Theology in Alma

Just in time for us to study Alma in “Come, Follow Me,” the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk published an interview with Kylie Nielson Turley about theology in Alma. Kylie Nielson Turley wrote the Maxwell Institute’s brief theological introduction to the first half of the Book of Alma and has a lot of insights to share from her time researching and studying about Alma. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

The Church in the Courts, 2024

The website “Court Listener” is a publicly available source for looking up cases around the country. By searching for the term “Latter-day” I looked for all cases involving the Church that were filed sometime during 2024. Of course, I am no lawyer (unlike By Common Consent, our bench is quite shallow on the legal side of things), so I uploaded the court PDFs to ChatGPT to explain the role of the Church in the respective case. I did not include one divorce case that was picked up or any case that simply cited a case that the Church was involved in. As seen, most of the Church’s involvement is with amicus briefs, or briefs filed by parties who are not directly involved in the case, but who want to make their perspective on the case known.   People In Interest of C.M.W.R., 22CA0925 (Colo. Ct. App. 2024) Colorado Court of Appeals In the case referenced, the role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is central to the incident under examination. Here are the key points: Incident Location: The fire occurred at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse in Fruita, Colorado. Damage: The fire resulted in more than one million dollars in damage to the church building. Connection to the Juvenile: The juvenile, identified in the case as C.M.W.R., was arrested in connection with this fire and subsequently charged with criminal mischief, first-degree arson, and second-degree burglary. The…

Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations

I don’t think it’s a secret that I have an ongoing fascination with the Doctrine and Covenants. I am, after all, publishing a book about it this winter and (as my Mexican Mission Hymns project is coming to a close), I’m beginning work on an annotated edition of the Doctrine and Covenants. But that fascination extends beyond the Doctrine and Covenants to include other documents that are similar to those found within. Thus, I’m excited to note that BYU and Deseret Book recently published a new collection of Joseph Smith’s non-canonical revelations. And the authors recently shared some information about their work on Joseph Smith’s Uncanonized Revelations at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a copost to the full discussion.

Review: Christopher Blythe, Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse

Christopher James Blythe. Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse. New York: Oxford University Press, 2020. ISBN 978-019-7695159. Terrible Revolution traces the central place of apocalypticism in LDS history and belief along multiple axes. Chronologically, the book traces the varieties of apocalypticism from the American religious context of Joseph Smith’s earliest activity through the Church’s Utah period and into the 21st century.

The Latter-day Saint Homeschooling Conundrum

Latter-day Saint homeschooling families living outside the Mormon belt face a conundrum. For the uninitiated, many if not most homeschoolers actually do quite a bit of organized educational activities with other homeschoolers in what are called “homeschool co-ops.” Sometimes this is limited to activities while in other cases one of the parents will volunteer to teach. (So yes, contrary to popular stereotypes, homeschool kids do actually get quite a bit of socialization.) However, again outside of the Mormon Belt it seems that homeschool families basically fall into two camps: purple haired, hippie, atheist types or super religious, often fundamentalist protestant types who don’t want their kids to learn about evolution. (And yes, there are others, but I’m slightly exaggerating for effect here).  In some areas there aren’t enough homeschoolers to allow differentiation, and people simply can’t afford to be picky; this was the case when we lived in Texas, and it leads to some fun circumstances where the purple haired atheist kids play with the fundamentalists.  However, in places where there is a critical mass of homeschoolers they tend to differentiate.  And in these cases the Latter-day Saint families tend to join the secular homeschoolers, because the religious ones often require one of those faith statements that we Latter-day Saints are adept at legalistically parsing to see if we can in fact sign them in good faith. Of course, often the faith statement has some kind of trinitarian, creedal formula,…

Let’s Talk about the State of Israel

When I was 14 c. 1990, my teachers’ quorum instructor was giving a lesson (hard to remember what the particular topic was) when he went into a diatribe about what a horrible injustice the creation of the state of Israel was. I’d never heard anybody say that before, but I’ve come to agree whole heartedly with that adviser. In 1947, the UN under pressure from the US and Soviet Union, passed Resolution 181, giving Israelis 56% of the land of Palestine even though Israelis only owned 7% of Palestine [this number is apparently overly simplistic; see DSC’s maps below] prior to that. There’s no other word for such an act than theft. Religiously motivated theft is even worse, I’d argue.

How Literally Do Members Take the Church’s Truth Claims?

Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  Occasionally in Latter-day Saint discourse people that have lost their testimonies of the Church’s truth claims float the idea that perhaps they could salvage their belief in the Church if it was made to be more allegorical and less literal. At the outset we admit our own perspective that, while we respect people’s different beliefs and ways of making the Church work for them, this wouldn’t really work at scale, and that for the Church to actual continuing functioning as a living, breathing, growing faith, and not just a cultural relic of a bygone sociocultural movement of a kind of “descendents of the Mormon pioneers” lineage-based service organization, it has to not only hold to its literal truth claims, but to actively promote and defend them. The Community of Christ, for example, does not have a position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon (or of many historical questions in general). The ambivalence of leadership towards actively promoting literal truth claims is undoubtedly sensed by the membership, who follow suit. (And as an aside, contrary to widespread missionary folklore, they did not “renounce” the Book of Mormon to be accepted by mainstream Protestants.) Of course, how common the…

One Day More

Hymns—for Home and Church will be getting its first preview tomorrow! Back at the start of April, the Church announced that “12 hymns of the new ‘Hymns—for Home and Church’ will be available on May 30, 2024.” We already know that “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” will be among those (that was explicitly stated in the April announcement and has been shown in footage related to the release), but we aren’t sure what the other ones are yet. After this first release, there will be “new batches coming every few months.”

Religious Studies Graduate Programs are Pyramid Schemes. Just Say No.

Blind leading the blind I’m not saying that religious studies folks are blind to things that matter, I just thought it was a good depiction of the religious studies treadmill in general, and I kind of just like the picture.  I have one of those Facebook friends who I’ve only met briefly once in real life (at Sunstone), but with whom I’ve had enough Facebook interactions with that it’s like we know each other in person.  I’ve been privy to a tragic trajectory of his career that I’m seeing as becoming all too typical. He enjoys researching and talking about religion, so he bought the “pursue your passion” line that was ubiquitous in our generation, got a PhD in Mormon Studies (more or less, I don’t know the exact degree title) at Claremont (not afraid to say it out loud, they’re one of the worst offenders), and then gradually realized after the umpteenth rejection that, when people make it sound like the Mormon Studies academic job market is “tough,” as if with a little positive thinking and grit you can still get that job, what they should have said is that it is “non-existent.” He has since had to restart his professional life and seek retraining in middle age.  Outside of BYU or the Church Office Building, I can only think of a handful of people who are full-time “Mormon Studies” scholars: Deidre Green at Berkeley, Patrick Mason at Utah…

Sherem the Native American

Despite keeping the name-title of the Nephite founder in their royal name, the outsized positive influence of that prophet-king and founder of the Nephites was clearly quickly missed. “The people of Nephi, under the reign of the second king, began to grow hard in their hearts, and indulge themselves somewhat in wicked practices,” Jacob lamented (Jacob 1:15). They began to be preoccupied with obtaining riches and indulging in immoralities. Realizing that the Jewish immigrants were just a fraction of the People of Nephi helps many more things make sense. After all, the multiple wives and girlfriends of the wicked Nephites were not just Jacob’s grandkids and nieces and nephews sinning with each other. 

“Mensaje de paz”

“Mensaje de paz” by Joel Morales is notable as being the song that was sung when Elder Melvin J. Ballard and then-ambassador J. Reuben Clark, Jr. visited with the Latter-day Saints in Mexico in 1932. Morales is also the author of “La Proclamación” and “Final.”

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains

Temples in the Tops of the Mountains: Sacred Houses of the Lord in Utah by Richard O. Cowan and Clinton D. Christensen (BYU RSC and Deseret Book Company, 2023) helped me solve a long-time mystery about my life. You see, when I was six years old, I went to the Vernal, Utah Temple open house. For some reason, I walked away believing that there was only one temple baptismal font for the whole church that they just moved between temples. I even told my Primary that is what I learned at the open house when they asked me about it. Obviously, that’s not the case—each temple has its own baptismal font (and the book also informed me that there are some temples that will soon have two baptismal fonts)—but I have always wondered what led me to that conclusion. 

An Anonymous BYU Honor Code Office Experience

An Anonymous Account of an Experience with the Honor Code Office at BYU and its Aftermath that was Submitted to T&S as a Guest Post.   Surprisingly, after the initial rush of dread the first feeling after seeing the pop-up message on the screen was one of relief. I had been caught, would be reported to the honor code office, and was told to log off immediately.  It started very subtly. As a newlywed I had a basic curiosity about this new world of sexuality that I had just entered into, and that was the hook which led to me watching YouTube videos that I should not have been watching. I could typically find a little corner in the BYU computer lab against a wall. At first I tried to find some plausible deniability in what I was typing in the search bar, but as the hunger and risk taking grew there was little of that left. And besides, I had been doing it for a while now, if they were actively monitoring me, surely I would have been caught by now? (Many years later I found myself on BYU campus for the first time in a long time, and noticed that the computer labs had signs warning users that they were being monitored. “Now you tell me,” I thought).  We had just moved wards so my initial introduction to my new bishop was a little awkward. (Hi, I’m emailing…

Nephite Succession Crisis

It was a coup (or divine providence) that Nephi and his brothers Jacob and Joseph were able to assert themselves as religious leaders in this new land, spiritually guiding thousands who were already in the Americas. Emerging as the political leaders of this large, mostly non-Jewish People of Nephi was trickier. Nephi’s inspired leadership, however, was a tour de force.

My “Sacred Envy” List

“Sacred Envy” is the well-known idea (at least in Latter-day Saint circles) of having the humility to recognize some positive attributes of other faiths, so I thought I would make my “sacred envy” list.  To be clear, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my faith because I think it is the best and it is what it claims to be, to speak rather bluntly. It’s not my faith because of inertia or because I feel some kind of sociocultural connection. Still, I’m open to recognizing places where other faiths get it right, even if in recognizing these points I’m not necessarily saying that I think we should adapt the same. Buddhism, Jainism, or other religions based around ahimsa or non-violence: While most Western faiths have some history of religious/ethnic entrepreneurs using religion as a justification for violence, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that that’s quite rare in faiths based on ahimsa, or non-violence towards living things. If you’re part of a faith that covers your drinking water in a cloth so that you don’t inadvertently hurt insects, or who doesn’t engage in farming because it might hurt some worms, you’re probably not going to be burning people alive in the name of your faith, no matter how creative the exegesis. They simply don’t have the seeds for religious violence in their theology.  Of course, combined with other things (e.g. Buddhism in militaristic,…

Addressing One Part of the Female Ordination Question

And yes, if women ever receive the priesthood I’m sure it will also be given to sisters with extra fingers.  Female ordination is one of those issues that is built on so many premises that are themselves so potentially polemical that it would take a ten-part series to walk a true believer and a true non-believer through every point of fundamental disagreement about gender roles, gender essentialism, etc. Consequently, I’m not going to try to digest the whole issue here. Rather, I want to address a particular line one sometimes hears in regards to this issue without claiming to holistically tackle the entirety of the female ordination debate.  A common narrative goes something like this: A woman, maybe the woman herself or the daughter of the person speaking, recognizes that, unlike in the Church, women in the workforce sometimes have ultimate, autonomous, organizational authority. [Although, sidebar, I think in practice this actually happens less outside the Church than such interlocutors imply, but that’s another issue].   She recognizes that there’s no equivalent in the Church.  Therefore, because she wants to “BE SOMEBODY” and do something grand with her life, she’s going to leave the Mormon space where there are limits to her organizational power by dint of her chromosomes.  Often this argument then goes into the old motherhood-versus-careerism, whether women can in fact have it all, whether we truly value motherhood, etc. but these are third rails I’m not touching…

Theology in Mosiah

One of my favorite sets of publications in recent years are the Brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon. James E. Faulconer’s excellent contribution to the series is the volume focused on the Book of Mosiah. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Faulconer shared some of his insights related to this book. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

“All Those Who Would Go with Me”

As the Lehites increasingly mingled with the locals, there eventually arose a division, accelerated upon the death of their patriarch Lehi. Part of Lehi’s family (led by Laman) was attracted to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Likely, this way of life was common among the Native Americans they were interacting with in the Land of First Inheritance. Laman and his clique possibly saw this as the easier way to make a living and adopted the ways of the locals.

Christ-Like Living According to “The Godfather”

In the Godfather Part III (I know, I know), in response to his protege threatening to knock off a competitor, Mafia don Michael Corleone quips “never hate your enemies, it affects your judgment.”  This is a common theme throughout the Godfather series, also embedded in the (in)famous “it’s not personal, strictly business” line. The cold-hearted calculation for self-interest that requires people to put personal or petty grudges on the side. Incidentally, this is a theme in the book too. For example, the scene where the pedophile/movie producer–his pedophilia is hinted at in the movie but is much more explicit in the book–loses his temper with Tom Hagan is accompanied by an internal monologue where Hagan is stunned that somebody so accomplished would let his emotional desire for vengeance drive his actions.    You see this in politics, diplomacy, business, and other high-stakes games where people who would otherwise hate each other are willing to turn and collaborate on a dime if it’s in their own self-interest. On the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people in the professional world burn all their bridges down because they could not get in control of their personal spite, and one’s ability to be the former and not the latter is a sign of mature emotional regulation. You just don’t pick fights or make enemies unless you have to, because antagonists can hurt you later down the road, sometimes in unpredictable ways. I remember seeing an interview…

Septuagint

When Jesus and the early Christians talked about the scriptures, they were using a version that is different from the manuscript basis of most English translations, including the King James Version that is so often used in Latter-day Saint circles. In a Hellenistic world, they relied on the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament). In a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Philip Jenkins (professor of history at Baylor University) discussed more about the Septuagint. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with some commentary).