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J. Williams:

You asked for a practicing Mormon to respond, so here I am. I am a lay member, not a general authority, so you’ll get my in-the-trenches, unofficial answers to your questions. I assume that’s what you’re looking for.

1. Women Prophets. There are 15 “prophets, seers, and revelators” in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. These are the three members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Other General Authorities, such as members of the Quorum of the Seventy you referenced, are not considered prophets.

Will there ever be women called to these groups? There likely will be if women are ordained to the priesthood, something currently not being done. However, men and women at all levels have access to “the testimony of Jesus [which] is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10).

2. Temples and Freemasonry. While it’s true that Joseph Smith was a freemason, and freemasonry may have influenced some current temple rituals, there is no close association between freemasonry and Mormonism. As a practicing Latter-day Saint for nearly 30 years, I’ve attended the temple dozens of times; and from what I’ve gleaned about freemasonry, the rites of the two are only vaguely similar in form and quite different in substance and purpose. And while I won’t comment in specifics about LDS temple rituals, I will say that the substance of them is scriptural. That is, LDS temple rites reflect Christian doctrines and belief about God’s purposes for His children.

3. LDS Culture and Disaffection. People leave the LDS Church—and many other organizations—for various reasons, including supposed oppression. But “oppression” is a subjective reaction to perceived “mandatory conformity” which is in the eye of the beholder; there is no objective truth to this claim. All I can say is that I’ve been a practicing Latter-day Saint for nearly 30 years, since joining the Church at age 22. Every day since then I’ve chosen to stay, and I would not have stayed had I felt coerced or compelled to do so. The LDS Church is run at the local level by a lay clergy (i.e., volunteers) of people who choose each day to stay. Besides, if conformity were mandatory, no one *could* leave!

4. The Book of Abraham. In my view the Book of Abraham is an amazing book of Christian doctrine that augments what we learn in the Bible. Critics have leveled various claims about its authenticity, none of which I find compelling. The most common one I’ve heard is that the papyri that the Church possesses have been translated by modern Egyptologists who say that its contents bear no resemblance to the Book of Abraham. The answer to this is a simple one: these papyri aren’t what Joseph Smith translated; those were lost. But to me, this completely skirts the real issue, which is that we have the book and it must be explained and dealt with. Its origins are an interesting but non-essential academic question.

5. The Future of the LDS Church. The essentials of the LDS Church will always remain the same: God is our eternal father. Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and salvation comes only through faith in him. God speaks through mortal prophets who teach eternal truths and administer essential saving ordinances (e.g., baptism by immersion, bestowal of the gift of the Holy Ghost, marriage). You can learn the essentials as

God does call prophets and leaders at all levels. (We believe very much in revelation/inspiration from God to everyone in his/her stewardship.) Thomas S. Monson is called to be God’s prophet for the entire world today, as were his predecessors and as will be his successors in their respective eras. What that means is that God sends President Monson and his colleagues to teach the world the truth about God’s will and the good news of salvation and provident living through Jesus Christ's atonement and teachings.

6. LDS Members and Their Leaders. I think there is an impressive spiritual and emotional connection between everyday Latter-day Saints and their leaders. Obviously, with membership exceeding 14 million worldwide, most members don’t interact with general authorities much. However, every week members of the First Presidency, Quorum of the Twelve, the several quorums of Seventy travel throughout the world meeting with Church members in local conferences. That is augmented by presidencies of auxiliary (e.g., women's and youth) organizations who also travel widely. And since the LDS Church is run locally by local volunteers, every Church member has leaders in her/his local area looking out for their well-being.

As in any large organization there will be those who think that leadership is out of touch with the common folk, but that’s not been my experience. The leadership of the Church (both men and women) have a very good grasp of what is happening in the world and what members’ needs are, both spiritual and temporal.

The best sources to learn more are the above-mentioned, as well as, a site that provides answers to many of the more controversial issues of Church history and doctrine.

Thanks for your interest.