copying the URL and sending the link to a colleague. Most people are already logged into their Google Account, with Data Studio reports, there is no separate login and no requirement to navigate around a menu system trying to find the right report. The link takes them straight to the report.

First Data Studio Report Landing Page PerformanceFirst Data Studio Report—Landing Page Performance

Above is a screen shot of the first report I made for Hilti in Data Studio. I wanted to put all the most important metrics about how a landing page was performing on a single, one-page report and this is what I came up with. Please excuse the lack of aesthetic beauty—that’s not my forte. I’m more of a function over form kind of guy. And this was a first iteration design anyway.  At least I did incorporate the Hilti Red color scheme. Let me point out the features of this report:

  • Filter Control for the Page URL: In the top left, you have the filter control for the page URL. When the report end user clicks this filter control, a drop down menu appears listing all the pages on the website. The user can select one or multiple pages, but the report was designed to show the data on only one single page. When the user selects the page for which they want to view data, the report refreshes and presents only the data for that page.
  • Date Range Widget: In the top left you also have the date range widget. Data Studio allows you to put a fixed data range on the report, or you can use a control like this to allow the end user to set whatever date they want. Even if the date selector is on the report, you will still have a default date range, which is 28 days unless you change it.
  • Pageviews, Users, Logged In Users, CTA Events: On the top right of the report, I have four important metrics–pageviews, unique users, logged in users, and call-to-action events, which is generally the measurement to track page conversions.
  • Pageviews Trend: Next I have a line chart on the left side of the report showing pageviews over the date range of the report.
  • Traffic Sources: To the right of that, we have the default traffic channels and then more specific traffic sources.
  • Time on Page, Exits, Bounce Rate, and Page Value: The next chart has the page title associated with that URL and as you can see I leave room for more than one page title. Ideally, there would only be one page title for a URL, but the ideal often doesn’t happen. In this chart I list the pageviews, time on page, exits, bounce rate, and page value for each page title.
  • Previous Page Path: Next is a chart with the previous page the visitor was on before getting to the page in question. Unfortunately, Google doesn’t have an automated way to dynamically pull the next page path or I would have put that on the report as well.
  • Calls-to-Action: Then we have the precise name of the call-to-action that the visitors of the page click. Most of our landing pages have one primary call to action, and several secondary or tertiary calls to action.
  • Devices: Then on the bottom left, we have the device type pie chart to let us know if visitors come on desktop, tablet, or mobile devices.
  • Geo-Location: On the bottom right is a simple geo-location report to tell us where people are from who visit the page.
  • SEO Keyword Data: The two bottom middle charts contain SEO data pulled from Google Search Console (GSC). I wanted the landing page report to be as comprehensive as possible, and so since Data Studio lets you blend the GSC and Google Analytics data sources, I thought I’d give it a try.

Landing Page Report Quickly Gains Popularity

The landing page report quickly gained popularity. It was a concise one-page summary of the webpage performance, and it also allowed the end user to drill down into more detail. It was easy to access and easy to share. It allowed our digital marketing specialists, who build the pages on our site, to quickly find how a page is performing and glean insights into how the page could be improved.

In the months that followed I received feedback and made several changes to the Data Studio dashboard. The nice thing about this reporting process with Data Studio is that I could make these improvements without changing the URL of the report, so all my marketing colleagues could get the updates without me having to send out a new link. Let me review some of the enhancements I have made to the report.

Second Data Studio Report Landing Page Performance

  • Removed Google Search Console Data: One major draw back of the original version of the report was that it was super slow to load. The processing required to blend the GA and GSC data sources was the cause of the slowness, so I ended up removing the GSC data points for SEO keywords. Later, I ended up making a separate Data Studio report for SEO that exclusively uses GSC data.
  • Data Control for Other Hilti Country Websites: When our eBusiness team started using the landing page report, one of the first enhancements they requested was if there was a way to share the report with our European colleagues so they could check on the performance of pages on their country websites. This, as it turns out, was easy to do with the data control filter. I simply put this drop down menu in the top left corner of the report where the end user could select to view data from the Google Analytics of a different country website. Hilti has each country website set up in a different property in GA, so if the end user of the report had access to that GA data, they could select their country website data. Then, in the drop down menu for selecting a page, they will only see the pages from that country site as options. With this data control filter, I was able to share the report with colleagues in England, France, Germany, and elsewhere.
  • Page Scroll Depth Data Added: With the GSC SEO data removed from the landing page report, I had some spare room and so I added a section on scroll depth. Scrolling is not something GA tracks by default, but you can add code to your website to track scrolling as a custom event, and our development team did that. The scrolling data, I felt added some good depth to our measures of customer engagement with the page.

The landing page report, is, of course, a living document, so there are other changes I have made and will continue to make to it as we move forward.

Other Versions of the Landing Page Report

Other enhancement requests that my colleagues made required me to make separate versions of the landing page report. Again, it wasn’t too hard to copy a data studio report and then make alterations to the copy without changing the original. In the top menu of any Data Studio report, there is a copy button. Below are some of the other versions of the landing page report I have created.

  • Version that Keys Off Page Title, rather than URL: Another enhancement that was requested was to be able to pull landing page reports based on the page title, rather than URL. This helped some of our less technically savvy friends the marketing department. Also, while I wish URLs would remain constant, there are times when the same page has multiple URLs, so this enhancement allowed us to look at the page performance by title regardless of the changed URL.
  • Version that Excludes Hilti Employees: Another requested enhancement I received was when one day someone asked how much of the traffic to a page was generated by Hilti internal employees compared to non-employees. We don’t have perfect methodology to identify employee traffic on the site, but if an employee is logged into the website or is located at our main offices, then we can identify them. So again, I made a copy of the report, and this time I used a custom segment to only bring in data from the segment of users that are not employees.
  • Version for Pages with Videos: Then one day we were looking at the landing page report for a page where the major call to action was to watch a series of videos. So I created a version of the landing page report that included video metrics.

Other Reports Created in Data Studio

I have spent a lot of time of the landing page report, but in the time remaining, let me briefly go over some of the other reports I have created for Hilti using Data Studio.

  • SEO Report from GSC Data: I mentioned that early on in my usage of Data Studio I realized I needed to keep the GSC sourced data in a separate report. The SEO page report, like the landing page report, has a page selector at the top. If you don’t select a specific page, it will report on all pages for the website. But of course you can select a single page to see it’s SEO performance. On the left is how the page is doing on branded keywords. On the right are the metrics for non-brand keyword performance in the areas of organic rank, search impressions, clicks, and click thru rate.
  • Email Traffic by Campaign Report: This report also has similarities to the landing page report. Obviously, it looks very similar and again, I apologize for that. Data Studio really does have a lot of features to make reports look sharp, but up until now, I have been more concerned with the data and functionality, rather than the look and feel. At Hilti, probably like many of you, we send out a lot of emails. Our email service provider provides the email team a lot of stats about open rates and click thru rates, but once the email visitors gets to our site, the team had less data readily available. This report allows our email team to select any given email campaign from the drop down filter. Then they can see what visitors from the campaign did on the website, what pages they viewed and how many times they viewed them. And most importantly, it provides eCcommerce metrics such as how many orders they made and what products they bought. One other thing I should point out about the email campaign report is that I added a second page. While one of the things I love about Data Studio is the ability to have concise, one-page reports with a ton of great data, you can, of course, have multiple pages in your reports. On the second page, I put metrics to help our team see what time people are clicking through our emails and coming to the website.
  • Campaign Specific Reports: The final report I will mention is one I put together for a recent campaign we were running for our chemical anchor products. At Hilti, when we talk about anchors, it’s not boat anchors, we manufacture and sell concrete anchors for construction applications. Part of our suite of anchoring products consists of epoxy, adhesive, or chemical anchors. This past summer we had a marketing push around the chemical anchor line and this is the summary report I’ve put together to report on the performance of the chemical anchor pages. Part of the chemical campaign was also to publish several new pages with the goal of attracting more organic search traffic, so I created an SEO dashboard in Data Studio for the campaign as well.

Engagement Rates for Landing Pages See Marked Improvement

As you can see, we have used Data Studio to create a wide variety of reports and we have seen a lot of success in democratizing the data this way and getting the marketing team to pay attention to the data. But you may be wondering, what concrete benefits have we seen from using Data Studio? Sure the data is getting out there more, but is it really being used to improve the performance of digital marketing campaigns? The answer is yes, we have seen tangible results and here are two big ones.

Engagement Rates for Landing Pages See Marked ImprovementHere is a chart of the bounce rate and conversion rate for our landing pages over a year. Before we started using Data Studio for our reporting, we were seeing relatively steady bounce rates and conversion rates with room for improvement. When we started using Data Studio, those bounce rates began to decline and ended up stabilizing around a percentage roughly half of what they were before. And similarly, the conversion rates began to improve as we used Data Studio and have effectively doubled in the course of a year.

I’m not saying Data Studio was the only factor in these improved engagement rates—it was not. We have ongoing efforts to continually improve our landing pages and using Data Studio reports was only one aspect of our approach. But the correlation is undeniable—that using Data Studio to democratize web analytics data has been an important tool in helping us get data in the hands of marketing decision makers and they have used that data to improve the effectiveness of our marketing campaigns.

LinkedIn Notes We Are Drowning in Data. Data Studio Has the Solution.

As we wrap up, I like to share a quote from a LinkedIn article I ran across just a couple of weeks ago as I was preparing this presentation. The article was about how marketers are using digital analytics, and it pointed out, as I did at the beginning of this presentation, how digital marketers are drowning in data. The article said, “We found that digital marketers are struggling — struggling to calculate their impact, share that impact with key stakeholders, and market that impact across their organizations.” I found it interesting that they pointed out these three challenges with measuring, sharing, and making an impact across the organization. And it was quite timely, as I have pointed out, that you can overcome each one of these challenges with Data Studio. And when you do that, instead of drowning in data, you will be riding the data-driven wave. Thank you.

Lessons Learned from Doing SEO Freelancing for a Year

Summary: After doing SEO freelancing for a year, I learned important skills and gained invaluable experience in selecting clients, estimating work load, negotiating payment, measuring success, establishing processes, succeeding in the short-term and long-term, and perhaps most importantly, in learning to follow my heart.

Background Motivation to Do a Side Hustle

bathtub leaking into kitchenIn 2018, we hit a financial rough spot in which my family had several thousand dollars of unexpected expenses within a one month period. My car broke down and that cost $2,500 to repair and the family van had a $1,000 repair for some weird electrical problem. The water heater in our house burst and it was over $1,000 to replace. The upstairs bathroom shower faucet broke and it started leaking into the kitchen—another $1,000 to repair. And there were several other items that I do not now recall.

My daughter was approaching her 16th birthday and we had been saving up money so she could have my old car to drive and then I was planning to buy myself a new (used) car. But all of a sudden, virtually all the money we had been saving to buy a new car was gone, and that’s when I thought I should look into doing some freelancing to make some extra money. By profession, I am a digital analytics manager who has a lot of experience managing websites and performing search engine optimization (SEO). I thought I could make some time for digital marketing consulting, maybe 10 or 15 hours a week, by working nights and weekends.

Selecting a Freelance Website

My first item of business was finding somewhere to get freelance work. Years ago, I had hired a freelancer through Upwork.com, so that was my first destination when I began looking to do freelance work. Honestly, I didn’t do as much research as I should have when it came to selecting which freelance website company to work through. I picked Upwork because they were the most prominent freelance website I was aware of. In retrospect, I would have researched the competition (like Fiverr.com and Freelancer.com) to compare fees and terms of service.

Signing up with Upwork, searching for and securing my first freelance gig cost me nothing. But once I began working, I was shocked that Upwork charged a 20% fee on every dollar I billed my client, though that fee did go down to 10% after the first $500 billed. Even more shocking, though, was Upwork’s user agreement which states that freelance/client relationships made through their website must use their system to complete payment transactions FOR 2 YEARS. That means, if you connect with someone through Upwork, you agreed that you will pay Upwork their service fees for two years for all work done. That seems like an outrageously long time to me, so be aware of that going in.

Lesson Learned #1: Do competitive research of fees and terms of service of freelance websites before signing up and making an agreement with a client so you know beforehand exactly what to expect.

Finding My First Freelancing Gig

As I browsed the digital marketing related freelance gigs that I was qualified for, SEO ones where the most prevalent. I submitted my application to several of them. I had no idea how hard or easy it would be to get hired for one of these gigs, and like any job application, the hard part was taking the time to write a thoughtful, persuasive application letter even when you don’t know the likelihood that they’ll select you. But it had to be done. And then there was they issue of what hourly rate to charge. I checked out the competition and there are a lot of SEOs on the platform with low fees, along with a smaller number of ones with high fees. I ended up picking an hourly rate that was lower than what I wanted, but I felt I needed to do that to be competitive as I was getting my feet wet in the world of freelance SEO work. I thought that once I was established, it would be easier to get work at a higher rate.

A month or so went by without getting selected for an interview, and I was beginning to think this was a waste of my time, when one day I got asked to have a phone interview for one of the jobs. The phone interview went well, and I was soon offered the job. I had some debate with the client about whether the gig would be paid by the job or by the hour. I was pretty firm on doing it by the hour, as I didn’t want to get stuck in a commitment to do work that could drag on for a long time and thus diminish my hourly rate. The client was okay with me tracking the hours and paying by the hour, so we moved forward with an official agreement through the Upwork website.

Lesson Learned #2: Be patient in finding the right gig for you and it could lead to a great long-term working relationship, as you will see was the case for me.

I should also mention that the client asked if we could do the payments outside the Upwork website, thus avoiding their fees, as well as avoiding Upwork’s incredibly poorly designed user interface. It was an tempting offer, but knowing the Upwork User Agreement terms, I had to insist on using Upwork’s prescribed time tracking and payment system. I don’t think the client was trying to break the rules, they were just unaware and when I said I felt it was best to honor the Upwork terms of service, the client was fine with that, and so we moved forward.

Lesson Learned #3: Be prepared in case your client asks to pay you outside the freelance website and know how you will respond. It’s against the terms of most of the sites. Honesty is the best policy.

Analysis, Plan of Action and Understand Client’s Business

The client who hired me was a small digital marketing agency, which for anonymity’s sake, was run by a woman I will call Molly. We had agreed that I would put in about 10 or 15 hours a week, and Molly asked me to split my time between two of her clients which I’ll call Website A and Website B. I dove right into analyzing the SEO performance of the two websites, as well as diving into the Google Analytics to understand how the sites were performing overall. By the end of the first month, I had presented my SEO and web analytics findings to Molly and the website owners, and offered my recommendations for improvement and suggested next steps.

Website A and B were both the online home for small technology companies, and both companies used their website as a major source of sales and lead generation. Website A got a couple thousand visits per week, while Website B, a smaller niche business, was getting a couple hundred visits per week. Both sites had good things going for them in terms of branding, content, and design, but both were also lacking some basic SEO best practices such are optimized titles tags, meta descriptions, H1 headlines, interlinking, and more. Both sites also had an information architecture (IA) and main menu lacking in high-value SEO keywords.

With both sites, I should mention that it took several conversations with the site owners to really understand their business, the products and services offered, as well as their target audience. It was particularly difficult to grasp the business model of Website B, the more niche business, but once I did, a course of action to make the content resonate better with their audience and with search engines became clear. And thus far, the freelancing was going very smoothly—I was enjoying the work and earning a little extra income, everything I had hoped for.

Lesson Learned #4: In scoping out SEO freelancing projects, be sure to bake into your estimates time to get to know the company, target audience, products and services. Having a well-rounded understanding of the business will make you a better SEO consultant.

Performance Measuring and SEO Results for Website A and Website B

Over the next couple of months, we implemented the course of action I had laid out to improve the SEO, usability, and conversion rates of the two websites. Both sites were built on WordPress, a website content management system (CMS) that I am very familiar with, so I was quite comfortable not only developing the strategy, but executing it as well. While the freelance contract had been for SEO services, it was clear that the website owners wanted help in many other aspects of their web presence and digital marketing. At the end of the day, I knew the website owners would only be happy if the increase in organic web traffic led to more leads and more website visitors turning into buying customers. Therefore, in addition to SEO tasks, many of my efforts were also around landing page optimization, reducing bounce rates, improving conversion rates, cleaning up web analytics tracking and reporting, and doing other digital marketing tasks.

Lesson Learned #5: Nobody wants to rank for rankings sake. SEO consulting isn’t just about improving the website’s placement in search results, it’s about improving the volume of target audience visits and quality leads.

As part of the performance measurement plan, I put together a Google Data Studio report with some of the high-level SEO and website stats which I reviewed weekly with the website owners. The report served to benchmark prior website performance as well as communicate how my SEO efforts were paying off. This was important as a freelance consultant as I wanted the clients to know where the key performance indicators (KPIs) had been and how my efforts had improved them.

Within a month of implementing our first changes on the websites, we began to see some small improvements in the amount of organic search traffic to the sites as well as improvements in the conversion rate of visitors. After three or four months, Website A had doubled in traffic and with conversion rates doubling as well, the owner saw a four-fold increase in leads. And they were good leads too, many of them turning into paying customers. With Website B, the results were positive, but less dramatic as Website A, with traffic increasing by about 50% and slightly better conversion rates.

Lesson Learned #6: I already knew this, but it was reinforced that freelancers should always benchmark the SEO and website performance prior to their engagement as well as establishing regular reporting to communicate improvements in KPIs.

Overall, the owners of Website A and B were very pleased with the results, as was Molly who was thrilled to have such happy clients herself. It was then that I began to more fully realized how valuable my skill set was. I began to think that I had sold myself short with the low hourly rate I set at first, and I began to wonder if I should raise my rate. I also began to wonder if I should consider expanding the time I spent freelancing to see if it could turn into a legitimate full-time business for me.

Asking for a Pay Raise

At about this point in my relationship with Molly, I thought it was a good time to ask for an increase in my hourly rate. I had been doing the freelance SEO work for around six months and I had been trying for months to find the right time to bring up the topic. For someone of my personality, this is a difficult thing to ask for, but I was glad I finally did it. I asked for a substantial increase because I knew I didn’t want to do this again. Molly clearly didn’t want to lose me, but the increased rate was difficult for her to take. She made a counter proposal and I accepted it and we moved on—it seemed like a win for both of us.

Lesson Learned #7: Do research so you can price yourself right from the get go, but don’t be afraid to bring up the topic of your hourly rate. And, of course, it is best to have some success under your belt before asking for a pay raise.

Taking on a Third and Fourth Website for My Client

With the success of Website A and B, my client, Molly, asked if I thought I could take on additional clients of hers. I had been averaging about 8 or 10 hours a week on the freelancing work, and due to my full-time job and family constraints, I told her there was no way I could put in more hours. She said she would be bringing on additional junior SEO freelancers, though, and wondered if I could step back and play a more strategic role. I would continue to complete analysis and set strategies, but the more junior SEOs would do the work of executing the tactics. I had been enjoying all the work I was doing for Molly and wanted to continue to expand my professional relationship with her and her agency so I decided to go for it.

Website C and D, did not turn out as well as A and B, for a variety of reasons. And though we didn’t see much SEO success with these two websites, I did learn many important lessons about freelance and agency work. Website C was owned and operated by some people who were very difficult to work with. Whereas the owners of Websites A and B were open to almost all of our ideas, the managers of Website C pushed back against a great many of our proposals. Ironically, they still demanded results even though they wouldn’t follow our recommendations. It was a difficult situation, and certainly above my freelancer pay grade. Thankfully Molly handled most of those end-client relationships, though this company didn’t remain a client for long.

Lesson Learned #8: Be selective about clients. From my perspective, no amount of money is worth it if the person you are working with is unreasonable and they make your life miserable.

Lesson Learned #9: Know yourself, your strengths, and your preferences. For me, if I ever go into business for myself doing digital marketing consulting or start my own agency, I want a business partner who will handle client relationships. It’s not my forte.

The managers of Website D, contrary to Website C, were very nice to work with. Like Websites A and B, Website D had a lot of log hanging fruit with regard to optimizing page titles, meta data, headlines, call-to-action buttons, and other content. Also like the others, an information architecture overhaul was implemented to put the topics that matter most to users higher up in the menu structure. But despite our efforts, and to my surprise, after a month or two, the organic search volume didn’t budge.

On top of the lack of SEO results, it seemed like each week we were uncovering unusual and unexpected issues with the website. Their WordPress implementation was outdated, with problematic plugins, and content was in disarray. On top of that, the site managers had been making changes to their homepage and other page without communicating it to us and in some cases messing up the SEO. The company had Google display ads running, and running very inefficiently, sending thousands of unqualified visitors to their site weekly. And they had three instances of Google Analytics on their site, so we wondered about the validity of any of the data we were looking at. The more we worked with the website, the more oddities and technical debt we seemed to uncovered.

Lesson Learned #10: Evaluate the state of the website backend before beginning optimization work and build into the scope of work plenty of time to do clean up. If the back end is in disarray, it can put a major hamper on optimization efforts.

Problems in Working with an Expanding Team of Freelancers

In addition to the problems with clients and client websites, as I had expanded my case load to handle four websites, the working model of me being the senior SEO strategist with the assistance of junior SEO freelancers was having bumps of its own. I began each website engagement with my normal thorough analysis, and then made a to-do list of things for the junior SEO to do. Unfortunately, the other freelancer was not accustomed to my way of communication and didn’t understand many of the tasks I gave her. Many of the important tasks went undone or were done the wrong way or simply in a way I was not accustomed to.

This particular junior SEO was used to going through a checklist as she gave a website an SEO tune up, while I, on the other hand, wasn’t accustomed to working in such a rigid process. I quickly began to see the benefits of the checklist, however. Though a list like that cannot cover every aspect of SEO, what it did cover was good SEO practices. And I realized the checklist allowed her to get much of the low hanging fruit, freeing me up to do deeper analysis and uncover issue less likely to turn up in a standardized checklist. In fact, I decided that a checklist could be a great tool in doing the initial analysis of a client and their website. Eventually, we worked out many of the kinks in our internal process and we began working together better.

Lesson Learned #11: It takes times to learn to work well with someone, so make time for it and don’t take teamwork for granted.

Lesson Learned #12: While checklists can be mechanical, rote, and less-than-comprehensive for qualitative evaluations, they can still be a helpful, time-saving tool, and a good way to delegate and a make sure you don’t forget anything.

Realizing the Freelance Work is Stretching Me Too Thin

After several months of working on Websites C and D, neither was showing much SEO progress, and the great progress we has seen in Website A and B was slowing down. Furthermore, I was personally being stretched incredibly thin trying to keep up on all the freelancing work while at the same time trying not to fall behind in my full-time day job and balancing the demands of a large family. While I had thoroughly enjoyed the freelance work for the first six or eight months of doing it, in the most recent months, I began to dread the work more and more. I have almost no free time as it is, and what little spare time I had was filled with the freelance work. I felt like I was not dedicating the time I should have to my wife and kids, yet we were all enjoying the extra income. The extra income allowed us to buy that third car for my daughter to drive, which was a huge benefit to my wife who no longer had to take her to and from school and other activities.hannah driving gold corolla car

Molly must have noticed that I was being stretched thin, and she suggested I hand off Website C and D to another freelancer, and return to dedicating myself wholly to Websites A and B. We made that transition, but I continued to be weary of the workload. I was taking on more responsibilities at my full-time job, and it became increasing apparent that I needed to spend more time with my family. I didn’t want to lose the extra income, but my health and my family were more important.

After nearly a year of doing the freelance gig, I happened to be on a family vacation. It’s always nice to have time off, but I particularly enjoyed the freedom from the demands of the freelance work. I dreaded getting back to real life and starting up with the SEO freelance work again. It was then that I realized that it was time to be done with the freelancing. When I made the mental decision to stop doing the freelance work, a feeling of peace and comfort (a feeling that I have learned comes from the Spirit of God) came over me letting me know that it was right. When I got home, I gave Molly notice that I could no longer do freelance work for her. She respected my decision, I wrapped up and handed off my projects, and we parted ways.

Lesson Learned #13: Trust in the feelings God puts into your heart and do as He prompts you. Decisions may be difficult, but the Lord is watching out for you, and will give you confidence to move forward.

Conclusion

It was a great experience to do freelancing for a year. I had many successes and also several failures, and in the process I learned much, as I have pointed out in the lessons learned above. I was able to accomplish my goal of earning some extra money to get a third car for our growing family. And in the process of freelancing, I learned skills and gained experience that will help me throughout my ongoing career, whether that continues in the in-house corporate SEO world or if it evolves into future consulting, agency work, or even freelancing again. While the time is not right to keep doing SEO freelancing right now, the time could be right again in the future. And if that time comes, I’ll be much more prepared.

Ward Temple and Family History Plan

Temple and Family History Plan - Rockwall 2nd Ward

A few months ago, I was called as Temple and Family History (TFH) Leader in our ward. Not long after that, February 28, 2019, Elder Dale G. Renlund of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave some instructions to ward leaders across the world encouraging them to formulate a “ward temple and family history plan” (see Ward Temple and Family History Leadership Patterns, Coordination Meetings, and Plans). He said the plan should…

  • “Include ways to lift the ward’s overall vision and attitude toward temple and family history work.”
  • “Involve every new convert, 11 years and older, in family history work.”
  • “Encourage, coordinate, and facilitate temple attendance without establishing quotas or reporting systems for temple attendance.”
  • Be “simple and clear”

We went to work in our ward to create this plan. As the TFH Leader, I felt I should put together the first draft and then present it to the TFH Consultants for their feedback. Next we discussed it in ward council, and made a few more modifications. What we ended up on for the TFH Plan is in the image at the top of this article.

Next, we planned a 5th Sunday lesson to present the plan to the ward. We made copies of this plan for everyone to take home with them and I created the presentation below to explain and expand on each of the 12 points of the plan. The lesson went well and seemed to be inspiring and uplifting. As part of the lesson, the TFH Consultants also introduced themselves and bore their testimony of temple and family history work.

The plan is admittedly high-level and an aspiration vision designed to inspire people and point them in the right direct for temple and family history work. Some people wanted more specificity and detailed action items to get started and accelerated down the path of family history and temple work, so I created the following one-page action plan that you can download. I took the 12 items from the TFH plan and expanded them into more detailed action items and then grouped them into logical groups. We ended up with eight groups that could conceivably be done in eight weeks and so I dubbed it an 8-week action plan. The plan could just as easily be done over an 8 month period if you don’t want to hurry and do it in a quick 8 weeks. Regardless of the time frame, this action plan provides the additional specificity for anyone up to the challenge.

Temple and Family History Plan: 1-page Action Plan and Goals

Please note that the plan and the action items are only examples of temple and family history work one can do. It is not intended to be an exhaustive list. On a similar vein, the “Crawl-Walk-Run-Fly” rating scale is to be taken only as a self-evaluation. No one is keeping score of where you are.

Personal Covenants with God

Recently, some life experiences got me thinking about personal covenants we make with God–not covenants that are part of the standard ordinances of the Church like the sacrament, baptism, temple endowment, etc.–but other promises we personally make to God. Often when we face circumstances of severe trial or unusual distress, we reach out to God and ask for his special blessings and promise, if we can get those those, that we will do certain things for God in return. While these covenants differ from those made standard gospel ordinances, I have come to believe that they carry just as much power and potential for blessings from God, perhaps more so.

The scriptures have several examples of these non-standardized, personal covenants that individuals and groups of people have made with God. Hannah in the Old Testament and the people of Ammon in the Book of Mormon are two examples that stand out to me. I can also recall stories from our living prophets and apostles and other prominent leaders where they discuss making personal covenants with God. Two of which I will share are are from Elder Neal A. Maxwell and President Abraham Lincoln.

Hannah Covenants to Give Her Son to Service of the Lord

In the book of 1 Samuel, we are given the story of Hannah, who desperately wants a son and vows, if she should receive one, to give him to the service of the Lord. Hannah received assurance from the prophet Eli, and no doubt from the Holy Spirit of God to her heart as well, that God had accepted her covenant. Hannah was blessed with a baby boy soon thereafter and after the baby was born and old enough to leave his mother’s arms, Hannah was faithful to her side of the covenant with God. This story is found in 1 Samuel Chapter 1:

1) Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim-zophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah…
2) And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
5) … for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.
10) And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.
11) And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
17) …Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
18) And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
19) …and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.
20) Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.
24) …And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young.
26) …And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.
27) For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28) Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.

The Anti-Nephi-Lehies Bury their Swords in Covenant with God

The story of the people of Ammon who took upon them the name of Anti-Nephi-Lehi, has always fascinated me. These people were vile sinners and even murders, yet they were converted to the Lord and because of their wicked past, they felt a special need to make an extra, personal covenant with God. Because they felt so blessed by God, this group of people covenanted that they would not take up weapons of war again, even in self-defense, after God had cleansed them of their prior sins. The story is in the Book of Mormon, Alma chapter 24:

15) Oh, how merciful is our God! And now behold, since it has been as much as we could do to get our stains taken away from us, and our swords are made bright, let us hide them away that they may be kept bright, as a testimony to our God at the last day, or at the day that we shall be brought to stand before him to be judged, that we have not stained our swords in the blood of our brethren since he imparted his word unto us and has made us clean thereby.
16) And now, my brethren, if our brethren seek to destroy us, behold, we will hide away our swords, yea, even we will bury them deep in the earth, that they may be kept bright, as a testimony that we have never used them, at the last day; and if our brethren destroy us, behold, we shall go to our God and shall be saved.
17) And now it came to pass that when the king had made an end of these sayings, and all the people were assembled together, they took their swords, and all the weapons which were used for the shedding of man’s blood, and they did bury them up deep in the earth.
18) And this they did, it being in their view a testimony to God, and also to men, that they never would use weapons again for the shedding of man’s blood; and this they did, vouching and covenanting with God, that rather than shed the blood of their brethren they would give up their own lives; and rather than take away from a brother they would give unto him; and rather than spend their days in idleness they would labor abundantly with their hands.

The prophets and leaders of the church took this covenant by the Anti-Nephi-Lehies very seriously. Both parties went to great lengths to keep that covenant, even at the risk of their own lives, yet they were miraculously blessed and delivered for being faithful to their personal covenant.

Neal A. Maxwell Dedicates His Life to the Lord in a Covenant Prayer

The following story is take from A Disciple’s Life: The Biography of Neal A. Maxwell by Bruce C. Hafen, chapter 13.

During the middle of the battle for Okinawa, Neal had the most transforming experience of all. He was part of a mortar squad that fired at Japanese positions hidden in the hills. His own mortar position created an obvious invitation for the enemy to locate and eliminate his firing capacity and him. They needed only to direct their own artillery and mortar fire at the place where Neal’s squad sent up its shells. By identifying his position and comparing where their shells hit, they could direct their fire closer and closer until they had done their deadly job.

One night in late May, the shrieking noise of artillery fire caught Neal’s attention with a frightening realization. Three shells in a row had exploded in a sequence that sent a dreadful message the enemy had completely triangulated his mortar position, and the next series of shots would hit home. Suddenly a shell exploded no more than five feet away from him. Terribly shaken, Neal jumped from his foxhole and moved down a little knoll seeking protection, and then, uncertain what to do, he crawled back to the foxhole. There he knelt, trembling, and spoke the deepest prayer he had ever uttered, pleading for protection and dedicating the rest of his life to the Lord’s service.

Neal later called this “one of those selfish, honest prayers” that many people offer in times of great stress. He didn’t feel entitled to anything in particular, and he knew many of his combat buddies prayed that night as fervently as he did. …After the prayer, Neal turned his attention again to watching the night sky, which was earlier ablaze with flashing, fiery noises. His body spontaneously tensed up as he waited, searching the darkness for sounds and clues. But no more shells came near him.

Later he wrote: After that triangulation occurred, the shelling stopped at the very time they were [about] to finish what they had been trying to do for days. I am sure the Lord answered my prayers. . . . The following night they began to pour [more] shells in [on our position], but almost all of them were duds either the ammunition had gotten wet or they were not exploding in the very thick, oozing mud. . . . I felt preserved, and unworthily so, but have tried to be somewhat faithful to that promise that was given at the time.

He would occasionally talk about those two nights in the years that followed, never offering more details about the experience but usually adding something like, “I foolishly thought at the time that I could pay the Lord back, and now, of course, I’m in greater debt to Him than ever.”

Abraham Lincoln’s Solemn Vow to God

My last example of a personal covenant with God is about Abraham Lincoln and is a story told by General Daniel Sickles, who fought for the Union army in the Battle of Gettysburg during the US Civil War. General Sickles noticed that immediately preceding the battle at Gettysburg, when nerves of all commanding officers should have been on edge, there was a certain calm and assurance about Abraham Lincoln. After the victory, when Lincoln was asked how that could be, he replied:

“Well, I will tell you how it was. In the pinch of your campaign up there, when everybody seemed panic-stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told him that this war was His, and our cause His cause, but we could not stand another Fredericksburg or Chancellorsville. Then and there I made a solemn vow to Almighty God that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him, and He did stand by our boys, and I will stand by Him. And after that, I don’t know how it was, and I cannot explain it, soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul. The feeling came that God had taken the whole business in his own hands, and that things would go right at Gettysburg, and that is why I had no fears about you.” (Hill, Abraham Lincoln—Man of God, 339–40.)

Timothy Ballard, in his book, The Lincoln Hypothesis, goes into much more detail about Lincoln’s conversion to God and the covenants he made personally and on behalf of our country as it’s leaders. I highly recommend the book, and you can check out my blog post on The Lincoln Hypothesis which has many of my favorite quotes from the book.

Consulting with My Friends and Family about Personal Covenants

As I was contemplated this topic, my father happened to be at my house and so I asked him what he knew about personal non-standardized covenants. His initial reaction was that he hadn’t put a lot of thought into the subject. But upon thinking about it a little more, a few minutes later he said when he was in high school, he wanted to make the baseball team very badly. He remembers praying and asking God if he would allow them to make the baseball team that he would dedicate his life to serving the Lord. My dad did make the baseball team and that experience seemed to increase his faith in God. He has dedicated his life to serving the Lord and is in fact, now serving a full-time mission with my mom. He has written about their senior mission on my Mormon Mission Prep website if you want to check it out.

I also thought I should reach out to a friend I worked with when I worked for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the church office building in downtown Salt Lake City. This person had once told me about a personal covenant he had made with God when his family was going through a very difficult time. I don’t think I should share the details of that private, personal story with you, but it was a faith promoting experience to call him and hear the account again. This friend reiterated to me his conviction the covenants we make in the standard gospel ordinances are patterns the Lord is trying to teach us. He said that he feels that the Lord wants all of us to learn to make and keep our own personal covenants with God and that the greatest blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ come to us by doing so. I wholeheartedly agree.

The Book of Abraham teaches that God sent all people to Earth “to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them” (Abraham 3:25). I have often thought that another related purpose of this life is for God to see if we would do two things that we promise we’re going to do…if we will do the things that we covenant to do, whether it be a standard covenant through the traditional gospel ordinances, or a personal covenant we make with God.

Spotlights in Primary and Teaching Children about Goals and Prayers

lds primary boys singingIn a recent Primary sharing time I attended, there were two “spotlights” presentations for two little girls. For those of you unfamiliar with LDS Primary and their spotlights, primary is the weekly Sunday school classes for Mormon children, and the spotlight is when one child is brought to the front and has information shared about them like their favorite foods, what they like to do, favorite books, what they want to be when they grow up, etc.

On this particular week, there were two spotlights. One of the young girls said she wanted to grow up to be a famous actress, and the other said she wanted to grow up to be a famous singer. My initial reaction to this was that if the spotlight program is helping to ingrain the desire to be famous into the youth of the church, then perhaps we should get rid of it. The overwhelming desire to be famous is rampant in our culture, and it causes so many ills in our society and in the Church (see James E. Faust’s talk, Who Do You Think You Are?)

Then I thought, perhaps this spotlight of the children’s future goals could be used as a teaching moment. Several months ago, I listened to a TED Talk by a woman named Laura Berman who said that, when she was a young adult, her biggest dream was to be a famous Broadway actress. She said she loved being on stage and love bringing entertainment people and most of all she loved it when her performances inspired people to make changes in their lives.

Laura’s career as an actress didn’t turn out very well and after 9 years of waiting tables to put money on the table while she tried to get her acting career going, she realized that her goal to be a famous actress wasn’t going to happen. She was devastated at first, but then she said she took a deeper introspection and found that her dream wasn’t what she thought it was. She realized that the dream to be a famous actress was just the shell, but on the inside, the yolk of that egg, was her true dream which was to make people happy by inspiring them to make changes in their lives.

Performing on stage was one way to accomplish her dream, but she realized there are infinite other ways to accomplish that dream. She ended up making her career as a motivational speaker and job coach. This career allowed her to work with people and inspire them to make changes in their lives that brought lasting joy and satisfaction. Her goal remained the same but the way she achieved her goal turned out to be very different than she had envisioned as a young adult. She said when she focused on what she wanted to be, an inspiration to people, rather than what she wanted to do, act on stage, then she was truly able to achieve her dreams and receive the joy and satisfaction that comes from that.

Laura Berman’s focus on being, rather than doing, reminded me of something Dallin H. Oaks once said:

“In contrast to the institutions of the world, which teach us to know something, the gospel of Jesus Christ challenges us to become something” (The Challenge to Become, October 2000).

I wonder if we as a church would do well to teach these girls, and all the primary children, that if they take a deeper look at their goals and dreams, they may find multiple ways to accomplish them. In fact, they are more likely to achieve their goals and dream and be happy if they focus on what they want to be rather than what they want to do.

Maybe that dream to be an actress is reflective of an underlying desire to motivating and inspiring to other people. Maybe that dream to be a singer is reflective of an underlying desire to bring comfort and peace to those who need it. When they realize what that core dream is, what they long to become, then they will have greater flexibility to do the things in life that will help them become who they want to be, whether it be through acting or singing or something entirely different.

While it is often difficult for us to discern between our inner core desires and the outer shell, I think God is able to distinguish our root desires from the outward desires. For example, if a person is praying that they’ll be a famous actress someday, I think God knows that the root desire might be something else, and God will answer the prayers for those root desires. God knows “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12 and Alma 18:32). And Moroni chapter 7 teaches that it’s not the words we say in our prayers that matter so much as the “intent of heart” (Mor 7:9).

horse with bridleFor example, One time my friend Patti said she came across a neglected horse that had the bridal left on it for months. When she came upon the horse, she could see the flesh of the horses face growing around the bridle. She knew the horse was in pain and she prayed that the horse would let her take the bridle off. God knew that Patty’s root desire was to help the horse and that taking the bridle off would likely have killed the horse from bleeding and infection. The bridle needed to come off under the care and supervision of a doctors. The horse would not cooperate for Patti and so she alerted the authorities of the situation and they took it from there. Thankfully, God granted Patti’s inner desire and did not allow her to take the bridle off. God answered her inward prayer that the best thing would happen for the horse, not her outward prayer to immediately remove the bridle.

“For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7)

Thankfully, God knows our hearts and our truest desires and He, in his love and mercy, will grant us our real desires, even when our outward desires sometimes get in the way.

When I shared all of the thoughts above with my wife, Heather, she said, “you know what your son put on his primary spotlight form about what he wants to be when he grows up? An NBA basketball player.” I sense a family home evening coming on this topic soon. We better help Max get to the root of that desire and figure out what he really wants to be so he has some alternative ways of reaching that goal, just in case the NBA never comes calling. 🙂

Long Answers to Lake Pointe Church Belief Statements

In December 2016, I volunteered to coach my son’s 10-year-old basketball team in the Lake Pointe Church league. We looked at various community basketball league options for our son and Lake Pointe was the least expensive. And we liked the fact that it was a church league with good Christian standards. When I volunteered to be the team coach, Lake Pointe required me to fill out a “Belief Statement” form in which I answered whether or not I agreed with several doctrinal statements from their church. Whether I agreed or not with the statements, I had to agree to support Lake Pointe’s doctrinal beliefs if the issue were to come up during my weekly devotional with the kids or in other public situations. (Click here to see the Belief Statements on Lake Pointe’s website)

Being a coach, even though it was a bunch of 10-year-olds, was stressful. I did enjoy, however, sharing a bible verse with the boys each week at practice. And each of the games was begun with a prayer, and I volunteered to offer it a couple of times during the season. When we were leaving one of the games, a man from the crowd who I had never met before came up to me and thanked me for the nice prayer I offered. It was overall, a good experience with the Lake Pointe Church basketball league.

2016-2017-lake-pointe-church-basketball-team

At the time I filled out the Belief Statement, I found it difficult to simply answer “Agree” or “Disagree” for many of the questions. Many of the statements had a lot of nuance, and I found myself wishing I could write out a paragraph in response to each one where I could more fully explain why I agreed or disagreed. Ultimately, I put that I agreed with most, if not all, the statements. And I did so with all sincerity. While I’m a faithful Mormon, I found I had much in common with the good Christians at Lake Pointe Church, though, perhaps, I thought, they may be surprised about the way in which I agree. Because I have this website as a platform, I thought I would write an open letter with my short (or sometimes long) essay responses to the Lake Point Church Belief Statements.

Statement 1: I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I Agree. I thought this was an interesting way to kick off the statements. I didn’t realize that there are Christian denominations out there who don’t believe in the actual physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. I suppose they believe the resurrection of Jesus Christ is metaphorical. I guess it makes sense that there are people and churches who believe that. Even in Jesus’ day, the Jews were split on this subject, some believing in the literal resurrection (Pharisees), and others not (Sadducees).

One of my favorite Biblical verses about the literal resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:20–22 “But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.”

And one of my favorite verses about the resurrection from the Book of Mormon is in Alma chapter 11: “42) Now, there is a death which is called a temporal death; and the death of Christ shall loose the bands of this temporal death, that all shall be raised from this temporal death. 43) The spirit and the body shall be reunited again in its perfect form; both limb and joint shall be restored to its proper frame, even as we now are at this time …45) I say unto you that this mortal body is raised to an immortal body, that is from death, even from the first death unto life, that they can die no more; their spirits uniting with their bodies, never to be divided; thus the whole becoming spiritual and immortal, that they can no more see corruption.”

Statement 2. I believe the miracles were supernatural occurrences as presented in the Biblical account.

I agree. Again, it is very interesting that this is one of the 15 points they chose to highlight. I suppose in this day and age, it is very difficult for people to believe the miracles Jesus and others performed in the Bible, like Moses parting the Red Sea, and Jesus instantaneously healing the blind and lepers, walking on water, and raising people from the dead. But I certainly do believe that Jesus’ miracles really happened and that he did them by tapping into higher powers that we mortals do not yet understand. And I believe that some day, when “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13) that we will understand the Celestial laws by which the scriptural miracles were performed.

Statement 3. I believe a Christian cannot lose their salvation.

I’m not sure if I responded that I agree or disagree with this statement. The argument can be made either way, depending on how one defines salvation. Traditional protestant or evangelical Christians, which I think is how one would classify Lake Pointe Church, believes in a binary heaven and hell in the afterlife and defines salvation as those who will be in heaven while the people in hell will not have salvation. Mormon theology about salvation is much more nuanced and, honestly, more reflective of the reality of degrees of righteousness and wickedness of people. We Mormons believe that in the resurrection there will be degrees of heaven divided into three main groups called the Celestial, Terrestrial, and Telestial Kingdom, any one of which is better than this life on earth and could thus be considered salvation.

Salvation that cannot be lost. As we read in 1 Corinthians 15:20–22, quoted above, Jesus Christ, through his infinite atonement, has made it so all mankind will be resurrected. When Paul said that “all be made alive” he meant that all who lived on this earth will be resurrected without condition. The Book of Mormon also teaches this principle. It says that resurrection “shall come to all, both old and young, both bond and free, both male and female, both the wicked and the righteous; and even there shall not so much as a hair of their heads be lost; but every thing shall be restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body, and shall be brought and be arraigned before the bar of Christ the Son, and God the Father, and the Holy Spirit, which is one Eternal God” (Alma 11:44). Being resurrected and restored to a glorious, physical body is a wonderful blessing that is a gift from our Savior that all mankind will receive and cannot be lost. If that is the salvation Lake Pointe Church is referring to, then I agree with the statement.

Salvation that can be lost. Regarding the salvation that can be lost, I believe that a person must commit a sin in order to lose their salvation in heaven. If a person never commits a sin, their salvation is not in jeopardy. In order to commit sin, a person must be old enough and wise enough to know right from wrong. Little children, or people with disabilities giving them the mental capacities of a small child, do not know right from wrong and thus are not capable of committing sin. Having never sinned, these people are saved and will be in heaven. The Book of Mormon is clear on this subject:

Listen to the words of Christ, your Redeemer, your Lord and your God. Behold, I came into the world not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance; the whole need no physician, but they that are sick; wherefore, little children are whole, for they are not capable of committing sin; wherefore the curse of Adam is taken from them in me. … 10) Behold I say unto you that this thing shall ye teach—repentance and baptism unto those who are accountable and capable of committing sin; yea, teach parents that they must repent and be baptized, and humble themselves as their little children, and they shall all be saved with their little children. …12) But little children are alive in Christ.” (Moroni 8: 8,10,12)

For everyone else, Romans 3:23 applies: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, we have all transgressed God’s commandments and in so doing we have lost our salvation. So regarding the question “can a Christian lose their salvation?” I think the answer is clear: Yes. Any Christian who lives to the age of accountability will lose their salvation because nobody has lived a sinless life except Jesus Christ.

Then the question is, what does an individual have to do to regain our salvation? Jesus taught many things on this subject:

  • John 3: 3,5 “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. …Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”
  • John 17:3 “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
  • Matt 18:3 “Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.”

I could go on and on listing the teachings of Jesus and other prophets and apostles regarding how to qualify for salvation. And all those scriptural teachings are true. But how does one truly know if he or she has qualified for salvation? To answer this, I like what Joseph Smith taught: “The more sure word of prophecy means a man’s knowing that he is sealed up unto eternal life, by revelation and the spirit of prophecy, through the power of the Holy Priesthood. It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” (D&C 131: 5-6) He further stated that “to have a positive promise of your own Salvation is making your Calling and Election sure, viz the voice of Jesus saying my beloved thou shalt have eternal life. Brethren never cease struggling until you get this evidence. Take heed both before and after obtaining this more sure word of Prophecy.” (21 May 1843 Howard and Martha Coray Notebook 208 as quoted in The Words of Joseph Smith by Andrew F. Ehat)

A Book of Mormon prophet named Moroni taught that we are not saved until we are actually saved, meaning being promised salvation and actually being saved or redeemed are two different things. Of course God’s promises are sure, and for those that are promised salvation, the day will come when they are actually saved and brought back into God’s presence.  Moroni said that “because of Jesus Christ came the redemption of man. And because of the redemption of man, which came by Jesus Christ, they are brought back into the presence of the Lord; yea, this is wherein all men are redeemed” (Mormon 9:12–13 emphasis added).

Statement 4. I believe in literal heaven, hell, and a personal devil.

I’m sure I clicked that I agree with this statement, though, as previously mentioned, as a Mormon, I don’t believe that a single heaven and a single hell are the only two options after this life. I believe that the Savior’s reference to “many mansions” (John 14:2) was touching on the fact that heaven has a place for all people of a wide variety of levels of righteousness. Paul expanded on this concept of differing degrees of heavenly glory in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead.” (1 Cor 15: 4-42)

As for the “personal devil” aspect of the statement, I’m not exactly sure what Lakepointe means. I did a quick search on Google for that term and didn’t get much help. From what I surmise, Lakepointe is asking if the devil is a real person who really tempts us. And to that I answer yes. The Devil with a capital D is Satan or Lucifer. There are also numerous devils with a lower case d who are the followers of Satan.

The Devil was once an angel in the presence of God. “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!” (Isaiah 14:12) In the pre-earth life, Satan rebelled against God and sought to destroy the followers of the Son of God with his lying and make them his captives (Moses 4:2-3). “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev 12: 7-9)

Statement 5. I believe the Bible is without error in it’s original form.

Absolutely, I agree. One of the fundamental tenants of Mormonism is that “We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly” (Article of Faith 8). I also concur with this statement from Joseph Smith: “I believe the bible, as it ought to be, as it came from the pen of the original writers” (15 October 1843, Joseph Smith Diary, by Willard Richards, as quoted in the Words of Joseph Smith). The Bible is the word of God. It is a source of truth and inspiration and spiritual light for all who read it and apply its teachings.

Statement 6. I believe the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three persons but one God.

Again, I agree. This one surprised me because I thought most evangelical Christians believed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three separate people. But I’m not super familiar with other religions’ beliefs.

One of the best illustrations that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three separate beings is at the baptism of Jesus, where the Father’s voice is heard coming from heave, the Son is physically present in the river, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove. “And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:16-17).

Another clear statement on the nature of the three members of the Godhead–the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–is by the Prophet Joseph Smith in 1843. “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130: 22).

Statement 7. I believe a Christian fully receives the Holy Spirit when he is saved.

I’m pretty sure I put that I agree with this statement, though, as we’ve already discussed, I think we have some differences in the definition of “saved.” Still, I have no problem agreeing with the statement that someone who has fully received the Holy Spirit is saved.

The concept of fullness has become more and more important to me as I have studied the gospel of Jesus Christ over the years. Concepts like the fulness of the Holy Ghost (D&C 109:15), the fulness of the Priesthood (D&C 124:28), a fulness of joy (D&C 93:33), and fulness of glory (D&C 132:6 and D&C 84:24), are replete in LDS scripture. It seems clear that while many of us experience these gifts partially, the greatest blessings are reserved for those who receive these things in fullness. This concept of partially versus fully receiving the Holy Spirit is highly related to what we have already discussed with the degrees of glory of heaven. And like the three degrees of glory, the apostle Paul also talks about the fullness of God and Christ.

“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Ephesians 3: 14-19, emphasis added)

“For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4: 12-13, emphasis added)

Statement 8. I believe that man was created by God and did not evolve from something less than human.

I put that I agree with this statement, though I really appreciate this opportunity to add more detail to my answer. I believe, as is stated by Moses in Genesis that “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” (Genesis 1:1) and that on the sixth day of creation “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them” (Genesis 1:27 ).

Though the Mormon Church founder and prophet Joseph Smith lived long before Einstein (E = mc2) and other modern scientists discovered that you can’t create something from nothing, Joseph Smith taught that God didn’t create the world nor mankind out of nothing. He said that “in the translation [of the Bible] …the word created should be formed or organized” (Words of Joseph Smith page 60).  God confirmed this to Adam and Eve when he said “for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return” (Genesis 3:19) speaking of the eventual death and decay of their mortal bodies.

Something not stressed in the LakePointe Church statement but that is stressed in the Bible is that mankind was created in the image of God. Brigham Young taught, “When we look upon the human face we look upon the image of our Father and God; there is a divinity in each person, male and female; there is the heavenly, there is the divine” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [1954], 51). More than just looking like God, the scriptures, both ancient and modern, teach the men and women are literal children of God.

  • Romans 8:16-17 “The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.”
  • Psalms 82:6 “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
  • Psalm 127:3 “Children are an heritage of the Lord.”
  • Revelation 21:7 “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”
  • D&C 76:24 “That by him [Jesus Christ], and through him, and of him, the worlds are and were created, and the inhabitants thereof are begotten sons and daughters unto God.”

Because men and women are children of God, they inherit some characteristics of God, like our appearance, and we have the potential (eternally long term potential) to become completely like God some day.  The earth was a creation of God, but not a begotten child of God, and something created does not inherit the characteristics of the creator. But because we humans are children of God, we inherit the capability of becoming like our father and mother some day. In fact, Jesus himself commanded us to strive to become like God Our Father in Matthew 5:48 “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

As for the last part of the statement–that mankind did not evolve from something less than human–that is clearly a jab at evolutionism.  While I think it should be stressed that human and animal evolution is a theory and not fact, I think there could be elements of truth in it. Still, to the extent that mankind’s body may have evolved, I believe that process was instituted and guided by God. The bottom line is that I think God is the father of the human race, and not any other being.

Statement 9. I believe that all Christians have direct access to God.

I absolutely believe this. And not just all Christians, but all people everywhere. I can think of almost no greater knowledge that is largely hidden (generally by ignorance and unbelief) from the human race than the fact that we have access to God. He is aware of us. He knows our names. He hears and answers all of our prayers. James in the New Testament encouraged us to use that access to God to ask for wisdom and direction in our lives. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). And Jesus said during his earthly ministry that using that access to get to know God was the very definition of eternal life.”And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

Statement 10. I believe in the power of prayer to affect and change lives.

Yes, again, of course I agree. Jesus taught that sincere prayer brings great blessings. “But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt 6:6). James taught that “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

Mormon, the ancient prophet of the Book of Mormon, stressed that prayer in vain or lacking sincerity will not bring blessings. For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing” (Moroni 7:6).  But said he, sincere prayer can help transform your life and your eternal life. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure” (Moroni 7:48).

Statement 11. I believe that Jesus Christ was born of a virgin.

Yes, I agree. Hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, the Old Testament prophet Isaiah said: “Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son” (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus’s virgin birth doesn’t mean he lacks a father, it means he had no earthly father. God was the father of Jesus. This is how the angel Gabriel described it when he brought news of the forthcoming virgin birth to Mary, the mother of Jesus:

“26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. 29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be. 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God. 31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-35)

And this was the experience of Joseph, Mary’s espoused husband:

“18) Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. 19) Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily. 20) But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. 21) And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. 22) Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, 23) Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us” (Matt 1:18-23).

I believe Jesus’s virgin birth happened as described. I believe he had a mortal mother, from whom he inherited the ability to die, and an immortal father, from whom he inherited the ability to overcome death, resurrect, and bring resurrection to us all.

Statement 12. I believe when a person repents of their sin and turns by faith to Christ, they are saved by grace.

Yes, absolutely, I believe that God has granted us time to repent, through faith in Jesus Christ, and if we do so, we will be saved by His atoning grace.

Repentance: Both Matthew and Luke quote Jesus teaching the need for all of us to bring forth the fruits of repentance” (Matt 3:8 and Luke 3:8). When John the Baptist began preaching in the wilderness of Judæa, his opening message was “Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matt 3:1-2). The Book of Mormon explains that one of the main purposes of this earth life is to repent. “And thus we see, that there was a time granted unto man to repent, yea, a probationary time, a time to repent and serve God” (Alma 42:4). The fruits of repentance are to “make confession unto the Lord” (Ezra 10:11), “cease to do evil” (Isa. 1:16), “turn yourselves from all your transgressions” (Ezek. 18:30), and have “Godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10) for your sins. When we do this we are promised that “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” (Isaiah 1:18) by the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Faith: The role of faith in the repentance and salvation process is well documented in the scriptures. Jesus taught, throughout his mortal ministry, that physical and spiritual healing come through faith in God. On more than one occasion, when Jesus gave sight to a blind man, he said “thy faith hath saved thee.” (Luke 7:50 and Luke 18: 42) To a sick man and his friends was this exchange showing that faith is a necessary part of being forgiven and saved: “Jesus seeing their faith said unto the sick of the palsy; Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee …Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house. And he arose, and departed” (Matt 9:2,6-7). And Paul, the great apostle and missionary of the church after the resurrection of Christ, taught this important linkage between faith, grace and salvation: “By grace are ye saved through faith” (Eph. 2:8).

Grace: The apostle Paul taught that “through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (Acts 15:11), thus teaching us that grace is the power of God that allows mankind to be saved. Paul further taught that “the grace of God …bringeth salvation” Titus 2:11 and he implored us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy” (Heb. 4:16). The Book of Mormon prophet Jacob added his witness that “it is only in and through the grace of God that ye are saved” (2 Ne. 10:24). Jacob further pointed out “how great the importance to make these things known unto the inhabitants of the earth, that they may know that there is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah” (2 Ne. 2:28).

Statement 13. I believe the only Biblical grounds for divorce is adultery or if a Christian is married to a non-Christian and the unbeliever no longer wishes to remain married.

Yes, I agree that adultery is grounds for divorce, but I don’t think it should be automatic. There are many couples that have saved their marriage after one of the spouses have an affair, and I think all options to save a marriage should be employed before pursuing a divorce. And the second part of the statement, I also agree with. Marriage should never be forced upon anyone who doesn’t wish to be married.

Jesus taught that marriage is an institution that God established from the beginning with Adam and Eve. He said that “what therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt 19:6). When the Jews pressed the topic further and asked why Moses permitted divorce, Jesus said “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt 19:8)

In Genesis, God says that “it is not good that the man should be alone” (Gen 2:18), therefore he created Adman and Eve and commanded them to remain together and multiple and replenish the earth in a marriage relationship. Keeping a marriage strong takes hard work by both partners. The apostle Paul counselled the Christians of his day that spouses should love and cherish and respect one another. “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph 5:25 also see Col 3:19). 

As a Mormon, I further believe that the marriage relationship, as God intents it, can last for all eternity. The prophet Joseph Smith taught that “in the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it.” (D&C 131:1-3) This type of marriage is a covenant between the man and woman and God and can thus only be performed by the authority of God’s priesthood and in God’s Holy Temple. Men and women who are married this way, sealed in the temple and by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132), may continue as husband and wife throughout eternity.

Statement 14. I believe in the physical return of Christ.

Yes, I agree, and if I can, I’d like to break this down into two parts: 1) the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that he physically lives today, and 2) the second coming of Christ when he will return to earth to reign.

Physical Resurrection: One of the best documented places in scripture of the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is in the book of Luke, Chapter 24. In verses 5 and 6 it record angels announcing the literal physical resurrection of Jesus’ body. “Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen.” Then, later in the chapter, it records how Jesus visited with his disciples, they felt his physical body and he eat with them.

“36) And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. 37) But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. 38) And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? 39) Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. 40) And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. 41) And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? 42) And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. 43) And he took it, and did eat before them.” (Luke 24: 36-43)

Though Jesus ascended to heaven (Acts 1), he still lives today and still has his physical, glorified, immortal body. And at the time of Jesus’ ascension into heaven, angels were present announcing his future second coming. “And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; Which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? this same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:10-11)

Second Coming of Christ: The prophets of God in the Old and New Testament have taught of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Paul said, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God” (1 Thes 4: 16). Zechariah taught that when Jesus comes, some will say, “What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” (Zech 13:6) Jesus himself taught some of the most detail around his second coming in Matthew Chapter 24. He gave many signs of the times and added Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh.” (Matt 24:44)

Statement 15. I believe that even though Jesus Christ was perfect, He died on the cross for our sins.

Yes, I believe that Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, and that he died on the cross as part of his infinite atonement to pay the penalty for our sins, and that he resurrected on the third day as a perfect, immortal being.

Peter was referring to the sinless life of Jesus Christ and the shedding of his blood for our sake when he spoke of “the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:19). And Peter further taught that Jesus was one “who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). The wine of the last supper, Jesus taught, represented “my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28). Paul taught often of how we are sanctified through the shedding of the blood of Christ. “We are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).

The Book of Mormon adds it’s witness to these truths throughout its pages. One great example is the teaching of a prophet named Jacob: “Wherefore, redemption cometh in and through the Holy Messiah; for he is full of grace and truth. Behold, he offereth himself a sacrifice for sin, to answer the ends of the law, unto all those who have a broken heart and a contrite spirit; and unto none else can the ends of the law be answered” (2 Nephi 2:5–6).

Another Book of Mormon example is a speech by a missionary named Amulek: “Behold, I say unto you, that I do know that Christ shall come among the children of men, to take upon him the transgressions of his people, and that he shall atone for the sins of the world; for the Lord God hath spoken it. For it is expedient that an atonement should be made; for according to the great plan of the Eternal God there must be an atonement made, or else all mankind must unavoidably perish; yea, all are hardened; yea, all are fallen and are lost, and must perish except it be through the atonement which it is expedient should be made. For it is expedient that there should be a great and last sacrifice; yea, not a sacrifice of man, neither of beast, neither of any manner of fowl; for it shall not be a human sacrifice; but it must be an infinite and eternal sacrifice” (Alma 34:8-10).

Write a paragraph summarizing the circumstances surrounding your acceptance of Christ as your Savior.

The last part of the Lake Pointe Church Belief Statement Form was to write a summary paragraph about how I came to know and accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. I wish I had saved what I wrote then, but I’m sure it was something like the following:

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment I accepted Jesus Christ as my Savior. My parents taught me from my earliest childhood that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer and I always believed it. When I was eight years old, my parents thought I was old enough to understand right from wrong, and they asked me if I wanted to follow the Savior’s example of being baptized as a covenant to always keep God’s commandments and be a witness of Christ at all times (Mosiah 18:9-10). I wholeheartedly made that covenant and received a special witness at that time from the Holy Ghost bringing me peace and joy and confirming that I had made the right choice. Since then I have had spiritual witnesses that are to numerous to count confirming the Jesus Christ died for my sins and was resurrected that I too may be raised to eternal life some day. I am eternally grateful to God for the gift of His Son, my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.

 

User Intent Key in Landing Page Optimization

Note: This article was originally written in 2010 and published on a website I am not longer running. I am reposting it for the historical record and it has some good content. 🙂 

Your Website is like a Where’s Waldo poster

Earlier this year I attended a landing page optimization webinar on user intent that was excellent. The presentation was by Gord Hotchkiss, President of Enquiro, a search engine marketing agency out of British Colombia. Mr. Hotchkiss started out by comparing our websites to a Where’s Waldo poster. Without intent, a purpose such as finding Waldo, users will see the picture as nothing more than a detailed blur. But with intent, the user can match promising areas of the poster and information scent with what they know they are looking for–a man in blue pants and a red-striped sweater.

Focused Intent: A Case Study

Focused inter vs unfocused intentThe Belagio hotel website provides an interesting case study in which an eye tracking comparison was made on people with different user intent. The first group of users had unfocused intent, no specific task was assigned. They were sent to the site and the eye tracking indicated their attention was scattered all over the page.  The second group was given a specific task to register and book a room.  The group with focused user intent, according to the eye tracking, concentrated their attention in the top and side navigation where they were most likely to find links for registering and booking room. This study shows that user intent determines how people use the site.

Web User Intent Guidelines

Mr. Hotchkiss has found through his research that people generally follow these three steps upon arriving at a Web site:

  • Orientation Scan (elapsed time – 1 to 2 seconds).  Web site visitors first quickly decide if they are at the page they expected to be.  Does the site, the titles, the headlines, look and feel align with the user’s intent?
  • Primary Paths (elapsed time – 2 to 10 seconds).  Second, visitors begin examining the navigation and other, what he called, eye candy, or major calls to action. The user now begins to consider options and where those links will likely lead.
  • Choice (elapsed time – less than 30 seconds). Finally, the user will make a selection: either an action on your site, or the back button.  The information scent of the available choices, and how well that aligns with user intent will largely determine the choice. Visitors will, conscientiously or not, ask how rich is the information or experience on the other side of these links.

Intent Clusters

Intent Clusters on Apple's websiteFinally, Mr. Hotchkiss discussed what he called intent clusters using Apple’s website to illustrate the concept. He said that 80% of visitors can generally be found to have one of about 3 major intents in mind when they visit a site. (2018 update: I guess I didn’t make note of what those three major intents are. Perhaps they are informational, navigational, and transactional. Those of the three major intent classifications used to describe users on search engines.) Your site, to be successful, must meet those intentions and intent clusters is a powerful way to communicate to visitors that your site is the right choice for them. An intent cluster generally consists of an image (which communicates much faster than text), surrounded by reinforcing text, and a call to action. You’ll notice the intent cluster for the iPod and for iTunes in the illustration to the right of Apple’s Web site.

Conclusion: Understanding User Intent Is Key in Optimizing Landing Pages

Your home page and other key landing pages will perform better when you understand user intent and design the site to meet those end user desires. Here are some other insightful take aways from Mr. Hotchkiss’s presentation:

    • It is better to make assumptions about user intent based on research and data, than to ignore it and present your website visitors with a Where’s Waldo poster.
    • 70% of people listening to the Webinar indicated that they are too busy with current work load to spend time optimizing landing pages.  A sad trend common inside many organizations, but a real opportunities for those willing to take the time to understand user intent and optimize pages for it.
    • Most sites need a higher number of landing pages that better align with user intent. Other options also include personalizing landing pages based on web analytics data such as geo-location, search engine keyword, etc.

Is the Lamanite Dark Skin Literal or Figurative?

variety of skin colors from light to dark
Summary: I believe that statements about the dark skin of the Lamanites is figurative because when the scriptures use adjectives like black, dark, and white, as well as the noun skin, they are metaphorical references to people’s spiritual state. What follows is my research and reasons for believing so.  

My Daughter’s Experience in Seminary

I have been thinking about writing this article for a few years. One cause of delay has been the need to research the subject, and while that’s not complete something happened recently that prompted me to finally do it. A few months ago, my oldest daughter started early morning LDS Seminary. She has good teachers and this has been a good experience for her spiritual development. Several weeks ago, when I got home from work, my daughter asked if the dark skin of the Lamanites was literal or figurative. I’m sure she only asked because she has overheard me tell my wife that I think it is figurative. I responded that I felt it was spiritual in nature and not literal but that I am understanding of other Latter-day Saints who believe it is literal.

My daughter continued by saying that her class had recently studied the part of the Book of Mormon talking about the dark skin of the Lamanites. In class, she asked her teacher the same question about whether the dark skin was literal or figurative. The teacher said it was literal and that was the end of the discussion. While I understand the teacher’s position, it was disappointing that the alternative viewpoint was so summarily dismissed. As far as I know, the Church has never made a statement on whether the dark skin is literal or not. A search of this topic on LDS.org will yield no helpful results, at least it hasn’t for me and I have tried many variations of keywords. I did, however, find several articles and lesson manuals that just assume the dark skin of the Lamanites is literal and it is treated that way in the literature.

My Evolving Thoughts on the Subject

Growing up in the LDS Church, I learned at an early age the story of how “the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon” the Lamanites, a group of people, generally known for their wickedness, in the Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 5:21). I was taught that the black skin mentioned in that verse, and the dark skin mentioned in several others, was a literal reference to their skin pigmentation turning a darker color. As a young man, I had no reason not to accept this explanation, so I believed it. Later, in my own Seminary experience, I recall a teacher stressing that the dark skin of the Lamanites was a sign of the curse, and not the curse itself. The curse was being cut off from the Spirit and presence of God and thus being cut off from God’s blessings.

In recent years, though, I have had many experiences that have caused me to question the literal interpretation of the dark skin of the Lamanites. I have read and studied the scriptures and what many Church members with a variety of opinions have said about those verses. (The present-day Church leaders, as reflected by content on LDS.org, has almost nothing to say on the subject.) My research has revealed mounting evidence that the references to dark skin, and black skin as well, are not literal but rather figurative and spiritual in nature. While the issue is not completely settled in my mind. I think there is more evidence that it is metaphorical and I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that God changed anyone’s skin color because of unrighteous behavior.

Blacks in the Scriptures

One of the first times I can remember questioning the literal interpretation of dark skins was when I watched some material put together by Darius Gray and Marvin Perkins. Brother Perkins came across my Mormon Mission Prep website and reached out to me. He and Brother Gray had put together a video series called Blacks in the Scriptures in which they discuss in depth many of these topics about race and skin color. I link to them below and highly recommend watching the videos.

Brother Gray’s video called Blacks in the Bible, does a great job documenting some of the prominent people in the bible that were black—black being defined as descendants of Ham, since the Bible really doesn’t talk about race or skin color in the same way we do today. Prominent black, or bi-racial with some degree of black ancestry, figures in the Bible include Melchizedek, Abraham’s wife Hagar, Joseph’s wife Asenath, Boaz, Uriah, King David, and therefore even Jesus Christ.

Brother Perkins’ video, titled Skin Color & Curses,  is also excellent and in it he shows that “the words black and white do not refer to literal skin color in the scriptures.” He points out that “every scripture in the Book of Mormon that made you believe that the Lamanites had a darker skin than the Nephites, every last one of them, have a new footnote on it” in the post 1981 edition of the scriptures leading reading to the Topical Guide entry on Spiritual Darkness. Brother Perkins points out that the adjectives dark, black, and white and the noun skin, as used referring to people, are figurative and spiritual in nature.

  • Black means: gloomy, dark, impure, and hidden
  • Dark means: filthy, wicked, impure, and the absence of light
  • White or fair means: clean, pure, true, and righteous
  • Skin means the outward appearance and countenance

Studying the Scriptures on Skin Color Myself

To me, the interpretation that the dark or black skin is a spiritual, metaphorical reference feels right, and equally, the literal interpretation feels that it is not right. So, after watching the videos above, I was sufficiently motivated to research the subject in more depth myself. It’s not that I didn’t believe Brothers Gray and Perkins, quite the contrary, they make an excellent case. But I did want to study it myself, do the keyword searches they talk about (and others), see what conclusions I would come to, and then see what the Spirit of God had to say on the subject.

It is so wonderful that modern computing and internet technology allows us to not only access the scriptures at our convenience, but the ability to perform keyword searches to improve our studying and the comprehensiveness of our learning. I won’t present my full research here in this article, as it is quite lengthy, but please go to LDS.org/scriptures and perform your own searches to confirm my findings. If you have already come to the conclusion that the Lamanite’s skin was literally physically darker than the Nephites, then these scriptures may not persuade you from that view. But if you take a step back, reserve judgement, and try to understand the full context, the Lord’s intent, and the original meaning that the author was trying to convey, you very well may come to the conclusions I have.

Adjectives Black and Blackness in the Scriptures

The non-human uses of the adjective “black” are numerous in the scriptures—they are used to describe horses, the weather, fire, lack of visibility, and the landscape.  I’m not sure how much they influence how we look at the adjective in reference to people, but perhaps there is a connection. By my count, there are only about 16 instances of the word black or blackness in the scriptures that talk about people. Removing references to hair and leprosy and others like that, we are left with these that seem to be relevant to our discussion.

Scripture Verse Scripture Quote My Comment
Lamentations 4:8 Referring to the wickedness of the House of Israel, Jeremiah says “their visage is blacker than a coal.” Visage is a person’s face, form or features; the surface of an object. This reference could be literal but more likely is metaphorical.
Job 30:30 Job cries, “my skin is black upon me.” This is probably not a reference to skin pigmentation here. He was sick, so if it is literal, the black skin was a reference to diseased, rotting flesh.
Lamentations 5:10 “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.” I don’t think it’s describing skin pigmentation here. Seems to be more of a reference to general health.
Song of Solomon 1:6 Solomon says, “Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me.” There are no footnotes to help. It seems like a reference to tanned skin.
Jeremiah 8:21 “For the hurt of the daughter of my people am I hurt; I am black.” The footnote on black says it is a Hebrew idiom meaning “gloomy.”
Nahum 2:10 “faces of them all gather blackness.” Again, “gloomy.”
Joel 2:6 “all faces shall gather blackness.” Ditto
2 Nephi 5:21 “wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” We are given some clues like the parallelism to “delightsome” to indicate Nephi is speaking of spiritual blackness. And even if you believe the skin was literally darkened, “blackness” seems like an exaggeration as a physical description of their skin being a little darker than their peers.
2 Nephi 26:33 “he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female” Applying the context of skin color to this mention of black and white is subjective and certainly a contemporary way of thinking, but there is no objective evidence this this is a reference to race or skin color.
Moses 7:8 “and there was a blackness came upon all the children of Canaan, that they were despised among all people.” Without more information, it’s impossible to say if this is a literal or figurative use of the word black.
Moses 7:22 “the seed of Cain were black, and had not place among them.” Ditto.

While I certainly understand why some people have concluded that uses of the adjective black are referring to the color of people’s skin, as you can see, such a conclusion is far from certain. In fact, I think it is a far greater stretch to say these are references to literal skin than to say they are metaphors. At the very least, people on the literal side of the fences should acknowledge that the figurative interpretation is equally valid for these verses. For me, looking at the use of the word “black” holistically, the bulk of the references seem to clearly be figurative references to spiritual darkness.

Adjectives Dark and Darkness in the Scriptures

Like the word black, dark can be used in a variety of ways. Most of the instances of the words dark or darkness in the scriptures are meaning the absence of light, evil works, and also many instances where it refers to weather, or often it describes things that are hidden. To focus our discussion, though, let’s just talk about those instances dealing with people.

Scripture Verse Scripture Quote My Comment
Matt 6:23 “if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness” Darkness is a metaphor for not having the guidance of God.
1 John 1:5 “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” Clearly metaphorical, meaning spiritual darkness.
1 Nephi 12:23 “after they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people, full of idleness and all manner of abominations.” Loathsome, filthy, idle, and abominable are all figurative descriptions of their spiritual state. Would “dark” be any different?
2 Nephi 30:6 “for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.” Scales footnote takes you to the Topical Guide entries for Spiritual Darkness and Spiritual Blindness. Pre-1981 it said “a white and a delightsome”. Obviously, the Church considers “white” a reference to spiritual purity and not skin color.
Jacob 3:9 “revile no more against them because of the darkness of their skins; neither shall ye revile against them because of their filthiness” Dark skin is again made a literary parallel with filthiness. To me, it’s clearly figurative darkness.
Mosiah 27:29 “I was in the darkest abyss; but now I behold the marvelous light of God.” Clearly this is spiritual darkness that Alma was talking about.
Alma 3:6 “the skins of the Lamanites were dark, according to the mark which was set upon their fathers, which was a curse upon them because of their transgression” Even those who believe in the literal dark skin color believe that skin color is a sign of the curse not the curse itself. Yet the scripture clearly says the dark mark was the curse. If the dark mark is the curse, it must be referring to spiritual darkness, or separation from the light of God.
Alma 19:6 “he knew that the dark veil of unbelief was being cast away from his mind, and the light which did light up his mind, which was the light of the glory of God …yea, this light had infused such joy into his soul, the cloud of darkness having been dispelled, and that the light of everlasting life was lit up in his soul” Clearly, this verse is talking about spiritual light and spiritual darkness.
Alma 26:3 “for our brethren, the Lamanites, were in darkness, yea, even in the darkest abyss, but behold, how many of them are brought to behold the marvelous light of God!” Again, it’s obvious that this is spiritual darkness and spiritual light.
Mormon 5:15 “for this people shall be scattered, and shall become a dark, a filthy, and a loathsome people” Again, dark is lumped together with filthy and loathsome. It doesn’t make sense to insert a comment about skin color here, therefore it would have to be a reference to spirituality.
D&C 84: 50, 53 “by this you may know they are under the bondage of sin, because they come not unto me… And by this you may know the righteous from the wicked, and that the whole world groaneth under sin and darkness even now.” This “darkness” doesn’t refer to a person, but it does equate darkness with wickedness and the bondage of sin.

Again, the overwhelming majority of times the word darkness is used to describe people, perhaps every time depending on one’s interpretation, it is clearly a spiritual darkness. This leads me to believe that the few times where it is ambiguous, darkness is more likely than not a figurative description.

Adjectives White and Fair in the Scriptures

If one believes, as I do, that black and dark are metaphorical references describing the spiritual state of people in the scriptures, then it would follow that the adjectives white and fair would also be spiritual references. Let’s take a look.

Scripture Verse Scripture Quote My Comment
1 Ne 13:15 In reference to the one or more of the groups that colonized America: “I beheld that they were white, and exceedingly fair and beautiful, like unto my people before they were slain.” You can interpret that as a reference to skin color, I presume, but white as in good and righteous and holy makes more sense to me.
2 Nephi 30:6 “for they shall know that it is a blessing unto them from the hand of God; and their scales of darkness shall begin to fall from their eyes; and many generations shall not pass away among them, save they shall be a pure and a delightsome people.” While this verse doesn’t presently say “white”, before 1981 the verse did say they were “a white and a delightsome”. Research shows “pure” was the original intent of Joseph Smith, but it is very interesting that “white” and “pure” convey the same meaning.
Jacob 2:32 “I will not suffer, saith the Lord of Hosts, that the cries of the fair daughters of this people, which I have led out of the land of Jerusalem, shall come up unto me against the men of my people, saith the Lord of Hosts.” I suppose, you could interpret fair as light colored, or fair skinned, but I tend to think not.  Fair more likely means good, honest, pleasing, clean, and pure.
Jacob 3:8 “unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God” White skin here is clearly a metaphor for spiritual cleanliness.
3 Nephi 2:14-15 “those Lamanites who had united with the Nephites were numbered among the Nephites; And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites” I interpret this as their countenance became bright and pure and spiritually clean.
3 Nephi 19:25 “And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus” White here is clearly a reference to purity, brilliance, and glory and not literal skin color.
3 Nephi 19:30 “And when Jesus had spoken these words he came again unto his disciples; and behold they did pray steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him; and he did smile upon them again; and behold they were white, even as Jesus.” The footnote on white in this and the verse above takes you to the Topical Guide entry for Transfiguration.
Morm. 9:6 “that perhaps ye may be found spotless, pure, fair, and white, having been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb” Few, if any, would argue that white here is a reference to skin color. It clearly equates white with spotless, pure, and spiritually clean.

On the white end of the spectrum and the black end, these adjectives are consistently used to describe people’s spiritual state.

The Noun Skin in the Scriptures

It was a bit surprising to me, though it should not have been, that in this research I realized that not only are the adjectives black and dark metaphorical, but even the noun skin is figurative in nature. To prove the point, I’ll go through a similar exercise as above. Many of the scripture references are repetitive from above, so I’ll try to be brief. I do, though, feel it is worthwhile to point out that skin is often a metaphor in the scriptures, as are clothing or garments. Filthy garments are often a representation of wickedness, disobedience to God’s commandments, and spiritual uncleanliness. Again, for brevity, I’ll leave out the obvious and non-human references to skin

Scripture Verse Scripture Quote My Comment
2 Nephi 5:21 “For behold, they had hardened their hearts against him, that they had become like unto a flint; wherefore, as they were white, and exceedingly fair and delightsome, that they might not be enticing unto my people the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them.” There is simply no precedence, throughout the course of Biblical history, for the Lord changing people’s literal skin color due to wickedness or righteousness. Why would this case be any different?
Jacob 3:5 “the Lamanites your brethren, whom ye hate because of their filthiness and the cursing which hath come upon their skins, are more righteous than you.” “filthiness” is certainly spiritual in this verse. So would “skin” be physically or spiritual here? The scripture says the curse is on their skins and even literalists say dark skin is a sign but not the curse. Therefore I conclude that the cursed skin must be figurative.
Jacob 3:8 “I fear that unless ye shall repent of your sins that their skins will be whiter than yours, when ye shall be brought with them before the throne of God.” We talked about this one above. Skin in this verse reminds me of garments in 1 Nephi 12:10, “because of their faith in the Lamb of God their garments are made white in his blood.”
Mosiah 17:13 “scourged his skin with faggots, yea, even unto death.” Now this is one that does appear to be literally human skin.
Alma 44:18 “But behold, their naked skins and their bare heads were exposed to the sharp swords of the Nephites” Skin is most likely literal here, though it could mean leather clothing or their person in general.
3 Nephi 2:15 “And their curse was taken from them, and their skin became white like unto the Nephites.” Based on everything else we’ve learned, it seems like white skin is a reference to a pure demeanor.

With a few exceptions, the use of the word “skin” in the scriptures is usually a reference to one’s outer appearance or general countenance and not the literal outer layer of the physical body.

Summary of Scripture Analysis

After conducting my own in-depth analysis of what the scriptures say about black and dark and white skin, I was more convinced than ever that these are metaphorical statements talking about the spiritual situation of people. The vast majority of the scripture verses that use the words “dark” and “skin” and “black” to describe people are obviously metaphorical–references to spiritual realities, rather than physical realities. This causes me to believe that the few scriptures that might appear on the surface to be literal references to dark skin should be reconsidered. And I pray that all will do that.

This figurative interpretation makes sense and feels right. I can certainly understand why the prophets who wrote the scriptures used this language. I know people who appear dark, gloomy, or otherwise troubled emotionally and spiritually, yet their skin pigmentation doesn’t change. While saying they have a black skin isn’t the type of contemporary language we would use, many people would certainly say they have a dark look about them. And that, I believe, is what the scriptures are saying.

Though the logic and reason I put forth are compelling, I could be wrong. The most important evidence is that which comes through the Holy Ghost, the arbiter of truth. So decide for yourself through study, prayer, and pondering and ask God what is correct. As the prophet Moroni taught, “if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost” (Moroni 10:4)

The Heart Metaphor

When I finished my scriptural analysis, I began to wonder if there is any other precedent in the scriptures for speaking metaphorically about bodily organs? Well, yes, as it turns out, there is a blaring obvious one: the heart. I didn’t perform the same in-depth study on this word, but a quick search on the scriptures section of LDS.org shows 1,475 occurrences of the word “heart” in the scriptures. I’m willing to bet that 99% of these instances are metaphorical and not the literal bodily organ that physical pumps blood through our veins and arteries. “Heart” is rather, in the scriptures, a reference to our inner most feelings. It’s our metaphorical core.

Who did sin, this man, or his parents?

During my in-depth scripture study, I had another troubling thought that made me run away from the literal interpretation. As I understand it, people who believe in the literal skin change also believe that African Americans, Hispanics, Polynesians, Native Americans, and anyone else through the history of time with non-white skin, got that way because either they or their ancestors sinned. Literalists take comfort is telling dark skinned people today that it was their ancestor and not them to blame for sinning and bring dark skin upon them and their posterity. But that doesn’t sit well with me. And such thinking reminds me of a story from the New Testament.

In John chapter 9, Jesus heals a man who was born blind. “As Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him” (John 9:1-3). To suggest that someone has dark or black skin color because they or their ancestors were unrighteous seems just as absurd as suggesting someone is born with a birth defect because of their or their parents wickedness. As Jesus taught, you cannot judge the righteousness of someone or their ancestors based solely on physical characteristics. And also very interesting is that Jesus used this moment to launch into a sermon on spiritual blindness (see John 9: 39-41).

What are Others Saying on the Subject?

After pondering and praying and doing the in-depth scripture study referenced above, I came to the belief that the Lamanite’s dark skin (and perhaps the blackness described about Cain, though I haven’t study his case in depth yet) was figurative. I could be proven wrong someday, but for now I do not see the proof, logic or reason behind the literal interpretation. The living prophets don’t appear to want to weigh in on the subject, based on the fact that there is next to nothing discussing this topic on LDS.org. But after coming to my conclusions, I thought perhaps I should check the wider internet and see what other faithful LDS Church members and are saying on the subject.

In the following sections, I will present what other church leaders and opinion leaders are saying on the subject. The first three are literalists. The four after that are figurative-ists, who appear to agree with my metaphorical interpretation of the subject. While two of the three literalists are former presidents of the Church, there statements are about 50 years old. The figurative-ist statements, do not carry the weight of prophets, but they are trustworthy sources and much more recent. My feeling from reviewing what is currently being said on the subject is that the tide is turning in the favor of the figurative interpretation of the Lamanite’s dark skin.

Joseph Fielding Smith – Literalist

The following quote is the only one I can find on LDS.org today about the subject. It is a quote from Joseph Fielding Smith, 10th President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from 1970 to 1972. This passage is quoted in the Book of Mormon Student Manual for Institute in a section that goes to great lengths to teach that dark skin of the Lamanites was the sign of the curse and not the curse itself.

“The dark skin was placed upon the Lamanites so that they could be distinguished from the Nephites and to keep the two peoples from mixing. The dark skin was the sign of the curse [not the curse itself]. The curse was the withdrawal of the Spirit of the Lord. …The dark skin of those who have come into the Church is no longer to be considered a sign of the curse. … These converts are delightsome and have the Spirit of the Lord” (Answers to Gospel Questions, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith Jr., 5 vols. [1957–66], 3:122–23).

While I hate to disagree with a prophet, clearly I do. Neither President Smith nor the Seminary manual explicitly state their opinion that the dark skin is literal skin pigmentation, there is no need to go to such lengths to separate the curse from the skin if they didn’t think that. Their opinion is clearly implied.

I agree with them, of course, that there is nothing inherently cursed about literal dark skin. Yet I believe it is incorrect to say that the dark skin spoken of in the scriptures is not equivalent to the curse. Alma 3:6 says “the skins of the Lamanites were dark, …which was a curse upon them.” And Jacob 3:5 talks about “the cursing which hath come upon their skins.” In both cases, the curse is clearly equated with the dark skin.

These scriptures present a problem for those who feel that dark skin is literal, yet don’t want to offend and don’t want to think that dark skin is a sign of a curse any longer. If one believes the figurative meaning, as I do, and that the dark skin is a metaphor that means living spiritual darkness, then there is nothing wrong with saying the dark skin is the curse. I find the more consistent position with the scriptures is the figurative interpretation about skin and color.

Spencer W. Kimball – Literalist

Spencer W. Kimball, 12th president of the Church, made a statement indicating that he believed in the literal interpretation of skin changing from white to dark and back again. In the October 1960 General Conference he said: “I saw a striking contrast in the progress of the Indian people today … they are fast becoming a white and delightsome people…. For years they have been growing delightsome, and they are now becoming white and delightsome, as they were promised…. The children in the home placement program in Utah are often lighter than their brothers and sisters in the hogans on the reservation.”

A statement like this would obviously be offensive to many people today and I only include it to illustrate his viewpoint that skin color literally changes due to righteousness and wickedness. I don’t know if his anecdotal evidence was ever corroborated. The program he spoke of was one in which Latter-day Saint families were asked to take native American children in need of foster care into their homes. My grandparents participated in the program and they gained great love for the children they brought into their home, but unlike President Kimball, I never heard that their skin tones became physically lighter. I think it’s unlikely that we would find any miraculous changing of skin color today, either lighter or darker, based on righteousness or wickedness.

Rodney Turner – Literalist

Prior to my research on this subject, I had never heard of Rodney Turner. He is a retired professor who taught in the College of Religious Instruction at Brigham Young University (BYU) for thirty-two years. In his 1989 essay titled The Lamanite Mark found, he is adamant that the darkened skin is a literal reference to skin pigmentation. He goes so far as to say this physical change was a miracle of God. While I disagree with his literal interpretation, I wanted to present his argument as it represents what was taught at BYU for many years and the thoughts of many members of the Church still today.

“Symbolic of the withdrawal of the Spirit from their lives, a “skin of blackness” [2] came upon the rebellious Laman, Lemuel, their families, and those sons and daughters of Ishmael who chose to affiliate with them. There can be no question but that their altered skin color was a miraculous act of God; it cannot be understood in purely metaphoric terms, nor as being nothing more than the natural consequence of prolonged exposure to the sun. Nephi was explicit that “the Lord God did cause a skin of blackness to come upon them” (2 Nephi 5:21).” (Rodney Turner, “The Lamanite Mark”, BYU Religious Studies Center)

I find it fascinating that even Rodney, in his footnote 2, admits “the Lamanite mark was only a relatively darker pigmentation, not a literally black skin.” So he will admit that the black skin reference is hyperbole, but he’s not willing to say that’s it’s metaphorical altogether.

Hugh Nibley – Figurative-ist

Hugh Nibley is one of my favorite LDS authors. While he never held a position of high leadership at the Church, he was a scholar, a professor at BYU and is highly regarded within the LDS community for his support of archaeological, linguistic, historical, and doctrinal claims of Joseph Smith and the LDS Church. On this topic, he made these two statements:

“Lamanite darkness was ethnic in the broadest sense, being both hereditary and cultural, shifting between “white and delightsome” and “dark and loathsome,” along with manners and customs as well as intermarriage (Alma 3:4—10). But inseparable from the cultural heritage of ancient tribes were the markings that members of the society put on themselves, without which they would be considered outcasts. People who marked their foreheads with red after the Lamanite custom “knew not that they were fulfilling the words of God when they began to mark themselves in their foreheads,” thus showing that the Lamanite curse had fallen on them (Alma 3:18).” (Abraham in Egypt – The Trouble with Ham)

“The Book of Mormon always mentions the curse of the dark skin in connection with and as part of a larger picture: “After they had dwindled in unbelief they became a dark, and loathsome, and a filthy people,” etc. … We are told (Alma 3:13, 14, 18) that while the fallen people “set the mark upon themselves,” it was none the less God who was marking them: “I will set a mark upon them,” etc. So natural and human was the process that it suggested nothing miraculous to the ordinary observer. …The mark was not a racial thing but was acquired by “whosoever suffered himself to be led away by the Lamanites” (Alma 3:10); Alma moreover defines a Nephite as anyone observing “the tradition of their fathers” (Alma 3:11). Which makes the difference between Nephite and Lamanite a cultural, not a racial, one. Does this also apply to the dark skin? Note that the dark skin is never mentioned alone but always as attending a generally depraved way of life, which also is described as the direct result of the curse. When the Lamanites become “white” again, it is by living among the Nephites as Nephites, i.e., adopting the Nephite way of life (3 Nephi 2:15—16).” (Lehi in the Desert; The World of the Jaredites; There Were Jaredites  >  Desert Ways and Places)

Brother Nibley makes an excellent point about how the Book of Mormon defines Nephites and Lamanites by the traditions they follow, thus making it a cultural divide and not a racial one. Brother Nibley says more on the subject if you want to read the whole chapter. For example, he goes on to say that “the cultural picture may not be the whole story of the dark skin of the Lamanites,” but it is the predominant one and any differences in skin tones between the two groups are likely only incidental.

John L. Sorenson – Figurative-ist

Dr. John L. Sorenson was chairman of the Department of Anthropology at Brigham Young University when he published his thorough work of scholarship, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon. While I haven’t read this yet, I have read another book by Sorenson, Mormon’s Map, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This is what he said:

“The skin shades of surviving peoples in Book of Mormon lands include a substantial range, from dark brown to virtual white. These colors cover nearly the same range as were found anciently around the Mediterranean coast and in the Near East. It is likely that the objective distinction in skin hue between Nephites and Lamanites was less marked than the subjective difference. The scripture is clear that the Nephites were prejudiced against the Lamanites (Jacob 3:5, Mosiah 9:1–2, Alma 26:23–25). That must have influenced how they perceived their enemies. The Nephite description of the Lamanites falls into a pattern known in the Near East. The Sumerian city dwellers in Mesopotamia of the third millennium BC viewed the Amorites, Abraham’s desert-dwelling relatives, as “dark” savages who lived in tents, ate their food raw, left the dead unburied, and cultivated no crops. Urban Syrians still call the Bedouin nomads “the wild beasts.” The Nephite picture of their relatives, in Jarom 1:6 and Enos 1:20, sounds so similar to the Near Eastern epithets that this language probably should be considered a literary formula rather than an objective description, labeling applied to any feared, despised, “backward” people. But all this does not exclude a cultural and biological difference between the two groups. The question is how great the difference was; we may doubt that it was as dramatic as the Nephite recordkeepers made out.” (Sorenson, An Ancient American Setting for the Book of Mormon, 90.)

Armand L. Mauss – Figurative-ist

Armand L. Mauss is a professor emeritus of Sociology and Religious Studies at Washington State University. He is a lifelong Mormon and a returned missionary. He is recognized by some as one of the leading Mormon intellectuals of his generation. He has authored many books on Mormonism such as The Angel and the Beehive: The Mormon Struggle with Assimilation, and is the coeditor of Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church. I haven’t ever read anything but a few excerpts from him, so I’m not sure how much weight to put on his writings. But he does appear to be an opinion leader in the LDS community and he does agree with me, so I include a quote from him below.

“In modern colloquial English (or American) we sometimes speak of people as having “thick” or “thin” skins, without intending any literal dermatological meaning. Attributions of “white” versus “black” or “dark” skins could be read in a similarly figurative manner, as they might have been by Joseph Smith himself (or by his Nephite authors). The reader therefore need not attribute racist intentions when the Book of Mormon uses such terms as dark or filthy versus white or pure, especially when “racial traits,” such as skin color, are not even explicitly mentioned—which is the case most of the time.” (Armand L. Mauss, All Abraham’s Children, 128.)

Brant A. Gardner – Figurative-ist

Brant Gardner writes for the FairMormon website, a publication of the Foundation for Apologetic Information and Research (FAIR). I have read many of their articles over the years and belief it to be a trustworthy source. Brant A. Gardner (M.A. State University of New York Albany) is the author of many papers and presentations on Mormonism including “Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon” and “The Gift and Power: Translating the Book of Mormon.” The following is an excerpt from his book, “Second Witness: Analytical and Contextual Commentary on the Book of Mormon,” a chapter entitled What Does the Book of Mormon Mean by “Skin of Blackness”?

“It is much easier to compile a list of writers who take the phrase literally than of those who suggest an alternate reading. The most typical reading is that there was some type of dramatic change that turned white skin into black skin. A representative of this school of thought is Milton R. Hunter of the Council of the Seventy: ‘As is well-known, two peoples—a white race and those of a darker color—inhabited ancient America for approximately one thousand years’ time. The white race was called Nephites and the darker race Lamanites.’ … For Elder Hunter, the change in the skin color is absolutely physical and remains a distinction throughout Book of Mormon history. He provides no explanation for how this alteration occurs, other than to note that it comes through God.”

“…With this much disagreement on a single phrase in the text, how can we know how it should be read? There are some keys that we should use, and the very first is to remember the dangers of reading ourselves into a text in ways that the text did not intend.”

“…Before beginning with the text itself, it is important to clarify some facts that will help us sort the textual usage from our modern assumptions. The first is the notion of a particular color associated with skin. All human populations have variations in color, and there are pigmentation differences in all populations. While there is a set of people whose skin can be very black, they are not native to the western hemisphere. Saying that any Amerindian has a black skin is incorrect even in modern skin color nomenclature. They are called “red.” It should be recognized, however, that they are not “red.” Those whose skin is called “white” are also not white. Asians are termed “yellow,” although they certainly do not have yellow skin. Skin color designations are cultural descriptions, not scientific ones. They are based on some visual perception, but coalesce into large categories that reflect the human tendency to categorize people.”

“…Captain Moroni, working to free Nephite prisoners, sends wine to their Lamanite guards, hoping to intoxicate them (Alma 55). Because they would not accept such a gift from a Nephite, Moroni finds a Lamanite in his own troops, a former guard of the Lamanite king. Accompanied by other Nephites, this soldier takes the wine to the guards, and Moroni’s plan is successful. Of significance is the fact that Moroni had to “search” for a Lamanite soldier. Had he been “black” in contrast to the “white” of the Nephites, his identity should have been readily apparent. Furthermore, on his mission to the guards, Nephites accompany him. A color difference should have immediately been apparent to the guards, but they do not notice the discrepancy. The best explanation for needing an authentic Lamanite is that Moroni needed his language skills, not his skin color, for the ruse.”

“…The mark is pigmentation if and only if the curse is pigmentation. Marking the forehead with paint appears to be sufficient to create an identifying “mark” that falls significantly short of altering body pigmentation. Possessing the mark cannot prove that the curse is skin color, because that would beg the very question that needs to be proved. The function of the mark is social separation, but it is the same insider/outsider barrier already discussed. Since the mark/curse can be removed by simply traversing that boundary, I conclude that it is unlikely that the mark or curse had anything to do with pigmentation.”

Conclusion

As lengthy as this article has been, it represents only a fraction of the research I have done. Overall, looking holistically at the topic, I believe there is little evidence to support believing that God literally turned the Lamanite’s darker brown or black because of their wickedness. And I don’t believe God has ever withheld blessings from anyone because of the color of their skin. Nor do I believe that physical skin color, lighter or darker, is a consequence of righteousness or wickedness. While in this article, I haven’t talked much about the blackness of Cain and his decedents, much of this analysis would of course apply to that subject. But as I have not specifically studied Cain or Ham or their descendants or the implications on them, I’ll have to leave that for another day.

To me, the conclusion is clear. Mentions of dark, black, white, and skin, in reference to people in the scriptures, is a metaphorical device used to convey the state of people’s spirituality. The discussion of skin color in the scriptures, particularly the Book of Mormon, can easily be interpreted as figurative and spiritual in nature, and not literal skin pigmentation. I wish the Church would at least officially acknowledge this as a valid interpretation, but until then, me and the others who believe this way will have to move forward with faith.

Why Does This Matter?

As I have been studying this issue over the past days, week, months, and years, I have often shared my findings and conclusions with my wife. I appreciate her listening to me, even though she is less interested in the subject than I am. Recently she asked me why this issue matters so much to me to cause me to spend so much time studying it and writing up this report. This is my answer:

  1. The Truth. I am always interested in finding and understanding the truth. I think there is intrinsic value in coming into alignment with the truth. I think at some point in the future all truth, religious, historic, and scientific will all come together in one whole truth. There is power in the truth: “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
  2. Racial Equality. I think the things discussed above, if embraced by the members of the Church, would go a long way to showing that we truly believe and will act in harmony with the scriptures that teach that God loves all his children, regardless of race or other external factors. Scriptures like:
    • 1 Samuel 16:7 “For the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.”
    • Acts 10: 34-35 “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”
    • Romans 10: 12 “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.”
    • 2 Nephi 26: 28 “Hath the Lord commanded any that they should not partake of his goodness? Behold I say unto you, Nay; but all men are privileged the one like unto the other, and none are forbidden.”
    • 2 Nephi 26:33 “he inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him … all are alike unto God.”
  3. Healing. As a Church overall as well as many members within the Church, we have often not acted in accordance with the teachings in point #2 above, and therefore much healing is needed. Acknowledging these truths and acting in harmony with these teachings of Jesus is a necessary step to heal the wounds caused by sin and mistakes and start the process of atonement.
  4. Unity. There is one race that matters eternally—the human race. We have been commanded by God many times to be united as one:
    • D&C 38:27 “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine.”
    • John 17: 11,21 “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us.”

I pray that they day will soon come when we will be one with God and with each other. When “we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13).

The Meaning of Atonement

Summary: The atonement, the atonement of Jesus Christ, and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ mean separate things and understanding the difference can help us apply atoning principles in our lives.

atonement basic doctrine least understood truths McConkieWhen I was a freshman at college, I remember hearing a quote from Bruce R. McConkie about the atonement that resonated with me. In the April 1985 General Conference, he said, “The atonement of Christ is the most basic and fundamental doctrine of the gospel, and it is the least understood of all our revealed truths” (The Purifying Power of Gethsemane). Wow! How could that be? If the atonement is the most fundamental doctrine of the gospel of Jesus Christ, it seems like it should be the most studied and most understood gospel truth. I took Elder McConkie’s statement as a personal challenge to study and understand the atonement better and I have strived to do so throughout my life since then.

One of my initial efforts to learn more about the atonement was to read James E. Talmage’s Jesus the Christ, one of the books on the approved missionary reading list, when I was a full-time missionary in Argentina. That was an educational and spiritually uplifting experience. Through the years I have read countless talks from LDS Church prophets, general authorities, and scholars on the subject of the atonement. A few years ago, I read Brother Callister’s book, The Infinite Atonement, and that was a very enlightening and helpful book. But the biggest strides I have made in understanding the atonement and how it applies to us has come through my personal scripture study and the spirit of revelation that has come to me as I have done so.

A few years ago, I had a major breakthrough in understanding the atonement when I was studying 2 Nephi chapter 2. I had a marvelous spiritual enlightening about the meaning of atonement. I had begun reading the Book of Mormon that time through with a new mindset and a fresh pair of eyes. I tried to erase any preconceived ideas about the gospel, and I tried to take in the concepts of the Book of Mormon in their purest form from God and the prophets who wrote the book. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was applying some advice from the McConkie talk referenced above to search the scriptures and “cast aside the philosophies of men and the wisdom of the wise and hearken to that Spirit which is given to us to guide us into all truth.”

As I read 2 Nephi chapter 2 verse 10, I realized that this was the first time in The Book of Mormon that the word atonement was used, so I paid special attention to its context and meaning. This led to a major outpouring of enlightenment from the Spirit of God, and somehow, in that moment, I gained great new insight into what atonement is and what it means. It seemed to me that the atonement was being spoken of in a way I had not previously defined it. Atonement sounded like a gospel principle that was being applied, not an event or something the Savior did for me. Of course, the Messiah did lay “down his life according to the flesh, and taketh it again by the power of the Spirit” as mentioned two verses earlier. But Lehi, who was speaking in this chapter, did not seem to equate the Savior’s death and resurrection with the word atonement.

first use of word atonement in the Book of Mormon2 Nephi 2:10 “And because of the intercession for all, all men come unto God; wherefore, they stand in the presence of him, to be judged of him according to the truth and holiness which is in him. Wherefore, the ends of the law which the Holy One hath given, unto the inflicting of the punishment which is affixed, which punishment that is affixed is in opposition to that of the happiness which is affixed, to answer the ends of the atonement.”

 

I began to realize that the previous definition of atonement in my mind was limited and the Lord started to expand my understanding. I’ll elaborate on my expanded view of the principle of atonement as we continue in this article, but suffice it to say for now that taking the shackles off my definition of atonement was key to understanding its meaning, power, and application to my life.

My understanding of atonement has continued to grow and evolve in the proceeding years as I shed misconceptions and gained new understanding through scripture study, reading articles by authorities, and through the spirit of revelation as I pondered the subject. While I think many Church members will benefit from my perspective on the atonement which I will share, I don’t claim that that my knowledge or understanding is complete or perfect. I simply feel the Lord has explained things to me in a way that my brain can understand them. This is my mental model of the atonement, if you will. If your mental model is different, then that’s okay. And if my mental model is wrong, then it is the fault of man, and not the fault of God.

Definitions of Atonement Differentiated

In my research, study, and pondering, I have identified three differentiated definitions of atonement:

  • Atonement as in the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ = The act of the Son of God suffering for our sins, bleeding from every pore, dying on the cross, and resurrecting on the third day.
  • Atonement as in the Atoning Mission of Jesus Christ = Everything that Christ has done and will do to make it possible for each of us to become like Him and the Father and become one with them and live in their presence eternally.
  • Atonement as in the Application of Atoning Principles = The eternal process of becoming one with God that each one of us must experience to become like Him and live in His presence eternally.

atonement meanings differentiated circles

Our Savior Jesus Christ is a key component of all three definitions. The Savior’s role is obvious in the first two, and the third cannot be completed without Him. We cannot each personally and fully apply the principles of atonement to our lives without the assistance of Jesus Christ. “Since man had fallen he could not merit anything of himself; but the sufferings and death of Christ atone for their sins, through faith and repentance” (Alma 22:14).

I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself, though. Before we dive into more detail on each one of the three meanings of atonement, let’s talk about the overarching meaning of the root word atone.

At One – The Atonement Etymology

I think one of the first keys in understanding the meaning of the atonement is understanding the origins and root meaning of the word. The “ment” suffix in the English language denotes an action or resulting state, a product, or means. Thus, the noun “atonement” is a form of the verb “atone,” and atonement means the action of atoning, or the resulting state of atoning, or the product of atoning, or the means of atoning. LDS scholar Hugh Nibley, who played an important role in helping increase my understanding of the atonement, confirms the etymology of the word atone. “Atonement, an accepted theological term, comes from neither a Greek nor a Latin word, but is good old English and really does mean, when we write it out, “at-one-ment,” denoting both a state of being “at one” with another and the process by which that end is achieved.” (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1 by Hugh W. Nibley).

Atonement state of being at one Hugh Nibley

When you take that as your definition of atonement, a whole new world of meaning and applications open up—at least it did so for me. For example, I have often thought long and hard about what it means that God the Father and Jesus Christ are one and what it means for us to be one with God (see John 17: 11, 21). My improved clarity on the meaning of the atonement helps me understand more what that means and how it is possible. I also begin to see how foundational the atonement is to the gospel and how it is an all-encompassing principle of truth. I begin to understand more the statement from Brigham Young that “Mormonism includes all truth. There is no truth but what belongs to the Gospel. It is life, eternal life; it is bliss; it is the fulness of all things in the gods and in the eternities of the gods” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 2).

If it’s not all coming together yet, I apologize. The Spirit of God has, at times, given me great bursts of much knowledge all at once and also taught me line upon line over time. It all makes sense in my mind, but sometimes it’s difficult for me to figure out how to best present these topics in a linear fashion like this article. I think if we continue, it will start to make more sense. Let’s go back to those three definitions of atonement and look at each in more detail. We’ll start with the more granular definition and move up to the larger and overarching definitions.

Atonement as in the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus Christ

Throughout my life in the Church, I have often heard the atonement equated with Jesus’ suffering in the garden of Gethsemane when he bled from every pore (Luke 22:44 and D&C 19:18). Or some have expanded that definition to say that the atonement began in Gethsemane and continued through the Savior’s scourging and crucifixion and resurrection. As I now understand, though, the Lord’s excruciating suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross, which he faithfully endured to the end for us, is better labeled the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. While the events over those days could qualify as the most crucial part of the atonement, I do not equate them with the atonement. The atonement, the general and overall term, is much bigger and we will explore that further in a moment.

I think people limit and hurt themselves by abbreviating the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ to a simple phrase like the atonement. Misuse of the term atonement may be a contributing factor to many members not understanding the atonement or how to apply the power of Jesus Christ in their lives. I think we as a Church would be better off to not use incomplete generalization phrases like “the atonement” or even “the atonement of Jesus Christ” to describe the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, even though those shortcut phrases have been used quite frequently by both Church members and leaders for many years. I know it will take a lot of time to break this habit, but it needs to happen if we are to really understand and benefit from these gospel principles.

President Russel M. Nelson, at the April 2017 General Conference, made some remarks to help us as a Church begin the process of better drawing on the power and blessings of the gospel of Jesus Christ when he corrected our language around the use of the word atonement. He said:

It is doctrinally incomplete to speak of the Lord’s atoning sacrifice by shortcut phrases, such as “the Atonement” or “the enabling power of the Atonement” or “applying the Atonement” or “being strengthened by the Atonement.” These expressions present a real risk of misdirecting faith by treating the event as if it had living existence and capabilities independent of our Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ….There is no amorphous entity called ‘the Atonement’ upon which we may call for succor, healing, forgiveness, or power. Jesus Christ is the source. Sacred terms such as Atonement and Resurrection describe what the Savior did, according to the Father’s plan, so that we may live with hope in this life and gain eternal life in the world to come” (Drawing the Power of Jesus Christ into Our Lives by President Russell M. Nelson).

doctrinally incomplete shortcut phrases atonement nelson

I have been talking to my wife for years about the real meaning of atonement and the frequent misuse of the term, so I was very glad to hear a high-ranking authority like President Nelson address the subject with all members of the Church in the worldwide General Conference.

As I believe is now clear, the atonement isn’t the same as the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The atonement, in its true definition, includes much more than just the suffering in Gethsemane and on the cross by our Savior. I don’t wish to diminish in any way those events and what He did for all humanity by suffering in dying and resurrecting for us. I just think the atonement, as a principle and process, is much larger and grander. Even the phrase “the atonement of Jesus Christ” means much more than the atoning sacrifice because it includes His life and mission and that leads us into the second definition of atonement.

Atonement as in the Atoning Mission of Jesus Christ

If we delineate the atonement of Jesus Christ from His atoning sacrifice, it’s clear that His atonement is bigger or encompasses much more. Again, the atoning sacrifice was the crucial part, but in my mind, the atonement of Jesus Christ neither began in Gethsemane nor ended at the resurrection. I believe His atonement is the entirety of His mission. If we had to put starting and ending point on the atonement of Jesus Christ, I would say it began at the foundation of the world when Jehovah said “Here am I, send me” (Abraham 3:27) and it will not end until all mankind returns to the presence of God (see 2 Nephi 2:8-10 and Alma 42:15,23).

atonement began at the foundation of the worldAs I have read the scriptures and studied and pondered them, I no longer equate the atonement of our Savior with what He did for us on the cross or in the garden of Gethsemane. Rather, I think of the entire, eternal mission of Jesus Christ as His Atonement, including the process, power, and ultimate completion of making us one with Him and the Father. President Nelson, in his talk referenced above, backs up this definition of the atonement. “As Latter-day Saints, we refer to His mission as the Atonement of Jesus Christ, which made resurrection a reality for all and made eternal life possible for those who repent of their sins and receive and keep essential ordinances and covenants.”

The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real and powerful and cannot be underestimated in its eternal importance and infinite reach. But I think that perhaps the Latter-day Saints would understand the atonement better and how it applies to their life if we would talk about it differently. In my experience, many people talk about the atonement as if it is a magical power Jesus hands to us or a magic wand we can wave in order to get blessings or other results. I believe that the atonement and the power therein and the applications in our lives are much more tangible than that, if we come to truly understand it. And I believe that if we would talk about atonement like we talk about other principles of the gospel that it would be more applicable to our daily lives and overcoming our struggles. And that’s a nice segue to the third definition of atonement.

Atonement as in the Application of Atoning Principles

At its highest level, I believe atonement is an eternal, ongoing principle. Understanding this principle is what has been really impactful in my life in recent years. As I have come to understand the atonement as a principle, I realize why the confusion exists for many people between understanding the atonement of Jesus Christ and applying it to our lives. In order to understand the atonement as a principle, let’s visit again the definition of the word atone, which, as Brother Nibley pointed out, literally means the state of being “at one.” In the religious sense particularly, being at one means being at one with God, whole, complete, or integral, and atonement is the process by which that state of being at one is achieved.

Brother Nibley points out that “the word atonement appears only once in the New Testament (Rom. 5:11 in the King James Version), and in the Revised Standard Version it does not appear at all, the translators preferring the more familiar word reconciliation. (See also footnote to Rom. 5:11 in the LDS edition of the King James Version.) Reconciliation is a very good word for atonement there, since it means literally to be seated again with someone (re-con-silio)—so that atonement is to be reunited with God” (The Atonement of Jesus Christ, Part 1 by Hugh W. Nibley). He further explains other near synonyms for atonement are redemption, rescue, and resurrection. In my own study, I have found additional near synonyms of atonement throughout the scriptures such as unity, oneness, sealing, one eternal round, circumspection, return, repent, perfect, opposition, overcome, restore, truth, and integrity. Even the scriptural literary pattern of chiasms, which I will not go into here, illustrates the eternal principle of atonement.

third law of motion isaac newton

Newton’s Third Law of Motion – For Every Action There is an Equal and Opposite Reaction. Graphic by Simply Fresh Designs

In my mind, I often visualize the principle of atonement as symmetrical patterns or a complete circle. Newton’s Third Law of Motion—For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction—is also a good illustration of the principle of atonement. The Book of Mormon prophet Lehi, I believe, was articulating this understanding of the concept of atonement when he said “For it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things” (2 Nephi 2:11). This statement, not coincidentally, came immediately after the first usage of the word atonement in the Book of Mormon as discussed above.

Many, perhaps all, laws and principles and ordinances of the gospel have root in the principle of atonement. Repentance demands that we make recompense for our mistakes, where possible, so things that we have broken can be made whole, or at one again. Because of the effect of our sins (the first half of the symmetry), baptism washes us (the second half of the symmetry), thus bringing us back to our former state of cleanliness, wholeness, or oneness before God. The law of sacrifice illustrates many principles of atonement, not the least of which is how it points to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ which was completed to make things whole, or at one again. A central part of Jesus earthly ministry was healing, or making whole or at one, things that had gone wrong in this life.  In the law of consecration, everything that God gives us (the first half of the symmetry) we give back to Him (the second half of the symmetry), thus returning to a state of oneness. Vicarious temple work for our ancestors is an example of the effort to make things at one, as we do ordinances for those who, if not for the sins of the world in which they lived, would have received them during their life.

Part of the Law of Moses, as I understand it, illustrates the principle of atonement by prescribing a punishment equal to the crime with an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth (Exodus 21:24, Leviticus 24:20). Jesus taught the higher law to the Jews when he was on the earth, and that higher law also has roots in the principle of atonement. “Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also” (Matt 5:38-39).

You may wonder how turning the other cheek is an illustration of the principle of atonement. I think the Book of Mormon prophet Nephi explains it well as he describes the suffering and crucifixion of the Savior which he saw in vision. “And the world, because of their iniquity, shall judge him to be a thing of naught; wherefore they scourge him, and he suffereth it; and they smite him, and he suffereth it. Yea, they spit upon him, and he suffereth it, because of his loving kindness and his long-suffering towards the children of men” (1 Nephi 19:9). We as mortal, imperfect beings commit sins, which is one half of the symmetry, and Jesus willing suffers for it, and that is the other half of the symmetry, thus bringing things back to a state of atonement.

When Jesus applied atoning principles to his life, we call that the atonement of Jesus Christ. We also need to apply atoning principles in our lives if we are to inherit the kingdom of Heaven and thus we need to perform our own work of atonement. In the Church, I’ve never heard anyone use language like that before, so I hope I’m not out of bounds putting it that way, but that is the natural conclusion of this line of thinking and the Spirit confirms its truthfulness to me. We help ourselves and others in the world get to the state of atonement by applying gospel principles. Take the following as a real-world, common example.

When someone cuts us off in traffic, we could get mad at them and yell and scream and cut them off in return, and that would be justified, but it does no one any good. Alternatively, we could also forgive them, let ourselves pay the consequence for their rude behavior, and then it does a world of good for them and for us. For us, it gives us power over our emotions and keeps us in control rather than being a slave to the natural man’s reaction. For them it also brings blessings, though it may more long-run than short-run, as they realize their mistakes and your magnanimity towards them, it will create feelings of sorrow initially, and then love and devotion toward you for enduring the effects of their mistakes. And you can see, then, how principles of atonement will eternally bless all parties in this fallen world in which we live. Applying atoning principles is what will eventually rise us from our fallen state and bring us back to the presence of God.

You see, then, how we can be “joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Romans 8:17). You can see, then, how atonement is not something Jesus did for us so much as it is the application of principles of the gospel which we do together with Jesus. The Savior’s atoning sacrifice and His atoning mission are things Jesus did for us, and those cannot be replaced, nor can we progress without them. But one of the most common things Jesus taught during His earthly mission to was follow Him, and we are to do that by following His example in applying atoning principles in our lives. And we can better make that application and receive the blessings associated with it when we better understand the meaning of atonement.

With this new and improved understanding of atonement, I hope it is clear why President Nelson labeled as ‘doctrinally incomplete shortcut phrases’ the common things we tend to say in the Church like “applying the atonement of Jesus.” Throwing that phrase out like a sound bite or using it out of context will often twist, or perhaps obscure, the meaning of atonement. Because I have recognized the need to apply the larger concept of atonement to my life, in recent years, I have found myself speaking more in terms of principles of atonement, and only speaking of the atonement of Jesus Christ when I really mean his mission, and of course referring to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ as just that and not with any shortcut phrases. Again, the very way that we talk about this subject could be the source of the trouble many people have in understanding and applying atonement to their lives. I have found that this mental and verbal change has made the atonement more applicable in my life and circumstances.

I should also point out that the “atonement” as a principle and the “atonement of Christ” as in His mission, could be considered synonymous if you think of the later phrase not as a singular event but rather as the atoning process that we all must go through for eternal life and exaltation, which is the same atoning process that Christ went through. I believe that each one of us needs to work out an atonement. That’s not to say that we must perform the same infinite atoning sacrifice that the Savior did—that is a gift from God. “For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent” (D&C 19:16). We do need, however, to reach a state of atonement, or unity with God. And the need to be one with God shouldn’t be a foreign concept to anyone familiar with the scriptures. “I say unto you, be one; and if ye are not one ye are not mine” (D&C 38:27).

If being saved, in a religious sense, means being one with God, then I think we can safely paraphrase the third Article of Faith and encapsulate much of this discussion: We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be made one with God, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

Conclusion

Atonement is both a central and all-encompassing principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The implications of this understanding of atonement are indeed infinite and eternal, as described in The Book of Mormon (2 Nephi 9:7, Alma 34:10-12). If your experience is anything like mine, as you come to understand the atonement more fully, the scriptures and the plan of salvation will open up to your mind like never before. You’ll start seeing the atonement, or atonement principles, everywhere in the gospel, throughout the scriptures and in all the dealings of God with man.

Perhaps it goes without saying, but these are my thoughts on the subject of atonement and do not necessarily represent those of my church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course, I feel my opinions are founded in the teachings of the prophets and in the scriptures, and most importantly in the inspiration from the Holy Ghost that I have received. If there are errors in what I have presented, they are my errors as an imperfect reflection of God’s perfect light and truth. The Spirit reveals many wonderful truths to my spirit, but my temporal mind and body is not yet in a state of atonement nor able to fully understand nor communicate these beautiful eternal principles.

I feel like I’ve barely scratched the surface in answering the question about what the atonement means, but hopefully this has provided a good launching pad for you in your personal studies. I hope this explanation of how I see things has expanded your vision of the meaning and application of the atonement and that the Spirit of the Lord will continue to give you additional insights into how to apply it to your life.

The Exhausted West

Alexander SolzhenitsynI was only recently introduced to Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and I look forward to reading and learning more about him in the future. From what I understand*, Alexander was a loyal communist in his youth. Born in 1918, he became a commander in the Russian Soviet army during World War II. As the war in Europe drew to a close, Alexander was arrested by the Soviets for writing a letter to a friend that was disrespectful toward Joseph Stalin. He was sentenced to eight years in labor camps and it was during that time of imprisonment that he appears to have abandoned Marxism and developed the Christian religious and philosophical positions he was known for later in life.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn is perhaps best known as the author of “The Gulag Archipelago” and winner of the 1970 Nobel Prize in literature. Solzhenitsyn may be the originator of the term Gulag for the vast network of punitive institutions in Soviet Russia, or if not he at least gave the term prominence in the western world. In 1978, not long after his deportation from the Soviet Union, Alexander Solzhenitsyn delivered Harvard’s commencement speech. In that same year, Harvard published an article from Solzhenitsyn entitled The Exhausted West in which he charges the Western world with losing its courage and spiritual direction. I found the article most fascinating, prescient, and just as relevant today as when it was written nearly 40 years ago. Below are some of the quotes I found most interesting.


“The blindness of superiority continues in spite of all and upholds the belief that vast regions everywhere on our planet should develop and mature to the level of present-day Western systems, which in theory are the best and in practice the most attractive. There is the belief that all those other worlds are being only temporarily prevented by wicked governments or by heavy crises or by their own barbarity and incomprehension from taking the way of Western pluralistic democracy and adopting the Western way of life; countries are judged on their progress in this direction. However, this is a conception that developed out of Western incomprehension of the essence of other worlds, out of the mistake of measuring them all with a Western yardstick. The real picture of our planet’s development is quite different.”

“The Western world has lost its civil courage, both as a whole and separately, in each country, each government, each political party, and of course in the United Nations. Such a decline in courage is particularly noticeable among the ruling groups and the intellectual elite, causing an impression of loss of courage by the entire society. Of course there are many courageous individuals, but they have no determining influence on public life.”

“Decline in courage is ironically emphasized by occasional explosions of anger and inflexibility on the part of the same bureaucrats when dealing with weak governments and weak countries, not supported by anyone, or with currents that cannot offer any resistance. But they get tongue-tied and paralyzed when they deal with powerful governments and threatening forces, with aggressors and international terrorists.”

“When the modern Western states were created, the following principle was proclaimed: governments are meant to serve man, and man lives to be free and to pursue happiness. (See, for example, the American Declaration of Independence.) Now at last, during past decades, technical and social progress have permitted the realization of such aspirations: the welfare state. Every citizen has been granted the desired freedom and material goods in such quantity and of such quality as to guarantee, in theory, the achievement of happiness, in the morally inferior sense that has come into being during those same decades.”

“People in the West have acquired considerable skill in using, interpreting, and manipulating law. Any conflict is solved according to the letter of the law, and this is considered to be the supreme solution. If one is right from a legal point of view, nothing more is required. Nobody may mention that one could still not be entirely right, and urge self-restraint, a willingness to renounce such legal rights, sacrifice, and selfless risk: it would sound simply absurd. One almost never sees voluntary self-restraint. Everybody operates at the extreme limit of those legal frames.”

“A society that is based on the letter of the law and never reaches any higher is taking very small advantage of the high level of human possibilities. The letter of the law is too cold and formal to have a beneficial influence on society. Whenever the tissue of life is woven of legalistic relations, there is an atmosphere of moral mediocrity, paralyzing man’s noblest impulses. And it will be, simply, impossible to stand through the trials of this threatening century with only the support of a legalistic structure.”

“A statesman who wants to achieve something important and highly constructive for his country has to move cautiously and even timidly: there are thousands of hasty and irresponsible critics around him; parliament and the press keep rebuffing him. As he moves ahead, he has to prove that each single step of his is well founded and absolutely flawless. In fact, an outstanding and particularly gifted person who has unusual and unexpected initiatives in mind hardly gets a chance to assert himself; from the very beginning, dozens of traps will be set for him. Thus mediocrity triumphs, with the excuse of restrictions imposed by democracy.”

human obligations Alexander Solzhenitsyn“The defense of individual rights has reached such extremes as to make society as a whole defenseless against certain individuals. It is time, in the West, to defend not so much human rights as human obligations.”

“Destructive and irresponsible freedom has been granted boundless space. Society appears to have little defense against the abyss of human decadence, such as, for example, the misuse of liberty for moral violence against young people, motion pictures full of pornography, crime, and horror. It is considered to be part of freedom and theoretically counterbalanced by the young people’s right not to look or not to accept. Life organized legalistically has thus shown its inability to defend itself against the corrosion of evil.”

“Strangely enough, though the best social conditions have been achieved in the West, there still is criminality and there even is considerably more of it than in the pauper and lawless Soviet society.”

“There is no moral responsibility for deformation or disproportion. What sort of responsibility does a journalist have to his readers, or to history? …Because instant and credible information has to be given, it becomes necessary to resort to guesswork, rumors, and suppositions to fill in the voids, and none of them will ever be rectified; they will slay on in the readers’ memory. How many hasty, immature, superficial, and misleading judgments are expressed every day, confusing readers, without any verification. The press can both simulate public opinion and miseducate it.”

“Enormous freedom exists for the press, but not for the readership, because newspapers mostly give emphasis to those opinions that do not too openly contradict their own and the general trend.”

“Without any censorship, in the West, fashionable trends of thought are carefully separated from those that are not fashionable. Nothing is forbidden, but what is not fashionable will hardly ever find its way into periodicals or books or- be heard in colleges. Legally, your researchers are free, but they are conditioned by the fashion of the day. There is no open violence such as in the East; however, a selection dictated by fashion and the need to match mass standards frequently prevents independent-minded people from giving their contribution to public life. There is a dangerous tendency to form a herd, shutting off successful development.”

“It is almost universally recognized that the West shows all the world a way to successful economic development, even though in the past years it has been strongly disturbed by chaotic inflation. However, many people living in the West are dissatisfied with their own society. They despise it or accuse it of not being up to the level of maturity attained by mankind. A number of such critics turn to socialism, which is a false and dangerous current. I hope that no one present will suspect me of offering my personal criticism of the Western system to present socialism as an alternative.”

socialism total destruction of the human spirit Alexander Solzhenitsyn“A brilliant book under the title Socialism; it is a profound analysis showing that socialism of any type and shade leads to a total destruction of the human spirit and to a leveling of mankind unto death.”

“I could not recommend your society in its present state as an ideal for the transformation of ours. Through intense suffering our country has now achieved a spiritual development of such intensity that the Western system in its present state of spiritual exhaustion does not look attractive.”

“The fight for our planet, physical and spiritual, a fight of cosmic proportions, is not a vague matter of the future; it has already started. The forces of Evil have begun their offensive-you can feel their pressure-and yet your screens and publications are full of prescribed smiles and raised glasses. What is the joy about?”

“Very well known representatives of your society, such as George Kennan, say: we cannot apply moral criteria to politics. Thus we mix good and evil, right and wrong, and make space for the absolute triumph of absolute Evil in the world. On the contrary, only moral criteria can help the West against Communism’s well-planned world strategy. There are no other criteria. Practical or occasional considerations of any kind will inevitably be swept away by strategy. After a certain level of the problem has been reached, legalistic thinking induces paralysis; it prevents one from seeing the size and meaning of events.”

“The most cruel mistake occurred with the failure to understand the Vietnam War. Some people sincerely wanted all wars to stop just as soon as possible; others believed that there should be room for national, or Communist, self·determination in Vietnam, or in Cambodia, as we see today with particular clarity. But members of the U.S. anti-war movement wound up being involved in the betrayal of Far Eastern nations, in a genocide and in the suffering today imposed on 30 million people there. Do those convinced pacifists hear the moans coming from there? Do they understand their responsibility today? Or do they prefer not to hear? The American intelligentsia lost its nerve, and as a consequence thereof danger has come much closer to the United States. But there is no awareness of this. Your short-sighted politicians who signed the hasty Vietnam capitulation seemingly gave America a carefree breathing spell; however, a hundred fold Vietnam now looms over you.”

“No weapons, no matter how powerful, can help the West until it overcomes its loss of will power.”

“The mistake must be at the root, at the very basis of human thinking in the past centuries. I refer to the prevailing Western view of the world, which was first born during the Renaissance and found its political expression in the period of the Enlightenment. It became the basis for government and social science and could be defined as rationalistic humanism or humanistic autonomy: the proclaimed and enforced autonomy of man from any higher force above him. It could also be called anthropocentricity, with man seen as the center of everything that exists.”

“The turn introduced by the Renaissance evidently was inevitable historically. The Middle Ages had come to a natural end by exhaustion, becoming an intolerable despotic repression of man’s physical nature in favor of the spiritual one. Then, however, we turned our backs upon the Spirit and embraced all that is material with excessive and unwarranted zeal. This new way of thinking, which had imposed on us its guidance, did not admit the existence of intrinsic evil in man nor did it see any higher task than the attainment of happiness on earth. It based modern Western civilization on the dangerous trend to worship man and his material needs.”

“Everything beyond physical well-being and accumulation of material goods, all other human requirements and characteristics of a subtler and higher nature, were left outside the area of attention of state and social systems, as if human life did not have any superior sense. That provided access for evil, of which in our day there is a free and constant flow. Mere freedom does not in the least solve all the problems of human life and it even adds a number of new ones.”

“However, in early democracies, as in American democracy at the time of its birth, all individual human rights were granted because man is God’s creature. That is, freedom was given to the individual conditionally, in the assumption of his constant religious responsibility.”

“A total liberation occurred from the moral heritage of Christian centuries, with their great reserves of mercy and sacrifice. State systems were becoming increasingly and totally materialistic. The West ended up by truly enforcing human rights, sometimes even excessively, but man’s sense of responsibility to God and society grew dimmer and dimmer.”

“All the glorified technological achievements of Progress, including the conquest of outer space, do not redeem the twentieth century’s moral poverty.”

socialism could never resist Communism Alexander Solzhenitsyn“Humanism without its Christian heritage cannot resist such competition. We watch this process in the past centuries and especially in the past decades, on a world scale as the situation becomes increasingly dramatic. Liberalism was inevitably displaced by radicalism, radicalism had to surrender to socialism, and socialism could never resist Communism.”

“The Communist regime in the East could stand and grow thanks to the enthusiastic support it received from an enormous number of Western intellectuals who felt a kinship and refused to see Communism’s crimes. When they no longer could ignore the crimes, they tried to justify them. In our Eastern countries, Communism has suffered a complete ideological defeat; it is zero and less than zero. But Western intellectuals still look at it with interest and with empathy, and this is precisely what makes it so immensely difficult for the West to withstand the East.”

“Imperfect man, who is never free of pride, self-interest, envy, vanity, and dozens of other defects. We are now experiencing the consequences of mistakes that were not noticed at the beginning of the journey. On the way from the Renaissance to our day we have enriched our experience, but we have lost the concept of a Supreme Complete Entity, which used to restrain our passions and our irresponsibility. We have placed too much hope in political and social reforms, only to find that we were being deprived of our most precious possession: our spiritual life. In the East, it is destroyed by the dealings and machinations of the ruling party. In the West, commercial interests tend to suffocate it. This is the real crisis. The split in the world is less terrible than the similarity of the disease plaguing its main sections.”

“If humanism were right in declaring that man is born only to be happy, he would not be born to die. Since his body is doomed to die, his task on earth evidently must be of a more spiritual nature. It cannot be unrestrained enjoyment of everyday life. It cannot be the search for the best ways to obtain material goods and then cheerfully to get the most out of them. It has to be the fulfillment of a permanent, earnest duty. so that one’s life journey may become an experience of moral growth, so that one may leave life a better human being than one started it. It is imperative to review the table of widespread human values. Its present incorrectness is astounding. It is not possible that assessment of the President’s performance be reduced to the question of how much money one makes or of unlimited availability of gasoline. Only voluntary, inspired self·restraint can raise man above the world stream of materialism.”

“If the world has not come to its end, it has approached a major turn in history, equal in importance to the turn from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance. It will exact from us a spiritual upsurge: we shall have to rise to a new height of vision, to a new level of life, where our physical nature will not be cursed as in the Middle Ages, but, even more important, our spiritual being will not be trampled upon as in the modern era. This ascension will be similar to climbing up to the next anthropologic stage. No one on earth has any other way left but–upward.”


* Alexander (often Aleksandr) Solzhenitsyn, according to Wikipedia, “was a Russian novelist, historian, and short story writer. He was an outspoken critic of the Soviet Union and communism and helped to raise global awareness of its Gulag forced labor camp system. …Solzhenitsyn was awarded the 1970 Nobel Prize in Literature …[and] was eventually expelled from the Soviet Union in 1974, but returned to Russia in 1994 after the state’s dissolution.” In February 1945, “Solzhenitsyn was arrested for writing derogatory comments in private letters to a friend, Nikolai Vitkevich, about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin. …He was accused of anti-Soviet propaganda under Article 58 paragraph 10 of the Soviet criminal code, and of “founding a hostile organization” under paragraph 11. Solzhenitsyn was taken to the Lubyanka prison in Moscow, where he was interrogated. On 7 July 1945, he was sentenced in his absence by Special Council of the NKVD to an eight-year term in a labour camp.”