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 »

Men, Women, and Modesty

February 17, 2014 | 96 comments
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Imagine that every single talk you ever heard about missionary work was given by someone who had not served a mission or every single talk about fasting was from someone who (let’s say for health reasons) had never fasted. It is reasonable to suspect that our rhetoric about missionary work or fasting would, in these circumstances, sound very, very different. Currently, we define modesty as being (almost) solely applicable to females, and yet the discourse is (almost) entirely shaped by people who are not female. I think this has led us to several problems. Read more »

Literary OTGD #09: Saturday Evening Thoughts

February 16, 2014 | 4 comments
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Literary OTGD #09: Saturday Evening Thoughts

Abraham’s readiness to sacrifice Isaac is one of the most difficult to understand episodes in the Bible, and it is also a regular subject of LDS lessons, such as Lesson 9 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual. Despite its troubling nature, this event is seen as a clear type of Christ’s sacrifice, and it is often portrayed as an ideal of the righteous sacrifice we should ourselves be willing to make. Both of these views of Abraham’s dilemna appear in LDS poetry, and the latter view—that we too are expected to sacrifice for sake of the gospel—is expressed... Read more »

Unconditional Love

February 16, 2014 | 64 comments
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Several years ago, I read this from Elder Nelson: Read more »

Introvert Nirvana

February 15, 2014 | 15 comments
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It dawned on me today that I have achieved Introvert Nirvana in Callings Roulette:   Read more »

Mormon Christianity: A Sympathetic View

February 13, 2014 | 7 comments
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Mormon Christianity: A Sympathetic View

Stephen H. Webb’s Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (OUP, 2013) has a lot to offer both LDS and non-LDS readers. My acquaintance with Amazon titles on Mormonism makes me think it would have attracted a much larger non-LDS readership had it been titled How I Escaped From Mormon Christianity. Happily for mainstream LDS readers, the book is listed at Deseret Book, where an author search under “Webb” sorted by popularity puts the book just above Melodie Webb’s 250 Ways to Connect With Your Family and just below the ebook version of Isabelle Webb’s... Read more »

‘Traditional Marriage’: what are we speaking about? An anthropological view

February 12, 2014 | 87 comments
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‘Traditional Marriage’: what are we speaking about? An anthropological view

A modern Kapsiki groom, leading his bride (first one behind him) with her friends to the dancing ground No discussion in present Mormondom tops the issue of same-sex marriage. In the debates the notion of ‘traditional marriage’ is used, especially by people who want to limit marriage to a monogamous heterosexual union. Julie Smith, in her excellent guest blog, has shown that the gender division of providing and nurturing that is usually thought to be an integral part of so-called ‘traditional marriage’, does really not hold, but the notion as such is highly problematic. First, what is marriage? Like... Read more »

The Bad Side of Jesus

February 12, 2014 | 21 comments
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Last week, as we were walking to school, my 6 year old spontaneously started telling me about his latest Primary lesson.  He does this often, and usually reports the talking points accurately. “I learned about the bad side of Jesus,” he said. “Really? Jesus has a bad side?” I responded, wandering if they had talked about casting moneychangers out of the temple. “Yes. A very bad side. You know, when we were all in heaven, and he decided that one third of the spirits shouldn’t be allowed to have bodies, and that made them really sad, and Jesus did... Read more »

UPDATED: The 1st Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar

February 11, 2014 | one comment
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UPDATE: The deadlines and notification date have been pushed out an extra month to give additional time for people to submit. The new deadline is March 28, 2014. (Notifications will go out by April 15, 2014.) The 1st Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” summer seminar will run from July 14 through August 1, 2014.  It is being sponsored by the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University and is under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens, Wheatley Fellow and Professor of Literature and Religion at the University of Richmond. From the announcement: What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a... Read more »

What Are Gender Roles Good For?

February 10, 2014 | 150 comments
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2014-02-10 Grace Hopper Quote

The argument against perpetuating normative gender roles has two prongs. First, there is the argument that gender roles do not offer anything that is not available to human beings autonomously determining their own roles. Second, there is the observation that no set of gender roles applies universally. There will always be those who, because of individual nature or life circumstance, cannot conform to the prevailing gender roles. In practice, those who conform least are most marginalized. Taken together, gender roles appear to offer little substantial benefit but carry genuine cost. So what’s the case in favor of gender roles?... Read more »

Mormon Appropriation of Fundamentalism and Its Outcomes (u)

February 9, 2014 | 53 comments
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Mormon Appropriation of Fundamentalism and Its Outcomes (u)

The last post I whipped off quickly and in frustration was surprisingly well-received. This post was similarly written, and may require editing. Update: I have good reason to believe that the Ensign article in question did not and definitely does not fully reflect its author’s position. This post is not about the author, nor even the Flood itself. (For that, please go read my Flood post first.) After 16 years, however, the article’s content is still easily and prominently accessible to members, with the authority of The Ensign and his BYU position behind it, and that remains highly problematic.... Read more »

Literary OTGD #08: Go search and say

February 9, 2014 | one comment
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Literary OTGD #08: Go search and say

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah, which is found in the material covered in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual, lesson 8, is one of the more bleak stories in the bible. Its depressing to think that a city cannot be saved from its own wickedness, and that there was not one person there who was innocent enough to merit its salvation. Regardless of what their sins were (lets not go into that), the destruction of an entire city is heartbreaking. I think the following poem captures some of the pathos and the meaning that can be found in... Read more »

Bo Knows Heaven

February 7, 2014 | 30 comments
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So there’s my sort of neighbor big Bo, who despite owning two rock-solid Scandinavian names including, yes, Bo, doesn’t exactly seem to have things rock-solidly together. Read more »

Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

February 5, 2014 | 12 comments
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Guest Post: The Heavenly Mother Poems of Louisa “Lula” Greene Richards

Guest poster Martin Pulido is a businessman by day, LDS scholar by night, who has extensively researched Mormon belief in a Heavenly Mother. He co-authored the BYU Studies article, “A Mother There: A Survey of Historical Teachings about Mother in Heaven,” with David Paulsen, and has organized the A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest with Caroline Kline. The “A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest” is currently looking for 2-dimensional visual arts pieces and poems that portray Heavenly Mother. The contest will accept entries up until March 4, 2014, and over $2200 in prizes will be awarded when the... Read more »

Lineage and the Book of Mormon’s Universal Audience

February 4, 2014 | 63 comments
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An excellent entry on “Book of Mormon and DNA Studies” has just appeared in the Gospel Topics section at LDS.org. It explains why studies of New World genetics can neither prove nor disprove the historical claims represented in the Book of Mormon. In the process, it provides a delightfully clear and thorough explanation of some key principles of population genetics, and of how these would apply with regard to the Book of Mormon peoples and the genetic evidence they would (or would not) leave today. Along the way it also offers some helpful observations about what the Book of... Read more »

Benjamin the Scribe: My Old Testament Gospel Doctrine column

February 4, 2014 | 6 comments
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Benjamin the Scribe: My Old Testament Gospel Doctrine column

Perhaps redundantly, I’m announcing my  Old Testament column at Patheos, called Benjamin the Scribe. I post a lesson each week, with thoughts, analysis, background, handouts, links, and articles. I also have some other things, such as a link to my other writings (in which I demask my two past internet personalities), and a screencast about the Rediscovery of  the World of the Old Testament. Given my schedule (classwork and MCAT study), most of my posts will be there instead of here for at least a few months. You can subscribe to get an update whenever a new post goes... Read more »

Literary OTGD #07: The Gathering

February 2, 2014 | no comments
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Literary OTGD #07: The Gathering

If doctrines can have ideological parents, then the doctrine of the gathering is clearly descended from the Abrahamic covenant, the same that is discussed in Old Testament Gospel Doctrine lesson 7. Throughout the scriptures, when the Lord talks of “gathering” his people, he is refering to Israel, the descendants of Abraham. The covenant speaks of giving his people a promised land—the place where his people will be gathered to. Indeed, the gathering is simply a part of how the Lord’s covenant with Abraham is fulfilled. I think that many of the elements of the Abrahamic covenant are found in... Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #06: Testimony Meeting in New Guinea and Brown-Crusted Bread

February 2, 2014 | one comment
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When we cover the sacrament in our lessons, the focus is usually on the doctrines behind the ordinance. In lesson 6 of the Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual those doctrines are found in remembering the atonement and in the covenant made at baptism and renewed by the sacrament. However, I think there is a bit more to the role of the sacrament and sacrament meetings than these doctrines—social meanings that might be found in the following two poems. Read more »

Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #05: Over the Waves of Sin

February 1, 2014 | one comment
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Literary Joseph Fielding Smith #05: Over the Waves of Sin

When we talk about faith in Mormonism, we often emphasize the idea that the important part of faith is not just belief in something true, but faith in Jesus Christ. And while we use lots of examples of faith, sometimes those examples leave out the role of Christ in our lives and in our faith. The Teachings of Joseph Fielding Smith manual lesson #5 explores both faith and repentance, including the role of Jesus Christ in each. So the following poem seemed to fit very well. Read more »

Orihah’s Uncle, Moriancumer

February 1, 2014 | 14 comments
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Why is the brother of Jared called the brother of Jared? He is far more important in the narrative of the Book of Ether than Jared, so why isn’t Jared called the brother of Moriancumer instead? Here’s my swipe at this much-pondered issue. One might think that Jared is more of a political leader, even though his brother is clearly the more spiritual one, and it is Jared’s political importance that makes him the one with the name recognition. At times, it looks like Jared is telling his brother what to do. Jared asks him to pray for them... Read more »

Literary OTGD #06: Gleanings from Scripture

January 31, 2014 | one comment
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Lesson 6 of the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual seems like a difficult lesson to me. It covers both the story of Noah and the flood as well as the story of the tower of Babel. The lesson combines these disparate stories under the very general topic of worthiness and avoiding the evils of the world, which may not give most teachers much to work with. While I can’t really tell teachers where to go with this, I did find a poem that also addresses these stories (and a few more) in a very general way. Read more »

Guest Post: The Anthropology of Providing and Nurturing

January 31, 2014 | 57 comments
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This is a guest post from Julie Hartley-Moore, who has a Ph.D. in anthropology from Columbia University.  She taught at BYU for 9 years, was a Dean at Elgin Community College in Illinois, and is now director of the Utah State University Campus in Tooele.  She is a wife and mother of two. Read more »

I am a Beggar

January 30, 2014 | 29 comments
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I am a Beggar

I am a beggar. I view King Benjamin’s discussion of the beggar as the ultimate Mormon discourse on desert and wealth. Hugh Nibley spoke much on the topic as well. By his own admission, Nibley was drawing upon King Benjamin. Mosiah Chapter 4: 16 And also, ye yourselves will succor those that stand in need of your succor; ye will administer of your substance unto him that standeth in need ; and ye will not suffer that the “beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.   17 Perhaps thou shalt say:... Read more »

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 »