Blog Archives

The Influence of Law on Mormon Theology in the 20th Century

January 18, 2015 | 10 comments

I recently published an article that T&S readers might find interesting. It traces the legal issues faced by the Church as a result of its international expansion after 1945, arguing that the pressures created by these concerns tended to modify Mormon theologies of the state in the last half of the twentieth century. There is a bunch of interesting stuff in the paper (or at least I think that there is), but it mainly makes two contributions. First, it tries to provide an overarching narrative for Mormon legal history in the late twentieth century. Second, it shows that just... Read more »

Mormons and Politics

November 12, 2014 | 3 comments

Readers may be interested in a recent episode of the “Research on Religion Podcast,” featuring Quin Monson (BYU) and Dave Campbell (Notre Dame) discussing their new book Seeking the Promised Land: Mormons and American Politics (also co-authored with John C. Green). The book is the first full length study by professional political scientists of the place of Mormons in contemporary American politics. Scholarly discussions of Mormonism tend to be dominated by those trained either as historians or else (more recently) in religious studies. The work of Monson, Campbell, and Green is important because it brings in a bit more... Read more »

Doux Commerce in the City of God

November 10, 2014 | 6 comments

I just put up an essay at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) that readers of this blog might find interesting. It’s a response to some of Hugh Nibley’s writings on Zion and commerce. Nibley was famously critical of the mercantile ethic, arguing that trade and capitalism were fundamentally hostile to the ideal of Zion. This essay takes a more optimistic view of commerce, drawing on the ideas eighteenth-century thinkers like Montesquieu, who saw in the rise of markets a fundamentally pro-social force with the potential to limit violence and conflict. I’ll let readers judge the ultimate merits of... Read more »

Announcement: Faith & Knowledge Conference at UVa

October 20, 2014 | no comments

THE FIFTH BIENNIAL FAITH AND KNOWLEDGE CONFERENCE UNIVERSITY OF VIRGINIA CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA FEBRUARY 27-28, 2015 The Faith and Knowledge Conference was established in 2006 to bring together LDS graduate students in religious studies and related disciplines in order to explore the interactions between religious faith and scholarship. During the past four conferences, students have shared their experiences in the church and the academy and the new ideas that have emerged as a result. Papers and conversations provided thought-provoking historical, exegetical, and theoretical insights and compelling models of how to reconcile one’s discipleship with scholarly discipline. In keeping with these... Read more »

Discussion, Advocacy, and Some Thoughts on Practical Reasoning

June 24, 2014 | 63 comments

I am saddened by Kate Kelly’s excommunication. I wish that events had played out differently. Excommunication in this case strikes me as the worst outcome for all concerned, although obviously my opinion on this matter does not – and should not – matter. I believe her when she says that the decision is extremely painful for her and her family. They have my sympathy and my prayers. I do worry that part of the public meaning that she and her supporters are assigning to her excommunication is both inaccurate and potentially destructive. In her letter to her bishop, she... Read more »

Why is the Church Handbook of Instructions not Public?

June 23, 2014 | 28 comments

I don’t know the answer to this question. Let me suggest some possibilities: Perhaps the Brethren are worried that publishing the Handbook will encourage people to treat it as a legal text. There are two possible problems with this. It might then encourage people to use deviation from the Handbook to attack priesthood leaders, when the Handbook is merely intended to orient them in particular ways not necessarily limit their ability to deviate. Alternatively, treating the Handbook as a legal text might discourage members from approaching issues prayerfully and flexibly rather than legalistically. By keeping it private, the thinking... Read more »

Some Thoughts on Church Courts

June 21, 2014 | 21 comments

Karen Hall has an interesting post on church courts that’s worth reading. Her basic point is that church courts fail to comply with some rule of law norms. I would quibble with some of her points. For example I think she slips from the idea of rule of law to the narrower idea of an adversarial judicial process involving juries. Most of the world, however, uses the civil law system which has no juries and uses an inquisitorial rather than adversarial structure. (I do not mean inquisitorial to be pejorative. It simply means a system where the judge actively... Read more »

Elliot Rodger, Sex, the Good Life, and the Peril of Rights

June 5, 2014 | 58 comments

There are certain things that we need and desire. Among these is love and sex. I conjoin two words, but I mean it to refer to a single whole, the embodied connection of affection, commitment, and pleasure that comes in the mutual giving of two people of themselves to each other. That. It’s a longing that has deep roots in biology and human experience. It seems a good candidate for a necessary component of a good life. The problem comes when that truth – that a good and complete life includes love and sex – combines with our dominant... Read more »

The Message of Mormonism (pt. 2): Angels, Visions, Prophets, and Gifts of the Spirit

April 17, 2014 | 27 comments

In my last post I talked about Mormonism as an answer to the question, “Which church is true?” and suggested that this question has only been compelling on a large scale in fairly limited circumstances. I ought to note here that I am not trying to come up with some kind of general explanation for why people adopt religions or even of church growth in general. I am just interested in the kinds of messages that we have given about the Restoration and why those messages might or might not be compelling in differing social contexts. Another message on... Read more »

The Message of Mormonism (pt. 1): Which Church is True?

April 11, 2014 | 24 comments

This is the first in a series of posts in which I lay out some of my thoughts on what Mormonism’s message to the world has been and what it might become in the next generation or two. It’s a big topic, and I’m likely to yammer on at some length. You have been warned. Since the beginning of the Restoration Mormonism’s central message to the world has been “Join us!” We are and have always been a missionary religion. From an internal perspective missionary work serves three basic purposes. The first is to assist individuals work out their... Read more »

So Who Gets a Press Conference in Front of the Tabernacle?

March 28, 2014 | 77 comments

One of the aspects of the Church’s recent statement to OW regarding the priesthood session that strikes me as eminently sensible is the insistence that OW not invite media on to Temple Square and confine their demonstrations to public property. It’s worth noting that the letter didn’t say that OW members could not come on to Temple Square as worshipers. It said that they couldn’t conduct a press conference in front of the Tabernacle during a General Conference session. There are three reasons that this makes good sense to me. First, inviting television crews onto Temple Square and holding... Read more »

A Discarded Draft

March 19, 2014 | 61 comments

The following draft of a letter was discovered in the waste paper basket at the Church Public Affairs Office:* Dear Sister Kelly, We have received your request for a ticket to attend the Priesthood Session of April General Conference. The purpose of this session is to provide instruction from Church leaders specifically for men and boys. Each year the Church receives more requests for tickets from men and boys than it can accommodate. Accordingly, your request for tickets is refused. We appreciate your desire to hear from Church leaders, however, and invite you to watch the live broadcast of... Read more »

Some Ironies of Continuing Revelation

March 17, 2014 | 21 comments

I was recently having a conversation with an orthodox Jewish law professor about the challenges faced by Mormons and orthodox Jews as they seek to adapt their religion to life in liberal societies. He was struck by the parallels between Jewish and Mormon discussions, and then said, “Of course, I assume that the idea of continuing revelation makes things much different for Mormons.” His comment got me thinking, and here’s what I wrote in response: Chaim, You’d think that ideas of continuing revelation would make discussions of change — including basic theological and liturgical change — easier for Mormons,... Read more »

Why Equality is a Feeling

March 7, 2014 | 102 comments

This is a little long. Bear with me. “Equality is not a feeling” has emerged as something of a slogan among some Mormon feminists. It’s offered as a reply to those who insist that many (most?) Mormon women feel loved and valued within the Church, aren’t pushing for radical reforms, or the like. These women don’t feel unequal. But, equality is not a feeling. What might it mean to say that equality isn’t a feeling? It seems to me that there are two possible ways of understanding this claim. The first is that equality is an objective, empirical judgment... Read more »

Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement

January 26, 2014 | 166 comments

It’s hard to know the future, but I will hazard a prediction: the Ordain Women project will fail. If I understand its ambitions correctly, Ordain Women would define success as an announcement that the prophet, having followed the invitation of these faithfully agitating sisters, has gone to the Lord and has received a revelation that women are to be ordained to the priesthood. I don’t know if women will ever be ordained to the priesthood, but I would be shocked if this was to happen while any institutional breath breathed in the Ordain Women movement. There are two reasons... Read more »

Brandon Flowers and the Song of Redeeming Love

January 11, 2014 | 11 comments

This is going to meander a bit at first but bear with me. Each semester I have to grade something like 1,340,567 pages of student exams. It is horrible. To dull the pain, I pick a new music group each semester as my “grading discovery.” Last semester I picked Brandon Flowers and the Killers. I’d never paid much attention to them, but I got interested after I saw Brandon Flowers’s “I am a Mormon” video spot. It was a happy discovery. I like them. Much to my surprise a long-time friend of mine, an accomplished lawyer and former stake... Read more »

Intellectual Disaffection and “The Biggest Tax Cut in History”

November 1, 2013 | 26 comments

There are lots of stories on the Internet about people who have discovered things about Mormon history and left the Church. Indeed, these kinds of exit narratives have reached the point of cultural saliency that the New York Times and other media outlets have picked up on the story. I have repeatedly read or heard people claim that we are in the midst of an unprecedented wave of intellectual apostasy. I am skeptical. Before I explain why, I hasten to add that I have absolutely no doubt that many people learn things about Mormon history that they did not... Read more »

Men, Women, and Priesthood Session

October 7, 2013 | 149 comments
Men, Women, and Priesthood Session

In case you haven’t heard, members of the Ordain Women movement tried to attend the priesthood session of general conference and were turned away. I think that turning them away was a mistake, but I also think that it would be a bad idea for women to begin attending the priesthood session of conference. First, why I think excluding Ordain Women was a mistake. I can understand why Church authorities would turn away the Ordain Women activists. The rationale, it seems to me, would be something along the lines of, “This is an attempt to turn a sacred meeting... Read more »

Chastity and Virginity

May 10, 2013 | 67 comments

I have been trying to think through Elizabeth Smart’s remarks about chewed up gum and the way that we teach chastity to our youth. I have never heard the chewed up gum analogy, but I remember stories about cupcakes passed around and similar visual aids. I always thought there was something ugly about these lessons. It seems to me that the fundamental problem with all of these analogies is that they equate chastity with virginity. Virginity by definition is something that once lost is never regained. Historically, it has also been associated with a whole bunch of disturbing male... Read more »

Why Gay Marriages are a Good Idea but Marriage Equality Worries Me

April 3, 2013 | 244 comments

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the constitutional challenge to Proposition 8. I sat down to write a blog post about my thoughts on gay marriage and kept writing and writing and writing. You can read the results here. Like a lot of Latter-day Saints, I have spent a fair amount of time during the last two decades thinking about gay marriage. For better or for worse, it has been one of the main conundrums of Mormon intellectual discussions for my entire adult life. This essay is an attempt to distill my thinking... Read more »

The Case Against Scouting

March 25, 2013 | 145 comments
The Case Against Scouting

I think that the Church should end its relationship with the Scouting program, but not for the reasons you might think. No, this isn’t a post about homosexuality or even about gender equity, or at least about gender equity as it usually gets discussed on this issue. Indeed, in many ways, I think that girls are served better by the Church than are boys. This is because I think that in many ways that YW program is superior to the YM program. It is true that in some units more gets spent per young men than per young women.... Read more »

A Letter to a Friend

December 20, 2012 | 37 comments

Below is the text of a letter that I wrote about a year ago to a close friend who was in the midst of a crisis of faith.  I have edited it to remove any identifying information: Dear Friend, It was a pleasure to talk with you earlier.  I am sorry to hear about the spiritual and intellectual difficulties that you have been struggling with.  You are — quite literally — in my prayers.  I have thought a great deal about what you told me of your struggles with faith and the Restoration.  I hesitate to offer any advice... Read more »

Another Surreply

December 11, 2012 | 39 comments

Over at FMH, rah has a post responding to my “How Mormonism Changes” post.  As I read it, she has basically three objections to my post.  First, she insists that I misunderstand the motivations of liberal Mormons, which are grounded in genuine love and concern for others rather than ideological embarrassment.  Second, she suggests that historically the priesthood ban’s elimination had more to do with evolution within the hierarchy than it did with progression of the membership of the church.  Third, she claims that the model of prophecy I propose is mistaken or the like because it does not appear... Read more »

A Surreply to TT’s Critique of “How Mormonism Changes”

December 7, 2012 | 26 comments

At Faith Promoting Rumor TT has a legthy response to my last post on how Mormonism changes. It’s worth a read and you should go over a take a look. I actually agree with a lot of what he says, but I’d like to push back on a couple of things. First, he writes: “Unity” of the church is selective, not a neutral category, one that excludes some in order to manufacture unity. That is, even the choice to “preserve” unity comes with costs measured in exclusion. There are a couple of ways of understanding this. It could just... Read more »