First of all, my thanks to the Afioga Gatoaitele Savea for a snippet of the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (hereafter noted as the “Church of Jesus Christ” or “Church”) in his response to Dr. Kuhlmann.
Religion is always a sensitive and ma’ale’ale (delicate/brittle) subject. The crux of Dr. Kuhlmann’s letter is nothing new to me, and others, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ. The criticism, allegations and accusations are as old as the Church itself. Other churches and religions encounter and face similar attacks, I’m sure. But for someone like Mr. Kuhlmann with a Doctor’s degree (Divinity?), I am a little puzzled and left to question his judgment and religious acumen in passing some acerbic and incendiary comments about another religion. In my experience with these types of diatribes, I find that one of the main motives is usually linked to a fear and trepidation of certain ministers for their church and/or congregation being threatened by a sudden or gradual exodus of their congregants to the Church of Jesus Christ (or to another church or religion). As a result, the resort to attacks using misinformation, falsifications and accusations by these ministers becomes inevitable and irresistible.
This malicious strategy happens in certain areas across the United States, but can also happen in Samoa especially in light of a 2016 Census Report by the Department of Statistics whose findings reflect surprising decreases in membership numbers for Samoa’s three main sects of churchgoers (Congregationalists (CCCS), Catholics and Methodists) while the Church of Jesus Christ (“Latter-day Saints”/”Mormons”) is shown to lead the pack of the few churches with noticeable increases (re:”Faaitiitia tagata lotu a le EFKS, Katoliko ma le Metotisi,” Samoa Times. Sep 12, 2018). Such decline in numbers for some churches, but net gains for the Church of Jesus Christ, can trigger feelings of repulsion by the former against the latter. The result is often a renewed wave of resentment and hostility towards the Church of Jesus Christ and actualized in letters such as the one by Dr. Kuhlmann and whose right, choice and freedom of expression I respect.
Christianity is a word that has ambiguities and is abused. It has been used by churches and ministers, ironically, to exclude, demean, offend and marginalize others, even those who are different in their convictions and beliefs regarding Jesus Christ. Christianity has also been used as a pseudo-unifier for groups like the World Council of Churches and the like. They may be unified in whatever concocted purpose and yet divided in doctrine and beliefs. That said, it’s a fact that every adherent of a particular church or religion has some degree of convincement and testimony that his/her church is true, otherwise he/she will not have joined it. The challenge for all of us is to find the qualified and ultimate Truth. It’s a personal quest hopefully verified, confirmed and sealed by the power of the Spirit/the Holy Ghost.
Dr. Kuhlmann asked: “How then [does The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] fit into ‘Christian principles and Samoan Custom and tradition?”
The answer is very simple. There are actually several “hows” that make the Church of Jesus Christ fit - and dovetail perfectly - into “the Christian principles and Samoan Custom and tradition.” Due to the interest of time and bandwidth, let me present one very important and significant “how”. It has to do with the AIGA (Family).
Traditionally, Samoans, as in most other cultures, are a family-oriented people. They are unique, however, in their love and devotion to their aiga. They are stalwart and committed to their ancestors hence their love and emphasis on their gafa (genealogies), albeit transmitted in very rudimentary methods. In fact, in a very real sense, Samoans consider themselves as one big aiga. Everyone is a tuagane/tuafafine (brother/sister) and tama/tina (father/mother) - literally. Accordingly, therefore, the Samoan language does not have native words for familial terms such as cousin, niece, nephew, grandma, grandpa, etc., etc. Because, again, everyone is a sister and/or brother. It’s the principle of inclusion. Interestingly, in the Church of Jesus Christ, we address our fellow members - and non-members - as brothers or sisters. All are brothers and sisters in Christ. But there’s more. In the Church of Jesus Christ, the family is its basic unit. All its programs and ordinances revolve around the family. Let me make this claim boldly since I know it to be an absolute truth. No other church comes close to the Church of Jesus Christ in its emphasis and focus on the importance of families, here and the hereafter. None. Zilch. The expression “Families are Forever” is a proprietary maxim and characteristic of the Church. Latter-day saints believe in the literal sealing of families by the proper priesthood authority and therefore make it possible for them to be reunited in the afterlife as eternal units.
These sealing are performed in the hundreds of temples of the Church. Moreover, this teaching is taught, supported in, and sanctioned by the Bible. Where, you ask?
In Malachi 4:5-6:
“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.”
Before I expound, let me assure you that this is an important prophecy which most Christians are unsure and ambivalent about its meaning (Google it and you will find all the different opinions and speculations by Christian ministers and clergy on what it means.) For the Church of Jesus Christ, the meaning is clear and unambiguous.
The “turning of the heart[s] of the fathers to the children” and vice-versa, are found in the task and process of searching and compiling of one’s gafa (genealogies) by us (children) which includes our predecessors and ancestors (fathers). And then the “fathers” will, in turn, turn their hearts to us the children in accepting our work, which will eventually be used for vicarious saving ordinances (sealings, endowments, baptisms, etc.) in the temples. Incidentally, Samoans believe that they can still communicate and “in contact” with their departed family members and ancestors who are in spirit form. This unbroken line or link has a divine purpose and plan.
Malachi, being the last book of the Old Testament, contains this prophecy about the coming of Elijah who held the keys of the “sealing power” (1 Kings 17 sealing the heavens). The Jews are still waiting for his coming, hence the vacant chair during Passover. Some Christians believe that John the Baptist was Elijah, which is a belief that John himself refuted and said he was not Elias/Elijah (John 1:21). John the Baptist was not Elijah; he instead had the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17).
For the Latter-day Saints, and the world for that matter, Elijah has already come and had appeared in the Kirtland (Ohio) Temple of the Church, on April 3, 1836 and where he quoted the fulfillment of the prophecy in Malachi.
13 After this vision had closed, another great and glorious vision burst upon us; for Elijah the prophet, who was taken to heaven without tasting death, stood before us, and said:
14 Behold, the time has fully come, which was spoken of by the mouth of Malachi—testifying that he [Elijah] should be sent, before the great and dreadful day of the Lord come—
15 To turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the children to the fathers, lest the whole earth be smitten with a curse—
16 Therefore, the keys of this dispensation are committed into your hands; and by this ye may know that the great and dreadful day of the Lord is near, even at the doors.
(Doctrine and Covenants 110)
Moreover, April 3, 1836 was an Easter Sunday and Passover week. With the Lord, there is no coincidence.
Now how do we, as Latter-day Saints, further support the above interpretation of the sealing of families and other saving ordinances? At the end of Malachi 4:6, it says “lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” Yes, a curse and Elijah was to be sent in the latter-days to restore the sealing power so families can avoid, evade and escape the curse. Let me take you back to verse 1 of the same chapter of Malachi:
“For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither ROOT nor BRANCH.” (Emphases mine)
Root and branch are metaphors used in the context of families (re: family tree). Likewise, fathers and children in the literal sense. And the curse is to be left without root nor branch - or Aiga.
Again when we are involved in tracing our genealogies, which, by the way, has become a booming trend and pastime within the last several years, our hearts, as children, are literally TURNED to our fathers/forebears - and vice-versa. The Church of Jesus Christ has the most volumes and archives of family and census records from around the world for this purpose. It also sponsors the popular FamilySearch website which is the premiere site for genealogical research on the Internet. The sudden and overwhelming interest in genealogy even for those who are not members of the Church, is not something that has happened by chance. It is all part of the so-called spirit and power of Elijah as prophesied. Are Samoans into genealogies? Of course. Though it used to be for purposes of inheritance like lands and titles, now there’s a loftier and more noble purpose as they join the Church.
This aiga emphasis of the Church of Jesus Christ, has become one of its most appealing and convincing tenets to people everywhere as in places like Africa (where tremendous growth for the Church is happening) as well as in the islands of the Pacific. It’s exactly the same here in Samoa. Samoans, safe to say, have the spirit of Elijah which inspires them to join the Church and “turn their hearts” to their forebears who had not had the chance to hear and learn of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This marvelous blessing can only be found in the RESTORED Gospel of Jesus Christ through temple ordinances. It’s all part of the plan of mercy of a loving Heavenly Father to extend salvation to all His children here in this life, and beyond the veil. Paul reminds us that “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
It is this emphasis, commitment and love of aiga in the eternal plan of a loving God and through the Church of Jesus Christ, that represents one of the “hows” which, based on Kuhlmann’s query, fits the Church of Jesus Christ into “Christian principles and Samoan Custom and tradition.”
Lastly, Dr. Kuhlmann, and others, I hope you don’t pass up the chance to listen and hear the message of those neatly-dressed young men - and women. If your experience will be anything like mine, you won’t be disappointed. You will be truly happy, and your AIGA will also be truly grateful, and blessed.
Ma le fa’aaloalo tele,
(Note: All Bible references are from the King James Version)