Some post-Mother’s Day Thoughts on Fatherhood

With yesterday being Mother’s Day, I decided to take a some time and ponder on my role as Father. A little backwards, I know, but since my wife is so awesome, spending a day to celebrate her awesomeness made me want to take stock of myself and see what I need to be doing better—to bring myself up to her level.

As I was thinking about this, some words from The Family: A Proclamation to the World came into my head:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.”

As I was thinking about that, I got stuck on the word “Preside” which has become a problematic word in our society because many people primarily associate that word with “rule,” “govern,” or “dictate.” Which, if you look up the word’s definition in a modern dictionary is pretty much what it means nowadays. I didn’t stop there though, so I tried to learn more about its Latin origin: “praesidēre” which taken literally means to sit in front of.

I was sure that wasn’t how the word was used though, so I kept digging and found out that “praesidēre” is the present active infinitive of the Latin word “praesideo which apparently still means to sit in front of, but in terms of actual usage means to “guard,” “watch,” “protect,” or “defend.”

I like those four words a lot better when thinking about my role as father. It got me thinking about one place in our society where the word “preside” is not controversial, and that would be a judge presiding over a courtroom. In the role of judge in our society, the judge does not always get to sit in judgment and decide the innocence or guilt of the accused, that role is left to a jury. What the judge is actually doing is guarding, watching, protecting, and defending the Law itself as set by our society. The judge makes sure that the prosecution and defense are following the rules so that when the jury comes to their decision we as a society can be assured that the rules were followed (in a best case scenario).

So, if the role of a father according to modern day prophets is that “by divine design, fathers are to [guard, watch, protect and defend] their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families,” then what would that kind of presiding look like?

In my mind, the best way to envision that behavior is to think of Jesus Christ himself and how He presided over his disciples and trained them to spread the gospel following His crucifixion. He didn’t shield them from pain, but he typically used gentle guidance to help them progress from simple fisherman, and into the missionaries whose work and influence has defined Western Civilization for the past 2000 years. There were occasions when he was stern with his disciples and quickly condemned their behavior or statements when they risked going seriously astray, but He cared for them enough that they grew into amazing men.

In modern scripture we also have this advice given to holders of the priesthood (D&C 121):

41 No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood, only by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned;

 42 By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile—

 43 Reproving betimes with sharpness, when moved upon by the Holy Ghost; and then showing forth afterwards an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy;

 44 That he may know that thy faithfulness is stronger than the cords of death.

So, when we are told by modern prophets to preside over our families we are not being told to rule and govern our families, we are being commanded to watch over our families as Christ would and to behave as He would behave were He here instead of us.

This has actually been an ongoing theme that I have been finding as I have been studying the scriptures during this year. I have been acutely aware and noticed every time I’ve come to a  controversial scripture, a modern teaching, or a section of temple ordinance that people have claimed elevates the role of men while diminishing or subordinating the role of women. As I spend time digging a little deeper, and pondering the meaning within the full context of the Gospel and the Atonement, I often find that the role of men is incorrectly being interpreted as one of authority, when it is really a role of service. It is those that serve, not those that rule, who are the greatest in the Kingdom of God.

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An Analysis of “The Mormon Church and Vaccines: A Letter to the First Presidency”

I recently had an acquaintance send me a link to this letter asking me how to approach it from a point of critical analysis; to read things in a more critical way. The project wound up being a lot bigger than I anticipated at first and over the last few weeks, giving it a half-hour here and an hour there, I think I’m done. Given how much work it took I wanted to post my full response.  I’ve removed some references to specific shared acquaintances we have, but for the most part, this is the entirety of my analysis.

For some background The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a pro-vaccination stance, and been so for the last several decades. In recent years members of the Church have been pulled into the anti-vaccination groups that exist in our society and these members have formed a vocal minority in the Church and in society in general declaring the “evils” of vaccines. The Church has never revised its official stance. In recent months, in the wake of the increased prevalence of preventable diseases, and given that the Disneyland Measles outbreak reached unvaccinated members of the Church here in Utah, the Church reiterated its pro-vaccine stance. An has even released a pro-vaccine YouTube Video.Vaccine

Needless to say, members of the Church who believe vaccines are harmful are displeased that the Church will not support them in their opposition to vaccines.  I think this letter probably summarizes how they feel.

I believe they are mistaken, both in the science of vaccination and in church doctrine. Here is my response. The first part is the letter I wrote regarding critical analysis, and the second part is the anti-vaccine letter in its entirety with my commentary intermixed.

I apologize in advance for the length of this post.

————————————————

Dear “Acquaintance”

Here are my thoughts based on how I approached this article, and how I approach most issues that are getting argued one-way.  I think that the challenge is to understand the writer’s viewpoint, see what the claims are, and then deconstruct claims to determine which points have merit and which ones don’t. Depending on if it is an argument piece (which means arguing for or defending a specific idea or notion, not trying to create arguments or disagreements) or an informational piece will determine some of how to approach it, but a lot of the same principles apply.

Here are my general steps for a reader to break down and better understand a paper:

  1. Recognize your own biases.

This one is foremost because the fact is that we have certain things that we would LIKE to be true, or that we want them to be true. I’ll admit that for me, I WANT vaccines to work. I’ve been brought up in a family that has been very pro-vaccine for several generations.  We have family stories about my grandfather knowing Jonas Salk personally, and him taking my mom and her siblings to Dr. Salk’s office for vaccinations (whether Dr. Salk administered the vaccine personally is something that I’m sure of). The simple point being that if I’m going to read something that is counter to my biases, I need to go into it at least acknowledging that I can’t just trust my gut to tell if this thing I’m reading is worthwhile or not.

  1. Know what you know, and try to know what you don’t know

If you’re going to be reading something that is outside of your immediate area of knowledge, at least recognize what you know and what you don’t. So for me, I am not a medical professional and I haven’t taken organic chemistry so that I can describe what chemical enzymes viruses use to infiltrate cells or to install the viral code within the cell’s DNA, but I do know statistics. So some things I know I can respond to myself. For other things, I can’t assume that I’m an expert and I’ll understand it fully, so I’ll need to pull in more information from actual experts in that field.

  1. Try to understand why the author is making this point. What is the agenda?

Not to put down agendas, just to say that if the author has an agenda it should be acknowledged. Most people do acknowledge their agendas, this author did: “I respectfully suggest that it’s critical for the Church to support Latter-day Saints who choose not to vaccinate and I offer seven points in support of this suggestion.”  It is also usually best to take the author at his or her word as to what the agenda is and not jump to the assumption that there is a hidden or dark horse agenda that is being concealed. It’s quite rare, but when it happens it is usually more obvious than people think will be. If we think that dark horse agendas are more common than they are, it can get a person to see conspiracy theories where none exist.

  1. What agendas is the author opposed to? & Did the author “straw-man” those agendas?

Like I said, most agendas are pretty well laid out, and any writer trying to prove a point will at least address opposing viewpoints in an effort to buttress the claims in the paper. However, the opposing viewpoints need to be describes accurately. Creating a false or exaggerated opposing viewpoint that is easier to burn down then some of the real opposing viewpoints is called a “straw-man.”  If the writer has done that, is because he or she haven’t taken the time to understand the opposing viewpoints, s/he doesn’t want to fully address all the opposing claims, or maybe because the author’s own biases or conspiratorial beliefs have led him or her to the conclusion that any opposing viewpoint is a lie or a manipulation anyway, so no reason to fully describe it. If it’s that last one, red flags and sirens need to be going off.

So, those are the general principles to keep in mind when approaching a viewpoint piece. Then we have to get into the nitty-gritty of going through the various points. Here’s the things you’ve got to watch for:

  1. Do logical fallacies creep in?

In general to make an argument you need to say A is because of B, therefore C. Sometimes people try to reverse it to C, therefore A and B, which actually doesn’t follow. So a simple argument is A. it is cloudy, B. it is raining, therefore C. I can’t directly see the sun. Someone might reverse that and say, I can’t directly see the sun, therefore it is raining and cloudy. Well, there are any number of other reasons a person can’t directly see the sun. Maybe it’s night, maybe the person is inside, maybe s/he’s under a tree. The point being that you have to watch out for things like that.

  1. Are definitions being used correctly?

If a real vaccine researcher uses the term “adverse reaction” is the author using the definition the same way? If not, that’s a problem because if the author of the paper is using the definition differently than the sources s/he’s citing, then suddenly “pain at vaccination site” can magically become “autism” inappropriately in the review. No discussion on any topic can take place without an agreement about the definitions of the words being written or spoken.

  1. Do the sources actually tell you what the sources claim?

If there’s a pretty major claim, but then the source is not reputable (a discussion board), arguing the opposite (a research paper), or non-existent in the source, there’s major problems. Throwing a reference at the end of a sentence that goes to an association’s homepage is not appropriate citation. It is especially worrisome when the organization being citied (like the CDC or VAERS) are known to often argue and debunk the claim in the sentence that is using their homepages for a citation.

  1. Have claims been previously addressed and debunked by reputable research and yet the author perpetuates it anyway when a quick Google search, or a review of Snopes would set the record straight?

These are called “mutant statistics” or “malignant statistics” because they evolve and grow and live on in society despite being untrue. Yet belief in them causes unfortunate behaviors in the public, thus making the statistic itself a societal malignancy. Examples: 50% of marriages end in divorce, mattresses double their weight every 10 years, Amish don’t vaccinate, 150,000 young women die from anorexia nervosa annually (which is the prevalence rate, not the death rate; in fact, 150,000 young women do not even die annually), etc.

I’m not referring to the core debate itself, I’m referring to the items of evidence being used to build up and support one side the author’s main point. If a writer doesn’t take time to fact-check his/her points, then it demonstrates laziness and ideological rigidity.

  1. Are loaded words used?

Loaded words are any word that is used to elicit emotion over thought. Words like “extreme,” “overzealous,” “indoctrination,” etc. are used more to scare than to help people look at facts.

  1. Is the argument it is making completely overwhelming?

This is kind of a tricky point, because anyone who writes something wants to make a compelling case for his/her point of view, but if in the course of writing or discussing the argument is presented in a way that is more overwhelming than compelling, there’s something amiss. Overwhelming arguments are presented in a way where there is no room for discussion or disagreement and they use so much “supporting” evidence that getting into each and every claim becomes a ponderous task. Between the huge task of tackling the number of points, and facing the prospect of debating a person who give no indication of being open minded, most people just don’t bother. The arguer can then use the lack of response to his/her argument as proof of its veracity, when the reality is that the argument is so poorly formed that it is usually not worth it for a typical person to even begin to mount a response. Throughout the early 2000s, this was how most people responded to anti-vax arguments: with silence; it didn’t seem worth the trouble. Yet, as the damage of the anti-vax movement has compounded in recent years:

  • The removal of Thimerosal from the whopping cough vaccine reduced its long term efficacy.
  • Outbreak rates have increased
  • Funding for vaccine campaigns in impoverished nations have been damaged

The need to finally speak up and show that these so-called “overwhelming” arguments against standard vaccination are nothing more than paper-tigers. They are easily torn to shreds without too much intellectual work, but will probably take a lot of work to make the response convincing to those who adhered to the previous overwhelming argument.

I’ll throw in one more comparison on this point. If you’ve ever heard of the “Letter to a CES Director” then you are familiar with another “overwhelming” argument that once it is broken down, can be shown to be built on a lot of mistakes and premature conclusions. I’ve personally read the entirety of that letter, and I found that each and every point in all 70+ pages had an answer. It just took a lot of work to get through the whole thing. (BTW, I’ve even gone as far as to read some of the CES Letter author’s rebuttals to websites that have debunked his letter in its entirety. The 2-3% of his rebuttal site I’ve read used the most horrendous examples of selective quoting I’ve seen in recent memory. Even worse than the author of this vaccine letter. I’m perfectly content at this point to leave that whole thing behind me.)

The most frustrating thing about an “overwhelming” argument is that it requires an “overwhelming” response (hence the length of this letter, and my thoughts in the article itself).

  1. Are there more reputable voices I can turn to who disagree with this?

I think that this point kind of speaks for itself. If there are others who know more about this topic than the author, who are generally in agreement on the topic, than why not trust them instead? Vaccines are supported by more than greedy pharmaceuticals, there is a whole host of professions that go into making and supporting vaccines. If they are overwhelmingly in agreement with each other, what evidence is there not to trust the majority opinion? The primary evidence the author presents seems to be conspiracy (a conspiracy that includes the leaders of our Church?!?!). There needs to be a lot more evidence before I’m willing to give that theory any credence.

So, there it is. A way to critically read information that gets presented. As you mentioned, it isn’t so much a step-by-step approach as more of a web-linking approach. You’ll find that one example of a mistake ties to another one, which then connects further, and lastly undermines important conclusions in the argument.

I think the most important thing about this though, is to also remember to keep your critical thinking grounded. Too many people get to a point where they start analyzing everything critically until they become a sceptic of everything except for what they’ve personally experienced, or can be proven by “SCIENCE!!!” (like somehow throwing out that word proves s/he is correct). There are ways to learn things that go beyond the physical, the Spirit can witness to us, and instinctual gut responses can provide insight into ourselves. The real task begins when we experience disharmony between what experts have declared as fact, what the Spirit or instinct are impressing upon us, and instruction from Church leadership. I believe that we’ve been promised to grow towards truth so pondering and working through any disharmonies that take place will lead us closer to God who is the source of all truth.

Anyway, that’s what I believe. In the case I’m wrong, I’ll try my best to correct course and connect to the real truth I had previously missed.

-Kyle

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March 1, 2015

Dear President Monson, President Eyring, and President Uchtdorf,

My name is Brett Wilcox. I am a life-long member of the Church. I am writing to you on behalf of the Latter-day Saints from around the world who share concerns related to vaccinations and the Church’s blanket endorsement of vaccines. I am hopeful that you will be receptive to our concerns and that you will consider the difficulties some of us experience due to the Church’s pro-vaccine position. By way of disclosure, I am not necessarily anti-vaccine or non-vaccinating, but I am absolutely anti-vaccine corruption and anti-mandatory vaccine. Stated in the affirmative, I am pro-vaccine informed consent and pro-vaccine choice. [I’m always bothered by this type of caveat that opens a discussion, because the author is trying to paint himself as reasonable. But the remainder of the letter does not support the view that this author is open or reasonable. My experience has been that once you go through the concerns a person like this has towards vaccines or other issues and point out that most or all of the concerns are not defendable positions, they still will not change their attitude regarding whatever the topic of discussion is nor change the reasons or arguments for why they hold to their beliefs.]

As you know, the topic of vaccines has recently risen to national attention and far too often to vitriolic debate. Members of the Church are seeking Church counsel on the subject and many are, no doubt, choosing to vaccinate their children based on the Church’s prominent statements in support of “immunization campaigns.”(1)

Indeed, Church statements are so strong that many members of the Church will likely arrive at the facile [This is a loaded word. It creates a false narrative that one side studies the complexity of the issue, while the other isn’t considering it fully. It assumes that deep study will only lead to the author’s conclusion] conclusion that God is pro-vaccine and choosing not to vaccinate is in violation of God’s will.

Many members of the Church disagree. And contrary to what the First Presidency has stated in the past, our opposition to vaccines does not stem from ignorance or apathy [I think the debate isn’t about using the term “ignorance” meaning based on a lack of information, but rather “willful ignorance” which is an unwillingness to change viewpoints when new information shows that a person was mistaken. I doubt though that had the First Presidency’s letter used the phrase “willful ignorance” that it would have been received any more openly by members of the church opposed to vaccines; perhaps it would have caused even more of a rift, but I think the term fits].(2) Members or not, as a whole those who choose not to vaccinate possess higher than average levels of education [I’m always annoyed when this is used as a defense of the position. In reality there are a variety of studied cognitive biases, and some of them are more likely to be made by higher educated people then less educated. Two ones knows to be committed more by intelligent people are the sunk cost (once someone has committed to an agenda or effort, people are unwilling to walk away from that cause because so much time and cost has been invested in it that the person’s viewpoint is skewed to the point that walking away looks more costly than stopping) and confirmation bias (that we look for evidence to support our existing beliefs).], and in our increasingly coercive vaccine culture, abstaining from vaccines requires a vigilant and courageous pro-active stance [an example of sunk cost; the more they’re proven wrong, the more they feel that their position ought to be defended because not doing so would mean their efforts had been a mistake up until now].(3)

I respectfully suggest that it’s critical for the Church to support Latter-day Saints who choose not to vaccinate and I offer seven points in support of this suggestion.

  1. Agency
    Agency is one of the fundamental doctrines of the Church. Pharmaceutical companies and the U.S. government promote a one-size-fits-all vaccination policy [This isn’t exactly true, there are plenty of medical situations where vaccines are contraindicated. What advocates for vaccines are saying is that the rare cases are indeed rare. Think about it like this, the prevalence of peanut allergy is about 1.4%, significantly higher than vaccine injury, but advocating pure peanut butter as a healthy source of protein is not name-called as a one-size-fits-all campaign, because for everyone who isn’t allergic to peanuts, pure peanut butter is a good source of protein. So vaccine policy is actually a one-size-fits-most, the argument is over how big a group sits outside of “most.”] Vaccine exemptions are under attack, including religious exemptions.(4-6)

The American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics protects the right of physicians to abstain from vaccines for medical, religious, and philosophic reasons.(7) However some doctors subject non-vaccinating parents to abuse or deny medical care [This is a debatable description of what some doctors are doing when denying patients who won’t vaccinate. The reality is that most pediatric and family practice clinics regularly have clients that cannot be vaccinated. Allowing someone who may transmit measles within a medical clinic is a tricky issue to deal with.] when those parents exercise their right to decline vaccines for medical, religious, or philosophic reasons. In addition, parents have lost custody of their children for refusing to vaccinate.(8) [ <– This is a pretty big charge, so I followed the reference. It is a landing page for an open-to-all posting board to complain about vaccines and doctors. Not exactly a source that is considered reputable, and it’s obviously one-sided because it is just first-person accounts. Also, there are so many posts, I couldn’t take the time to dig through the pages and pages of them to verify this exact story.] People have declared that parents of unvaccinated children should be fined or jailed.(9) Health care workers have been fired for refusing the flu vaccine.(10) Teachers, daycare employees, and others are targeted as well.(11) These events foreshadow the advancement of a vaccine police state [a slippery slope argument, and drawing on words that conservatively minded people, such as myself and most church members, tend to pay attention to, but are not applicable in this situation] summarized in a recent draft of the government’s “National Adult Immunization Plan.”(12)

Any government that has the power to force its citizens to submit to medical interventions that carry the risk of injury or death has too much power [I guess he’s using the “bigger the government, smaller the citizen” viewpoint to advocate this view. In reality, nothing I’ve read had given any credence to the idea that mandates and forced vaccinations are actually about to come. What is more likely is denied access to public accommodations that are available via the government]. Unless we believe that God mandates vaccines and approves of punishing non-vaccinators, then the U.S. government’s move to further restrict vaccine choice is a clear violation of our God-given agency [Based on the 12th article of faith, where do we draw the line? We are supposed to follow both God’s law and the laws of men. Every member of the church when facing oppression needs to decide when a line has been crossed and God’s law then trumps man’s and organized opposition to government is needed. I would think that short of rallying to a prophetic leader, we should stick to being “subject to kings, presidents, and rulers.”].

  1. The Church’s pro-vaccine position jeopardizes non-vaccinators’ agency
    Every U.S. state provides different vaccine exemptions. Utah provides three exemptions: philosophical, medical, and religious. All but two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, offer religious exemptions. Alaska, the state in which my family and I live, provides two: medical and religious.(13) Medical exemptions are growing increasingly difficult to obtain and require a doctor’s signature. This means the only exemption option parents have in Alaska and several other states is the religious exemption.

The official religious exemption form in Alaska reads as follows: “I/We affirm that immunization conflicts with the tenets and practices of the Church or religious denomination of which the applicant/parent/guardian is a member.”(14) [I guess he’s advocating that the Church abandon its pro-vaccine position so that he can sign the religious exemption in good conscience, and won’t get push-back if/when someone points out that his church’s position is contrary to his. I disagree with his view that vaccines are bad, so I don’t have a problem with the church explicitly stating its position. If the Church’s position is contrary to the personal beliefs of some members (a recurring theme on a number of issues lately), the member is typically the one that ought take the mandate seriously to “study it out in your mind.”]

In addition, many health care organizations across the nation—including my employer—have implemented mandatory flu vaccine policies. The religious exemption form my employer provided includes the same language as quoted above and also requires that I submit the name and contact information of my local ecclesiastical leader. [bummer if your bishop is pro-vaccine…]

The Church’s unequivocal support of vaccines provides no support for its members’ religious-based opposition to mandatory flu vaccines for health care employees or mandatory vaccines for children [Ah, I see what he’s conflated now.  So he’s saying the church should have a “religious-based opposition to mandatory . . . vaccines.” The problem is that our Church has a pretty progressive view when it comes to eternal truth, as Elder Nelson said in the April 2015 conference, “Truth is truth! It is not divisible, and any part of it cannot be set aside. Whether truth emerges from a scientific laboratory or through revelation, all truth emanates from God.” So our leaders look to scientific evidence for making policy decisions, and they have weighed the vaccine evidence and come down on the side opposed to this author. It is unlikely for them to have one position advocating vaccination and then have an official statement also opposing mandatory vaccination.] Indeed, the Church’s pro-vaccine policy works against members who would otherwise be able to claim a religious exemption. [Perhaps that’s the point…]

I am grateful to the administrators at my place of employment who generously approved my religious exemption, but no doubt there are other Latter-day Saints who have been fired under similar circumstances because the Church does not appear to support its members’ rights to exercise their agency and decline vaccinations based on religious beliefs. If the Church truly values agency, it must demonstrate that value by declaring that Church members have the right to decline vaccines in accordance with their religious beliefs. [I’m bothered by this because an appeal to agency is not always in a person’s interest. Some scientists argue that adults should consume moderate amounts of alcohol for health reasons, and the current research backs up this claim that alcohol itself is beneficial, not just other chemicals in alcoholic drinks. How should the leaders of our church respond to a complaint that the strict interpretation of the Word of Wisdom that has forbidden alcohol from church members since the 1930s is in violation to the principle of agency? Of course we have agency, but we need to also use agency to decide when we will follow priesthood leaders, even when doing so is uncomfortable. Going back to the alcohol issue, while moderate alcohol made be moderately beneficial, the leaders of our church have decided that the potential for abuse and the potential for members to get drawn into the current “alcohol culture” of our society outweigh any minor health benefits we could get. It is then up to our agency to follow the guidance or not.]

  1. Moral and ethical challenges
    Vaccines present moral and ethical challenges for some members. Following are a few of these challenges:
    • Vaccine development sometimes involves the use of aborted fetal tissue and some vaccines include “human diploid cells.”(15,16) Some members do not want to participate in an industry dependent upon the use of aborted babies. [This is a moral quandary, but since the Church endorses vaccinations, I’m comfortable following their guidance. Also, the diploid cell lines come from miscarried fetuses too, so there’s no way to know.]
    • In addition to fetal tissue, some members believe that God does not want their bodies or the bodies of the babies injected with neurotoxins, heavy metals, [regarding “neurotoxins” and “heavy metals” I’m assuming he’s referring primarily to Thimerosal, which contains ethyl mercury, which the body can safely expel from itself. Also, it isn’t even in vaccines anymore purely because of public fear and not because of actual evidence of harm. Part of the reason the whooping cough vaccine is less effective in the last 15 years is because of the removal of Thimerosal] animal tissues, genetically modified organisms, live or attenuated viruses, cleansers, adjuvants, stabilizers, preservatives, etc.(16) They believe that those substances compromise their immune systems and destroy their health. They believe that there is nothing in vaccines that improves their health [The Church considers the evidence to clearly show that vaccines can improve health by preventing harmful diseases. So this point would be completely dismissed]. They believe that God designed their bodies to function perfectly well without injecting foreign and toxic substances directly into their blood supply. And they believe that doing so violates the will the God. [This is not the position of the Church. The church’s doctrine is that this terrestrial world is a fallen one and everything in it is subject to a fallen state. So the body is not designed to “function perfectly well,” it almost sounds to me like Lucifer’s plan: “follow the rules exactly and everything will be fine!” The biological process that God created to bring about new bodies for his spirit children is subject to the terrestrial laws of nature, which include physical abnormalities and weaknesses towards some diseases.]
    • Vaccine manufacturers use unethical practices that would never be sanctioned in U.S.-based research as they conduct vaccine clinical trials on poor people in developing countries.(17,18) [Not every vaccine comes about this way, and when abuses do happen they need to be addressed. However, once a valuable vaccine is productive, and an ethical way to manufacture it is produced, then why throw away the valuable thing that’s been created?]
    • Vaccines injure and kill an unknown and uncounted number of vaccine recipients.(19) Some members refuse to participate in a system that willingly and knowingly sacrifices its most vulnerable participants for “the greater good.” [This is an exaggerated claim, and is essentially the primary reason people don’t vaccinate. This is where the debate lies. It is interesting that the source is the official CDC VAERS which is primarily used to show that vaccine injury is rare. To me this argument is the result of faulty risk analysis; the fear of an unknown entity is always greater than the fear of a known entity, even if the unknown entity is demonstrably worse and something that ought to be feared more. Just like the human biological body has imperfections as part of its terrestrial state, so too do some of our cognitive capabilities, and we should learn when our reasoning might be impaired and learn to compensate with additional knowledge in those situations.]
  2. One size doesn’t fit all
    Church members live throughout the world and vaccination schedules vary by country. Overall, those schedules have been increasing with the U.S. leading the way with one of the most aggressive vaccination schedules in the world.(20)

While the Church may issue a blanket endorsement of “immunizations,” the implications of that endorsement vary by country and indeed by time.

One or two vaccines from the 1950s had swollen to 34 doses of 11 different vaccines by the year 2000.(21) Today American children receive 69 doses of vaccines for 16 different viral and bacterial illnesses.(22)

But the industry is just getting started, boasting in a 2013 report that “nearly 300 vaccines are in development.”(23) Some of these include: “hepatitis C and E, syphilis, gonorrhea, herpes, HIV, cytomegalovirus, entrovirus [I caught enterovirus last summer, I hope they do come up with a vaccine for it. My full lung capacity didn’t return until December, it was awful.], ecoli, adenovirus, obesity, high blood pressure, acne, [and] tooth decay.”(24)

Furthermore, five major institutions including the World Health Organization have been developing anti-fertility vaccines for over two decades.(25) Women and girls of childbearing age in developing countries have been duped into receiving such vaccines.(26-28) The Church’s pro-vaccine stance renders girls and women vulnerable to “the evils and designs of conspiring men” who fund and facilitate such unscrupulous vaccination practices. [This has been debunked by Snopes: http://www.snopes.com/medical/disease/tetanus.asp]

In addition to infertility vaccines, LDS parents around the world have legitimate concerns that call into question the wisdom of the Church’s support of a one-size-fits-all vaccination recommendation [I again reiterate that the official vaccine policy is one-size-fits-most, and that “most” includes well over 99% of people]. Consider some of these concerns from the USA:
• The government specifically targets pregnant women, describing them as an “adult population” and advising them to receive vaccines that are not approved for infants, let alone for developing fetuses.(12)
• The Hepatitis B vaccine is administered on the day of birth and provides immunity from seven to twelve years. Prostitutes and IV drug users are most at risk of contracting Hepatitis B. How many of our children will become IV drug-using prostitutes within the first twelve years of their lives?(29) [There are other ways to catch HepB, and that particular vaccine has a long history of safety. So better safe than sorry.]
• The CDC recommends that 11 and 12-year old girls and boys receive the Gardasil vaccine to protect against genital warts and cancers of the reproductive system.(30) Teens who engage in unsafe sex are most at risk of contracting the viruses that lead to these diseases. As of June 2014, more than 35,000 adverse events to the Gardasil vaccine have been reported.(31) [Can’t research this claim, the link to the source is dead.] Experts agree that only one to ten percent of adverse events are reported.(32,33) [He’s citing VAERS again. Interesting because even if 1-10% of adverse events are being reported, the VAERS data would still mean it’s a pretty small number. Also adverse event includes fever over 100 and pain at injection site. The official assumption by VAERS and other medical professionals when they say in a public statement that the majority of adverse events aren’t reported is because the adverse event is so minor that the recipient felt no need to report it.] Should LDS parents subject their children to this vaccine? [I will vaccinate my girls against HPV, for two reasons: 1. Girls do not always have control over who they have sex with, some women are raped, and I could never forgive myself if one of my daughters caught HPV from a rapist and I could have prevented it. 2. I will do my best to teach my children to follow the law of chastity, but I know that because of my children’s agency no amount of FHE, prayer, and fasting is 100% effective. I will love my kids even if they go astray, and I don’t think cervical cancer and genital mutilating warts should be the price they pay if they make mistakes. I don’t believe God wants us to live in a world where parents think that their wayward children deserve the STIs they catch.]
• Should parents who have lost a child to vaccines vaccinate their other children? [As long as the other children don’t have the problem that caused the death of the first child. Again, within the anti-vaccine movement the number of deaths is greatly exaggerated.]
• Should parents who have a vaccine-injured child continue to give that child additional vaccines according to the schedule? [They should consult with their healthcare providers to determine (a) if the vaccine-injury was in fact a vaccine-injury and not just a coincidence and, (b) if the other vaccines in the schedule are unrelated enough in content that they won’t cause the same problem. Then adjust accordingly.]
• Should children who have genetic vulnerabilities to vaccines receive vaccines regardless of those vulnerabilities? [No, no one is arguing that. What is argued is when one group claims a vulnerability that is in fact, not a vulnerability.]
• Should children who are immunocompromised receive vaccines? [Same answer as above…]

Clearly the government’s one-size-fits-all vaccination policy is flawed and dangerous [No, this letter has not proved that vaccine policy is “clearly . . . flawed and dangerous”]. And the Church’s endorsement of this policy is equally flawed and dangerous.

It’s time for the Church to acknowledge that individual circumstances vary and that members have the right, responsibility, and stewardship to make vaccination choices based on their circumstances, not on ever changing and ever increasing national mandates. [The Church often encourages people to use their stewardship to make health decisions. The problem is that there is a group of people who have, through misinformation, cognitive errors, and group-think, come to a conclusion that is not backed up by science. The Church is in no way required to placate to people who make these kinds of mistakes.]

  1. The vaccines-are-safe-and-effective myth
    The government ruled in 1986 that parents of vaccine-injured children could no longer file suit against vaccine manufacturers. It established a body commonly known as the “Vaccine Court” in which parents of vaccine-injured or deceased children could submit their cases for review and compensation.(34) Even though it is tremendously difficult to prove vaccine injury, to date the vaccine court has paid out over $3 billion dollars in compensation to such people.(35) No wonder the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 2011 that vaccines are “unavoidably unsafe.”(36) [First, he’s cherry picking the supreme court quote. Here it is in context:

 

“Contrary to petitioners’ argument, there is no reason to believe that §300aa–22(b)(1)’s term “unavoidable” is a term of art incorporating Restatement (Second) of Torts §402A, Comment k, which exempts from strict liability rules “unavoidably unsafe products.” “Unavoidable” is hardly a rarely used word, and cases interpreting comment k attach special significance only to the term “unavoidably unsafe products,” not the word “unavoidable” standing alone.”

 

I’ve seen these complaints about the NVIC before. My understanding from the other viewpoint is that pharmaceutical companies are unfairly protected by the creation of this “vaccine court.” Here is what’s really happening: certain activities carry risk, such as driving a car which is also considered “unavoidably unsafe.” If your car is operating perfectly, but you unknowingly have a condition that causes seizures and you have your first one while driving and then crash, which causes great injury or death to you, you have no legal standing to sue the vehicle manufacturer. The same thing goes with vaccines. If the vaccine has been manufactured according to regulatory standards and the best science known to us at this time, and the doctor administers it having screened for all acceptable contraindications, then neither the manufacturer or the doctor are liable if there was an unknown condition that could not have been screened for. Conversely, if you are injured by a car with a defect caused by the manufacturer or if you have a vaccine injury because the vaccine was contaminated by a manufacturer’s error or the doctor forgot to ask about egg allergies, then there is standing to seek damages. Unlike cars though, which a person could opt-out from using, we would like (not mandate) everyone to be vaccinated. Under perfect circumstances, there will still be vaccine-injury at a very rare rate, and so the NVIC exists to allow society a way of compensating those who are injured by this societal demand. The reason why it is so difficult to prove claims before the NVIC is because most claims are actually not caused by vaccines. Also, thanks to people like Andrew Wakefield, who falsified research to help lawyers sue the UK’s version of the NVIC over autism, there are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about the role and purpose of the NVIC.]

Vaccine defenders routinely claim that vaccine injuries are extremely rare [because they are]. Yet, the U.S.A. ranks 30th in infant mortality and according to the non-profit group Save the Children, “The Unites States has the highest first-day infant death rate out of all the industrialized countries in the world.”(37) [This has more to do with the fact that the United States has a much smaller “social safety net” than other industrialized nations (whether that is “good” or “bad” and whether it should be changed needs to be saved for a different debate; for now I want to stick to the vaccine topic). Most of the industrialized nations that have lower infant mortality rates have vaccine schedules very similar to the USA’s.] Rates of ADHD, asthma, allergies, autism, eczema, diabetes, cancers, infertility, autoimmune disorders, and developmental delays are skyrocketing [not all of these are “skyrocketing,” many are increasing primarily due to better screening]. It would be foolish to claim that vaccines are the sole cause of these problems, but it would be even more foolish to continue to claim that our aggressive vaccine schedule doesn’t play a part in the declining health of our posterity [millions of dollars get spent annually on research on these claims, each study piles on more and more evidence that vaccines are not the cause]. One need look no further than the National Library of Medicine’s pubmed.gov to see that researchers link vaccines to more than 200 distinct adverse health effects, including death.(38) [ <–This is an interesting source to dig through. So essentially what they did was search through abstracts that supposedly identify cases of vaccine injury and then claim the sheer volume of abstracts proves a high level of vaccine injury. Yet nowhere on this website could I find a summary of all the finding. Conducting a summary and aggregating those statistics would be considered a meta-analysis, and has quite a few research rules to follow if they were to do so, the fact that the meta-analysis would show wind up showing that true vaccine injury is rare is probably why they didn’t do one. Better for these people to just try and scare through big numbers.

I looked through a few of the abstracts they sited and used by university access to get to the actual journal articles. With over 300 abstracts, I had to cherry pick, but here’s a typical example of what I primarily found:

http://www.greenmedinfo.com/article/adverse-effects-tetanus-toxoid-reduced-diphtheria-toxoid-and-acellular

What this study did was look at adverse effects of the Tdap vaccine in 243 kids, here’s what they found:
47 had redness at the injection site
57 had firm skin and tissue at the injection site
130 had tenderness at the injection site (honestly, I’m surprised that one wasn’t 243!
12 had a fever
No one’s fever lasted longer than 4 days, and all redness, firmness, and tenderness were resolved in less than 7.

That’s not really a strong indicator that vaccine injury is a serious concern.]

In addition, we now know that the artificial immunity produced from vaccines is only temporary which means that adults have no more immunity to infectious diseases than the unvaccinated.(39) [That’s not a “we now know,” that’s been known for a while.] The government plans to solve this problem by implementing a coercive cradle-to-grave, one-size-fits-all vaccination program.(12) [Again, not one-size-fits all, and I don’t have a problem getting regular vaccinations. Once a person reaches their 20’s it’s 5-10 years between most vaccines, a few pricks a decade to avoid disease is okay by me.]

We know that viruses mutate, rendering vaccines against specific diseases ineffective.(40,41) We know that vaccinated children shed vaccine viruses for a period of time after vaccination, spreading the disease to others.(42) That would explain why Johns Hopkins Hospital gives immunocompromised individuals the following advice: “Tell friends and family who are sick, or have recently had a live vaccine (such as chicken pox, measles, rubella, intranasal influenza, polio or smallpox) not to visit. . . . Avoid contact with children who were recently vaccinated.”(43) [This is not a huge concern, it is simply a precautionary measure to take around people with severely compromised immune systems due to cancer or heart disease. The amount of “shedding” that takes place is minuscule and are of the weakened form of the disease that was in the vaccine; if it can’t make the kid sick, it won’t make anyone else sick except under the most extreme cases. Also, the claim that a recently vaccinated kid might have set off the Disneyland-Measles outbreak is without merit because we know that the virus came from an outbreak in the Philippines. The exact person who traveled from the Philippines and brought the virus with them has not been identified.]

We know that reduced rates of chickenpox due to the vaccine have resulted in an increased rate of shingles among young people and that the U.K. does not use the chickenpox vaccine because the risks exceed the benefits.(44) [The children who get shingles get a much more mild version than what adults get. Research is still being done to see if the cost/benefit of the varicella vaccine outweighs the childhood-shingles risk, but it is looking like it is more beneficial to be vaccinated. Also, citing the UK as an example of vaccine policy is not really valid currently as the anti-vaccine movement is even more powerful there than it is here, and it is just as mistaken in belief and analysis as the USA’s anti-vaccine movement.] We know that vaccinated breastfeeding mothers do not pass on the same level of immunity as the mothers who have natural immunity [but if we are a vaccinating society, that doesn’t matter.]. We know that disease outbreaks occur in highly vaccinated communities, calling into question the efficacy of vaccines and the theory of herd immunity.(45) [This source is an opinion piece from a website of questionable validity.]

Our overzealous use of vaccines may one day result in the mutation of viruses for which we cannot vaccinate. We have a similar scenario currently developing due to our overzealous use of antibiotics. [That’s actually not a big concern. It is something to watch for, but when it comes to viruses there’s no reason to assume a mutated version cannot have a vaccine created to combat it.  It is not in the same level of concern as bacterial immunity to antibiotics.]

[This following paragraph is so proven to be false, that it just pains me to even address it. Vaccines do not cause autism.] One particularly contentious and politicized medical concern is the part vaccines play in the current autism epidemic American children are experiencing. The American Medical Association reported in the 1970s that the U.S. autism rate was one in 2,500.(46) Today one in 68 U.S. children have autism and one Senior Research Scientist at MIT states that one in two children born in 2025 will develop autism.(47,48)

Nearly 100 studies implicate the rising number of vaccines as a contributing factor in the autism epidemic.(49) The Amish don’t vaccinate and their autism rate is just above zero.(50) [This myth was debunked years before the article he’s citing was written: http://blogs.plos.org/thepanicvirus/2011/06/28/anecdotal-amish-dont-vaccinate-claims-disproved-by-fact-based-study/] The CDC has known of the vaccine/autism relationship since at least 2001.(51) In August 2014, a high-level CDC whistleblower declared that the CDC had hidden data linking the MMR vaccine to autism.(52) Doctors who treat and reverse autism do it, in part, by removing heavy metals from the body, the same heavy metals found in vaccines.(53-56) [So much conspiracy theory in here that it is so difficult to address it all. Given that we now have tests that can detect autism in the womb, if there is a heavy metal cause it is from the mother’s environment, not vaccines.]

If the Church’s medical advisors dispute these facts, go easy on them; they’re suffering from “ignorance and apathy” as well as dangerous levels of industry indoctrination. [One of the Church’s medical advisors is a current apostle. That’s a pretty inflammatory statement about a member of the Quorum of the Twelve.]

  1. Industry/government corruption
    The Book of Mormon provides a detailed account of bandits known as the Gadianton robbers. These robbers had entered into a secret pact to murder and steal “to get gain.” We are taught that our knowledge of the Gadianton robbers was preserved as a warning to us in these days. Today’s pharmaceutical industry makes the Gadianton robbers look like school kids by comparison [Wow! Just WOW! I have never heard someone try to make a claim this bold before in relation to vaccines. It just boggles my mind that members of the Church think they can see such corruption, but our Priesthood leaders can’t.]. In the past five years alone, drug makers have paid the U.S. government $19.2 billion in criminal and civil fraud penalties.(57) Industry executives are indeed guilty of murdering and stealing “to get gain.” They do this through government corruption, conflicts of interest, sham research, preying upon poor families in developing countries, and an industry/government revolving door. The vaccine industry in particular operates with no accountability and no liability.(58)

When we participate in the vaccination system, we are complicit in the poisoning of every person who participates in the system. How? When we vaccinate, we conduct business with modern day Gadianton robbers.(59) We maintain the demand for thimerosal, formaldehyde and other toxic chemicals. We give our consent to the industry and the government to continue poisoning their customers and constituents, our children and our grandchildren.

The government has declared its intentions to target people of faith “through faith-based organizations and individual faith communities,” because faith-based organizations “can deliver education that is culturally sensitive and tailored to specific subpopulations.”(12)

In 2013 the New York Archdiocese of the Catholic Church locked arms with modern-day Gadianton robbers by denying vulnerable members the right to claim a religious-based exemption.(60)

Will the LDS Church follow suit? Will its leaders and spokespersons become “immunization champions” as the government proposes or will they stand up and say no to our corrupt and dangerous vaccine system?(12)

[Oh my, I honestly don’t know how to address this. Not because it is an argument that seems likely, but quite the opposite, it is so far removed from reality and so inflammatory that I don’t even know where to begin. If a member of the church has gone that far down the rabbit hole, I don’t know what I could even say to start turning them back towards the light of truth.]

  1. Liability
    Vaccination is a medical procedure that carries the risk of injury or death. The Church has no more medical authority to instruct its members to receive vaccines than it has to instruct its members to receive heart surgery. Such instruction has already resulted in injury and death among its members. As previously stated, the government has paid out over $3 billion dollars in compensation for vaccine related injuries and deaths. If it hasn’t already happened, the day will come when Church members will seek compensation from the Church for the harm they experienced because they followed the Church’s medical advice to vaccinate. [I’m going to go back to the point I made under item 5 of this letter, that the understanding of liability related to vaccines is very misunderstood. When all evidence going back to 1798 shows vaccines have medical value, the church is in good standing to makes its recommendation to members. Also, the Church makes all sorts of advice regarding health, that’s what the Word of Wisdom is. Additionally, when there are other Churches out there that make very bold statements regarding anything from the “evils” of blood transfusion, or would form a prayer circles around a choking child instead of performing the Heimlich maneuver, it is incumbent on our Church to clarify how our doctrines relate to healthcare treatment. We need to show to the world that ours is a church that believes in the search for truth in all its forms, both eternal truths related to everlasting life, and scientific truths that improve the health of our imperfect terrestrial bodies.]

In recent years, the U.S. government has successfully chipped away at our individual liberties. Far too few of us are yet aware that the government is destroying our medical liberties as well. We blindly follow behind an army of vaccination pied pipers, rushing toward a vaccination precipice. Some have already fallen over the edge. Among the victims we find the unemployed and unemployable, the diseased, the chronically injured, the brain damaged, and the dead. In the future we may also find the imprisoned.

As Church leaders, you have the moral obligation to oppose governmental and medical tyranny. You have the moral obligation to divest Church-owned stocks and sever business relationships with the companies that profit from that tyranny. Should you fail to do so, you risk losing all moral authority. [This is turning a political argument into a church doctrine one. Yes, we need to debate within our countries the amount of power we’re going to give our governments, and influence our society so that the level of power will not reach tyrannical levels. Yet, this person has equated a social and political debate about public health, and through cognitive distortions and cherry-picked information, sees a demon where none exists. The Church is under no obligation to support this person’s position when he has built his beliefs on a house of cards. If he is going to hang his testimony on what our leaders advocate related to vaccines and assume if the Church disagrees with him then the Church has failed to see the light and has fallen into the company of Gadianton robbers. Perhaps he should take time to better understand why the Church doesn’t agree with him (short of the Gadianton robber thing) and study some of the information that has led to Church to its position on the issue.]

The pied pipers will soon pass their newest pipes to you. Will you play their instruments of propaganda as expected and lead your people off the cliff?

On behalf of all freedom-cherishing members of the Church and all such Americans, I implore you to seize this opportunity to stand for vaccine truth [which this letter is completely devoid of], vaccine informed consent, and vaccine choice. Show that support by condemning vaccine corruption and compulsion. Issue a strong statement in support of members’ rights to receive or decline any and all vaccines “according to the dictates of their own conscience” [“your own conscience” is valid when the decision is being made on wise and true information, not conspiracy theories and half-truths. When people are making dumb choices, it is the dictate of my conscience to point that out when it could potentially harm others.] and their unique personal circumstances [They already do…].

Thank you for considering this crucial matter [unfortunately, from my very first thought as I read this:

“[When we] point out that most or all of the concerns are not defendable positions, they still will not change their attitude regarding vaccinating their own children nor change the reasons or arguments for why they won’t vaccinate.”

this person seems unwilling to even consider that he is in the wrong and the brethren are in the right. I feel genuinely sorry for him because I have found that when someone takes such a black and white stance on any issue such that he will only consider evidence that reinforces his beliefs that he is on a path that will lead to sorrow. Someone who will look for corruption where none exists and see fail to see the real and potential suffering that is the result of his decisions and beliefs is going to paint himself into a corner that will result in an open wound between him and the church and could lead him to turn away from the light of the gospel.

Sincerely,

Brett Wilcox
Sitka, Alaska

Notes

  1. “Church Leaders on Child Immunization,” LDS Living, February 7, 2015,http://ldsliving.com/story/78000-church-leaders-parents-have-an-obligation-to-protect-their-families-through-immunization
  2. “Immunize Children, Leaders Urge,” Liahona, July 1978,https://www.lds.org/liahona/1978/07/immunize-children-leaders-urge?lang=eng
  3. Emily Foxhall, “Parents who oppose measles vaccine hold firm to their beliefs,” LA Times, January 25, 2015,http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-measles-oc-20150126-story.html#page=1
  4. Louise Kuo Habakus, “Religious Exemption to Vaccination Under Attack,” Middletown Patch, October 13, 2012,http://patch.com/new-jersey/middletown-nj/bp–religious-exemption-to-vaccination-under-attack-if9968a3b4c
  5. “You Need to Act Now – Vaccine Exemptions and Mandates Threatened in Even More States,” National Vaccine Information Center, February 23, 2015,http://www.nvicadvocacy.org/members/National/ActionAlertDetails.aspx?itemid=649&Page=True
  6. “Vaccine Mandates: Your Right to Informed Consent Is Under Attack Starting with Oregon SB 442-3,” Thinking Moms’ Revolution, February 27, 2015,http://thinkingmomsrevolution.com/vaccine-mandates-right-informed-consent-attack-starting-oregon-sb-442-3/#comment-115625
  7. “Opinion 9.133 Routine Universal Immunization of Physicians,” American Medical Association,http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics/opinion9133.page
  8. “Cry For Vaccine Freedom Wall,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Forms/Cry-For-Vaccine-Freedom-Wall.aspx
  9. Mac Slavo, “Measles Police State: “Parents who do not vaccinate their children should go to jail,” Freedom Outpost, January 30, 2015,http://freedomoutpost.com/2015/01/measles-police-state-parents-not-vaccinate-children-go-jail/
  10. “Hospitals crack down on staff refusing flu shots,” CBS News, January 12, 2013,http://www.cbsnews.com/news/hospitals-crack-down-on-staff-refusing-flu-shots/
  11. Dawn Richardson, “2014 State Vaccine Legislation in America: Battle Lines Are Drawn & Your Participation is Needed!” National Vaccine Information Center, February 11, 2014,http://www.nvic.org/NVIC-Vaccine-News/February-2014/2014-State-Vaccine-Legislation-in-America—Battle.aspx
  12. “National Adult Immunization Plan,” National Vaccine Program Office, February 5, 2015,http://www.hhs.gov/nvpo/national_adult_immunization_plan_final.pdf
  13. “State Law & Vaccine Requirements,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Vaccine-Laws/state-vaccine-requirements.aspx
  14. “State of Alaska CHILD CARE & SCHOOL IMMUNIZATION REQUIREMENTS Packet,” June 2013,http://www.epi.hss.state.ak.us/id/iz/factsheet/IZReqPacket2013.pdf
  15. “Vatican Document,” immunize.org, June 9, 2005,http://www.immunize.org/concerns/vaticandocument.htm
  16. “Vaccine Excipient & Media Summary: Excipients Included in U.S. Vaccines, by Vaccine,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/downloads/appendices/B/excipient-table-2.pdf
  17. “Human Lab Rats – Exploiting the world’s poor for clinical trials,” Journeyman Pictures, November 4, 2013,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-a6_x3EvM8
  18. “The Human Laboratory, BBC Television: Horizon, November 5, 1995,http://www.whale.to/vaccine/horizon.html
  19. “Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS),” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccinesafety/Activities/vaers.html
  20. Julian Whitaker, MD, “The Truth About Vaccinations,” National Vaccine Information Center,http://www.nvic.org/Doctors-Corner/JulianWhitakerMD/The-Truth-About-Vaccinations.aspx
  21. “Notice to Readers: Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule — United States, 2000,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States, 2000,http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm4902a4.htm
  22. “Recommended Immunization Schedule for Persons Aged 0 Through 18 Years,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, United States, 2015,http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/hcp/imz/child-adolescent.html
  23. “Vaccines: A Report on the Prevention and Treatment of Disease Through Vaccines,” America’s Biopharmaceutical Research Companies, 2013,http://www.phrma.org/sites/default/files/pdf/Vaccines_2013.pdf
  24. Anne Dachel, “NVIC’s Barbara Loe Fisher on Vaccine Debate,” Age of Autism, February 6, 2015,http://www.ageofautism.com/2015/02/nvics-barbara-loe-fisher-on-vaccine-debate.html
  25. “CALL FOR A STOP OF RESEARCH ON ANTIFERTILITY ‘VACCINES’,” Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights, November 8, 1993,http://www.finrrage.org/pdf_files/Contraception/Stop_Research_Anti_Fert_Vac.pdf
  26. “CATHOLIC DOCTORS SPEAK: TETANUS VACCINATION CAMPAIGN IS ALL ABOUT POPULATION CONTROL‏,” Matercare International,http://www.matercare.org/news-publications/medical-news/catholic-doctors-speak-tetanus-vaccination-campaign-is-all-about-population-control/
  27. “Anti-Fertility Drug Experiments?” Population Research Institute, March 1, 1995,http://pop.org/content/anti-fertility-drug-experiments-1709
  28. “Anti-fertility vaccines,” American Life League,http://www.all.org/nav/index/heading/OQ/cat/Mzc/id/NjgyOA/
  29. Dr. Sherry Tenpenny, “Dr Tenpenny, What the CDC documents say about vaccines,” April 29, 2013, 1:23:00,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1VwVBmx0Ng
  30. “HPV Vaccines,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,http://www.cdc.gov/hpv/vaccine.html
  31. “HPV Vaccine,” A Shot of Truth,http://www.ashotoftruth.org/vaccines/hpv-vaccine
  32. “VAERS Data,” Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System,https://vaers.hhs.gov/data/index
  33. “Hiding adverse reactions ploy,”http://www.whale.to/vaccines/ploy1.html
  34. “National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services,http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/data.html
  35. “Data & Statistics,” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2, 2015,http://www.hrsa.gov/vaccinecompensation/data.html
  36. “BRUESEWITZ ET AL. v. WYETH LLC, FKA WYETH, INC., ET AL.,” Supreme Court of the United States, February 22, 2011,http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/10pdf/09-152.pdf
  37. Michelle Castillo, “U.S. has highest first-day infant mortality out of industrialized world, group reports,” CBS News, May 7, 2013,http://www.cbsnews.com/news/us-has-highest-first-day-infant-mortality-out-of-industrialized-world-group-reports/
  38. Sayer Ji, “200 Evidence-Based Reasons NOT To Vaccinate – FREE Research PDF Download!” GreenMedInfo.com, February 22, 2015,http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/200-evidence-based-reasons-not-vaccinate-free-research-pdf-download
  39. Rouderfer V, Becker NG, Hethcote HW, “Waning immunity and its effects on vaccination schedules,” Math Biosci. 1994 Nov;124(1):59-82,http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7827424
  40. “Ebola becoming harder to treat —US experts: rapid mutation could ‘render treatment and vaccines ineffective’,” The Extinction Protocol, September 1, 2014,https://theextinctionprotocol.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/ebola-becoming-harder-to-treat-us-experts-rapid-mutation-could-render-treatment-and-vaccines-ineffective/
  41. Sydney Lupkin, “Flu: This Year’s Vaccine Is Worse Than We Thought,” ABC News, January 15, 2015,http://abcnews.go.com/Health/flu-years-vaccine-worse-thought/story?id=28249130
  42. Sayer Ji, “The Vaccinated Spreading Measles: WHO, Merck, CDC Documents Confirm,” GreenMedInfo.com, January 30, 2015,http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/vaccinated-spreading-measles-who-merck-cdc-documents-confirms
  43. “Patient Guide,” The Johns Hopkins Hospital, p. 113,http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/kimmel_cancer_center/patient_information/Patient%20Guide%20Final.pdf
  44. Toni Bark, M.D., Suzanne Humphries, M.D., “Bought Movie Bonus Short- Chicken Pox Vaccine,” Jeff Hays Films, February 1, 2015,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVi4270412Y
  45. Suzanne Humphries, M.D., “‘Herd Immunity.’ The flawed science and failures of mass vaccination, Suzanne Humphries, MD,” International Medical Council on Vaccination, July 5, 2012,http://www.vaccinationcouncil.org/2012/07/05/herd-immunity-the-flawed-science-and-failures-of-mass-vaccination-suzanne-humphries-md-3/
  46. Journal American Medical Association 285: 1183-85, 2001,http://www.vaccinationnews.org/Scandals/Feb_15_02/skyrocketing_autism.htm
  47. “CDC estimates 1 in 68 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 27, 2014,http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2014/p0327-autism-spectrum-disorder.html
  48. “Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025, Warns Senior Research Scientist at MIT,” Alliance for Natural Health, December 23, 2014,http://www.anh-usa.org/half-of-all-children-will-be-autistic-by-2025-warns-senior-research-scientist-at-mit/
  49. “No Evidence of Any Link,” Adventures in Autism, July 24, 2013,http://adventuresinautism.blogspot.com/2007/06/no-evidence-of-any-link.html
  50. Sharyl Attkisson, “Where are the Autistic Amish?” sharylattkisson.com, July 20, 2014,http://sharylattkisson.com/where-are-the-autistic-amish/
  51. “Senior Government Scientist Breaks 13 Years’ Silence on CDC’s Vaccine-autism Fraud,” Age of Autism, August 2014,http://www.ageofautism.com/2014/08/senior-government-scientist-breaks-13-years-silence-on-cdcs-vaccine-autism-fraud.html
  52. “August 27, 2014 Press Release, ‘Statement of William W. Thompson, Ph.D., Regarding the 2004 Article Examining the Possibility of a Relationship Between MMR Vaccine and Autism’,” Morgan Verkamp LLC, August 17, 2014http://www.morganverkamp.com/august-27-2014-press-release-statement-of-william-w-thompson-ph-d-regarding-the-2004-article-examining-the-possibility-of-a-relationship-between-mmr-vaccine-and-autism/
  53. “Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Reverse Autism Now,http://reverseautismnow.org/treatments
  54. Jaquelyn McCandless, MD, Children with Starving Brains: A Medical Treatment Guide for Autism Spectrum Disorder, Bramble Books, 2007,http://www.amazon.com/Children-Starving-Brains-Treatment-Spectrum/dp/1883647177/
  55. Kenneth Bock, M.D. and Cameron Stauth, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma, and Allergies, Ballantine Books, New York, New York, 2008,http://www.amazon.com/Healing-New-Childhood-Epidemics-Groundbreaking/dp/0345494512/
  56. Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D. and Bernard Rimland, Ph.D., Recovering Autistic Children, Autism Research Institute, San Diego, California, 2006,http://www.amazon.com/Recovering-Autistic-Children-Edelson-Stephen/dp/0974036013/
  57. Tracy Staton, “Pharma shelled out $3.75B in fraud penalties in record-setting year, feds say,” FiercePharma, February 26, 2014,http://www.fiercepharma.com/story/pharma-shelled-out-375b-fraud-penalties-record-setting-year-feds-say/2014-02-26
  58. “No Pharma Liability? No Vaccine Mandates,” National Vaccine Information Center, March 2, 2011,http://www.nvic.org/NVIC-Vaccine-News/March-2011/No-Pharma-Liability–No-Vaccine-Mandates-.aspx
  59. Kristine M. Severyn, Ph.D., “Profits, Not Science, Motivate Vaccine Mandates,” Well Being Journal, Spring 2001, Volume 10, #2,https://www.wellbeingjournal.com/profits-not-science-motivate-vaccine-mandates/
  60. “Interview with Attorney Patricia Finn on Vaccine Exemptions,” VACTRUTH, October 3, 2013, minute 30:30,https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SND6sTx5yWw

New Goal (Posting it here so I’ll do it)

I still haven’t found a way to maintain a blog along with 2 jobs and all my family responsibilities (BTW, my body fat percentage as of 12/08/14 was 24%, down from close to 33% in May.), but I have still tried to complete some various goals related to self-improvement.  Some are easy to maintain, others are hard.  I’ve been doing one for a week and a half now and it has been very hard to not fall behind, so now I’m posting it publicly so I’ll be more inclined to do it.

I have found that in the last 6 years or so it is much harder to pay close attention to General Conference the weekend it actually airs.  Part of that had to do with the fact that UNT held a campus wide open house the first Saturday of April while I worked there, but part of it has to do with the fact that with 4 kids in the house it is hard to just sit down and listen.  We find things for them to do and encourage their participation in conference, but distractions pop up.  For some reason I was thinking about this during sacrament meeting a couple weeks ago while we were visiting Texas, and I thought up a way to play catch up with some of the recent session: each week I’d devote to listening to one apostle (including those in the First Presidency) and listen to one talk a day from the last 5 General Conferences on weekdays.

…and then I promptly forgot that I wanted to do that.

But then on December 7th I remembered and made a chart on my Google Drive and actually put on all the links to the talks and assigned them to days.  Luckily if I started on the 8th, I’d still finish before the April 2015 General Conference.  I listened to the two talks assigned for the 8th, and 9th

…and then didn’t listen to another one until yesterday when I started playing catch up on the goal.

Today I managed to properly catch up, but seeing as how I forgot for two weeks that I wanted to do this, and then got 4 talks behind right in the opening days of the goal, I needed more accountability.  Thus this blog post.

While I’d like to promise that I will publish something each Friday when I finish with my thoughts about the theme the apostle seemed to have, the last few months have shown that I don’t have a schedule that can permit such a promise.  However, I will likely post an update every so often on the progress I’ve made or something I’ve learned.

So if you like this goal or idea, feel free to share in it or modify it to fit your schedule and lifestyle. Or come up with your own goal to do, after all a good healthy S.M.A.R.T. goal is necessary every so often for all of us.

The Conference Center

October 2014 Conference Wordle

Finding my Place in Higher Ed – #MormonPositive

Continuing my theme on stories from my life where the struggles of being Mormon made my life better.

For those of you unaware, I work professionally as an Academic Advisor.  I currently work for Brigham Young University, but I started in this field 4 years ago (this month!) at the University of North Texas. Prior to that I worked for about 20 months as a Financial Aid Counselor, and before that I bounced around in a few different jobs trying to figure out who I wanted to be professionally. I love being an academic advisor, it is a fun job for a person like me.  And given that my education allows be to become a licensed counselor and working for a university allows me access to free and discounted continuing-education opportunities, I love that I still have a lot of potential for growth professionally (and personally) in the coming decades before I retire.

The interesting thing about all of this is that if I weren’t Mormon, I sincerely doubt that I would have found this career path and I don’t know if I would have ever found so much happiness in my career. In fact, if you were to look at the type of student I was in high school or my undergraduate, you would have never thought that I could become what I currently am.

You see, I was a bad student. It wasn’t that I wasn’t bright, or that I didn’t understand things that were being taught. It was simply that I was terrible about finishing my homework. During middle school and high school, I’d do fine on the tests but I would never read my assignments or do my worksheets.  I’d average out to a “C” when all was said and done, but it was entirely based on my test grades balancing out a bunch of ZEROs on all my homework. One thing that my dad and I would always argue over is that sometimes he’d find an assignment I hadn’t done in the morning and he’d make me complete as much of it as I could during breakfast and he’d make me do it between bites of cereal and tell me to turn it in even though I’d only complete about 25-50% of the assignment. For some reason though, I was more embarrassed to turn in an incomplete assignment to my teachers than to tell them I didn’t do it, so I’d keep it stuffed in the bottom of my backpack. I knew I’d get a lecture from my dad when my teachers would send home progress reports with a bunch of NHIs (Not Handed In) for all my homework assignments, but it didn’t matter. (I think I’m personally responsible for 60% of my dad’s baldness.)

After deciding that the arguments weren’t worth it, my mom finally hired a tutor for my my junior and senior years of high school. She wasn’t there to teach me anything about school subjects, her only job was to track all my assignments and create a schedule for me to get them done. It helped.

Thanks to my extra-curriculars (Academic Decathlon being the #1) and straight A’s in seminary, I was admitted to BYU out of high school.  That was remarkable in the late 90’s, my high school GPA probably put me in the bottom 5% of admits.  Today, theUndergrad Graduationy wouldn’t have bothered with the likes of me, I was too much of a risk.  In fact, I was a risk. Without the skills needed to manage my study schedule without a tutor, and since so much of the work at the university level requires self-directed study, my past habit of being able to at least get passable grades thanks to my test scores didn’t work.  I was failing my tests too. Somehow I pulled off graduation, but I spent all my time as an undergrad in and out of academic probation.

So, what does this have to do with being Mormon? Well, as you can imagine there were many times that I was ready to call it quits on this whole school thing.  I wanted to take the easy way out, just get an associates or a professional certificate and just get on with life. I probably would have done that if not for one thing: my Patriarchal Blessing.

I don’t want to offer too lengthy a description of a Patriarchal Blessing in this post (you can learn more here), but in short it is a blessing of guidance given typically during teenage years that offers inspired counsel for how to live your life. Most items said in the blessing are broad guidelines that relate directly to scripture. It is a personal thing though, so often we can find very specific guidance in those broad guidelines.

One of the guidelines in my blessing reads almost more like a commandment. My blessing counsels me to “continue throughout your life in your education and seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom.” It seems like a good bit of counsel for just about anyone to follow, but it felt very personal to me each and every time I’d get another email telling me that I had to go to the Academic Support Office because I was back on probation. So many times I wanted to call it quits and walk away, but thanks to a few words spoken to me during a blessing given by a total stranger, I kept on trying. And eventually, my efforts paid off and I graduated.

The story doesn’t end there though.  After three years out of school and finding myself professionally unfulfilled I began to realize that I needed more education to move forward again. The thought of putting myself through the stress of schooling again, and this time while married and with children, was almost too much to bare. I still had that counsel to lean back on though: “continue throughout your life in your education and seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom.” So, I eased my way back into school. I started with some independent study, then took some leveling-courses to get back into the swing of things, and then got into grad school and finished my Master’s, and I did so with a 4.0 GPA.  Every semester, as I’d get my report card, I would already know that I had satisfied the requirements for A’s, but I was still amazed to see them added to my transcript.Graduate Graduation

The most interesting thing about this story to me is where it actually led me. I didn’t plan on becoming an academic advisor when I started grad school, that was just a tangent that was supposed to help me pay my way through my master’s program.  Now though, I work every day with students who struggle the same way I did and don’t know how to turn it around. My life and experience with school has helped me develop knowledge and wisdom to help these students. I know how to help a struggling student change his or her habits in school, and it’s not a theoretical knowledge, it is genuine knowledge that I learned through effort and trial. Seeing these students who struggled like I did, and then make their lives better is what makes being an academic advisor the funnest job I could ever ask for.  And, it would have never happened if not for a stranger, who when I was 18 told me to “continue throughout [my] life in [my] education and seek to grow in knowledge and wisdom.” Another reason I am one very happy Mormon.

Science vs Religion? Not a Problem for Me #MormonPositive

So far in my #MormonPositive series I have written about experiences in my life that were stressful specifically because of my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but how experiencing that stress made me a better person.  I’m going to break from that pattern a little bit today and focus on how my membership in the church prevented me from experiencing a stress that impacts some religious people.

I have never to my recollection felt any conflict been my religious beliefs and science, and I attribute that entirely to the doctrines of my church.  For me:

Evolution, not a problem.

Physics is fascinating, has never made me question God.

The age of Earth/Universe, sure 4.5 & 13.5 billion years respectively, again not a problem.

 

At one time during my freshman year of college I thought about being a physics major.  I didn’t pursue it because I didn’t have confidence I could learn that math, but I blame that on my public schooling education, not my religion.

For some reason there seem to be people in other Christian denominations (and occasionally some individuals in my own church) who seem to think that science is a threat to their faith.  Also, there are scientists who seem to think that religion in general is a threat to further learning in science.  I find myself comfortably outside of both camps.

There is such a fascinating legacy of scientific thought within the Mormon community.  Some intriguing quotes worth pondering:

“The origin of life whether human or inferior, must be lodged in some character whom I have not seen! Follow it back, no matter whether it be for six thousand years, six millions, six million millions, or billions of years, the figures and numbers are immaterial, I must have come from some source, my natural philosophy teaches me this. But, leaving the natural philosophy of the child free from false tradition, let us inquire. What does the philosophy of the Christian sects, or many of them, not all, teach? “God made the world in six days, out of nothing!” This is very wrong; no child should be taught any such dogma. God never did make a world out of nothing; He never will, He never can!” [Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 13, pg. 248, 25 Sep 1870].

“Miracles are commonly regarded as occurrences in opposition to the laws of nature. Such a conception is plainly erroneous, for the laws of nature are inviolable. However, as human understanding of these laws is at best but imperfect, events strictly in accordance with natural law may appear contrary thereto. The entire constitution of nature is founded on system and order.” [James E. Talmage, The Articles of Faith, Deseret Book, SLC, 1966, originally published 1899, pg. 220.]”

“Truth is truth forever. Scientific truth cannot be theological lie. To the sane mind, theology and philosophy must harmonize. They have the common ground of truth on which to meet.” [John A. Widtsoe, Joseph Smith as Scientist, originally published in 1908, Bookcraft, 1964, pg. 156].

“Since the gospel embraces all truth, there can never be any genuine contradictions between true science and true religion… I am obliged, as a latter-day saint, to believe whatever is true, regardless of the source.” [Henry Eyring, Faith of a Scientist, p. 12, 31]

This perspective has been very helpful for me.  It means that I can watch Neil deGrasse Tyson’s documentaries or TV shows and thoroughly enjoy them.  I meant that I could work as the academic advisor in the Biology department for a major university in Texas, and never feel even the slightest bit of conflict.  Now, I find myself working for Brigham Young University and I see around me so many scientists in the top of their fields with no conflict between the experiments they conduct, the lessons they teach, and the peace they have found through the practice of our religion.

I know that conflict occasionally erupts and a person will claim that they are being torn between his/her scientific principles and religion, and much attention is focused on those events, but I think that is more the exception than the rule.  So many of us in the LDS Faith find comfort, knowledge, and synchrony between both science and religion and experience no internal conflict.  For any out there who do, please take the time to understand that truth is truth and that it is the limits of our minds’ that might prevent us from seeing the ties between religious truth and scientific truth, not the lack of ties between the two.

Milky Way 2005
Additional Readings:

Henry Eyring, The Faith of a Scientist

Science Meets Religion

Evolution and the Origin of Man

Trouble at the MTC #MormonPositive

Here is my 2nd post in my #MormonPositive series.

 

So, to recap I’m writing about ways in which my life is either harder or more stressful because I’m Mormon, but illustrating how that difficult issue and/or stressful event made me a better person.  I guess I have to discuss my absolute most stressful time ever as a Mormon: the 8 weeks I spent in the MTC.

Many people speak with fondness of their time in the MTC (Missionary Training Center), they talk about how it was the first time in their lives that they were able to focus on their spiritual selves and the first time that the various truths they had learned about the gospel finally coalesced into a unified testimony of the restoration. However, for me the MTC marked a time of extreme anxiety and internal turmoil.

Missionary Training Center in Provo, UT

I had reported to the MTC expecting the time of my life.  I was one of those LDS kids that had sung “I Hope They Call Me on a Mission” with gusto, because I meant it!  Sometimes when I was home alone I would watch the old “Called to Serve” VHS and think about how that would be me someday. I lived a life worthy to become a missionary (and very much by choice, not accident nor lack of opportunity). Yet, my arrival to the MTC was filled with voices telling me that I wasn’t good enough, and due to an inherent problem within me that I had not yet overcome, I believed them.

I put the blame for my stress at the MTC on three people: the first counselor in my MTC branch presidency, one of our language teachers, and myself.

The first one was a seminary teacher from somewhere in Utah County, so our branch president delegated most of the presidency instruction to him.  Right from the get-go he was very open with his opinion that young adults were not the best way to preach the gospel to the world, but because this was the way the Lord said to do it right now, he was going to do everything in his power to get us ready.  He openly said that if the Church was serious about increasing convert baptisms they would shift focus from sending out young adults and start sending out more senior couples.  He openly called us lazy, unprepared, unworthy, unfocused, and undeserving of our calling.  The interesting thing is that I knew his whole opinion about the missionary program was incorrect because I had a family friend who was transitioning from the roll of mission president into general authority while I was preparing for the MTC, and I had personally heard him bemoan the fact that senior couples in the Church are extremely hesitant to serve missions.  But, while there in the MTC under this man’s influence, I unfortunately allowed myself to believe this member of our branch presidency regarding my personal worthiness to serve a mission.

The second one, one of our language teachers, had just returned from his mission to the Philippines and was hired by the MTC to teach Cebuano.  I’ll give him this, he learned the language beyond what most consider possible for a Westerner, let alone as a proselyting missionary.  In my opinion though, his unique ability to learn this language filled him with a level of arrogance unbecoming of a priesthood holder.  He was hired about a week after I reported to the MTC and he substituted and observed my class for about 3 weeks until the next batch of Philippines-bound missionaries arrived.  I was happy to be rid of his daily presence, but unfortunately not his influence.  He told us, in no uncertain terms, that the Philippines was a blessed land (which I agree with) and that he was disgusted and disturbed that the Church headquarters would have called a group of so unprepared and unacceptable missionaries to be sent there.  When a missionary in one of the Tagalog classes got reassigned to an English speaking mission after he’d had some difficulty, this teacher openly asked if our whole class ought to have the same fate when we mis-conjugated a verb he was teaching us.

And then there was me.  At that time in my life I believed pretty much anything anyone said about me. The sad thing about this is that my own stake president, minutes before setting me apart as a missionary warned me that this was a weakness of mine, and that it would be a serious challenge for me, particularly while I was in the MTC.  Today, I understand this problem through the psychological theory of Locus of Control, which in brief says that people either define themselves through internal beliefs or external influences.  For much of my childhood, especially during the years that I was bullied, I defined myself and my self-efficacy through external voices.  When voices the voices that were critical of me (bullies & some teachers) outnumbered the voices that spoke positive of me (my parents, different teachers, a Sunday school teacher) I had difficult times.  If the positive voices got louder, I would feel better.  Currently, I know that the healthiest thing is to self-evaluate myself and my self-efficacy so I don’t get into a shame spiral when criticized.  That was a long and hard lesson, but the foundation for me to learn that also came during my time at the MTC.

The voices telling me that I wasn’t worthy to me a missionary were rather loud, but I kept myself tied to my determination to be a missionary.  Fortunately, a much more influential figure came into my life and helped me silence those critical voices.  One of our Tuesday Devotional speakers while I was in the MTC was Elder M. Russell Ballard.  He came and gave a wonderful lesson on the gathering of Israel and of foreordination.  It was a great talk, but it wasn’t the talk that left an impression on me.

Elder M. Russell Ballard

Prior to Elder Ballard’s arrival, I had been in the auditorium early to participate in the MTC choir.  Once we had finished our rehearsal the rest of the elders, sisters, and MTC leadership began to arrive.  The MTC is organized into branches and the branches into districts.  One of the district presidents had been selected to conduct the meeting.  By this point, I had gotten used to the MTC devotional routine of the conductor standing up a few times as people filed in and asking everyone to take their seats quickly so we could begin.  Once everyone was finally seated the speaker and his/her party would then be the last to enter and sit on the stand.  This district president though, called us to order well before people had started coming in, basically while just the choir was in the room.  He read a prepared statement that read something like this: “Elder Ballard has another obligation following the conclusion of his remarks here.  At the conclusion of the closing prayer, REMAIN IN YOUR SEATS until he has left the auditorium.  DO NOT approach the stand expecting to meet Elder Ballard or shake his hand as he needs to leave IMMEDIATELY.” As he read those words, which as just words were harmless enough, his tone created a message of derision or contempt.  The emphasis he placed on the commandments in the statement were in the same tone that a drill sergeant would use with a belligerent soldier, or a warden with a difficult prisoner.  I felt disrespected, and I felt as though I had one more person who didn’t respect the choice I had willingly made to become a missionary.  My ill feelings towards this man increased every 2-3 minutes as he stood up and repeated the statement as more and more people came into the room, each time the tone harsher and the statement given louder.  It didn’t bother me that much that Elder Ballard had to leave and we wouldn’t be able to shake his hand, but the tone of this man telling us that bothered me a great deal.

Eventually the meeting began, and as I said before Elder Ballard’s talk was wonderful.  I was lifted and filled with positive emotion.  Little did I know how quickly that could all be undone.  The same district president who had opened the meeting stood to announce the concluding hymn and prayer, and then before we got to those he started reading the announcement about Elder Ballard leaving early again. (As a note, since Elder Ballard had been the last one to enter the auditorium, this was the first time he heard this district president read this statement.)  The harsh tone was identical to the one that had preceded the meeting, and immediately the warm feeling within me retreated and I felt my anger return.  I remember looking down at the floor because I couldn’t stand both looking and listening to this man.  Then, as I was looking at the floor, something interesting happened, the harsh voice of the district president stopped mid-sentence and was replaced by Elder Ballard’s calm and reassuring voice.  I immediately looked up.  To the best of my memory, this is what Elder Ballard said, “Elders and Sisters, I know that typically propriety does not require me to disclose why I would need to leave early following a meeting, but since you are my fellow servants in full-time service to the Lord, I feel I owe you an explanation.”  He then continued and told us about a sick relative who lived nearby and that this evening was the only opportunity he would have to visit this person.  He asked us to forgive him for giving time that he would normally give to us to this sick individual.  Of course I forgave him, he called me a “fellow servant.”  At no time while at the MTC had I felt as respected or cared for.  From over 100 feet away and with over a dozen rows of people in between us, an Apostle of the Lord spoke directly to me.  I’m sure that other people in that room needed that same message, but I know that the ill feelings in my heart towards that district president were part of the reason Elder Ballard was prompted to stand and break from propriety.

After that, those two people who had been such tormentors to my soul didn’t bother me as much in my remaining weeks.  I knew why I was in the MTC.  I knew that they were not witnesses to the work I was doing outside of their purview, I knew they couldn’t see the motivations in my heart, and that the motivations of my heart were pure.  I had had and Apostle call me a “fellow servant” and certainly his opinion was worth far more than that of a prideful language teacher or a grumpy old seminary teacher.

It took me several more years to learn to always look back within my heart when faced with criticism and to not internalize the critiques of those not worthy to critique me.  One of the people who helped me learn that and built on the foundation Elder Ballard had laid I met in the days following my departure from the MTC.  He was my mission president.  I remember knowing within seconds of meeting that jovial, loving man that despite my challenges in the MTC, I was right where I needed to be.

Sitting Without Dad during Sacrament Meeting

This is my first post in my Mormon-Positive series.

I was very young when my dad was first called into a bishopric, I can’t even remember how old I was, I just remember seeing dad as one of the three men on the stand during church meetings at a very young age.  I believe on two separate occasions in my early years he was in a bishopric which required him to sit on the stand.  When I was about 11 or 12, my dad was called as bishop which meant another five years sitting on the stand presiding over our sacrament meetings.  I’m sure this was stressful for my mom. In fact I know it was because she has said so.

The tradition and instruction for sacrament meetings in the LDS Church is that the bishop and his two counselors will sit on the stand next to the podium and preside over and conduct the meeting.  They make sure that proper assignments for prayers, hymns, speakers, and special events are arranged as well as making sure that the sacrament is blessed and passed properly and in accordance with the reverence it deserves.  Because we are a lay church the three members of the bishopric are invariably fathers who have families, typically with young children, sitting in the congregation and the mothers are left alone to get the kids to church and keep from being disruptive throughout the meeting.  When a man is called to be a bishop his wife also takes on a huge burden of responsibility, primarily she has to do a number of parenting activities solo because her husband needs to be at church early, stay late, and attend meetings on weeknights.  Plus she has to put up with the fact that at any given time he may need to run off to attend to a crisis a member in the ward may be experiencing.

The Bishop’s Team

I know it was not easy for my mom to do all those Sunday mornings getting us out the door to Church and then splitting her attention between the speaker and four kids who would rather not be sitting in a pew and could become restless and moody at any given moment.  I know this because I was a teenage punk who intentionally didn’t make life easy for her.  I know many other bishops’ wives have had similar frustrations because there are blog posts, active campaigns, and public criticisms towards the church that have recommended that how a bishopric presides over sacrament meeting should be revisited.

I don’t know what will become of those campaigns, perhaps change will come.  I do know that even though this was a stressful experience for my family, especially my parents, I learned something those five years that my dad was bishop.   I learned that my dad had a powerful testimony of the truth of the gospel, and I learned that my parents would sacrifice almost anything in devotion to their belief in the restored gospel.

One of the responsibilities of the bishopric is to begin the monthly fast & testimony meetings by publicly stating his own testimony and then inviting the rest of the members to come to the front and share their individual testimonies.  Since there are three members of a bishopric, this meant that once every three months my dad would stand before the congregation and tell them that he knew of Christ’s divinity, the reality of the atonement, and his confidence that Joseph Smith was a prophet through whom the fullness of the gospel and the priesthood ordinances were restored to the Earth.  My dad is a convert and had a challenging childhood and early adulthood, filled with contradictions and cognitive dissonance.  Hearing him talk about the clarity and purpose-of-life that finding the gospel brought him left impressions on me that have impacted me to this day.

There were other times when my Dad’s example as a presider left lasting impressions on me.  When I was about 14 or 15, I was sitting with other deacons and teachers who were preparing to pass the sacrament.  Everything looked all ready to go, but as the hymn for the sacrament began and the priests stood up to break the bread before blessing it, they folded back the sheet and discovered that the trays in front of them were the used and empty trays from the previous ward.  Apparently, they hadn’t cleaned off the sacrament table at the conclusion of their meeting and as our ward arrived and saw a sacrament table that looked prepped, we all assumed it was ready to go.  Well, knowing it would take us about 5-10 minutes to clean off the used trays and then prep them for the sacrament service my dad as bishop stood up and on the fly gave a sermon on the difference between looking prepared and actually being prepared.  He asked the congregation if we arrive at church looking our best in our Sunday clothes, but have we taken the same efforts to prepare our hearts to renew the covenant of baptism with the sacrament ordinance.  He then reminded us of the baptismal covenant, to mourn with those that mourn, comfort those needing comfort, and taking upon us Christ’s name.  When he finished we sang a new sacrament hymn and then blessed and passed the sacrament.  It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten.

I know those years were hard on my parents, after all the years that parents have teenagers tend to be the most challenging anyway, but these extra little challenges that my parents took on, even though it added additional stress to their lives have left both them and me with unexpected opportunities for growth and personal development.