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 »

A Kingdom of Priests

March 19, 2014 | 15 comments
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On 30 March 1842, Joseph Smith spoke to the Relief Society. He said that he “was going to make of this Society a kingdom of priests as in Enoch’s day— as in Pauls day” (Citation). 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 »

Human Evolution: Problems and Possibilities

March 17, 2014 | 35 comments
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2014-03-17 Sun Over Earth

I agree with Jonathan Green’s description of how most Mormons tend to think about evolution vs. creation. To recap, we tend to: Affirm an active role for God in the creation of human beings Accept basic science as it relates to genetics, natural selection, geology, etc. Reject attempts to force an either/or choice between points 1 and 2. As a general rule, Mormons are happy to embrace science and religion, and do not see a necessary conflict between the two. When it comes to the usual hullaballoo over religion vs. science, this is certainly correct. There just isn’t any... Read more »

Literary OTGD #12: excerpt on Joseph from From Out of the Dust

March 15, 2014 | no comments
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Orson F. Whitney

Today, we Mormons see the “coincidence of names” between Joseph of Egypt, Joseph the son of Lehi and Joseph Smith as anything but a coincidence. They shared names allow us to make connections between the three cases, adding to our understanding of their histories. And Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 12 allows us to revisit some of the parallels, such as Joseph’s separation from Israel, and eventual reunion, as well as his visionary nature. Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, recognized this connection, and included it in his epic poem Elias in... Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #08: What fair one is this, from the wilderness trav’ling

March 14, 2014 | one comment
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William Wines Phelps

The purpose of the Church as an organization is sometimes ignored by Church members, who take its presence as given. While we know we are supposed to have a Church, we don’t often think about why the organization is needed. Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith manual, chapter 8, examines the purpose and the future of the Church through the statements of Smith. Of course, looking at the reason for a Church is nothing new. Early Mormons struggled with aspects of this, since many of them were influenced by the congregationalist models of other restorationist... Read more »

Literary OTGD #11: Joseph’s Temptation

March 13, 2014 | one comment
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TheProphet-1845-04-19-p1

Temptation is a constant. We all struggle with temptation to do that which we should not, and often these temptations involve significant sin or things that could lead to significant sin. Worse, as Joseph’s story indicates, even when we have acted properly, we can be seen as a sinner or in error, and treated accordingly. Sometimes this is because others are mistaken, and other times it is because those who judge have... Read more »

Openings and Beginnings

March 13, 2014 | 6 comments
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beginning

When we read scripture, we generally start at the beginning. This is one reason why openings — first lines, first paragraphs — are so important. They set the scene for what is to follow. They set the context and frame our understanding for entire chapters and books to follow. Terry Eagleton has a lot to say about openings in his How to Read Literature (Yale Univ. Press, 2013). While his focus is on literature, not scripture per se, his comments are helpful because scripture is a form of literature. And when it comes to how to read our scriptures,... Read more »

The Desolation of Noah: An Unexpected Explanation

March 13, 2014 | 38 comments
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Hi, I'm Noah.

It seems like we’re being inundated with discussions about Noah lately. A major motion picture is set to discuss the tale of Noah and the Ark — but the picture will also include an unusual disclaimer stating that it shouldn’t be seen as the real Noah story. Meanwhile, the Noah story itself faces a rising tide of criticism, with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) publicly ridiculing the story on national television. In response to that wave of criticism, some writers have floated defenses of the Noah account. For instance, at Meridian Magazine, writer Ronald Millett gives an in-depth discussion... Read more »

Fallibility, Trust, and Commercial Development

March 10, 2014 | 108 comments
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2014-03-10 Philly Dev Site

I’ve written about the fallibility of our leaders before (here, here, and here) because I think it’s important for us as members to develop greater spiritual independence and because the unrealistic expectations held for the leaders (as often by the critics as by the devout) set people up for unnecessary disappointment. But the concept of fallibility, like the even trendier concept of doubt, can be overplayed. Leaders are fallible, yes, but that doesn’t preclude room for trust. The proximate cause of my ruminations was the announcement of the Church’s addition of a chapel and a commercial apartment tower next... Read more »

What are the best Ensign articles?

March 9, 2014 | 25 comments
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We have four missionaries in our ward, with ipads. They have complete access to the LDS.org library, but (per their mission president’s wishes) little else in terms of reading/enrichment material. I keep mentioning different books, as is my wont (see here, here, and here), and telling them “all you need to do is read,” so they’ve been frustrated at the apparent lack of access to “the good stuff.”  Read more »

Ordain Women – the Joke Is On You

March 8, 2014 | 37 comments
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Ordain Women – the Joke Is On You

I just read the “hilarious” post on Andy Kano’s blog titled: Some LDS Women Want The Priesthood? Well LDS Men Have Some Requests Too. If you don’t want to read it, in a nutshell it’s a “comical” slapdown of Ordain Women in which he demands equality by, you know, providing a room where men can nurse their babies (I mean who wants to see all that exposed chest hair!), adding padded priesthood room chairs, and equalizing other disparities that he, apparently, thinks (in that über gut-busting way) are equivalent to not being able to share in the power of... 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 »

Supernatural Selection

March 7, 2014 | 77 comments
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Supernatural Selection

If I had to estimate what the median Mormon adult currently thinks about the origin of life, or the model that the church as an institution is most comfortable with, I would describe it as non-exclusive evolution through supernatural selection. Read more »

Take Upon You the Name of Laban

March 7, 2014 | no comments
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Take Upon You the Name of Laban

After the requisite soul-searching and angst and all that, Nephi cut off Laban’s head, snicker-snack. He probably did not know at the time that he was setting up a type of Christ. Read more »

The Ninety and Nine

March 5, 2014 | 7 comments
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The Ninety and Nine

Christ can only go out after the lone lamb if he has some confidence that the other ninety-nine are in safe pastures, a protected flock. Read more »

“I want to do it.” Priesthood, Care, and a Little Girl.

March 4, 2014 | 60 comments
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Geneva (8) at Huntington Beach

It was the day before the first day of school. That meant is was time for the annual “back-to-school” father’s blessings. This has been a tradition in our house, as it is with many families. However, that year felt a little different. Todd, my oldest , was starting middle school. Geneva, my youngest, was starting full-day Kindergarten. It is a year of transition. Shem, the new 4th grader, went first. I will not go into the details of the blessings themselves, but I love the intimacy of such blessings. I love the feel of their hair as I place... Read more »

Awkward Discourse, Awkward Practice

March 3, 2014 | 23 comments
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Awkward Discourse, Awkward Practice

Let me say up front that I’m a big fan of the Church’s new Gospel Topics section. And the most recent entry “Becoming Like God” is perhaps my favorite. I thought the author contextualized the topic well, and I especially liked the section entitled “How do Latter-day Saints envision exaltation?” In part because of the nature of the topic, and in part because the author courageously included two full paragraphs on our Heavenly Parents, however, this article manifests our incongruent, sometimes incoherent, and at the least wholly awkward way of discussing all things women in the Church. There’s nothing... Read more »

Literary OTGD #10: Our Golden Wedding

March 1, 2014 | 3 comments
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Literary OTGD #10: Our Golden Wedding

The marriage process in Abraham’s family (covered in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 10) is very different that the common experience in the Church today (at least in North America). Arranged marriages, polygamy, dowries and working for a wife are all discussed in the source chapters in Genesis, while the marriages are still eternal, evidently the same way that marriages in LDS Temples today are eternal. But while there are clear differences, there are also similarities in how these marriages work. Isaac and Rebekah, as well as Jacob and his wives, work together to make the union productive and... Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #07: Restoration

March 1, 2014 | no comments
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Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #07: Restoration

Given how much we talk about Joseph Smith in lessons such as lesson 7 of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith manual used in Priesthood and Relief Society meetings, you might think I would run out of poetry about him. That isn’t likely to happen. Smith is also a common subject of Mormon poetry — but nowhere near as common a subject as Christ. As the prophet who introduced the current dispensation, restoring the gospel to the earth, according to what we teach, Joseph Smith’s role and the restoration he initiated and shepherded is vital to the... Read more »

“I am glad we pay our tithing.”

February 28, 2014 | 42 comments
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sacredgrove_large

My wife Lyndee got an email at work a few weeks ago. It turns out that they have been paying her the wrong amount. They have been paying her significantly less than they should have been paid They had placed her incorrectly on the pay scale. Lyndee has two bachelors degrees and they were only paying her for one. We knew this was the case but she had been told that this was how the district paid new teachers. This development will move her over two columns on the school districts pay scale. Somebody had told her that the... Read more »

Mormonism at the Scopes Trial

February 28, 2014 | 26 comments
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Mormonism at the Scopes Trial

I read Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997) earlier this month, and was surprised to see the Book of Mormon appear in one of Clarence Darrow’s arguments to the court. Funny how little mention there is of the Scopes Trial in LDS discourse, given how often evolution seems to come up. I have some ideas on that. But first the interesting arguments made to the court by Darrow. Read more »

An Answer for Daniel Peterson

February 28, 2014 | no comments
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Brother Peterson, You asked a question on your blog that I will answer here. Read more »

An Offhand Apologia of Sorts, and some Reflections

February 26, 2014 | 51 comments
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I exchange emails with a good number of LDS people. Some of them are simply looking for information, a pointer to the right article or scripture or background. Some of them are finding their spiritual footing to not be as firm as it used to be, which is highly disconcerting. No one enjoys just trying to stay afloat while the waves keep breaking over you. One such exchange recently ended with a personal question, given X, Y, and Z, why do *you* stay? It was a busy day, and I only had five minutes (dangerous to write something serious... Read more »

Thanking God’s Advocates, the Promoters of the Cause

February 24, 2014 | 27 comments
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2014-02-23 John_Martin_-_Sodom_and_Gomorrah

Today in Gospel Doctrine I played the role of Devil’s advocate. I spent the last 10 or 15 minutes leading a discussion about the children who died when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, when God sent the Flood, when Christ died on the cross and Nephite cities were burned, buried, and sunk, and when Alma and Amulek watched as women and children were burned to death before their eyes. Several of the commenters sought to defend God’s justice using familiar arguments (like the idea that there are some things worse than death) or evasions (like the idea that maybe... Read more »

Compassion-and-service

February 23, 2014 | 13 comments
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I recently accepted a new calling in my ward. I’m now the compassionate service leader in the Relief Society. It’s been a good change from my previous calling as gospel doctrine teacher; I’m still relatively new in the ward, and this calling allows me to meet and know the people I worship with more intimately. There is a self-interested angle to this: every so often I cause a little trouble in my wards, or contemplate doing so, and I’ve found that when I know and love individual people I can get away with saying more. Plus, you know, once... Read more »

We’ve All Been Set Up

February 21, 2014 | 22 comments
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You have to turn and look.

We’ve all been set up for failure. Consider the plan: go to Earth and obey the commandments.  How likely is that to turn out well?  Add in that part with Adam, Eve, and the fruit and I think it is pretty clear that this was a set up to force us to… turn to God.  Failure makes us humble.  Repentance changes our hearts.  Which is the goal: a broken heart and a contrite spirit. So when someone complains about a standard being too high or that we are setting people up for failure by expecting things like chastity, honesty, modesty, tithing... Read more »

Success in Life

February 19, 2014 | 25 comments
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My daughter just turned 12, and her new Young Women’s advisor and the  one other Beehive in the ward came over to introduce her to the program, give her a slew of pamphlets, and welcome her to Young Women. After they left, I read through the Guidebook for Parents and Leaders of Youth that they had left for me. It is a nice little booklet. In the section “Role of Parents” it states: “Your sons and daughters are children of God who have great potential. Although the Church has many leaders and resources to help them, you as their... Read more »

Raising an Ensign: Challenges of Scholarship on Mormonism at BYU

February 18, 2014 | 29 comments
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In his recent First Things article, Ralph Hancock argues that it is vital to the mission of BYU that it produce scholarship articulating a distinctively Mormon worldview, as a major part of its regular work. What would it take for BYU to respond seriously to Hancock’s call? Hancock notes that there is much more one would need to consider on the way to concrete action than what he is able to say in a five page article. As things stand, for such a large, well-funded, highly religious university, BYU is doing surprisingly little on this front. For the vast... Read more »

Sounding the Secularist Alarm at BYU

February 17, 2014 | 94 comments
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Ralph Hancock has a provocative article in the March edition of First Things in which he raises concerns about the specialization/secularization he sees occurring at Brigham Young University: “For some decades, BYU had managed a compromise between the academic mainstream and its own aspiration to a distinctive mission.  urged the faculty to resist hyper-specialization, by which we seek merely to ‘imitate others or win their approval,’ and instead to assume the responsibility of ‘those educated and spiritual and wise sort, sift, prioritize, integrate, and give some sense of wholeness… to great eternal truths.’ But the... Read more »

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