George Q. Cannon was far too Helpful and Talented

It is not an uncommon experience in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for a member of the First Presidency or Quorum of the Twelve other than the president of the Church to functionally run the Church or to have a huge impact on the Church. In the twentieth century, for example, J. Reuben Clark, Harold B. Lee, and Gordon B. Hinckley played that role when the older members of the First Presidency were in poor health. In the nineteenth century, the most prominent example is George Q. Cannon. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Kenneth L. Cannon spoke about his George Q. Cannon biography and why George is so important. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator, a Review

I have to say that I’m a fan of the trend towards short, accessible biographies of notable figures in Latter-day Saint history. Between University of Illinois Press’s “Introductions to Mormon Thought” series and Signature Books’s “Brief Biography,” there is a lot of excellent work being published. One of the most recent, Lowell L. Bennion: A Mormon Educator by George B. Handley (University of Illinois Press, 2023), is a stellar addition to the library of any Latter-day Saint.

The Future of Religion and Partnered Sexual Satisfaction

Midjourney’s interpretation of “Married Mormon couple.” It’s uncanny how well it visually taps into stereotype. Deseret News published another piece of mine, this time about evidence that shows that, contrary to conventional wisdom, religious people report more satisfying sex lives. So now for my post-game, more casual, more speculative blogosphere analysis.  First off. Yes, I did check, and no, it doesn’t look like Latter-day Saints have better or worse sex lives on average, but this isn’t surprising since there were so few of them in the sample I was using that the effect would have to have been huge for me to pick it up.  I suspect some of the finding that religious people have better sex lives is because religious people have rose-colored glasses about things in general. I’m open to the possibility that highly sex-negative, religious upbringings could affect sexual functioning, especially in women, and I would not be surprised if some future research found that certain types of early-life religiosity are associated with aorgasmia, for example (but would also not be surprised if there was no such effect; a lot of people have sexual hang-ups, not just religious people).  However, I still suspect that a conservative Church upbringing is a net positive. For every person who can’t switch into marital sexy mode after a teenagerhood of chastity lessons, there’s another one whose religious upbringing helped them avoid highly negative early life sexual experiences, where the structure and…

Premortal Existence, Foreordination, and Abraham

The Book of Abraham, chapter 3 is, in many ways, the most important foundational text for the Latter-day Saint concept of a premortal existence. In it, Abraham is shown his own foreordination to be a leader in God’s work as well as the events of the War in Heaven. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, From the Desk, Stephen Smoot discussed the foreordination of Abraham. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Latter-day Saints’ Bigger Families and Church Growth

Midjourney: Descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore, in the style of Van Gogh A recent piece of mine about how many more children US Latter-day Saints are having was recently published by the Deseret News. The TLDR is that we are still having more children than the average American, but here I will take advantage of the added flexibility of blogging to derive some estimates about what that means for Church growth in the US.   How many more children are we having? It’s hard to know for sure given sample size issues, but a rough, reasonable estimate is about twice as many. However, this isn’t as much as one might think given that the US’ fertility rate has tanked and is now solidly below replacement-level (1.64 children per woman). How does this translate into growth? One way of translating TFR into generation-by-generation growth is by converting it into what’s called the Net Reproductive Rate, which takes sex ratios at birth and mortality rates into account to derive an estimate for how many daughters each woman can be expected to have.  Why daughters and women? Basically, the math is simpler if you assume women reproduce asexually, and with a little intuition you can see that the NRR is equivalent to the proportion by which a population will grow from generation to generation. If the average woman has 1.1 daughters, then the…

Thomas Wayment on the KJV

Why do Latter-day Saints regard the King James Version as the official English translation of the Bible for the Church? It’s a question that has been asked many times by different people, especially since there are translations in modern English that have a better textual basis in Greek manuscripts. In a recent co-post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Thomas Wayment discussed why Latter-day Saints use the King James Version (KJV). What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century: A Review

Alicia Harris—an Assistant Professor of Native American Art History at the University of Oklahoma—wrote that “If the LDS Church really can work for all peoples, we need to more attentively listen, hear, and be represented by a much greater variety of voices. We must more actively prepare a place for dual identities to be touched and nurtured in the culture of the gospel.” Farina King’s Diné dóó Gáamalii: Navajo Latter-day Saint Experiences in the Twentieth Century (University Press of Kansas, 2023) provides a great opportunity to do just that by listening to the experiences of the Diné dóó Gáamalii (Navajo Latter-day Saints).

Temple Architectural Heritages: Mexico City

The Mexico City temple is unique architecturally in that it draws on the Mayan Revival Style. From Wikipedia “Though the name of the style refers specifically to the Maya civilization of southern Mexico and Central America, in practice, this revivalist style frequently blends Maya architectural and artistic motifs ‘playful pilferings of the architectural and decorative elements’ with those of other Mesoamerican cultures, particularly the Central Mexican Aztec architecture styling from the pre-contact period as exhibited by the Mexica and other Nahua groups. Although there were mutual influences between these original and otherwise distinct and richly varied pre-Columbian artistic traditions, the syncretism of these modern reproductions is often an ahistorical one.” Evidently Frank Lloyd Wright, among others, drew on this style, but frankly when presented with examples of Mayan Revival Style I can’t really draw much of a common thread between them (probably due to my own lack of artistic sense), so to be more direct I just asked GPT-4 to list me some examples of Mesoamerican architecture that look like the building in the picture. It just give me the greatest hits of Mesoamerican architecture in general, but still the comparisons are elucidating. The LDS temple in the image is the Mexico City Mexico Temple, and it has been mentioned that its design is influenced by ancient Mesoamerican architecture. Here are a few Mesoamerican structures that share similarities with the architectural style of the Mexico City Mexico Temple: Teotihuacan: The ancient…

Judging and Being Judged By Church Leaders

Dalle-3 image. I tried to make a highly watercolor-ish version of Christ washing the Apostle’s feet, but in the end couldn’t get rid of the halos.  There is a certain class of very online member and ex-member that seems to have a particular relish for finding the faults of leaders. Of course, relishing in the personal failings of others is by definition anti-Christian. We are required to grant grace to people unconditionally.  But even if it’s wrong and can lead to soul-cankering spite, I still kind of get it.  When a particularly elitist or judgmental leader gets his comeuppance and his failings are laid bare there can be some understandable schadenfreude, or even a schadenfreude-by-proxy when it happens to one of his colleagues. A derivation of JST Matthew 7 is that if you judge others unrighteously (and sometimes righteously), then you too will be judged, sometimes by those you presume to judge. You can’t hold leaders up to some ethereal plane of existence but then ask for understanding of their humanity when the awkward subject of serious leadership failings comes up; you can’t have your cake and eat it too.  When I was a missionary my then-mission president (who I do not think reads T&S, plus with visa waiting I had three mission presidents, plus besides some silly little things was a spiritually powerful man I was privileged to serve under) would ask me the question “why are you on…

A Catholic-to-LDS Dictionary

Pope Francis recently dismissed a US bishop from his post. This is a pretty big deal in the Catholic world, but in the Latter-day Saint chatter I’ve been privy to there is some confusion about why this should be newsworthy. After all, if an area authority 70 was openly snarking about President Nelson to the press, nobody would or should be surprised if he was released.  However, in my experience there is a tendency among members to draw simple one-to-one analogies between us and Catholics. After all, we are both hierarchical, centralized faiths that believe in an ordained priesthood. However, such one-to-one equivalences have a tendency to gloss over fairly significant distinctions.  Therefore, here I am providing a Catholic-LDS institutional dictionary of sorts; providing the closest equivalent terms but then describing the ways in which one doesn’t exactly mean the other. Priest=Bishop In Catholicism the head of a congregation is a priest, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the head of a congregation is a bishop. Of course, the former is professional clergy and the latter is lay clergy.  Bishop= Apostle or Stake President Diocese= Stake or Area During the Romney campaign the media loved to compare a stake to a diocese. If you were forced into a 1-to-1 equivalency I guess this is true in the sense that both are the next higher level of organization after a congregation, but again that papers over a lot…

The First Vision in Two Churches

The recently-published Restorations: Scholars in Dialogue from Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a fantastic glimpse into the similarities and differences between the two largest churches that emerged from the legacy of Joseph Smith, Jr. One of the highlights was a discussion between Keith J. Wilson and Lachlan E. Mackay about the First Vision. An interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk with Keith J. Wilson highlighted some of what they had to say on the topic. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Pure Language and Egyptian Language Documents

One of the articles to have recently been published in the Journal of Mormon Studies that has generated a lot of buzz is about a Pure Language Project and the Grammar and Alphabet documents produced by Joseph Smith and his associates in Kirtland, Ohio. And while the article by Michael MacKay and Daniel Belnap is, as the authors put it, “limited to the ivory tower of university journal access,” they did do a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Recent AI Updates, Scripture Study, and Church-Related Research

I was just granted access to the latest version of GPT-4 that allows for uploads of longer and a greater variety of files. A few thoughts. The take-home essay is history. It’s all blue books and oral quizzes now. A weaker version of GPT-4 can now upload books 300 pages long. Even if it’s not in the training set people can upload a PDF of a book and get it to write a B-level book report. (And no, AI detectors don’t work, they give a lot of false positives).  But enough inside undergraduate baseball, what implications does this have for gospel topics? We were already at the stage where you could upload a general conference talk and create an EQ lesson in seconds. These updates allow people to upload longer content. When I was doing the Maxwell Institute seminar with the Bushmans when I was in graduate school I spent an afternoon command+Fing through the Journal of Discourses to find pronatalist rhetoric of early Church leaders.  Of course, the problem with that is that you can have pronatalist rhetoric that doesn’t mention the word “child,” and you can have a lot of mentions of the word “child” that doesn’t have pronatalist rhetoric, so it was a lot of time, and to catch the really nuanced discussion and themes that didn’t have keyword triggers I’d have to schlog through the entire Journal of Discourses. (Indeed, while reading Michael Quinn’s work I was…

Is Elder Uchtdorf More Liberal?

A common belief in pop Salt Lake City Vaticanology is that Elder Uchtdorf is one of the more progressive members of the Quorum of the 12. This may be true, but for being such conventional wisdom there is very little hard data to back it up, which is the case for most speculations about the inner-workings of the Quorum of the 12 and First Presidency. While the mid-level Church Office Building leaks like a colander at times, very little verifiable information about the inner workings and personalities of the Quorum of the 12 and the First Presidency makes it to the public. They run a pretty tight ship.  This means speculation is based on tea leaves more than anything else. As far as I can tell, the belief that he’s more progressive is based on the data points of: He’s Western European. This seems to do a lot of the heavy lifting. Americans sometimes have this image of Europe as like us but all Coastal Democrat, when that’s not the case at all. In some ways Europe is more “conservative” than Rupert Murdoch’s wildest dreams. Cases in point: while the draft tore American society apart, many European countries with no discernible external security threats still required service in the military until fairly recently, various European governments pay religions directly out of tax money, and if I’m remembering correctly Iceland had some real legislative momentum towards banning pornography recently. Of course, what’s…

2024 Call For Library Research Fellows In Mormon Studies, University of Virginia

The University of Virginia’s Mormon Studies Program is pleased to announce the inaugural award of the Aileen H. and Hal M. Clyde Research Fellowship in Mormon Studies and Gender. For the year 2024, as many as two fellowships of $2,500 will be awarded for research in the Gregory A. Prince Collection related to Mormonism and gender, including women’s history, feminist studies, masculinity studies, or sexuality studies. Proposals will be reviewed beginning on January 15, 2024.

Five things to know about MacKay and Belnap’s “Pure Language Project”

First and foremost: “The Pure Language Project” in the current volume of the Journal of Mormon History is the best explanation to date of the significance of the documents relating to the Egyptian papyri (referred to collectively as the “Egyptian Language Documents,” or ELD for short) for the development of Church doctrine and Joseph Smith’s understanding of the cosmos.

The Value of Education

Guest post by Caleb Griffin. Recently, I listened to an interesting round table discussion from leaders of the Church of Latter-day Saints of Jesus Christ on the value of education. Throughout the course of the discussion and the post-discussion lecture, the speakers seemed to place the value of education on its ability to bless the lives of others, with a lesser emphasis on providing for one’s own family, and an even lesser emphasis on the fact that education has some sort of eternal value. Furthermore, one of the speakers, Elder D. Todd Christofferson said that we should be thinking of education as a means to an end, rather than an end itself.

Temple Architectural Heritages: Los Angeles

The Los Angeles is an example of a “modern single spired design” like the Bern, Switzerland Temple and the London, England temple. It is also one of eight temples that have an assembly room. Being in the priesthood assembly hall–a large, cavernous room in the bright, holy context of a temple–is a special experience that I was able to have during the Washington DC temple rededication.

Waiting for Saints, Volume 4

Saints, Volume 3 came out on April 22, 2022. Given the estimated biannual cadence of releases for the series, we are likely to see Saints, Volume 4: Sounded in Every Ear come out sometime next year. Now, I hope by now that it’s clear that I am a fan of the series and when we were approaching the release of Saints, Volume 3, I published a post discussing what we could likely look forward to from the history. I would like to do the same for Volume 4. The intention here is not to publish a wish list of what I want in the book, but to have some fun taking educated guesses at what is likely to be discussed in the history.

The Miracle of Forgiveness: Experiences from President Kimball’s Journal

Journal text selected by Dennis B. Horne.   Some liberal dissidents of that day and this take issue with Elder Kimball’s book The Miracle of Forgiveness, thinking Elder Kimball to have been too hard and harsh on those who indulge in sin and won’t repent. For this reason I have included many diary entries documenting his writing the book and the highly influential results of its publication—including what certain of his Apostolic associates thought of it. Also what President Dallin H. Oaks thought of it.

“Angels and Seerstones” and Latter-day Saint Folklore

Midjourney: Mormon missionaries and a dark spirit, in the style of Greg Olsen. (Because why not.) My memories of childhood “I swear my uncle heard that…” fantastic stories are still fresh enough in my memory for me to associate folklore and urban legends with a sort of enchanting nostalgia of a more magical time before devices where we’d gather around the campfire to share stories. Where my friend said it happened to his uncle, and my friend wouldn’t lie, so ipso facto of course Bloody Mary is going to crawl out of the mirror to try to rip out my eyes. While I’m uncomfortable with people conflating Mormon cultural tidbits with the gospel of Jesus Christ, at the end of the day it is my culture, and missions in particular seem like a perfect little laboratory for folklore development. Like Darwin’s finches, each variation of an urban legend becomes quasi-isolated within the mission boundaries and adds local flavor and variation. Mormon folklorist is one of (many) things I would absolutely love to do full-time in a parallel life if I didn’t have a large family and had to buy an awful lot of cheddar, and the chances of obtaining an R1 TT anthropology position wasn’t akin to being drafted into the NFL (if you think through the numbers involved you’ll find I’m not exaggerating). Still, BYU faculty couple Christine and Christopher Blythe have pulled it off, and have started a…