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 »

Update: Nominations for 2013 Mormon of the Year

December 30, 2013 | 9 comments
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For the past two weeks readers have made nominations and seconded nominations for the 2013 Mormon of the Year designation. So that the status of nominations and seconds are clear, I’ve compiled the list below of those who have been nominated and seconded (and who will therefore appear on the popular vote ballot), those who have been nominated, but not seconded. Please see the original post for rules and qualifications. Read more »

Leaders are Fallible (No, Really)

December 30, 2013 | 78 comments
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Nephi saw the Tree of Life only because he believed, but was not satisfied.

The changes at the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org (which I wrote about two weeks ago) and especially the Church’s new Race and the Priesthood article have rekindled questions about the fallibility of Church leaders. After all, the Church’s current position completely disavows the past practice of denying the priesthood to blacks and all but explicitly states that the practice was an error from the start. Chalk it up with Adam-God and blood atonement and poor Brother Brigham seems to be batting 0.000 at theological innovation. It’s difficult to reconcile such grave errors with the statement, canonized in Official Declaration 1, that “The... Read more »

My Beef with Goals

December 29, 2013 | 16 comments
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According to the de facto Mormon liturgical calendar, it is the time of year to talk about goal-setting. Most Mormon discussions of goals make me want to poke myself in the eyeball with a fork–a reaction I initially did not understand, since I set goals for myself all of the time. But after thinking about it for a while, I figured out a few reasons why the standard Mormon discourse on goals and goal-setting aggravates me so much. Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #02: A Stranger Star O’er Bethlehem

December 29, 2013 | 5 comments
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Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #02: A Stranger Star O’er Bethlehem

The second lesson in the Joseph Fielding Smith manual, used in Priesthood and Relief Society lessons in the coming year, discusses the life of Jesus Christ and his role in the plan of salvation; quite a lot to cover in a single lesson. In the texts included, Smith ranges from Christ’s birth as the only begotten son of God, to his role establishing a pattern for us to follow, to how we are His sons and daughters through the atonement and through our obedience to His teachings. Fortunately, Mormon poetry, like our teachings, emphasize the role of Christ, making... Read more »

Literary OTGD #02: Shadows and Whisperings

December 29, 2013 | no comments
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Literary OTGD #02: Shadows and Whisperings

Mormon beliefs about the pre-existence are an important part of our understanding of our purpose in this life and the meaning of the life to come. The beliefs covered in the second lesson in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, “fore-ordination” and the “war in heaven,” are no exception. But, it is also worth remembering that what happened in the pre-existence is veiled from our memories. The details most relevant to individuals are something we don’t know. Our own specific missions aren’t clear. We are left with “shadows and whisperings.” Read more »

Faulconer, Sorenson, Welch, and Others on Scripture Study and Teaching

December 28, 2013 | 5 comments
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Some borrowed thoughts I’ve found provoking recently. Read more »

Woohoo!

December 26, 2013 | 10 comments
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The January 2014 Friend has an Old Testament reading chart. Read more »

BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

December 26, 2013 | 26 comments
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BYU-Idaho: the next ten years (II)

To keep the rest of this post in context, let me repeat that I think Rexburg is a fantastic place, that BYU-Idaho has gotten the most important things right in its transformation from a junior college into a four-year university, and that its dress code is not a terribly important issue. The university’s path forward to becoming the kind of university it hopes to be, although not simple, is clear enough. Another tricky question for the future of the university is how to strike the right balance between local heritage versus consistency with the system flagship in Provo: How... Read more »

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

December 23, 2013 | 9 comments
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tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of... Read more »

2014 Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: The History of the Mormon Family

December 23, 2013 | one comment
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In the summer of 2014, the Neal A Maxwell Institute at Brigham Young University, with support from the Mormon Scholars Foundation and the Jack and Mary Lois Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and junior faculty on “The History of the Mormon Family.” The seminar will be held on the BYU campus in Provo, Utah, from June 15 to July 26. Admitted participants will receive a stipend of $3000 with an accommodations subsidy if needed. The seminar continues the series of seminars on Mormon culture begun in the summer of 1997. In 2014, the seminar... Read more »

This Is War Like You Ain’t Seen

December 23, 2013 | one comment
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dustinkensrue

I’m spending time moving my family into our new home and getting ready for Christmas, so here’s a song from Dustin Kensrue’s Christmas album This Good Night Is Still Everywhere. It’s not the usual sound, but that’s part of why I like it so much. (And now I’m going to get some Mannheim Steamroller going…) Read more »