The Constitution – A Heavenly Banner

satan restricts our agency through governmentThe Constitution – A Heavenly Banner is a talk that President Ezra Taft Benson gave at BYU on September 16, 1986. Though the audience was the university staff and students, Jeffrey R. Holland said the message was directed to all members of the Church. I recently re-read the talk and was impressed with what he said. The concerns he addressed had clearly been on his mind for some time. And if his imploring to return to Constitutional principles was that urgent and important in 1986, oh how important it is for us today!

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the talk:

“The central issue in the premortal council was: Shall the children of God have untrammeled agency to choose the course they should follow, whether good or evil, or shall they be coerced and forced to be obedient? Christ and all who followed him stood for the former proposition—freedom of choice; Satan stood for the latter—coercion and force. The war that began in heaven over this issue is not yet over. The conflict continues on the battlefield of mortality. And one of Lucifer’s primary strategies has been to restrict our agency through the power of earthly governments.”

governments should have only limited powers

“Basic to our understanding of the Constitution is that governments should have only limited powers. government cannot claim the power to redistribute moneyThe important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place.”

“By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft, and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute money or property nor to force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by the people. No individual possesses the power to take another’s wealth or to force others to do good, so no government has the right to do such things either. The creature cannot exceed the creator.”

“The most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.”constitution designed to limit government

“The powers the people granted to the three branches of government were specifically limited. The Founding Fathers well understood human nature and its tendency to exercise unrighteous dominion when given authority. A constitution was therefore designed to limit government to certain enumerated functions, beyond which was tyranny.”

“At this bicentennial celebration we must, with sadness, say that we have not been wise in keeping the trust of our Founding Fathers. For the past two centuries, those who do not prize freedom have chipped away at every major clause of our Constitution until today we face a crisis of great dimensions.”

chipped away at our Constitution“We must be righteous and moral. We must live the gospel principles—all of them. We have no right to expect a higher degree of morality from those who represent us than what we ourselves are. To live a higher law means we will not seek to receive what we have not earned by our own labor. It means we will remember that government owes us nothing. It means we will keep the laws of the land. It means we will look to God as our Lawgiver and the source of our liberty.”

The Lincoln Hypothesis

The Lincoln Hypothesis CoverI recently read and thoroughly enjoyed The Lincoln Hypothesis: a modern-day abolitionist investigates the possible connection between Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, and Abraham Lincoln by Timothy Ballard. For my own record, and also for the TL;DR crowd, below are some of my favorite quotes.

Disclaimer for the Compelling yet Unsubstantiated Assertions in the Book

“This book will contain many valuable facts and sound historical conclusions, but it will also include unsubstantiated, yet compelling, ideas that I believe are also worthy of serious consideration” (from the Preface).

Introduction: The Hypotheses

  • “Abraham Lincoln’s mission directly revolved around the prophecies of Joseph Smith”
  • “Joseph’s works and prophecies, operating together with Lincoln’s revelations and reactions, created the perfect formula for the building up of Zion and for the establishment of temples on the earth”
  • “The key that unlocked this knowledge for Abraham Lincoln was a copy of the Book of Mormon that ended up in his possession precisely during the darkest days of the Civil War, right when he needed it the most.”

Chapter 1: Easter Sunday, 1865

Abraham Lincoln was shot by an assassin’s bullet on Good Friday, April 14, 1865. “Abraham Lincoln had been struck down on the very night that commemorates the murder of our Lord.”

Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of state, William H. Seward, had turned to God upon the death of his daughter in 1837. When “he was baptized a Christian. He wrote his wife of that day, explaining to her that during his baptismal service he thought continually of “our child-angel, ‘that left her errand with my heart and straight returned to heaven.’” He resolved on that Easter “to live more in the fear of and under the influence of love and gratitude to God” and to “gradually elevate and refine my motives of action.””

Abraham Lincoln’s “sacrifice directly led to that thing which is of greatest import. Indeed, his life and death represent a crowning achievement in the building of the kingdom of God and in the development of the Restoration of the gospel.”

Chapter 2: The Witness

On his humility: “Abraham Lincoln did very little to ensure his own personal legacy. He did not begin a memoir, nor did he keep a regular detailed journal. He simply was not consumed by the power of his position.”

Waiting on General McClellan — The Humility of Abraham Lincoln: “Hay could not understand why Lincoln acted as though he didn’t even notice the snub. The president then calmly told Hay that “it was better at this time not to be making points of etiquette and personal dignity.””

“He would be asked of God Almighty to dramatically change the national course—a change that everybody, himself included, believed would be his political suicide. But God needed it done, and Lincoln was one of the few prepared to do it. “Whatever shall appear to be God’s will,” declared Lincoln, “I will do!””

Chapter 3: The Covenant Day

George Washington, in his first inaugural address, said, “The propitious smiles of Heaven, can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained.” In the author’s opinion, this “was the day that a covenant between God and America was officially invoked over all the land. I will be your God, the Almighty had declared. Will you be my people? This covenant—and its power to heal the land—is the secret Lincoln learned and employed to save America.”

Washington insisted that “Providence has heretofore saved us in remarkable manner and on this we must principally rely.”

Washington would explain in reference to his Yorktown victory, “in acknowledging that the interposing hand of Heaven, in various instances of our preparations for this operation, has been most conspicuous and remarkable.”

Book of Mormon prophet Lehi said: “Yea, the Lord hath covenanted this land unto me, and to my children forever, and also all those who should be led out of other countries by the hand of the Lord. . . . And if it so be that they shall serve him according to the commandments which he hath given, it shall be a land of liberty unto them; wherefore, they shall never be brought down into captivity” (2 Nephi 1:5, 7).

“The covenant is on our land. This idea would have powerful consequences in Lincoln’s day, for it was this concept that would begin to define Lincoln and make him the indispensable servant of God.”

“This whole story—the purpose for this book—revolves around the temple. What do you think happens when evil creeps into the promised land and begins destroying temples and obstructing their development? How far will God go to defend His temple?”

“A major purpose of the Civil War was to cleanse the land so that temples could be built and maintained unmolested by evil.”

Chapter 4: Joseph, Abraham, and the Breach

In 1838, a young Abraham Lincoln declared: “Whenever the vicious portion of the population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, . . . this Government cannot last.”

A few years later, when the Mormons had received just the kind of treatment Lincoln described above, Joseph Smith declared: “Unless the United States redress the wrongs committed upon the Saints in the state of Missouri and punish the crimes committed by her officers that in a few years the government will be utterly overthrown and wasted, and there will not be so much as a potsherd left for their wickedness in permitting the murder of men, women and children, and the wholesale plunder and extermination of thousands of her citizens to go unpunished, thereby perpetuating a foul and corroding blot upon the fair fame of this great republic.”

Abraham Lincoln described what America’s founding fathers did as “the noblest cause—that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.” He described the Founders as “the pillars of the temple of liberty.”

Joseph concurred when he stated that “the very thought of [America’s sins] would have caused the high-minded and patriotic framers of the Constitution of the United States to hide their faces with shame.”

Chapter 5: The Prophet for President

“We must understand that the way things were going for Joseph and the Saints, the temples of God could not stand. They had been, and would be, continually obstructed, confiscated, and burned if the national status quo remained. Again I ask, what is the purpose of a promised land if you can’t have a temple therein?”

“An appeal for redress had been made to President Andrew Jackson. But the Prophet was turned down. A later appeal in person to President Martin Van Buren produced the same results: though the president agreed the Mormon cause was “just,” he told Joseph that the federal government could not intervene in matters pertaining to the states. His federal authority was too limited.”

“After claiming America as His design (verse 80), the Lord declared to His prophet and church, “Let them importune at the feet of the judge; and if he heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the governor; and if the governor heed them not, let them importune at the feet of the president” (D&C 101:86–88).”

“If state governments decided to deny any group of people basic First Amendment rights, they could do so? Unfortunately, yes. This is the dirty little secret of ­nineteenth-century America. That grand Bill of Rights pertained only to the federal government. In other words, only the federal government had to respect those precious rights. The states could do what they wanted. They could apply those sacred rights, or they could deny them. Too often, they chose the latter. And the federal government, agreeing with the constitutional interpretation of the states, would not come to the rescue. As a result, the Latter-day Saints and other minorities suffered dearly.”

Joseph Smith said: “I am the greatest advocate of the Constitution of the United States there is on earth. In my feelings I am always ready to die for the protection of the weak and oppressed in their just rights. The only fault I find with the Constitution is, it is not broad enough to cover the whole ground. Although it provides that all men shall enjoy religious freedom, yet it does not provide the manner by which that freedom can be preserved, nor for the punishment of Government officers who refuse to protect the people in their religious rights, or punish the mobs, states, or communities who interfere with the rights of the people on account of their religion. Its sentiments are good, but it provides no means of enforcing them. It has but this one fault. Under its provision, a man or a people who are able to protect themselves can get along well enough; but those who have the misfortune to be weak or unpopular are left to the merciless rage of popular fury. The Constitution should contain a provision that every officer of the Government who should neglect or refuse to extend the protection guaranteed in the Constitution should be subject to capital punishment; and then the president of the United States would not say, “Your cause is just, but I can do nothing for you.””

“And so we come to what Joseph called the provision: an amendment to the Constitution that would bring consequences to state governments that denied the constitutional rights of the people. This provision has since been achieved. Indeed, we no longer face the challenges of the early Saints. Why? Because Joseph’s provision is here! We call it the Fourteenth Amendment. It simply proclaims that all Americans are heirs to the blessings of the Constitution.”

“Interestingly, the father of the Constitution seems to have had the intuition of Joseph Smith. Yes, James Madison, who was a principal author of the Bill of Rights, called for the very same provision to be added to the Constitution. He knew the states were abusing religious minorities; he saw it happening in his own beloved Virginia. The Constitution was his chance to stop it. He wanted to use the Constitution to influence the new national government to block the oppression.”

During the creation of the Bill of Rights, James Madison proposed the following amendment: “No state shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” Unfortunately, this amendment was not included in the bill of rights.

Joseph the candidate called for slavery’s eradication. He pointed out the great American irony of the Declaration of Independence: that it preached the words and promises of liberty to all, even while “at the same time some two or three millions of people are held as slaves for life, because the spirit in them is covered with a darker skin.”

The Prophet Joseph Smith declared: “Break off the shackles from the poor black man, and hire them to labor like other human beings. …Set them free, educate them and give them their equal rights.”

George Q. Cannon said: “Certain it is that had Joseph Smith been elected President of the United States and had been sustained by Congress in his poli­cies, this land would have been spared the desolating war which filled its hamlets and fields with carnage and its homes with sobbing widows and orphans.”

Chapter 6: The Civil War Prophecies

After declaring that “It is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another.” The Lord said, “For this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose.” D&C 101:79-80. Then he commanded Joseph Smith to make an appeal for help to the federal government in regards to the Saints mistreatment in Missouri. Then continued the Lord, “And if the president heed them not, then will the Lord arise and come forth out of his hiding place, and in his fury vex the nation; And in his hot displeasure, and in his fierce anger, in his time, will cut off those wicked, unfaithful, and unjust stewards, and appoint them their portion among hypocrites, and unbelievers.” D&C 101:89-90

As the Civil War began, Brigham Young declared: “God has come out of his hiding-place and has commenced to vex the nation that has rejected us, and he will vex it with a sore vexation.” A few years later, he said, “[Joseph’s] prediction is being fulfilled, and we cannot help it.”

The Book of Mormon contains many statements about the covenant upon the land of America. One of the best is in Ether 2: 9 – 12 “And now, we can behold the decrees of God concerning this land, that it is a land of promise; and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall serve God, or they shall be swept off when the fulness of his wrath shall come upon them. And the fulness of his wrath cometh upon them when they are ripened in iniquity. For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off. And this cometh unto you, O ye Gentiles, that ye may know the decrees of God—that ye may repent, and not continue in your iniquities until the fulness come, that ye may not bring down the fulness of the wrath of God upon you as the inhabitants of the land have hitherto done. Behold, this is a choice land, and whatsoever nation shall possess it shall be free from bondage, and from captivity, and from all other nations under heaven, if they will but serve the God of the land, who is Jesus Christ, who hath been manifested by the things which we have written.”

Chapter 7: Lincoln’s First Holy Field: Willie and the Divine

In the aftermath of his son Willie’s death, those close to Lincoln “would witness the president during his lunchtime, his eyes fixed on the Bible. He would often seek out the nurse to discuss a particular passage. His conversion [to the American Covenant] was taking place.”

“Lincoln was at last on firmer ground than ever before in his life. He was prepared to be what he often claimed he wanted to be: “a humble instrument in the hands of our Heavenly Father.”

“He would take his newfound spiritual power and apply it to his national calling. Speaking to a group during those days and weeks of spiritual enlightenment, the president declared: “Whatever shall appear to be God’s will, I will do.””

Chapter 8: Lincoln’s Second Holy Field: The Grassy Meadow of Frederick

“The Emancipation Proclamation, of course, did not free all slaves, but it began the process. It paved the way for the Thirteenth Amendment (which did free them all) and for the Fourteenth Amendment, which would usher in an era in which state governments could no longer deny their own people the God-given rights offered in the Constitution.”

“It has pleased Almighty God to put me in my present position,” Lincoln told one friend in the spring of 1862, “and looking up to him for divine guidance, I must work out my destiny as best I can.” Similarly, he told another group that “it is my earnest desire to know the will of Providence in this matter [of emancipation]. And if I can learn what it is I will do it.” In September 1862, after being pressed by those seeking clarification of his intention over emancipation, he would only say that the subject was “on my mind, by day and night, more than any other. Whatever shall appear to be God’s will, I will do.”

In September 1862, Lincoln wrote: “In the present civil war it is quite possible that God’s purpose is something different from the purpose of either party. . . . I am almost ready to say this is probably true—that God wills this contest, and wills that it shall not end yet.”

Added the author: “Throughout the history of the world, what commander-in-chief would dare say such a thing? Yes, it is easy to argue that your enemy is wrong—but to suggest that your own side is also wrong? To suggest that God is doing this awful thing to both sides for some purpose heretofore unknown? It was like something out of the biblical account of ancient Israel or the Book of Mormon. What was he thinking?”

“Days after the news of the Union victory at Antietam arrived at the capital, Lincoln called an emergency cabinet meeting. He knew what he now needed to do. He had covenanted with God, and God had responded. It was September 22, 1862. The president marched into that meeting and boldly declared that “his mind was fixed, his decision made.” It was clear to all present that any objection to his call for emancipation would be immediately dismissed. The president told his cabinet not to bother him over “the main matter—for that I have determined for myself.”21 He then laid upon the table a sacred document: the preliminary draft of the Emancipation Proclamation.”

In an emotional state, Lincoln then declared unequivocally that “God had decided this question in favor of the slaves.”

Chapter 9: Lincoln’s Third Holy Field: The Book of Mormon

Lincoln had The Book of Mormon from November 1861 to July 1862. According to the Library of Congress ledger, the book was out for more than eight months. “Why did he keep it so long? Well, we should ask ourselves what was going on in Lincoln’s life during those eight months. Those very months marked what he called his “process of crystallization,” even those months of his life that have been described as his “Damascus Road Experience.” He had the book when Willie died, when he met Nurse Pomroy—yes, he had it precisely when he found God and turned the nation over to Him. Now get this: he turned the very overdue book back to the Library of Congress on July 29, 1862, a mere seven days after he submitted the first draft of his Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet.”

“The president then asserted that God “now wills to remove” slavery from the land and He is doing so through hurling the devastations of “this terrible war” to affect “both North and South.””

Said Lincoln. “If God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said, ‘The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’”

Said Lincoln: “We hoped for a happy termination of this terrible war long before this; but God knows best, and has ruled otherwise. We shall yet acknowledge His wisdom and our own error therein. Meanwhile we must work earnestly in the best light He gives us, trusting that so working still conduces to the great end He ordains. Surely He intends some great good to follow this mighty convulsion, which no mortal could make, and no mortal could stay.”

Chapter 10: National Repentance

Lincoln declared “that “the Almighty has his own purposes” for the war. Of course, Lincoln grew to understand what that purpose was. It was exactly what the Lord declared it to be: a vexation and scourge to “set his hand and seal to change the times and seasons” (D&C 121:12). Or, in Lincoln’s own words, the war came from God for “the needful end of our national reformation as a whole people.””

“As the war produced Union defeat after Union defeat, what else could be said except that, as Lincoln increasingly began to point out, “the North as well as . . . the South, shall pay fairly for our complicity in that wrong [the national sin].”11 The North and the federal government had, after all, watched and done nothing as the sins of oppression hit the innocent minorities—from black slaves to Mormon settlers.”

“If the war had ended early—with either Southern subjugation (a quick Union victory) or Southern independence (a quick Southern victory)—the North would have remained unchanged. The United States would have remained unchanged. The kingdom of God would have been left with the same weak application of the Constitution, which weak application was responsible for the Church’s frustrated growth and ultimate exile.”

“Something else also hung in the balance—the Restoration. The Church would need liberty to usher the gospel in to every corner of the earth. If America had failed here, if it had proved that a republic could not survive in the end, then budding republics the world over might have lost hope. Tyranny might have gained a stronger foothold throughout the nations of the world, and the proliferation of the Restoration might have been stymied. Lincoln himself declared as much: ‘[This civil war is] an important crisis which involves, in my judgment, not only the civil and religious liberties of our own dear land, but in a large degree the civil and religious liberties of mankind in many countries.'”

“Secretary Chase perpetuated it with a statement of his own to the director of the U.S. Mint at Philadelphia: “Dear Sir: No nation can be strong except in the strength of God, or safe except in His defense. The trust of our people in God should be declared on our national coins.” And so it was by 1864. IN GOD WE TRUST was later made, by an act of Congress, the national motto of the United States. The covenant had been invoked once again.”

Chapter 11: A Fight between Heaven and Hell

“If the North could not emerge victorious, the cause of the Restoration would be severely hampered. And this is why: A people cannot support and love a system that enslaves an entire race and not see the effects of such evil spill out in other areas of life. Yes, Southern intent was even darker than the preservation of slavery. Why? Because the ability for the South to enslave blacks provided the justification to do the same to any other group—and Mormons were that other group. The kingdom of God on earth was that other group.”

“In the end, the war was fought over the existence of a social order. It was a fight to determine whether the promised land of America would or would not continue to maintain a system wherein one group dominated at will any other group it desired to rule. The North was right because (eventually) it began fighting against oppression of the human spirit, and oppression of the human spirit has been Satan’s plan from the beginning.”

“One Missourian summed up the spirit in that state accurately when he announced that Mormons should not have civil rights, “no more than the negroes.” The Missouri mobocrats declared, “Mormonism, emancipation and abolitionism must be driven from the state.” This was the Southern cry. It was the opposite of God’s designs for America. It countered Lincoln’s new intention for the war. It directly challenged the American covenant.”

“It was Lincoln’s policy throughout the war to allow captured rebels to take the “oath of allegiance” to the Union and the Constitution, thereby setting themselves free from Union bondage. Lincoln explained that such oaths embodied “the Christian principle of forgiveness on terms of repentance.” Though officials in his administration might have thought this a strange practice, it would not have been strange to one who had read the Book of Mormon. For Captain Moroni did the same.”

Chapter 12: Answering the Critics

“I will concede that other nations have been able to eradicate slavery without a war. But I would ask the critic the following questions about those other nations: Were they large ­agricultural nations whose slave populations were growing rapidly, jumping from 800,000 to 4,000,000 in just two generations?15 Did those other nations have a rebel/separatist government recently created whose purpose was to preserve slavery at almost any cost? Did they have temples of God in their lands that were being destroyed, confiscated, and burned? Did they have prophets of God in their lands who were being shot and killed?”

“Not only had more than four million slaves been added to the forced-labor rolls in just two generations, but a mere four years before Lincoln took office, slavery had received further bolstering from the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott (1857). Black Americans, declared the Court, even free ones, “are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word ‘citizen’ in the Constitution.””

“The modern-day critics do not have to deal with the ugly fact that one-third of slave marriages ended in a greedy business decision by the master, and over one-half of all slave children lost at least one of their parents (and many times both of their parents) for the same reason.”

“William Seward had his moment of clarity, and he manifested it in a speech he gave… “There is a higher law than the Constitution, which regulates our authority over this domain, and devotes it to the same noble purposes. . . . Does it therefore follow that Congress may amend the ten commandments, or reverse the principles of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount . . . ? Man could not, by any law, make right what God and his own conscience declared wrong.””

“What they need to understand is that the “states’ rights doctrine” of today (something that actually needs to be strengthened in the land) is not the same as it was in Joseph Smith’s or Abraham Lincoln’s America. Please understand this: The “states’ rights doctrine” of their day was destroying the Church and the purposes of America. The “states’ rights doctrine” served to protect an evil social order. God had placed Lincoln under orders to destroy that evil. So he did it. He did it by employing Joseph’s provision, or, in other words, the Civil War amendments.”

In 1820, just months after Joseph’s First Vision, the elderly Thomas Jefferson declared that “if the freedom of religion, guaranteed to us by law in theory, can ever rise in practice . . . truth will prevail . . . and the genuine doctrines of Jesus, so long perverted by his pseudo-priests, will again be restored to their original purity.”

“Blinded by their preconceived political agendas, and ignoring both scriptural and historical evidence, critics continue to frame the war as North: oppressors of states’ rights, versus South: noble freedom fighters. All evidence points in the opposite direction. It was, in actuality, North: bearers of the covenant blessings of liberty, versus South: preservers of a state’s right to rule with blood and horror over the innocent—to legally enslave a race and to legally issue an extermination order against the Saints of God.”

Chapter 13: Brigham, Lincoln, and the Dispatch

“Within weeks of Abraham’s entering his “process of crystallization,” indeed, within weeks of his ordering up a copy of the Book of Mormon, we see the Saints break from their neutrality. On October 18, 1861, Brigham Young sent a telegram to the eastern states drawing a line in the sand and choosing sides once and for all: “Utah has not seceded,” he proudly declared, “but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.””

Chapter 14: The Gettysburg Prayer

Lincoln recounted: “In the pinch of the campaign up there [at Gettysburg] when everybody seemed panic stricken and nobody could tell what was going to happen, oppressed by the gravity of our affairs, I went to my room one day and locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God and prayed to Him mightily for victory at Gettysburg. I told Him that this war was His war, and our cause His cause. . . . And I then and there made a solemn vow to Almighty God, that if He would stand by our boys at Gettysburg, I would stand by Him. And He did stand by your boys, and I will stand by Him.”

“If the North failed now, the rest of the world would be able to maintain their long-held belief that self-government and the pure liberty it provides is not possible. Indeed, it was a test to see if our nation or any nation so conceived . . . can long endure. If it could, democracy would be emulated and would grow, and the gospel would find safe haven throughout the world. If not, Satan would chalk up a victory against righteousness.”

“Lincoln often said the same thing—that this civil war is “an important crisis which involves, in my judgment, not only the civil and religious liberties of our own dear land, but in a large degree the civil and religious liberties of mankind in many countries and through many ages.” On another occasion, he declared that in this war “constitutional government is at stake. This is a fundamental idea, going down about as deep as any thing.””

“One minister from Gettysburg confirmed the national sentiment: “The deadly war that is now waging, is, on the one hand, the price we are paying for past and present complicity with iniquity.”

“As Lincoln stood to leave General Sickles’s bedside, the general related that “Mr. Lincoln took my hand in his and said with tenderness, ‘Sickles, I have been told, as you have been told perhaps, that your condition is serious. I am in a prophetic mood today. You will get well.’” And he most certainly did.”

“There is something about Helaman that reminds me of Lincoln and his Gettysburg experience. Perhaps it was Lincoln’s continued reference to the Gettysburg soldiers as “your boys.” Helaman, you will recall, repeatedly called his young stripling warriors “my two thousand sons,” “those sons of mine,” “my little sons” (Alma 56:10, 17, 30). The same tenderness was there. Or perhaps it was the heavenly assurance Lincoln received prior to the Gettysburg victory—God told him the North would win. Similarly, God told Helaman that his sons would see victory in their battle.”

Chapter 15: The Hymn

“the inspired words [Julia Ward Howe] wrote concerned all we have discussed about the true meaning of this war. You know these words already, for you have heard them countless times. They are the words that became the lyrics to the famous “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” But after truly understanding what God revealed through her, you will never be able to sing that hymn the same way again. You will not be able to sing it without the Spirit testifying to you about the truth behind Lincoln, Joseph Smith, the war, and the covenant on this land.”

Chapter 16: The Fall and Rise of Richmond

“As Lincoln reached the landing at Richmond, the unexpected occurred. Almost immediately, he found himself surrounded by a growing group of now freed black men, women, and children who shouted, “Bress de Lord! . . . Dere is de great Messiah! . . . Glory Hallelujah!” The former slaves then, one by one, began falling on their knees before Lincoln in deep respect and emotion. Lincoln, himself now becoming shocked and emotional, pleaded with the group, saying, “Don’t kneel to me, that is not right. You must kneel to God only, and thank him for the liberty you will hereafter enjoy.” The newly freed then stood, joined hands, and began to sing a hymn of praise to God. The streets, which up until that point had been “entirely deserted,” became alive with happiness and jubilee as black people all around began “tumbling and shouting, from over the hills and from the water-side.” One witness reported to Lincoln that he had seen an elderly, white-haired former slave exclaim, “Massah Linkum, he eberywhar. He know eberyting. He walk de earf like de Lord!” Upon hearing this, Lincoln became silent for several moments, then solemnly stated, “It is a momentous thing to be the instrument, under Providence, of the liberation of a race.””

“[Lincoln] seemed to love that phrase, “instrument in the hands of God,” and used it on a number of occasions. My curiosity compelled me to do a word search. Perhaps that glorious phrase was in the Bible. But it was not—not one reference there. You know where I went next . . . I ran the same check against the Book of Mormon. Stunning. No fewer than a dozen times did that phrase appear.9 I suppose it makes sense that Lincoln, in his quest to make and keep the American covenant, would use words from the book that does more than any other to testify of that covenant.”

Chapter 17: Upon the Altar

Historian William J. Wolf wrote: “Lincoln is one of the greatest theologians of America—-not in the technical meaning of producing a system of doctrine, certainly not as the defender of some one denomination, but in the sense of seeing the hand of God intimately in the affairs of nations. Just so the prophets of Israel criticized the events of their day from the perspective of the God who is concerned for history and Who reveals His will within it. Lincoln stands among God’s greatest latter-day prophets.”

“Compare these circumstances [of Lincoln’s death] to the death of Joseph Smith. Two men of the same generation (born just a few years apart), both came to earth in extremely humble circumstances, both became unlikely national figures, both were sustained by God, both saw the national sin and called the people to repentance, both foresaw their imminent murders, both were cut down in their prime by assassins’ bullets, and both were buried in Illinois.”

Lincoln biographer Richard Carwardine wrote: “Lincoln’s religious credentials and role as liberator of an enslaved people cast him as a latter-day Moses (though one who had freed even more slaves than the Old Testament leader, ‘and those not of his kindred or his race’).”

“Poor Lincoln had a tough go at that election. Lincoln had promised God that he would not end the war before he could eradicate the evil. This placed McClellan in a fortuitous position. While he could promise that if he were elected, the soldiers would go home to their families, Lincoln had to admit that if he were elected, the soldiers would likely have to die—for he would not give up the ship. How do you win that election? You pray!”

“First on September 10, 1864, then again on October 20, 1864, Lincoln called for days of national fasting, prayer, and thanks­giving. Lincoln dedicated these sacred days in a public proclamation to “our Heavenly Father” in the hopes for “an ultimate and happy deliverance” and the triumph of “the cause of freedom and humanity.””

“Then the miracle followed. Lincoln got the soldier vote. Eighty percent of those who suffered the most voted to keep their commander-in-chief, knowing that such a vote would keep them on the bloody battlefield until victory was achieved, which would mean they were quite possibly voting in their own death warrants. It was an amazing testament to the converted state of the North.”

“If Abraham was a type or shadow of Joseph, then Seward was his Hyrum. The elder brother sent to comfort, aid, and be there when nobody else would or could. The unheralded who did not want to be heralded. The unsung hero, who did not believe he was a hero but only wanted to serve God’s burdened servant.”

Chapter 18: For We Shall Meet Again

Union soldier Sullivan Ballou wrote: “O Sarah! if the dead can come back to this earth and flit unseen around those they loved, I shall always be near you; in the gladest days and in the darkest nights, advised to your happiest scenes and gloomiest hours, always, always, and if there be a soft breeze upon your cheek, it shall be my breath, as the cool air fans your throbbing temple, it shall be my spirit passing by. Sarah do not mourn me dead; think I am gone and wait for thee, for we shall meet again.”

“Stated Washington, so long as there exists in the land a “Supineness or venality of [the] Constituents.” In other words, so long as we the people remain lethargic, apathetic, and uncaring about our responsibilities, we will lose the covenant blessings. All the while, according to Washington, “those who are entrusted with the management of this government . . . [will] overleap the known barriers of the Constitution and violate the unalienable rights of humanity.” Does this sound like America today? Boundless governmental ambition? Corrupted morals? Apathetic citizens? An ignored Constitution? The loss of unalienable rights? How long will we let America continue to sink? Will we learn the lessons God left for us in the history of the Civil War?”

“I pray we will take our cues from Washington and Lincoln, who learned the secret and masterfully employed it. I pray we will turn America back to its God! Turn America back to its covenant!”

The Crucible of Doubt

The Crucible of Doubt coverI wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up and began reading The Crucible of Doubt by Terryl Givens and Fiona Givens. I assumed it was addressed to members of the Church of Jesus Christ who were having doubts in their testimony of the restored gospel, which really isn’t me. But I also assumed it would give advice to faithful Mormons on how to help those who are struggling with doubts. The book had good reviews, so I thought I’d give it a whirl.

As it turns out, I really liked the book. It addressed some difficult subjects, such as contradictions in the scriptures and mistakes made by men we hold as present-day prophets of God. I found the book to be educational and faith promoting. It discussed gospel subjects from a perspective infrequently seen in the church, one that is very comforting to me or anyone who is on a quest for greater faith.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book The Crucible of Doubt:

Chapter 5: On Prophecy and Prophets: The Perils of Hero Worship

“[True prophets] have steadfastly refused to be the keepers of an individual’s conscience. Brigham Young protested the perils of slavish obedience and submission: “I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves.”(Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 2:1008.)

“Elsewhere [Brigham Young] reaffirmed: “I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwa[r]t the purposes of God. . . . Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (Young, Complete Discourses, 4:1941.)

“[Brigham Young’s] beloved younger colleague, the colorful J. Golden Kimball, reminded his audience that “There are not enough Apostles in the Church to prevent us from thinking, and they are not disposed to do so; but some people fancy that because we have the Presidency and Apostles of the Church that they will do the thinking for us. There are men and women so mentally lazy that they hardly think for themselves. To think calls for effort, which makes some men tired and wearies their souls. No man or woman can remain in this Church on borrowed light.”(J. Golden Kimball, in Conference Report, April 1904, 97.)

“However, in 1945, a Church magazine urged upon its readers the exact opposite, that “When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done.” Many are familiar with that expression; fewer are aware that when President George Albert Smith learned of it, he immediately and indignantly repudiated the statement. “Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking,” he wrote, “is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church.” (The offensive statement was published in The Improvement Era, June 1945. Smith responded in a letter to J. Raymond Cope, a Unitarian leader who expressed concern. Dialogue 19.1 (Spring 1986): 35–39.) Regrettably, this myth persists in the minds of many Latter-day Saints, even as leaders disavow infallibility and urge upon members personal responsibility.”

“Whatever spiritual intimations he received of God’s mind and will, however powerful the fonts of inspiration at which he drank, Joseph had to transmit eternal things into the idiom of common English. And that, he found, was no easy task. As he complained to a friend, “Oh Lord God, deliver us from this prison, . . . of a crooked, broken, scattered and imperfect language.”(To William W. Phelps, 27 November 1832, in Dean C. Jessee, ed., Personal Writings of Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2002), 287.) And so he related both the epiphanies of celestial brilliance and the merest glimmers of heavenly truth to ready scribes. And then he reworked the language—and enlisted other respected associates to the task of refining and remolding the wording—in an effort to depict more accurately the Divine mind and the truths the Spirit communicated as “pure intelligence flowing unto” him.(Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook, eds., The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph Smith (Orem, Utah: Grandin, 1994), 5.)”

“Outside of Joseph’s scriptural production, his words ranged from wise and inspired to simple opinion—with his audience, then as now, seldom attuned to the differences. Joseph himself complained that “he did not enjoy the right vouchsafed to every American citizen—that of free speech. He said that when he ventured to give his private opinion” about various subjects, they ended up “being given out as the word of the Lord because they came from him.”(Jessee W. Crosby, in Hyrum L. Andrus and Helen Mae Andrus, They Knew the Prophet: Personal Accounts from over 100 People Who Knew Joseph Smith (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1974), 140.) When not speaking with prophetic authority, in other words, he claimed no authority at all—which is why his pronouncements on subjects from Lehi’s New World landfall to the prospects of the Kirtland Bank were as liable to error as other men’s. Mormon leaders—like the great souls of other religious traditions—are never assured an unvarying inspiration when they speak or write.”

Chapter 6: On Delegation and Discipleship: The Ring of Pharaoh

“[Austin] Farrer’s effort to balance God’s divine purposes with the imperfection of His human instruments suggests one way Mormons might think about faith-wrenching practices (polygamy), missteps and errors (Adam-God), and teachings that the Church has abandoned but not fully explained (the priesthood ban). Practices, in other words, that challenge and try one’s faith; teachings whose status as eternal truth is either disconcerting, questionable, or now denied. Here is what Farrer said: “Facts are not determined by authority. Authority can make law to be law; authority cannot make facts to be facts.” (Austin Farrer, “Infallibility and Historical Tradition,” in The Truth-Seeking Heart, ed. Ann Loades and Robert MacSwain (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2006), 83.) Or, as Henry Eyring once quoted his father as saying, “in this church you don’t have to believe anything that isn’t true.” (From Henry J. Eyring, Mormon Scientist: The Life and Faith of Henry Eyring (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2007), 4)”

“If a bishop makes a decision without inspiration, are we bound to sustain the decision? The story is told of a Church official who returned from installing a new stake presidency. “Dad, do you Brethren feel confident when you call a man as the stake president that he is the Lord’s man?” the official’s son asked upon his father’s return home. “No, not always,” he replied. “But once we call him, he becomes the Lord’s man.”(Personal conversation reported to authors by Robert L. Millet.) The answer disconcerts initially. Is this not hubris, to expect God’s sanction for a decision made in error? Perhaps. It is also possible that the reply reveals the only understanding of delegation that is viable. If God honored only those decisions made in perfect accord with His perfect wisdom, then His purposes would require leaders who were utterly incapable of misconstruing His intention, who never missed hearing the still small voice, who were unerringly and unfailingly a perfect conduit for heaven’s inspiration. And it would render the principle of delegation inoperative.”

Chapter 7: Mormons and Monopolies: Holy Persons “Ye Know Not Of”

“In words that should shame those moderns who believe the medieval church was a spiritual wasteland, President John Taylor paid tribute to those holy ones of the past, counterparts of the holy ones Joseph was alerted to in his own day: “There were men in those dark ages who could commune with God, and who, by the power of faith, could draw aside the curtain of eternity and gaze upon the invisible world. . . . There were men who could gaze upon the face of God, have the ministering of angels, and unfold the future destinies of the world. If those were dark ages I pray God to give me a little darkness.” (John Taylor, in Journal of Discourses, 26 vols. (Liverpool, England: Franklin D. Richards and Samuel W. Richards, 1851–86; repr. Salt Lake City, 1974), 16:197–98.)

“Brigham Young could be similarly generous in his conception of who would be found elect in the end: “I never passed John Wesley’s church in London without stopping to look at it. Was he a good man? Yes; I suppose him to have been, by all accounts, as good as ever walked on this earth, according to his knowledge. Has he obtained a rest? Yes, and greater than ever entered into his mind to expect; and so have thousands of others of the various religious denominations.” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1480.)

Chapter 8: Spirituality and Self-Sufficiency: Find Your Watering Place

“If there is a perceived need, the Church is there with a solution. Perhaps, one leader has chastened, at a cost: “In recent years we might be compared to a team of doctors issuing prescriptions to cure or to immunize our members against spiritual diseases. Each time some moral or spiritual ailment was diagnosed, we have rushed to the pharmacy to concoct another remedy, encapsulate it as a program and send it out with pages of directions for use. . . . Over medication, over-programming is a critically serious problem.” (Boyd K. Packer, “Let Them Govern Themselves,” address given 30 March 1990,)

“Mere months after the organization of the Church, Joseph was told that this, the last work of the Lord, was to be created “first temporal[ly], and secondly spiritual[ly].”(D&C 29:32) One way to read this is as a reminder that the formal, institutional parameters of the New Jerusalem are easy to put in place. The organizational structure, the blueprints for temples and plats for Zion came readily enough. Forging a people sufficiently sanctified to constitute the people of Zion is another matter entirely. According to the sequence alluded to by the revelation above, we would expect the spiritual qualities of Church members to lag behind the temporal templates—the buildings and programs—within which we work out our salvation.”

“In Salt Lake’s old Thirteenth Ward, Bishop Edwin D. Woolley frequently found himself at odds with President Brigham Young. On a certain occasion, as they ended one such fractious encounter, Young had a final parting remark: “Now, Bishop Woolley, I guess you will go off and apostatize.” To which the bishop rejoined, “If this were your church, President Young, I would be tempted to do so. But this is just as much my church as it is yours, and why should I apostatize from my own church?”(Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Saints without Halos (Salt Lake City: Signature, 1981), 61.) That sense of ownership, or, better, of full and equal membership in the body of Christ, was Bishop Woolley’s salvation. He wisely realized, as not all do, that forsaking the Church out of hurt or frustration would be as unprofitable as any other form of misdirected energy.”

“We have all bemoaned the traffic congestion at rush hour, or the heavily populated mountain path where we had hoped to find solitude. We forget that from the perspective of the other travelers—and from any objective point of view—we are the problem we bewail. We are part of the gawking crowds at the overlook, we are an impediment to other anxious shoppers in the checkout line, we are the head and shoulders blocking a perfect view from the moviegoer behind us. Just as we are a part of the Mormon culture we lament. If we allow ourselves to be co-opted by practices or attitudes we deplore, we share in the collective guilt. The pressure to conform to what we see as a dominant cultural orthodoxy is often more imagined than real. A silent majority may be more receptive than we realize to our own yearnings for greater authenticity, honesty, originality, and individualism. Brigham Young was. “I am not a stereotyped Latter-day Saint,” he said, “and do not believe in the doctrine. . . . Away with stereotyped ‘Mormons’!” (Brigham Young, Complete Discourses, ed. Richard S. Van Wagoner (Salt Lake City: Smith-Pettit Foundation, 2009), 3:1668.)

Thrifty Loses a Customer for Life When They Could Have Gained One

A couple of months ago I rented a car from Thrifty Car Rental but never again. This week I got a bill from Thrifty, shown below, for $0.70 from a toll road and a $15 administrative fee on top of that.

Thrifty Car Rental Fine

 

Apparently, despite my best effort to avoid toll roads during that trip, I must have gone through a toll booth. Now Thrifty is chasing me down to make sure I pay that $0.70 toll, and they’re charging me an additional $15 fee on top of that for their trouble.

At first I was mad at them, but now I just feel sorry for them and their incredibly short-sighted business practices. Just think of Thrifty’s options:

  1. They could have paid the $0.70 toll themselves. I would have been none the wiser, and I would have remembered renting a car with them as problem free.
  2. They could have sent me a bill for the $0.70 toll. I would have thought it was a little silly to bill me for such a small amount, but I would have understood. Perhaps, regardless of how big or small the toll amount, Thrifty has a process of reaching out to their customers to collect the money for tolls.
  3. They could have sent me a letter, letting me know that I incurred a $0.70 charge from a toll booth during my recent trip, but also letting me know that due to the small amount, they would just pay it themselves. The letter could have thanked me for being a loyal customer and encouraged me to use Thrifty again in the future. And I would have been glad to do so.
  4. They could have sent me a bill for the $0.70 toll plus an administrative fee on top of that. This would reassure me that Thrifty cares more about their short term bottom line than having me as a loyal customer.

Of course, Thrifty chose the last option, and I’m writing this post to remind myself never to use that car rental company again. It amazes me that for $0.70 and the price of a stamp, Thrifty could have gained a loyal customer. But apparently, they’d rather have $15 now and never have my business again.

I don’t know how much Thrifty spends on marketing. Probably not a lot, since they are a discount car rental company. But they must spend something on occasional TV spots, billboards, or online advertising. They likely spend thousands, perhaps even millions a year, on marketing campaigns that may or may not be effective. Here, though, they had the opportunity to spend $1 on a marketing campaign that would almost be guaranteed to win them new business, and not only did they miss the chance but they used the opportunity to offend and lose a customer.

P.S. I also am amazed, if you notice in the image above, that they have the website, ThriftyRentalFine.com. This both cracks me up with laughter and saddens me. Apparently, chasing down customers to pay fines is something Thrifty does so often that they need their own website dedicated to this purpose.

Selfies Effect on Individuals and Society

Selfie by Thiago MarquesA few months ago, I was at an online marketing seminar, and one of the speakers suggested that the audience be part of the breaking of a world record: the most simultaneous selfies posted online. As I pulled my smart phone out, I felt uncomfortable taking a picture of myself. I took the picture, but quickly deleted it. It was then that I realized I had never taken a selfie before, at least not a solo selfie. I have taken selfies of myself and my wife, and on my mission to Argentina, I took selfies of me and my companion at times. But I felt really uncomfortable taking a picture of myself, posting it online, and basically saying to the world, “Hey, look at me!”

As I sat in this room with hundreds of people taking selfies and posting them online, I wondered if I was the only one who felt like this was a narcissistic trend with poor psychological health ramifications for individuals and the society at large.  I thought about people I know, who seemingly take a selfie a day and posts it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or elsewhere, and I wondered what the long term effects would be of such self-centered actions and attitudes.

Maybe I’m going to go out on a limb here but I’m making a prediction: The self-absorbed culture that is manifest in the frequent posting of selfies by so many people is going to have long-term negative effects on our society.

Narcissism leads to terrible things

study on selfies by Ohio State UniversityTo research this subject, I went to the internet and soon found validation for my thought process. An Ohio State University study on selfies was released in early 2015 and shows that “men who posted more online photos of themselves than others scored higher on measures of narcissism and psychopathy. In addition, men who were more likely to edit their selfies before posting scored higher in narcissism and self-objectification, which measures how much they prioritize their appearance.”

The study’s author added, “Narcissism is marked by a belief that you’re smarter, more attractive and better than others, but with some underlying insecurity. Psychopathy involves a lack of empathy and regard for others and a tendency toward impulsive behavior. …Self-objectification involves valuing yourself mainly for your appearance, rather than for other positive traits.”

Finally, the author noted, “With the growing use of social networks, everyone is more concerned with their appearance. That means self-objectification may become a bigger problem for men, as well as for women. …We know that self-objectification leads to a lot of terrible things, like depression and eating disorders in women.”

Pres. Uchtdorf on Selfies and Narcissism

I haven’t heard the modern prophets talk about selfies, with one exception which you’ll see below, but they have spoken often about the spiritual dangers of being self-absorbed and narcissistic.

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the First Presidency of the LDS Church recently noted: “Those who are selfish seek their own interests and pleasure above all else. The central question for the selfish person is “What’s in it for me?” Brethren [and Sisters], I am sure you can see that this attitude is clearly contrary to the spirit required to build God’s kingdom. When we seek self-service over selfless-service, our priorities become centered on our own recognition and pleasure. Past generations had their struggle with variations of egotism and narcissism, but I think today we are giving them serious competition. Is it any coincidence that the Oxford Dictionary recently proclaimed “selfie” as the word of the year?”

Pres. Uchtdorf added, “Naturally, we all have a desire for recognition, and there is nothing wrong with relaxing and enjoying ourselves. But when seeking the “gain and praise of the world” is a central part of our motivation, we will miss the redemptive and joyful experiences that come when we give generously of ourselves to the work of the Lord.” (see Are You Sleeping through the Restoration?, April 2014 LDS General Conference)

In another recent talk by Pres. Uchtdorf, he said, “Impatience, on the other hand, is a symptom of selfishness. It is a trait of the self-absorbed. It arises from the all-too-prevalent condition called “center of the universe” syndrome, which leads people to believe that the world revolves around them and that all others are just supporting cast in the grand theater of mortality in which only they have the starring role. How different this is, my dear brethren, from the standard the Lord has set for us.” (see Continue in Patience, April 2010 LDS General Conference)

What God Has Said About Seeking the Praise of the World

The Lord God himself has also spoken on this subject of pride and seeking the praise of the world (via selfies or otherwise). This is what He has said:

  • “God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble. …Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up.” (James 4: 6, 10)
  • “Behold, there are many called, but few are chosen. And why are they not chosen? Because their hearts are set so much upon the things of this world, and aspire to the honors of men.” (121:34–35)
  • “Behold, the pride of this nation, or the people of the Nephites, hath proven their destruction.” (Moro. 8:27)
  • “And let him repent of his sins, for he seeketh the praise of the world.” (D&C 58:39)

Consequences of Selfishness

The late Mormon Apostle Elder Neal A. Maxwell gave a masterful discourse in 1999 called “Repent of [Our] Selfishness”  in which he spoke on the dangerous consequences of being selfish and prideful.

  • “Each spasm of selfishness narrows one’s universe that much more by reducing his awareness of or concern with others. …Long ago it took a Copernicus to tell a provincial world that this planet was not the center of the universe. Some selfish moderns need a Copernican reminder that they are not the center of the universe either!”
  • “Selfishness likewise causes us to be discourteous, disdainful, and self-centered while withholding from others needed goods, praise, and recognition as we selfishly pass them by and notice them not (see Morm. 8:39). Later on come rudeness, brusqueness, and the further flexing of elbows.”
  • “Alas, gross, individual selfishness is finally acculturated. Then societies can eventually become without order, without mercy, without love, perverted, and past feeling (see Moro. 9). Society thereby reflects a grim, cumulative tally which signals a major cultural decline. This happened anciently when a people actually became “weak, because of their transgression” (Hel. 4:26).”
  • “One of the worst consequences of severe selfishness …is like what happened to an ancient group of children “who did grow up … , that they became for themselves”—hardened and errant (3 Ne. 1:29; see also 3 Ne. 1:30). Devastating cultural change can and does happen “in the space of not many years,” including replacing the much-needed spirit of community with a diversified alliance of dalliance (see Hel. 4:26).”
  • “A narcissist society, in which each person is busy looking out for number one, can build neither brotherhood nor community. Aren’t we glad in this Easter season and in all seasons that Jesus did not selfishly look out for number one? No wonder we have been told, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” and this includes self-worship! (Ex. 20:3).”

The Antidote to Selfishness: Meekness

Fortunately, Elder Maxwell also spoke about the antidote that can cure the sin of selfishness: meekness.

“In daily discipleship, the many ways to express selfishness are matched by many ways to avoid it. Meekness is the real cure, for it does not merely mask selfishness but dissolves it! Smaller steps could include asking ourselves inwardly before undertaking an important action, Whose needs am I really trying to meet? Or in significant moments of self-expression, we can first count to 10. Such thoughtful filtering can multiply our offering by 10 as a mesh of reflective meekness filters out destructive and effusive ego.”

Elder Maxwell also added, “In one degree or another we all struggle with selfishness. Since it is so common, why worry about selfishness anyway? Because selfishness is really self-destruction in slow motion. No wonder the Prophet Joseph Smith urged, “Let every selfish feeling be not only buried, but annihilated”. Hence annihilation—not moderation—is the destination!”

Let us each do our part to root out and dissolve the selfish attitudes and actions that are a natural tendency in this earthly existence. May we meekly and humbly be true disciples of Jesus Christ by following his teachings and example of a selfless life and thereby avoid the consequences sure to come from a selfie-crazed culture and life style.

Website review: Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith

Our family has a tradition to celebrate the prophet Joseph Smith’s birthday on Dec. 23rd of each year.  A friend recently commented that they did not feel there is much to celebrate about Joseph Smith based on many of the things they have read about him lately. We inquired what this was about and they answered that it was about Joseph’s plural wives and other information they had read on a website called Remembering the Wives of Joseph Smith, wivesofjosephsmith.org.

I decided to check out the website. The friend thought it was a credible website, so I wanted to see for myself. While I’m no historian or Mormon Church history expert, I have read a lot of Church history, including a significant amount on difficult subjects like polygamy. As I perused the websites, here are some of the red flags I saw:

Red Flag #1: The Site Author Remains Anonymous

There is no indication of who runs the wivesofjosephsmith.org website.  There’s no about us section or copyright notice. This causes me to wonder, why are they hiding who they are? Even when site visitors have emailed the author and asked who is the sponsor of this website, they still did not answer (see http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Who.htm ). All the author will state is that “I am a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.” And when asked if he or she is a member in good standing, the author says “Personally, it has been difficult for me to be comfortable with many of the events surrounding early polygamy – and I suppose this has distanced me somewhat at church.”

Red Flag #2: Bias Comes through in Prejudicial Language

Though the author of the site claims to be simply presenting the unbiased information, he or she lets their true feelings come through often by their comments, conclusions, and by the information they choose and choose not to reveal. The author’s bias is loud and clear when he/she says “My greatest hope in this regard is that one day the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s involvement in polygamy as appropriate.”

On their FAQ page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/FAQ.htm, the use of quotes shows their skepticism regarding Joseph’s revelation on plural marriage. The author further comes to the conclusion that the church phased out the practice due to intense pressure from the government, not because of revelation from God, again showing prejudice. While it is true there was intense pressure from the government, it was ultimately revelation to the prophet that ended the practice of plural marriage and the sites makes no mention of that.

Red Flag #3: Leaving Out Important Background Information

The author of the site quotes Oliver Cowdery, in reference to Joseph’s first plural wife, Fanny Alger, calling it “a dirty, nasty, filthy affair.” What the author leaves out is a lot of important background to this quote. Oliver’s falling out with Joseph and the Church had largely to do with polygamy. When Oliver found out about Joseph taking an additional wife, he accused Joseph of adultery. Ultimately, Oliver Cowdery who was excommunicated and it was under these circumstances that the quote from Oliver comes.

Red Flag #4: Leaving a False Impression

On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Praise.htm, the site author quotes material that is clearly out to make Joseph Smith look like a sex crazed maniac, preying on any woman, no matter how young, who stayed in the same home as him. The author wants to leave the impression that polygamy was simply about Joseph satisfying his manly urges. I don’t believe that’s true of Joseph Smith, and I don’t believe there is evidence that Joseph was that kind of man. There’s no evidence of him bragging of his sexual exploits, as you would expect if he really were a sex-crazed maniac. There’s nothing in Joseph’s language or in the record of his associates to support that conclusion. Joseph’s eye was single to the glory of God, and an honest study of his words and deeds shows that.

The purposeful leaving of a false impression reminds me of Elder Neil L. Andersen’s talk on Joseph Smith in the October 2014 General Conference in which he talks about a misleading photograph taken of Elder Russell M. Nelson. “The picture was true, the caption was true, but the truth was used to promote a false impression.”

Red Flag #5: Pinning Statements on Others

Even thought he author remains anonymous, he or she still feels compelled to pin statements the he or she clearly agrees with, on other people. On this page, http://www.wivesofjosephsmith.org/Why.htm, the author of the site does not take responsibility for the statements below, pinning them instead on “an increasing number of LDS church members,” but it’s clear these are the author’s feelings:

  • “Joseph Smith’s behavior seems inappropriate or manipulative – perhaps even abusive.”
  • “All this seems foreign to the God they worship and the principles they honor and love.”
  • “They hope for the day when the LDS church will no longer defend Joseph Smith’s behavior in polygamy as appropriate.”
  • “I just want you to know that I don’t think this was appropriate, or of God.”

Again, there is nothing unbiased or objective about these statements. Whether these statements are the author’s or someone else’s, they are jumping to conclusions that are contrary to the teachings of LDS Church leaders.

Conclusion

It is clear that the author of that website feels that Joseph’s practicing of plural marriage was manipulative, inappropriate, and not of God, and he or she is trying to persuade others to draw the same conclusion. The author quotes select information, fills in the blanks with conjecture, and implies conclusions that are subjective.

While I have read much of the same historical material as the author of that website, I have come to much different conclusions. I see Joseph Smith as a man and a prophet of God. He was a good man, but not a perfect man. He made mistakes, but he was faithful to the end in his calling as a prophet of God. While some people choose to attack Joseph Smith, I am going to continue to do my best to defend Joseph Smith, honor him as the great prophet of our dispensation, and testify of the wonderful truths and blessings he brought forth as an instrument in the hands of God.

Steve Jobs Quotes on Design, Product Focus, Etc.

As I recently read his biography Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. I’m not a big Apple fan (as some of you know) but Jobs was a very successful businessman and the book came highly recommended the book, so I thought I would give it a try.

I found almost nothing praiseworthy in the first half of his life. He all but rejected the Christian religion he was raised on. He did drugs, and he slept around with many girl friends.  He was a jerk, selfish, difficult to work with, arrogant, subject to extreme mood swings, condescending, stubborn, rude, immature, a control freak, obsessive compulsive, and overly critical.

Yet Steve Jobs was one of the most successful business leaders the world has ever seen. He had remarkable aptitude (and plenty of luck) in the business world which paid great dividends when he did eventually mature somewhat. He built Apple into the world’s most successful company, and he ended up making a very positive impact on the field of design, technology, and many other industries.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from or about Steve Jobs and Apple:

design is how it works Design

“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service. The iMac is not just the color or translucence or the shape of the shell. The essence of the iMac is to be the finest possible consumer computer in which each element plays together.” -Steve Jobs in Fortune magazine, Apple’s One-Dollar-a-Year Man

”Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like,” says Steve Jobs, Apple’s C.E.O. ”People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” The Guts of a New Machine, Rob Walker, November 30, 2003

Simplicity

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci and the headline of Apple’s first marketing brochure in 1977

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication - Apple II“The way we’re running the company, the product design, the advertising, it all comes down to this: Let’s make it simple. Really simple.”  -Steve Jobs, How Steve Jobs’ Love of Simplicity Fueled A Design Revolution, Smithsonian Magazine

“You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential…We wanted to get rid of anything other than what was absolutely essential,” he said. “To do so required total collaboration between the designers, the product developers, the engineers and the manufacturing team. We kept going back to the beginning, again and again. Do we need that part? Can we get it to perform the function of the other four parts?” -Jony Ive describing one of Apple’s Power Macs, Smithsonian Magazine.

Focus on Great Products

“I remember very clearly Steve announcing that our goal is not just to make money but to make great products.” -Jony Ive, Smithsonian Magazine

“My passion has been to build an enduring company where people were motivated to make great products. Everything else was secondary. Sure, it was great to make a profit, because that was what allowed you to make great products. But the products, not the profits, were the motivation. Sculley flipped these priorities to where the goal was to make money. It’s a subtle difference, but it ends up meaning everything: the people you hire, who gets promoted, what you discuss in meetings.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

make great products - brandautopsy.com“Some people say, “Give the customers what they want.” But that’s not my approach. Our job is to figure out what they’re going to want before they do. I think Henry Ford once said, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they would have told me, ‘A faster horse!'” People don’t know what they want until you show it to them. That’s why I never rely on market research. Our task is to read things that are not yet on the page.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

Soon after returning to Apple in 1997, Jobs was at a big product strategy session. The previous CEO had been urging Apple to develop more and more products. “‘Stop!’ he [Jobs] shouted. ‘This is crazy.’ He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. ‘Here’s what we need,’ he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote “Consumer” and “Pro”; he labeled the two rows “Desktop” and “Portable.” Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. ‘The room was in dumb silence,’ Schiller recalled.” – Walter Isaacson

“The product review revealed how unfocused Apple had become. The company was churning out multiple versions of each product because of bureaucratic momentum and to satisfy the whims of retailers. “It was insanity,” Schiller recalled. “Tons of products, most of them crap, done by deluded teams.” Apple had a dozen versions of the Macintosh, each with a different confusing number, ranging from 1400 to 9600. “I had people explaining this to me for three weeks,” Jobs said. “I couldn’t figure it out.” He finally began asking simple questions, like, “Which ones do I tell my friends to buy?” When he couldn’t get simple answers, he began slashing away at models and products. Soon he had cut 70% of them.” – Walter Isaacson

Working Together

“[Jobs] never worshipped at the altar of consensus.” In 1997, when Jobs returned to Apple as CEO, he “was not tentative in his actions. He was in charge, and he did not rule by consensus.” – Walter Isaacson

“Despite his autocratic nature… Jobs worked hard to foster a culture of collaboration at Apple…He had the Pixar building designed to promote encounters and unplanned collaborations. “If a building doesn’t encourage that, you’ll lose a lot of innovation and the magic that’s sparked by serendipity,” he said. “So we designed the building to make people get out of their offices and mingle in the central atrium with people they might not otherwise see.” The front doors and main stairs and corridors all led to the atrium, the cafe and the mailboxes were there, the conference rooms had windows that looked out onto it, and the six-hundred-seat theater and two smaller screening rooms all spilled into it. “Steve’s theory worked from day one,” Lasseter recalled. “I kept running into people I hadn’t seen for months. I’ve never seen a building that promoted collaboration and creativity as well as this one.” – Walter Isaacson

“I realized that A players like to work with A players, they just didn’t like working with C players. At Pixar, it was a whole company of A players. When I got back to Apple, that’s what I decided to try to do. You need to have a collaborative hiring process. When we hire someone, even if they’re going to be in marketing, I will have them talk to the design folks and the engineers.” – Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book

The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker

I read The Effective Executive by Peter F. Drucker in 2012 at the recommendation of a good friend. It is a great book on leadership, not just for executives, but for anyone regardless of your title. The book was originally published in 1967, so I was reading it 45 years after the fact. Yet, by and large, the content was as relevant for today’s business leaders as it was when it was first written. Here are some of my favorite quotes (I apologize for not having page numbers for the quotes. I read it on the Kindle, so all I have is the Kindle “location.”):

Strategy and Productivity

  • Working on the right things - Peter Drucker“There are few things less pleasing to the Lord, and less productive, than an engineering department that rapidly turns out beautiful blueprints for the wrong product. Working on the right things is what makes knowledge work effective. This is not capable of being measured by any of the yardsticks for manual work.” – Location 108
  • “There is no lack of ideas in any organization I know. ‘Creativity’ is not our problem. But few organizations ever get going on their own good ideas.” – Location 1587
  • “A decision is a judgment. It is a choice between alternatives. It is rarely a choice between right and wrong. It is at best a choice between ‘almost right’ and ‘probably wrong.'” – Location 2094
  • “[The effective executive] always assumes that the event that clamors for his attention is in reality a symptom. He looks for the true problem. He is not content with doctoring the symptom alone.” – Location 1878
  • “Brilliant insight is not by itself achievement. They never have learned that insights become effectiveness only through hard systematic work.” – Location 76

Priorities

  • “[Effective executives] concentrate—their own time and energy as well as that of their organization—on doing one thing at a time, and on doing first things first.” – Location 1528
  • Priorities - Deciding What Tasks to Tackle - Peter Drucker“The reason why so few executives concentrate [on priorities] is the difficulty of setting “posteriorities”—that is, deciding what tasks not to tackle—and of sticking to the decision.” – Location 1615
  • “It is much easier to draw up a nice list of top priorities and then to hedge by trying to do “just a little bit” of everything else as well. This makes everybody happy. The only drawback is, of course, that nothing whatever gets done.” – Location 1637
  • “Effective executives know where their time goes…They gear their efforts to results…They force themselves to set priorities.” – Location 385
  • “Concentration—that is, the courage to impose on time and events his own decision as to what really matters and comes first—is the executive’s only hope of becoming the master of time and events.” – Location 1656
  • “Act or do not act; but do not “hedge” or compromise. The surgeon who only takes out half the tonsils or half the appendix risks as much infection.” – Location 2298

 Goals and Results

  • “If the executive lets the flow of events determine what he does, what he works on, and what he takes seriously, he will fritter himself away ‘operating.'” – Location 225
  • “The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks: ‘What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?'” – Location 795
  • “The man who focuses on efforts and who stresses his downward authority is a subordinate no matter how exalted his title and rank.” – Location 809
  • “The man who focuses on contribution and who takes responsibility for results, no matter how junior, is in the most literal sense of the phrase, ‘top management.'” – Location 810
  • When there is confusion on results - Peter Drucker“When there is confusion as to what [results] should be, there are no results.” – Location 847
  • “The ones who are enthusiastic and who, in turn, have results to show for their work, are the ones whose abilities are being challenged and used.” – Location 1233
  • “People who get nothing done often work a great deal harder.” – Location 1521
  • “Effectiveness, in other words, is a habit; that is, a complex of practices. And practices can always be learned.” – Location 374

Testing and Proving Productivity

  • “[Programs] will not produce results as long as we maintain the traditional assumption that all programs last forever unless proven to have outlived their usefulness. The assumption should rather be that all programs outlive their usefulness fast and should be scrapped unless proven productive and necessary.” – Location 1561
  • Putting all programs on tria - Peter Druckerl“Putting all programs and activities regularly on trial for their lives and getting rid of those that cannot prove their productivity work wonders in stimulating creativity even in the most hidebound bureaucracy.” – Location 1588
  • “One starts with opinions. These are, of course, nothing but untested hypotheses and, as such, worthless unless tested against reality.” – Location 2097
  • “Everyone is far too prone to … look for the facts that fit the conclusion they have already reached.” – Location 2109
  • “We know what to do with hypotheses—one does not argue them; one tests them.” – Location 2114
  • “Feedback has to be built into the decision to provide a continuous testing, against actual events, of the expectations that underlie the decision.” – Location 2044
  • “[The effective executive] had better go out and look at the scene of action, [or] he will be increasingly divorced from reality.” – Location 2082
  • “He insists that people who voice an opinion also take responsibility for defining what factual findings can be expected and should be looked for.” – Location 2119

Focusing on People’s Strengths

  • “[The effective executive] does not make staffing decisions to minimize weaknesses but to maximize strength.” – Location 1071
  • “Before he chose Grant, [Abraham Lincoln] had appointed in succession three or four Generals whose main qualifications were their lack of major weaknesses.” – Location 1077
  • “Strong people always have strong weaknesses too.” – Location 1087
  • “The less we know about his weaknesses, the better. What we do need to know are the strengths of a man and what he can do.” – Location 1256
  • “The task of an executive is not to change human beings. Rather …the task is to multiply performance capacity of the whole by putting to use whatever strength, whatever health, whatever aspiration there is in individuals.” – Location 1475
  • “[Executive effectiveness] raises the eyes of its people from preoccupation with problems to a vision of opportunity, from concern with weakness to exploitation of strengths.” – Location 2474
  • “No executive has ever suffered because his subordinates were strong and effective.” – Location 1091
  • “It is only too easy to be misled this way into looking for the “least misfit” —the one man who leaves least to be desired. And this is invariably the mediocrity.” – Location 1136
  • “‘What can this man do?’ was [General Marshall’s] constant question. And if a man could do something, his lacks became secondary.” – Location 1348

Meetings

  • “The meetings were far too large. And because every participant felt that he had to show interest, everybody asked at least one question —most of them irrelevant.” – Location 603
  • “[If] people in an organization find themselves in meetings a quarter of their time or more—there is time-wasting malorganization. [Though] there are exceptions.” – Location 688
  • “Too many meetings signify that work that should be in one job or in one component is spread over several jobs or several components. They signify that responsibility is diffused and that information is not addressed to the people who need it.” – Location 695
  • “The effective man always states at the outset of a meeting the specific purpose and contribution it is to achieve.” – Location 1049
  • “If executives in an organization spend more than a fairly small part of their time in meeting, it is a sure sign of malorganization.” – Location 683

Personnel Decisions

  • “He has learned the hard way how many men who looked like geniuses when they worked elsewhere show up as miserable failures six months after they have started working ‘for us.'” – Location 1581
  • “An organization needs to bring in fresh people with fresh points of view fairly often. If it only promotes from within it soon becomes inbred and eventually sterile.” – Location 1583
  • “Executives everywhere complain that many young men with fire in their bellies turn so soon into burned-out sticks. They have only themselves to blame: They quenched the fire by making the young man’s job too small.” – Location 1237
  • “[Effective] executives take time out [to ask]… ‘What should we at the head of this organization know about your work?'” – Location 478
  • “[Alfred P. Sloan, Jr., former head of General Motors] was reported never to make a personnel decision the first time it came up. …Only when he came up with the same name two or three times in a row was he willing to go ahead.” – Location 501
  • “People-decisions are time-consuming, for the simple reason that the Lord did not create people as ‘resources’ for organization. They do not come in the proper size and shape for the tasks that have to be done in organization.” – Location 521
  • “One hires new people to expand on already established and smoothly running activity. But one starts something new with people of tested and proven strength, that is, with veterans.” – Location 1578

Delegation

  • “As usually presented, delegation makes little sense if it implies, as the usual sermon does, that the laziest manager is the best manager, it is not only nonsense; it is immoral.” – Location 579
  • “‘Delegation’ as the term is customarily used, is a misunderstanding—is indeed misdirection. But getting rid of anything that can be done by somebody else so that one does not have to delegate but can really get to one’s own work—that is a major improvement in effectiveness.” – Location 593
  • “An enormous amount of the work being done by executives is work that can easily be done by others, and therefore should be done by others.” – Location 593

 Organizational Structure and Communication

  • “In a lean organization people have room to move without colliding with one another and can do their work without having to explain it all the time.” – Location 668
  • “The larger the organization, the more time will be needed just to keep the organization together and running, rather than to make it function and produce.” – Location 757
  • “We have been working at communications downward from management to the employees, from the superior to the subordinate. But communications are practically impossible if they are based on the downward relationship.” – Location 989
  • “The needs of large-scale organization have to be satisfied by common people achieving uncommon performance.” – Location 2466

Designing Jobs

  • “Jobs have to be objective; that is, determined by task rather than by personality.” – Location 1139
  • “Structuring jobs to fit personality is almost certain to lead to favoritism and conformity.” – Location 1158
  • “The effective executive therefore first makes sure that the job is well-designed. And if experience tells him otherwise, he does not hunt for genius to do the impossible. He redesigns the job.” – Location 1201

Government

  • “At least half the bureaus and agencies of the federal government of the United States either regulate what no longer needs regulation… Or they are directed, as is most of the farm program, toward investment in politicians’ egos and toward efforts that should have had results but never achieved them.” – Location 1551
  • “There is serious need for a new principle of effective administration under which every act, every agency, and every program of government is conceived as temporary and as expiring automatically after a fixed number of years.” – Location 1555
  • “A country with many laws is a country of incompetent lawyers,” says an old legal proverb. It is a country which attempts to solve every problem as a unique phenomenon, rather than as a special case under general rules of law. Similarly, an executive who makes many decisions is both lazy and ineffectual.” – Location 1895

Others

  • “Efficiency; that is, the ability to do things right rather than the ability to get the right things done.” – Location 84
  • “Unless [the executive] changes it by deliberate action, the flow of events will determine what he is concerned with and what he does.” – Location 217
  • “A common cause of time-waste is largely under the executive’s control and can be eliminated by him. That is the time of others he himself wastes.” – Location 597
  • “[Many an executive] resign himself to having at least half his time taken up by things of minor importance and dubious value.” – Location 749
  • “If a man wants to be an executive—that is, if he wants to be considered responsible for his contribution—he has to concern himself with the usability of his ‘product’—that is, his knowledge.” – Location 946
  • “The effective executive tries to be himself; he does not pretend to be someone else. He looks at his own performance and at his own results and tries to discern a pattern. “What are the things,” he asks, “that I seem to be able to do with relative ease, while they come rather hard to other people?”” – Location 1449
  • “The distance between the leaders and the average is a constant. If leadership performance is high, the average will go up.” – Location 1470
  • “There are two different kinds of compromise…’half a loaf is better than no bread.’…’half a baby is worse than no baby at all.'” – Location 1985
  • “I always stop when things seem out of focus.” – Location 2316
  • “He needs opportunity, he needs achievement, he needs fulfillment, he needs values. Only by making himself an effective executive can the knowledge worker obtain these satisfactions.” – Location 2525

Email Marketing Best Practices

It’s 2013 and email marketing is alive and well in the online marketing sphere. Most businesses find it to be an effective component of the overall online marketing strategy. Exact Target, in discussing consumers’ preferred direct marketing channel has called email “the number one direct channel in terms of daily use and consumer preference for both personal and marketing communications,” saying 77% of consumers prefer to receive permission-based marketing communications through email.

In 2005, I joined the FedEx marketing department and was heavily involved in their email marketing for several years. FedEx has email marketing best practices well integrated into their processes and ingrained in their corporate culture. The management and my co-workers at FedEx would never have dreamed of doing anything other than permission-based email marketing because no email campaign was worth potentially offending a customer, losing their business, and hurting the company reputation. In recent years I haven’t been as heavily involved in email marketing, but I do it enough and consult (internally and externally) on best practices for email marketing that I thought it worth while to document the following email marketing tips.

Top 10 Email Marketing Best Practices:

  1. Only Email People Who Have Given You Their Permission
  2. Only Email People with Content They Have Requested
  3. Have an Online Email Subscription Center
  4. Send Emails When Your Audience Will Read Them
  5. Send the Email from a Recognizable Source
  6. Use Accurate and Compelling Subject Lines
  7. Honor All Unsubscribe Requests in a Timely Manner
  8. Keep Your Email List Clean
  9. Build Your Email List At Every Opportunity
  10. Have a Clear Call to Action in the Email

1. Only Email People Who Have Given You Their Permission

FedEx email subscription center

First and foremost of my email marketing tips is to always practice permission-based email marketing. This does not mean you can email anyone you want for any reason until they opt out of your list. This means you should only send messages to people who have opted in and requested to receive them. Unsolicited emails wore out their welcome long ago. As one writer put it, permission-based email marketing “has become standard practice for legitimate email marketers because it is a key component for optimizing deliverability, return on investment and recipient trust.” (see bluesite.lyris.com, Permission Email Marketing: Permission is Not Optional).

2. Only Email People with Content They Have Requested

The second major principle of email marketing is related to the first: only send emails relevant to the type of content the person has requested. When you collect email addresses, whether through the Web, paper forms, or otherwise, it should be clearly communicated what type of content the end user will be emailed about: product updates, promotions, contests, newsletters, etc. Be vigilant about only sending your customers emails concerning the type of things they have requested.

3. Have an Online Email Subscription Center

An email subscription center is a page on your website where new people can provide their email address and give you their permission to send them emails. This could be an independent section of your site or it could be a section of a user’s profile. If your company only sends out one kind of email, this could be simply one check box on the user profile page. To the right is a screen shot of the FedEx E-mail Subscription Center, which, if you’re a large company like FedEx, with numerous types of email alerts, can be quite detailed.

4. Send Emails When Your Audience Will Read Them

(Warning, the next sentence is a candidate for the obvious statement of the year.) If you send your emails at a time when your audience is more likely to read email, your email has a greater likelihood of being read. If your target audience is business professionals, and you send your email over the weekend, it is likely to end up at the bottom of a pile of other emails and may never be opened or read. Business to business emails, have shown to have the best open rates on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. According to iContact Best Practices for Email Marketers, personal or consumer targeted emails have the best open rates “between 5pm and 8pm Tuesday through Thursday or between Friday evening and Sunday afternoon.”

5. Send the Email from a Recognizable Source

Many people will only look at the the From line in the email before deciding whether or not to read it. The From name for your messages should either be your company name or the name of a recognizable person at your company (could be the president of your company, or the candidate’s name on a political-type email, etc.). You’ll also want the from email address to be intelligible and memorable, i.e. something@yourcompany.com.

6. Use Accurate and Compelling Subject Lines

Compelling subject lines are a must have if you want your email opened and read. Subject lines should also accurate describe the contents of the email; deceptive subject lines are deceptive, will hurt your company in the long run, and in some cases may be against the law.  If you have the opportunity, it’s always good to test potential subject lines on a small group to see which gets the best open rate before sending the email out to all recipients. Do not use all caps, multiple exclamation points, or excessive dollar signs in subject line or body text because doing this will likely trigger SPAM filters. Some words and phrases like “Free” “Act Now” “Cash Bonus” “Please Read” and “While Supplies Last” also have been known to cause SPAM filters to block emails.

7. Honor All Unsubscribe Requests in a Timely Manner

Not only is it good business to to provide and quickly honor unsubscribe requests, but it is the law. The CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 requires that each email message you send contain a visible and operable unsubscribe feature.  At a minimum, the unsubscribe mechanism should be either to send a reply email message or to visit a single page on the Internet. This doesn’t mean that you can’t also encourage recipients to visit your email subscription center. The law also requires that opt-out requests be honored within 10 days, but the sooner the better in my view. At FedEx we occasionally got unsubscribe requests via phone or even via snail mail, but regardless, we opted those people out immediately.

8. Keep Your Email List Clean

Keeping your list clean means taking steps to ensure the email addresses you have are accurate. At FedEx, we kept our email lists very clean and we averaged open rates over 90%. An un-scrubbed email list, on the other hand, can be much worse. You don’t want to think you are emailing 1,000 people, when due to bad data, you actually only have 500 good email addresses.

The undelivered, or bounced, emails generally fall into two categories: hard bounce, and soft bounce. A hard bounce back indicates that the email address is invalid. A soft bounce-back typically is an indication that the recipient inbox is full, or is caused by some temporary situation. It is best to have rules in place such as removing bounced email addresses. A hard bounce back is generally grounds for immediate removal, while you may want to wait for 5 or 10 soft bounces before removing an email address.

Keeping your email list clean also means taking steps up front to ensure the email address is correctly formatted. Electronically this is usually done with scripts that make sure the address has an “@” symbol and such. Looking for and correcting common misspellings (“hitmail.com” instead of “hotmail.com”) is also a good practice.

9. Build Your Email List At Every Opportunity

Typical email address churn can be 20% to 30% a year, which means if you don’t continually build your list, it could be cut in half in two years’ time. Numerous opportunities exist, online and offline, to build you email list. If you have a retail location, have an email sign up form at the point of sale. At conferences or events, bring a paper signup form or have a laptop opened to your Email Subscription Center for interested parties. Prominently promote your newsletter signup form on your company website. Include a link to your Email Subscription Center in all of your emails and encourage users to update their information if it ever changes. Run a promotion each year offering the chance of a prize to people who visit your Email Subscription Center and update their information. These steps will build your email list and also help keep it clean.

10. Have a Clear Call to Action in the Email

Last, but certainly not least, is to have a clear call-to-action in every email you send. The email will, ultimately, only be successful if it effective in getting users to do what you want them to do (i.e. achieving the business objective of the email campaign). You must be able to convert browsers into buyers, or whatever the call-to-action may be, and you will do this by focusing on goals, measuring, and improving.

Designing a good email is a lot like designing a good landing page on the Internet. Think about why you are sending the email. What business objective does it support? Even if it is just a newsletter meant to be read, what action do you hope visitors will take after reading it? Perhaps your call to action is to get readers to visit your online store, or watch a video, or request a catalog. Whatever that call to action is, be sure to measure it. Most email marketing platforms have built in tracking features, but you can also do this with a web analytics solution such as Google Analytics.

Freedom or Security: Where do you stand?

Freedom or SecurityThe debate concerning the balance between freedom and security has been a hot topic in US politics this summer of 2013. The topic reached a boiling point when Edward Snowden leaked information about how the US National Security Agency (NSA) is spying on the US’s own citizens.  Two NSA surveillance programs were revealed, one that gathers hundreds of millions of U.S. phone records each day, and one that taps directly into the servers of nine major Internet companies to gather usage information. Here is a sampling of the news articles:

Miss Alabama: I would rather feel safe

The debate between freedom and security even spilled over into popular culture when a question on the subject came up in the Miss USA pageant. Miss Alabama, Mary Margaret McCord, was asked this question: “Government tracking of phone records has been in the news lately. Is this an invasion of privacy or necessary to keep our country safe? Why or why not?”

Miss Alabama’s response was: “I think the society that we live in today, it’s sad that if we go to the movies or to the airport or even to the mall that we have to worry about our safety. So that I would rather someone track my telephone messages and feel safe wherever I go than feel like they’re, um, encroaching on my privacy.” (see the June 17, 2013 Washington Post article, Miss USA interview questions and answers)

I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard this quote. The fact that this attitude is so excepted and prevalent in our society makes me fear for our freedom. Our freedoms are already slipping away and if the American people so easily give up their freedom, before long they will have no freedoms at all. Why? Because, as has often been said, a government big enough to give you everything you want, including security, is a government big enough to take away everything you have.

Benjamin Franklin: Those who surrender freedom for security will have neither

My sentiment on the matter is shared by one of our great founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin. He said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” The Wikiquotes entry on Benjamin Franklin says that statement is a common paraphrased derivative of the actual Benjamin Franklin quote, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”, but the point remains.

Barack Obama: The NSA’s encroachments on privacy are the right balance

Of course our 44th President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama II, seems to side with Miss Alabama. In the days after the NSA surveillance programs were came to light, he is quoted as saying, “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. … There are trade-offs involved. …[The] modest encroachments on privacy (by the NSA) …[are] the right balance.” (See the June 7th story from Reuters, Obama defends surveillance effort as ‘trade-off’ for security)

Thomas S. Monson: They wanted security more than freedom and lost it all

With these political and popular culture quotes on my mind, I was quite surprised to recently hear the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints weigh in on the issue. Thomas S. Monson, in his July message to all the people of the Mormon faith, said: “We forget how the Greeks and Romans prevailed magnificently in a barbaric world and how that triumph ended—how a slackness and softness finally overcame them to their ruin. In the end, more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security and a comfortable life; and they lost all—comfort and security and freedom.” (See his July 2013 Liahona magazine article, The World Needs Pioneers Today)

Where do you stand? Security or Freedom?

Do you stand with freedom or security? Do you stand with Barack Obama and Miss Alabama? Or do you stand with Benjamin Franklin and Thomas S. Monson? As for me, I stand with the latter group. I side with freedom. If we have to err on one side or the other, I would err on the side of freedom because if we don’t, history and logic show, that we will lose both security and freedom.