Blog Archives

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 »

How Mormonism Changes and Managing Liberal Expectations

December 6, 2012 | 95 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 »

A Call For Papers: “Mormonism in Cultural Context”

October 5, 2010 | no comments

The friends and former students of Professor Richard Lyman Bushman invite submissions for a conference, on the occasion of his 80th birthday, to be held June 18, 2011, at the Springville Art Museum in Springville, Utah. The summer seminars led by Professor Bushman beginning in 1997 pursued the theme of “Joseph Smith and His Times.” Participants were asked to connect the Mormon prophet to the religions, philosophies, and cultural formations of his period. More recently the seminars have posed the same question for Mormonism as a whole. How is Mormon thought to be situated in its broad cultural environment?... Read more »

Thoughts on the Deseret News, Immigration, and a Mormon Voice

September 26, 2010 | 9 comments

Consider this editorial in the Deseret News.  (I mean it.  Follow the link, read the article, and come back.)  Intellectually there is quite a bit going on in these paragraphs.  First, it is addressing the immigration debate arguing in effect that the rule of law is undermined by both widespread flouting of the laws and attempts to relentlessly enforce laws that are unfair.  Both points are well taken in my opinion and in my mind they point toward a policy of better enforcement of considerably more liberal immigration laws, something I would certainly support.  The interesting stuff, however, comes... Read more »

Conference Announcement: “Embracing the Law: A Scholarly Conference on Doctrine & Covenants 42”

September 2, 2010 | 2 comments

Embracing the Law A scholarly conference on Doctrine and Covenants 42 September 10, 2010 • Free Admission Session 1 9:00 – 10:45 a.m., Stonemetz Conference Room Jeremiah John, Southern Virginia University Law and Church in Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants Nate Oman, William and Mary Law School “I Give Unto You My Law”: Section 42 as a Legal Text and the Paradoxes of Divine Law Discussant: President Rodney K. Smith, Southern Virginia University 1:30 – 3:00 p.m., Main Hall 337 Russell Fox, Friends University “Thou Wilt Remember the Poor”: Liberation Theology and a Radical Interpretation of “The... Read more »

The Dictation of the Holy Ghost to Us: A Pioneer Day Sermon

July 25, 2010 | 26 comments
The Dictation of the Holy Ghost to Us: A Pioneer Day Sermon

I spoke in church today.  The youth in our stake just completed a four-day handcart pioneer re-enactment, and my remarks followed upon several youth speakers testimonies about their experience.  Below is the text of my sermon: Read more »

Reforming the Church, Angst, and the Spirituality of Democratic Liberalism

July 23, 2010 | 42 comments

t seems to me that what is at issue here is less one’s conduct than one’s emotional and intellectual stance.  In other words, I suspect that there is relatively little in terms of conduct that would differ between folks here.  We’re all interested in remaining faithful, contributing, serving, etc.  I suspect that none of us is likely to go along with some great evil perpetrated by the church (such evils being — in my opinion — mainly hypothetical intellectual playthings rather than regular aspects of lived experience). We can all think of changes that we would welcome and that... Read more »

How to write a revelation

July 1, 2010 | 31 comments
How to write a revelation

I have been working on a paper looking at the Doctrine and Covenants, and my research has me thinking about how the texts of modern revelation were produced.  I think that there are a lot of Mormons who assume that the words of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated word for word to Joseph.  On this model, the Doctrine and Covenants is rather like the Qua’ran, which also consists of a series of revelations given to a prophet over a period of years in response to concrete historial circumstances.  Pious Muslims affirm that the Qua’ran was... Read more »

Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism

June 7, 2010 | 38 comments
Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism

There is a strand of progressive Mormon thinking that associates Zion with an exaltation of agrarian virtues.  I am thinking here of folks like Hugh Nibley or Arthur Henry King or my friend Russell Arben Fox who argue that small scale, local economies, ideally based in large part on agriculture provide the best possible model for building Zion.  At least one way of understanding this line of thinking is to see it as a kind of Mormonization of agrarian thinkers like Wendell Berry.  It is striking in this regard that Leonard Arrington, whose works on nineteenth-century Mormon communitarianism provide... Read more »

Waiting Outside the Temple

March 31, 2010 | 154 comments

This story in the Arizona Republic got me thinking. It recounts the temple wedding of a Mormon convert. His mother opposed his baptism, and when it came time for him to be married she was devastated by her inability to attend the ceremony. The article was, I thought, a poignant telling of the story, one that nicely captured the mother’s pain. Among other things, the article notes that in countries where marriage must be a civil ceremony Mormons are allowed to be sealed immediately after a non-temple wedding. But not so in the United States, where a couple must... Read more »

Polygamy, Natural Law, and Imperialism

March 2, 2010 | 18 comments

I have been researching Reynolds v. United States (1879), the Supreme Court’s first polygamy case, on and off for several years.  For those who are interested, my paper on the topic is now available for download at SSRN.  Reynolds is an important case in American constitutional history, because was the first time the U.S. Supreme Court ever passed on the meaning of the First Amendment’s protections for freedom of religion.  Historians have generally situated the case within the context of the post-Civil War politics of Reconstruction.  The anti-polygamy crusade kicked off by Reynolds is seen as an extension of... Read more »

The Nasty Side of Christian Ethics

October 26, 2009 | 31 comments

The language of turning the other cheek and Christian ethics in general can really get quite nasty. Read more »

Critical Theory for Thee but Not For Me

September 1, 2009 | 15 comments

In 1996, the Catholic scholar Massimo Introvigne published an article entitled “The Book of Mormon Wars: A Non-Mormon Perspective.” He wrote: Read more »

The Evolution of Excommunication

July 30, 2009 | 51 comments

I recently went through every version of the Church Handbook of Instructions, looking at what they have to say about the operation of church courts and how it has changed over time. Read more »

Grace in the Morning

July 21, 2009 | 25 comments

This morning I went running with my dog.  Read more »