Blog Archives

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

April 17, 2014 | 26 comments
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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 | 23 comments
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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
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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
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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
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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 | 103 comments
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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
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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 »

How Mormonism Changes and Managing Liberal Expectations

December 6, 2012 | 95 comments
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One of the things that the Mormon interwebs do is imagine change within the Church, lament the lack of change within the Church, and (at times) agitate for change within the Church. Certainly there is historical precedent for change within the Church, the most dramatic recent example being the 1978 abandonment of the Church’s racial priesthood ban. This is an example worth thinking about. First, the shift came relatively late if you super-impose the Mormon timeline on the civil rights timeline in the United States. The Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional in the 1950s, although it didn’t do much... Read more »

Gender and Priesthood

September 23, 2012 | 137 comments
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I think that women should receive the priesthood.  I don’t find the reasons that have been given as to why the priesthood is limited to males very compelling.  I don’t think that motherhood is a good analog to priesthood, or rather I think that motherhood is a kind of priesthood (an exercise of godly power by human beings) but its analog is fatherhood, not the Melchizedek priesthood.  I think that the feminization of religion is an important issue, one that feminist critics dismiss rather too breezily.  I suspect that the all-male priesthood probably mitigates this problem somewhat in Mormonism, but I suspect that we could come up with... Read more »

Seeing the Future of Mormonism

April 9, 2012 | 39 comments
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If you want to know where Mormonism going, look at Mormon missionary work.  Mormonism is nothing if not a missionary church.  Indeed, the evangelical imperative of the religion has consistently defined its teachings, theology, and culture.  For example, if one is looking to read Mormon theology in the nineteenth century, you would find little in the way of theological treatises.  Rather, you would find missionary tracts like Pratt’s Key to the Science of Theology, or you could read sermons, sermons whose doctrinal content is almost always embedded in an explicit or implicit theological polemic against American Protestantism.  This is... Read more »

King Benjamin and the Moral Irrelevance of Panhandlers

April 6, 2012 | 51 comments
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For many people, being confronted by a panhandler presents a moment of profound moral choice. I think that these people are confused. As I understand it, the panhandler presents a moment of profound moral choice because he forces us to confront the reality of poverty and our willingness to do something about it. To give money to the panhandler is to act as Christ’s disciple, ministering to the poor. To walk by the panhandler is to ignore the poor and the downtrodden. The text I have most often seen in church for framing this crisis comes from King Benjamin’s... Read more »

City Creek and the Choices of Thrift

April 2, 2012 | 193 comments
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Jana Riess, a person for whose intelligence and good will I have a great deal of respect, has an article up criticizing the new City Creek mall that that Church has financed in Salt Lake City. You ought to go read Jana’s article. To massively over simplify her point, the mall represents a basic moral failure because the church invested $1.5 billion in the project. This money could have been spent on the poor and rather than a glitzy palace to consumerism. There is a simple and powerful logic to Jana’s claim, but I think that by failing to... Read more »

How I should like to live my life…

February 17, 2011 | 47 comments
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I post here something I recently wrote in my journal: I basically think that Aristotle had it right on how to live a good life: find a proper mean between extremes, be balanced, and live virtuously. So here is what I would like my life to look like: I start with work, the labor I must do to live. I should like to be good at my job. I don’t have any particular desire to be at the very top of my profession. Academic stardom looks like rather too brass a ring to devote all of one’s energy on... Read more »

Huntsman, Mormonism, and the Presidency

February 1, 2011 | 37 comments
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For those who may be interested, I am going to be on KUER’s (the NPR affiliate in Salt Lake) Radio West program this afternoon discussing Mormonism and a possible presidential run by former Utah governor Jon Huntsman. Read more »

Why folks dislike Mormons

December 14, 2010 | 74 comments
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Flunking Sainthood has a nice post up on the recent finding in the book American Grace that Mormons are the third most disliked religious group in the United States. Jana makes some books points, and her call for a bit more Mormon humility is surely a good idea. Although the in-group identification that she cites is not really a proxy for smugness as much as social cohesion, there is no denying that Mormons can appear smug at times. One of the puzzles that Jana puzzles over is why Jews are so well regarded while Mormons are not. I suspect,... Read more »

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