Two Churches, Two Gospels

January 30, 2014 | 21 comments
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As a Mormon, you belong to two churches: your local congregation, be it ward or branch (the Local Church), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Institutional Church). While something similar may be true for members of other denominations, it is more true for and has more effect on Latter-day Saints. You may draw strength from both your Local Church and from the Institutional Church; I do, and I think most Mormons do. But they are surprisingly distinct units, with rather different, if complementary, agendas. Read more »

Utah same-sex marriage and the international church

January 29, 2014 | 42 comments
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Utah same-sex marriage and the international church

Media around the world have been reporting the developments in Utah in relation to same-sex marriage. Nearly always the articles and broadcasts also mention the Mormon Church as the conservative force that tries to prevent same-sex marriage. What could be the effect of such reporting on the image of the Mormon Church worldwide? As far as can be known, what do church members around the world think about same-sex marriage? How will the Church deal with same-sex couples who are legally married in a growing number of countries? This (long) post tries to suggest answers to these three questions. But first,... Read more »

A Seven-Participle Pile Up in Mark 5

January 28, 2014 | 14 comments
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Mark’s writing style is characterized by parataxis, which means that he writes really short, simple sentences and then joins them together with the word “and.” (It’s the kind of thing your elementary school teachers were always trying to get you to stop doing.) Read more »

Literary OTGD #05: Age after age has roll’d away

January 27, 2014 | 4 comments
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Literary OTGD #05: Age after age has roll’d away

While many teachers will focus their teaching of Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #5 on the story of Cain and Abel, that is only half the lesson. The other half of the lesson is the story of Enoch and his city—perhaps a more positive example for us today as we strive to live the admonition “be ye therefore perfect.” The following poem is like the story of Enoch, one of the most unusual works in its corpus. As the prefatory paragraph indicates, it came out of an LDS meeting in which Elder David W. Patten (still at least 2... Read more »

Defending Faith

January 27, 2014 | 33 comments
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Hugh Nibley

One of my heroes is Hugh Nibley. I know. I know. How cliche for a Mormon Studies guy. Though it seems almost equally cliche to dismiss Nibley. In my second semester of graduate school at the University of Utah, I took a graduate seminar in ethics and public affairs. It was a small group. I was the only active Mormon. However, most of the regular participants in the seminar were very familiar with Mormonism. Jason was a returned missionary who had served in Japan. He worked at Sam Wellers Bookstore in downtown Salt Lake City. He was gay and... Read more »

Are Prophets Superheroes?

January 27, 2014 | 19 comments
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Are Prophets Superheroes?

Superheroes are a different breed. For a lot of them, this is literal. Most of the well-known superheroes in the Marvel Universe (Fantastic Four, X-Men, Avengers, etc.) are mutants. One of the central themes is the tension between ordinary humans and those genetically gifted with extraordinary mutant powers.  Other superheroes start out as perfectly normal human beings before something happens to set them apart. Peter Parker is consecrated by the bite of a radioactive spider. The Green Lanterns are called and chosen by an ancient alien race at the center of the Universe and endowed with power rings that... 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 »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #04: The Old Folks

January 26, 2014 | no comments
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Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #04: The Old Folks

While ‘strengthening the family’ might seem like code for a political position these days (please, no politics on this post), lesson 4 in the Joseph Fielding Smith lesson manual seems to boil the idea down to the ways in which we live together. The lesson says stronger families come from “spending time together, loving each other, and living the gospel together.” In most of our poetry, this is something assumed—background to another message the poet is trying to communicate. So in the following poem the ideas behind strengthening the family are part of another message, celebrating those who have... Read more »

Mormon Christianity: A Little Bit Catholic

January 25, 2014 | 8 comments
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I’m about a third of the way through Stephen W. Webb’s Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (OUP, 2013). Webb is a Catholic professor of philosophy and theology turned writer. His Catholic perspective on LDS doctrine and his evident sympathy for the LDS approach to Christianity make this insightful outsider treatment of LDS theology quite refreshing. I will no doubt post a longer discussion of the book in a week or two, but here is a quotation highlighting some similarities between Catholic and Mormon approaches to Christianity (apart from both traditions being the target... Read more »

Times and Seasons Welcomes Chris Henrichsen

January 24, 2014 | 6 comments
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Times and Seasons is pleased to welcome Chris Henrichsen as our latest guest blogger. Chris has been blogging for years, first at FPR and then, since February 2013, at the Patheos column Approaching Justice. He has a BA and an MA in political science from the University of Utah and is currently working on a doctorate, also in political science, at Idaho State University. In 2012, Chris ran for the House of Representatives in Wyoming as a Democrat. Chris has taught political science and philosophy at BYU, BYU-Idaho, UVU, and Casper College. He recently relocated to Las Vegas with... Read more »

Gay : Marriage :: Mormon : Christian

January 23, 2014 | 277 comments
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A Play in One Act Heber: . . . and that’s why we should all recognize that Mormons are Christians. Aquinas: Whoa, whoa. I understand your enthusiasm. The label of Christian is really valuable. But it also has a set definition. And I don’t think Mormons are in that definition. Heber: Why not? We believe in Jesus, don’t we? Christianity is defined by one thing: Belief in Jesus. Aquinas: That’s where you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a lot more to Christianity than belief in Jesus. Throughout human history, the word “Christian” has included a complicated package of additional, interrelated... Read more »

Good news for Gene Schaerr

January 23, 2014 | 78 comments
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Good news for Gene Schaerr

As reported by outlets including Above the Law, well-known LDS attorney Gene Schaerr is leaving his law firm for a new post at the State of Utah. His departure e-mail describes his new role as “defending the constitutionality of traditional marriage.” This certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavor. It would be terrible if male-female marriage (which is often described as “traditional marriage”) were found unconstitutional, barring straight folks from marrying. I have good news, though. A careful perusal of the Kitchen v. Herbert opinion reveals that male-female marriage remains completely constitutional in Utah. In fact, based on anecdotal reports,... Read more »

Everyday Redemption

January 21, 2014 | 7 comments
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Everyday Redemption

Strutting down the driveway, whistling with a snow shovel over my shoulder I had a moment where I was struck by the absurdity of the scene. I smiled. Then I wondered at it and how it came to be. Late morning, and gloriously the DC area shuts down at the mention of snow. So I’m still in my pajamas, hanging the picture frames I’ve been meaning to get at for some time. “James, quick, there’s a car stuck out there. Get your shovel and go help.” “Oh. Sure.” That was it in terms of words and thought. But even... Read more »

I Believe in Gender Roles

January 20, 2014 | 158 comments
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2014-01-20 Gender Roles

It is an ancient and time-honored tradition of fathers to leap out from behind corners and startle their little kids. According to the venerable template, the little one will shriek in faux terror and scamper away in expectation of pursuit. My son has different ideas. If my son is startled by something truly unknown, like the low-flying medical helicopter that often passed over our apartment in Michigan, then he will get scared. But if he can identify the source of a perceived threat, then his instinctive reaction is immediate and unrestrained aggression. This has been the case at least... Read more »

Literary OTGD #04: O Adam

January 19, 2014 | one comment
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Literary OTGD #04: O Adam

When we talk about the Fall and its roll in the plan of salvation, as Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson #4 does, the focus naturally (and properly) is on the effects of the Fall and its relationship with the atonement. But the Fall is also the story of a relationship between Adam, Eve and God. his makes it easier to put ourselves in the place of Adam and Eve, and in the process learn, in a very palpable way, the consequences of a separation from God and the need for a way to return to Him. In that sense,... Read more »

Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

January 16, 2014 | 14 comments
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Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

Over the holidays I read The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), by J. B. Haws, a BYU history prof. Technically, the book is a study of how the LDS Church and Mormonism in general is perceived by the American public, and the author presents survey data throughout the book to gauge the ups and downs of the various ways that Mormons and the Church are viewed. No doubt the book is required reading for every LDS Public Affairs employee. But for most readers the book also serves quite nicely as a... Read more »

Do exemptions from the ACA’s ‘contraception mandate’ threaten religious liberty?

January 16, 2014 | 47 comments
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In March, the Supreme Court will hear a pair of cases on whether for-profit employers can claim a religious exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employer health plans cover contraceptives without any out-of-pocket expense because the use of contraceptives violates their owners’ religious beliefs. In a Washington Post op ed this week, Fred Gedicks, the Guy Anderson Chair at BYU Law School (and a prior T&S guest blogger), flips the case on its head, claiming that it is actually exemptions from the “contraception mandate” that pose a threat to religious liberty. The op ed briefly summarizes a... Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #03: A Christmas Idyl

January 15, 2014 | no comments
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Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #03: A Christmas Idyl

When we talk about the plan of salvation, as Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Fielding Smith lesson #3 does, we focus on several key elements: the pre-existence, the fall, the atonement, the resurrection and the judgment. That’s a lot of ground to cover—and often our lesson manuals cover each of those elements separately. Likewise, it is difficult to come up with a single poem that covers all of this territory. But Elder Orson F. Whitney, who served as an Apostle from 1906 to 1931, seemed to love writing poetry about the gospel and the plan of... Read more »

Literary OTGD #03: Eternity of Matter

January 15, 2014 | 3 comments
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In our science-oriented world today, its hard to see the creation stories in the Bible and Pearl of Great Price as recounting actual events or having meaning beyond a simple myth explaining the origin of life. So when we teach the creation in classes like the current Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 3, I believe the best option is to put the story in a gospel context, and emphasize its meaning as part of our understanding of the purpose of life, rather than historical or scientific events. Although written in the 1840s with a traditional view of the creation,... Read more »

Letters to a Young Mormon

January 15, 2014 | 10 comments
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Letters to a Young Mormon

I published a new book called Letters to a Young Mormon (Maxwell, 2014). It’s very small and very personal. You should read it. Read more »

Times and Seasons’ 2013 Mormon of the Year: Darius Gray

January 14, 2014 | 47 comments
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Times and Seasons’ 2013 Mormon of the Year: Darius Gray

After due consideration the staff of Times and Seasons has selected Darius Gray as the 2013 Mormon of the Year, our annual designation of the Mormon who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. Read more »

Women and the Priesthood: What’s the Conservative Position?

January 12, 2014 | 75 comments
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2014-01-13 No Girls Allowed

Although general terms like “liberal” and “conservative” should always be handled with care, there’s a basic understanding that the movement to ordain women is predominantly a liberal movement and that the skeptics are predominantly conservative. Broadly speaking, this is correct. But some go farther and argue that the default conservative position is to defend the status quo. This is a grave error. The error arises from a misunderstanding of how conservatism operates in a Mormon context. That basic idea of conservatism is “retaining traditional social institutions.” This is always more complex than merely a reflex to defend the status... 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 »

A Look at the Political Affiliations of Some Prominent Members

January 10, 2014 | 115 comments
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A friend recently drew my attention to a new website that catalogs Utah voter registration data in a searchable format that was purportedly purchased from the Herbert administration. After checking the voter registration data of a few friends and acquaintances, I thought it would be interesting to identify the party registrations of some prominent members of the Church. Any other fun finds to add to the list? First Presidency Thomas S. Monson, registered Republican Henry B. Eyring, registered Republican Dieter F. Uchtdorf, unaffiliated voter Quorum of the Twelve Boyd K. Packer, registered Republican L. Tom Perry, registered Republican Russell M.... Read more »

Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome

January 9, 2014 | 14 comments
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Don’t hate me just because my trek was awesome

When it comes to handcart reenactments, we spend too much time on all the wrong questions, questions like: How much physical suffering is needed for a youth-appropriate spiritual experience? Personally, I’d like to minimize the suffering in my spiritual experiences, thank you very much. Or anxious hand-wringing, like: Do handcart reenactments distort the historically authentic experiences of pioneers who traveled to Utah by various means and responded in individually determined ways to the contingent experience of physical exertion and deprivation over which a superstructure of religious Exodus narrative had been established amid a plethora of competing counter-narratives? Again, I’m... Read more »

The Heavenly Family: A Proclamation

January 7, 2014 | 86 comments
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ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Heavenly Father and Mother have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Heavenly Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the... Read more »

Varieties of Divine Eclecticism

January 6, 2014 | 37 comments
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Temples, and everything that goes with them, are at the heart of what Mormonism has to offer the world.

When I was a missionary from 2000-2002, we taught about the Restoration in the third discussion. We often drew a picture to convey the core concepts. There was a mirror (representing the Church) a string (representing the Apostles) and a nail (representing Christ). The Apostasy came about, we taught, because the Apostles died, and so the string was cut, and so the mirror fell, and so it was destroyed. If you want to see clearly, you cannot tape together the shattered shards of a mirror. So too, we taught, Christ had to abandon the broken remnants of His former... Read more »

Reasoning Together – Zion

January 2, 2014 | 9 comments
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Reasoning Together – Zion

We talk about Zion in a lot of different senses, but I think most of these share the general idea of communally gathering, developing, sharing, and partaking in everything that is lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy or of good report. How do we do this, both collectively and individually, on both a theological and political level? Once again (obviously) I can’t adequately answer that question here. But once again I’m bothered by a lot of the discussions I see flying around our virtual and ward-level worlds. I don’t like the divisive,  polemical way in which these discussions are framed –... Read more »

Vote for Mormon of the Year 2013

December 31, 2013 | 66 comments
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Vote for Mormon of the Year 2013

This post opens the voting for Mormon of the Year. Votes will be taken until midnight Eastern Time on Tuesday, January 7th, at which time the voting will close. The voting mechanism will attempt to restrict votes to one per person. The order of the choices is set at random, and is different each time the form is presented. THE WINNER OF THE ONLINE VOTE IS NOT NECESSARILY THE MORMON OF THE YEAR!!! Read more »

Reasoning Together – Prophets

December 31, 2013 | 22 comments
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Reasoning Together – Prophets

Here’s the main point: I don’t think either our history or our theology supports traditional and currently widespread – though often unarticulated – notions of what a prophet is.  Read more »