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Hi I'm Nate

I'm a professor, a dad, a husband, and I'm a Mormon.

About Me

I live in eastern Virginia with my wife and two children. I grew up in the western United States but I have spent most of my adult life on the East Coast. I have been a Senate staffer, a lawyer, and most recently a law professor. I enjoy running, playing chess, reading, and working on my kid's treehouse. I love being a Mormon.

Why I am a Mormon

I grew up Mormon and I can't remember a time in my life when I haven't attended Mormon church meetings every week. So I suppose that I could say that I am Mormon because that is how I was born. I like to think, however, that I am also a Mormon because I choose to be so, because I have struggled to understand and believe, and have seen the blessings that Mormonism has brought to my life and the life of those I love. For me, the teachings and doctrines of the church reinforce my sense of the wonder and beauty of the world. They help me to experience the beauty the Virginia tidewater as a gift from God. Those doctrines also offer me a vision of family and community in which we are all linked together as God's children, co-workers with Him in bringing about a world based on friendship, caring for one another, and shared purpose, what in Mormon lingo we call Zion. At a very practical level, Mormonism makes me a much better person than I would otherwise be. It constantly reminds me that I should treat others with love and respect. It provides me with opportunities to serve others. Within my local ward -- congregation -- I am part of a community that has more socio-economic diversity than the narrower professional or neighborhood worlds that I would otherwise inhabit. Worshipping, serving, socializing, and being served by these good people enriches my life. Finally, I am a Mormon because I have gone to God in prayer and asked about the truthfulness of the restored Gospel. I have felt and heard his response. I have what Mormons call "a testimony," a conviction that Mormonism is a part of God's work on earth and a place where he would have me live my life.

How I live my faith

There are formal and informal aspects to living my religion. On the formal side, I attend church meetings each week, the most important being "sacrament services," in which we partake of the Lord's Supper and renew our covenants with him. I also serve as a "second counselor" in my ward's bishopric, which means that I am one of our bishop's assistants. A bishop is the leader of a Mormon congregation. This means that I go to a lot of additional meetings in which we plan church activities and try to find ways in which our ward can help to meet the spiritual and temporal needs of our ward members. Informally, much of living my religion revolves around family life. I pray with my wife and children. I try to find ways of teaching my kids the values and doctrines of the church. I try to be the kind of husband and father that the church teaches me to be. This means that for me much of the ordinary stuff of life gets infused with spiritual significance. For example, when my wife and I work in our garden, we are not just trying to get better tasting salads. We are also trying be good stewards over our small corner of God's creation and teach our children something about work and self-discipline. One of the things that I love about Mormonism is the way that it lets me catch a spark of the divine in such ordinary activities. Perhaps inevitably as an academic much of my religious life also revolves around reading and writing. I love to read the scriptures. I also read a lot about Mormon history and theology, much of it written from an academic perspective. I have also written and published both scholarly and devotional articles on Mormonism. Mormon scripture declares that "The glory of God is intelligence." In context, I don't think that this means that smart people have some claim of spiritual superiority. Rather, I think it means that the life of the mind itself is a kind of worship, a way of showing our love and faith in God and feeling his influence in our lives.

How are the activities of the Mormon missionaries funded?

Missionaries and their families pay for missionary expenses, although the Church equalizes these costs so that all families donate the same amount regardless of where the missionary servers. I served my mission in South Korea, which is a relatively expensive country, while someone else might serve in a relatively inexpensive country. We both paid the same amount, with my family paying less than the actual cost of my missionary service and missionaries in South America, for example, paying more than the actual cost of their missionary service. Poor members who wish to serve missions are routinely assisted by donations from other members of the Church. Show more Show less

Do Mormons practice polygamy?

No. In the nineteenth century, however, Mormons did practice plural marriage, teaching that it could be allowed by God in some circumstances as in the case of Biblical prophets. During the 1880s, this led to intense legal pressure on the Church. Thousands of Mormons were sent to prison and the federal government moved to destroy the Church. In 1890, the Church publicly abandoned the practice. The actual end of polygamy was messier, but by the first decade of the twentieth century the Church was excommunicating any member who practiced plural marriage or taught others to do so. Like many Mormons I am conflicted about my Church's polygamous past. I am happily monogamous and find plural marriage to be morally troubling. On the other hand, I have a great deal of respect for the faith and tenacity of my spiritual ancestors in the nineteenth century. Show more Show less

Are there restrictions based on race or color concerning who can join The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and have the priesthood?

No, although until 1978 while those of African decent could join the Church they were not allowed to hold the priesthood. (Mormons have no professional clergy at the local level and essentially all adult men in good standing now have the priesthood.) Mormons disagree about the meaning of the pre-1978 ban and the Church does not currently have an official position as to why the ban existed. For myself, I think it was an tragic and racist policy that was not divinely inspired. I do believe that the 1978 revelation revoking the ban was a divine affirmation of racial equality and a rebuke to Latter-day Saints who have not always lived up to that ideal. Show more Show less

Do Mormons regard the Bible as Holy Scripture and the word of God?

Yes, although we reject that idea that the Bible -- or any other scripture for that matter -- is perfect or without errors. Ultimately, knowing God's will always involves living prophets and -- equally important -- personal revelation from God. Show more Show less

Who chooses the Mormon prophet?

By tradition, the most senior apostle -- there are usually 15 of them -- is the prophet and president of the Church. When an apostle dies, a new apostle is chosen by the president of the church after prayerfully seeking God's will. All of the leaders of the Church are also presented each year to the membership of the church for a "sustaining vote," although unlike political elections this voting is virtually always unanimous. Show more Show less

Are Mormons Christians?

Yes and no. Mormons believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of mankind, the sole way in which we can repent of our sins and be reconciled with God. We believe in the literal death and resurrection of God. We believe that Jesus Christ, along with God the Father and the Holy Ghost, is fully divine. That said, Mormons have a lot of unique doctrines and we explicitly reject the creeds formulated during the late Roman Empire that define Christianity for many. A lot of Christians deny that Mormons are really Christian for this reason. To the extent that they properly understand Mormon doctrine, I don't begrudge them their definition of the term. If asked, I say that I am a Christian, but I am more than happy to acknowledge and discuss Mormonism's unique doctrines. They are part of what I love about my religion. Show more Show less

How does the Church finance its operations?

Church members are taught to donate one tenth of their income as tithing to the Church. This money finances most operations. In addition, members fast each month for two meals and donate the money saved (and hopefully more!) as a "fast offering." This money is dedicated to providing assistance to poor members. Finally, members can also make non-tithing, and non-fast offering donations for specific purposes like missionary work, temples, or assisting with the secular education of members in developing countries. Also, the Church owns a few for profit businesses. The income for these business defrays a small portion of Church expenses, including the modest living stipends of high Church leaders Show more Show less