Author: Chad Nielsen

Chad’s three great intellectual passions in life are science, history/religious studies, and music. He has pursued a career in biotechnology, but maintains an active interest in both of his other passions on the side. Chad is a four-time winning contestant in the Arrington Writing Award competition held at Utah State University for his essays on Mormon history and has presented at the Logan Institute of Religion scholar’s forum and the annual meeting of the Society of Mormon Philosophy and Theology. He is a faithful Latter-day Saint who has served in a variety of music, teaching, and clerical callings at his church as well as in the music ministry of a Presbyterian church. Currently he is serving as a music missionary as a member of the Bells on Temple Square.

A Whole Lot of Hugh Nibley

Some years ago, I attended a course on the Pearl of Great Price at the Logan Institute that could have just as easily been entitled “Teachings of Hugh Nibley.”  The teacher was well-versed in Nibley’s writings and frequently used them in discussing both the Book of Moses and the Book of Abraham.  And, frankly, it made the class quite interesting to attend because of the insights the teacher shared from his reading of Hugh Nibley’s works.  In part because of the things that Nibley wrote, he has garnered attention as a widely-known figure of the 20th century in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In a recent interview with Jeff Bradshaw of the Interpreter Foundation, Kurt Manwaring discussed the new volume Hugh Nibley Observed, which “contains more than 800 pages about the life of Latter-day Saint Scholar Hugh Nibley, including contributions from Dallin H. Oaks, Richard Bushman, and Truman G. Madsen.”  In the discussion at Kurt Manwaring’s site, they went over a variety of topics, including who Hugh Nibley was, the impact of his work on various Latter-day Saints, and some discussion of what the Interpreter Foundation is currently working on.  What follows here is a co-post, with a few excerpts and some discussion, but for the original post, follow the link here. Hugh Nibley was an influential professor at BYU and a noted apologist for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  As stated in the…

“When moved upon by the Holy Ghost”

At this point in the year, we’ve finally caught back up with the context of where we began—Section 1.  The conference in early November 1831 (at which Sections 1, 67 and 68 were recorded) was focused on publishing the revelations that Joseph Smith had been—a project which would come to be known as the Book of Commandments and later The Doctrine and Covenants. It is, perhaps, inevitable in a religious movement that believes in both being led by prophets and that everyone can receive revelation that there are going to be tensions about who is able to speak for the Lord.  From a revelation sparked by the Hiram Page incident in September 1830, we have the statement that: “No one shall be appointed to Receive commandments & Revelations in this Church excepting my Servent Joseph for he Receiveth them even as Moses.”[1]  This placed the burden of receiving revelations for the Church squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Smith as the prophet of the Church.  At the November 1831 conference, however, members of the Church expressed concerns about whether the revelations were the Lord’s words or whether they were Joseph Smith’s words.  Section 67 issued the challenge to “appoint him that is the most wise among you or if there be any among you that shall make one like unto it then ye are Justified in saying that ye do not know that is true” as a way to rebut those concerns.[2]  Section…

Saint, Senator, and Scoundrel

“The lack of any biography of Frank Cannon seemed a glaring gap in [Utah] annals. It was high time to tell his story.”  Val Holley recently stated this during an interview with Kurt Manwaring where they discussed Frank Cannon and Holley’s recently-published biography, Frank J. Cannon: Saint, Senator, Scoundrel (University of Utah Press, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post to that interview, with quotes and some commentary.  Feel free to read the full interview here. In summarizing Frank Cannon’s accomplishments, Holley stated that: Frank Cannon was Utah’s first U.S. senator after it became a state in 1896. During the 50 years he lived in Utah, he was also (in chronological order) founder and editor of the Ogden Standard, territorial delegate to Congress, state Democratic Party chairman, editor of Ogden’s Daily Utah State Journal, and editor of the Salt Lake Tribune. He was one of many sons of George Q. Cannon, who had five wives. Frank’s mother was the second wife, Sarah Jane Jenne. Most frequently in the Church, however, Frank Cannon is known for his “sustained attacks on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ recidivism in polygamy and alliances with trusts and corporations,” which “discomforted many Utahns, not only in the early 20th century but in the present day.” Frank Cannon’s relationship with the Church was a very complicated one.  He had, what Holley called, “youthful periods of sustained drunkenness and debauchery,” during which his father, “George Q.…

The American Apocalypse

The end of the world is a pretty dramatic scene.  Perhaps it is because of that drama that the idea has captured the imagination of human beings for thousands of years and continues to do so today.  It is not an uncommon topic of conversation among Latter-day Saints that I have known, including the occasional discussion of dreams or visions about the End Times.  These types of discussions interested Christopher Blythe, who has “always had a deep interest in apocalypticism” and felt that “much of the scholarship on Latter-day Saint last days beliefs seem to focus on official doctrine rather than the conversations occurring among lay Latter-day Saints.”  His recently-published book Terrible Revolution: Latter-day Saints and the American Apocalypse (Oxford University Press, 2020) focuses on “how lay Latter-day Saint beliefs intersect with the official doctrine of the faith” by examining the full span of apocalypticism among Latter-day Saints in the nineteenth century.  He recently had an interview with Kurt Manwaring to discuss his research and book.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a short discussion with quotes from the interview), but the full interview is available here. As Blythe put it, an apocalypse is “literally an unveiling—a revelation. It’s also a genre of scriptural literature, which is best represented in the Bible with the Book of Revelation. … In popular usage, the apocalypse is the end of the world.”  The genre of literature is, first and foremost, “the…

“Whoso forbideth to abstain from meats”

It’s a well-known grammar joke that punctuation can save lives, since there is a difference between saying: “Let’s eat, Grandma!” and: “Let’s eat Grandma!”  Punctuation and grammar do make a difference, as Oakhurst Dairy found out the hard way a few years ago.  In a legal case about overtime for drivers and a state law in Maine, the debate centered on the grammar of the law, which required time-and-a-half pay for each hour worked after 40 hours, with exemptions for: The canning, processing, preserving, freezing, drying, marketing, storing, packing for shipment or distribution of: (1) Agricultural produce; (2) Meat and fish products; and (3) Perishable foods. The lack of a comma after “shipment” allowed the truck drivers to argue that the law only made an exemption for packing for distribution (along with packing for shipment) rather than distribution of the products being part of the exemption, which meant the company hadn’t been paying them appropriately for overtime.  They won the case, costing the dairy company $5,000,000.  Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that the law was changed soon afterwards to read that the exemptions included “storing; packing for shipment; or distributing of” the products.[1] Discussion of whether the Doctrine and Covenants endorses eating or not eating meat can come down to grammar and punctuation choices.  The two main sections that come into the debate are Section 49 (a 7 May 1831 revelation) and Section 89 (a 27 February 1833 revelation).  In…

“It is given to some to speak with tongues”

I served my mission in the Midwestern United States, and we had a decent amount of contact with groups, such as the Pentecostals, who were enthusiastic about charismatic gifts of the Spirit.  I remember on one occasion, that a missionary serving in the same district approached me about an investigator they she been working with who believed that speaking in tongues (in the sense of spouting out what sounded like gibberish while under the power of the Holy Spirit) was a very important part of Christianity and a sign that God was involved in a Church.  The missionary, on the other hand (as I remember) wanted to know the best way to explain that the gift of tongues was about speaking in other languages with the help of the Spirit and that the way the investigator understood the gift of tongues was entirely unnecessary.  I referred her to the Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, which has a chapter that discusses the subject, as a way of saying that both ways of understanding the gift of tongues are legitimate and acceptable in our Church’s doctrine and history, but that there are some cautions associated with the gift that need to be kept in mind. The two ways of understanding the gift of tongues do have technical terms associated with understanding two charismatic phenomena.  Glossolalia is the term for the type of speaking in tongues the Pentecostal investigator…

Daniel Becerra on 3rd and 4th Nephi

Within the Book of Mormon, 3rd and 4th Nephi are arguably some of the most important portions of the book, with their focus on the in-person ministry of Jesus Christ among the children of Lehi and what followed because of that ministry.  Daniel Becerra, author of the book 3rd, 4th Nephi: A Brief Theological Introduction, recently sat down with Kurt Manwaring to share some of his insights from the process of writing his theological introduction to the books.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview, with excerpts and some discussion, but if you want to read the full interview, you can head on over to Kurt Manwaring’s site here. Daniel Becerra is a scholar of early Christianity who is an assistant professor of ancient scripture at BYU.  As he explained in the interview, his background played an important role in how he approached the Book of Mormon: “My training is in early Christian literature and my research focuses on moral formation, so I am very interested in how Christians understand perfection as well as in how they conform themselves to this ideal. I think the shape of my volume reflects this.”  He added: I … tried to situate the teachings of 3–4 Nephi within the larger tradition of Christian theological thought. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more I was able to get out the Book of Mormon when I started reading it in conversation with other…

“Provide for him food & raiment”

As a missionary, I occasionally found myself in the uncomfortable experience of listening to my companions talking about how proud they were to be part of a Church where every calling is performed on a voluntary basis, with no compensation—from the top leaders on down to the local level.  My discomfort was caused because, in general, the missionaries in question were not aware that general authorities do receive a stipend—something that Church members became more aware of in light of the 2017 MormonLeaks documents, which indicated that the living stipend for Church leaders was up in triple-digit figures.[1]  There are legitimate reasons for full-time Church leaders to receive a stipend, but because the Book of Mormon speaks out so heavily against “priestcraft” (portrayed as the idea of paying people for Church service), we have a strong bias against the idea of receiving money for the ministry.  Yet, the Doctrine and Covenants provides direction and precedent for supporting Church leaders using Church money so they can focus on their work in the Church. One of the central sources of antagonism in the Book of Mormon (at least in the Book of Alma) are the followers of Nehor, who practiced priestcraft.  At the very outset, Nehor’s practice of charging for preaching is portrayed in negative terms: “And he had gone about among the people, preaching to them that which he termed the word of God … declaring unto the people that every…

Know Brother Joseph

What did Joseph Smith think?  What was he like as a person?  Questions like these are interesting to think about and are important considerations when you’re a part of a religion that draws so heavily on one person’s writings and ministry for its foundation.  In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, R. Eric Smith, Matthew C. Godfrey, and Matthew J. Grow discussed some of their insights into Joseph Smith’s mind and life gained through both their work with the Joseph Smith Papers Project and in editing the recently-published Know Brother Joseph: New Perspectives on Joseph Smith’s Life and Character (Deseret Book, 2021).  What follows here is a co-post (a brief post with quotes and some thoughts), but I encourage folks to read the full interview as well (available here). One of the questions that Kurt asked was about whether Joseph Smith was familiar with feelings of loneliness.  Matt Godfrey answered as follows: In a certain sense, yes. He was a gregarious person who never lacked friends, but being the prophet and leader of the Church, I think he had moments where he felt like most people couldn’t understand what it was like to be him. I think that’s where his statement “No man knows my history” was coming from. He also had moments where it felt like God wasn’t speaking to him—such as in Liberty Jail—which created a sense of loneliness in him. I think many of us have had times…

“Endowed with power from on high”

The revelations we are studying this week continue with themes found in revelations from throughout 1830, such as an imminent Second Coming and the gathering, but also set up an expectation for an endowment of power that would be an important theme for much of the remainder of Joseph Smith’s ministry. After the conversion of a significant number of people in Kirtland and the subsequent arrival of Sidney Rigdon and Edward Partridge in New York to meet Joseph Smith in December 1830, a set of revelations were recorded that indicated that the headquarters of the Church should shift to Ohio for the time being.  On 30 December 1830, a revelation stated that: “A commandment I give unto the Church that it is expedient in me that they should assemble together at the Ohio.”[1]  Three days later, after requests for further information about this command to move to Ohio, another revelation came that drew upon a significant amount of eschatological imagery, stating that: “The day soon cometh that ye shall see me & know that I am for the chains <?vails?> of vails of darkness shall soon be rent & he that is not purified shall not abide the day,”[2] but added that: “ if ye are prepared ye need not fear.”  It went on to state that it is in preparation for that time that the commandment to gather to the Ohio was given, “that ye might escape the power of the enemy & be gethered unto me…

“The time of my coming”

For several days odd signs had been showing—the sky was yellow and the sun was red.  Suddenly, the sky darkened further.  Animals ran for cover.  When seen, the moon was red and soot was seen to be floating in the river.  By noon it was dark, forcing people to light candles and wonder—was the great and terrible day of the Lord’s return at hand?  With all the signs at hand, it was proposed that the Connecticut legislature be adjourned in case the Second Coming of Jesus Christ was going to occur.  One of their members, Abraham Davenport, opposed the move, and supposedly went on to say that: “The day of judgment is either approaching, or it is not. If it is not, then there is no cause of an adjournment; if it is, I choose to be found doing my duty.” The setting for all of this wasn’t some apocalyptic novel, but 19 May 1780 A.D. in New England.  Known as the Dark Day, the event was likely caused by smoke from severe forest fires in the area, but the highly religious Puritans didn’t know that at the time.  I can’t be sure if I have the words correct (not having seen the primary documentation), but I like what is portrayed in Davenport’s words above.  Our church is committed to an apocalyptic worldview, but we don’t know when the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the dawn of the Millennium…

Richard Turley on Dallin H. Oaks

Recently, President Dallin H. Oaks’s biographer, Richard E. Turley, Jr. sat down with Kurt Manwaring to discuss the recently-published book In the Hands of the Lord: The Life of Dallin H. Oaks.  What follows here is a co-post to the one at Kurt Manwaring’s site, with quotes from and discussion about the full interview, which can be read here. As part of the discussion, Richard Turley discussed some of the documents he had available to him to draw upon in writing about President Oaks.  He stated that: He is one of the most documented Church leaders in history. I used his personal history, his journals, his correspondence, his talks, and a host of other materials ranging from newspaper articles to photographs. I would characterize his journals as being among the best ever kept by a Church leader. I would be curious to know more about President Oaks’s journals, especially given some of the things I’ve heard about general authorities being discouraged to keep journals.  It gives me hope that we will be able to have at least some journals and diaries of Church leaders from our time akin to those being published by the Church Historian’s Press or Signature Book from Church leaders in the past like George F. Richards, Emmaline B. Wells, George Q. Cannon, Brigham Young, Anthony Ivins, and so forth. Now, President Oaks is, admittedly, a controversial figure in the Church, but it sounds like the biography…

Counterpoint: A Feeling of Loss–On Murals and Temples

I lived a significant portion of my life in Logan, Utah and frequently attended the temple during the time that I lived there.  I had a lot of beautiful and sacred experiences while doing so, but I also rarely attended that temple without experiencing some feelings of loss.  In the late 1970s, in order to introduce the use of filmed endowments to that temple, the building was gutted and almost all of the paintings, stained glass, chandeliers, furniture, and other furnishings were stowed away in archives in Salt Lake City or Provo, sent to other temple and Church office buildings for use, or given away.  The murals and the ornate “gold room” sealing room decorations couldn’t be removed intact and the parts that weren’t cut out as souvenirs were destroyed.  The temple they built inside the shell of the original was far more efficient, more structurally sound, and had better air conditioning, but lost most of what the pioneer Saints had lovingly contributed to the house of the Lord.  President Spencer W. Kimball reportedly expressed regret at the loss of the pioneer craftsmanship, which is the same reason I felt some feelings of loss when I visited.  To see the furnishings from the older iteration of the temple, I had to visit the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City rather than the temple itself (until that, too, was renovated and the section about historic Utah temples removed).[1]  While the…

“The gathering of mine Elect”

Change and continuity create an interesting tension in the Church.  I explored this in a previous post as the tension of believing in an everlasting, unchanging gospel that we have had restored to us and the belief in ongoing revelation and changes to adapt and evolve the Church to our current circumstances.  Changes can be disconcerting with the first of those two beliefs in mind because it demonstrates that the Church’s beliefs and practices are not unchanging and static.  One of the ways we minimize the perception of change, however, is to continue to use terminology that was important—words and phrases that were previously used—but to collectively change what we mean when we use that terminology.  The concept of gathering the Elect to Zion is a case study in the process of shifting use of terminology. The September 1830 revelation that we are studying this week (now Section 29) demonstrates how gathering was understood in the earliest days of the Church.  The revelation opens with an announcement that Jesus Christ “will gether his People even as a hen gethereth her Chickens under her wings even as many as will hearken to my voice & humble themselves before me & call upon me in mighty prayer.”  It discusses missionary work and prayer, then states that the elders the revelation is addressing “are called to bring to pass the gethering of mine Elect … wherefore the decree hath gone forth from the father that they shall be gethered in…

Art and Latter-day Saint History with Anthony Sweat

Some years ago, an institute teacher in a Church history class I attended said with some levity that: “I bear my testimony that Church media is not true.”  He said this hyperbolic statement in the context of a class where we talked about Joseph Smith translating the Book of Mormon, and he went on to discuss how there seem to be many different approaches that Smith took during over the course of the translation process.  The class took place around the time that the Gospel Topics Essay on the translation of the Book of Mormon had been published, in which the Church openly acknowledged that Joseph Smith spent at least some of the time looking at a seer stone in a hat.  Many of class members had felt that it was a bit jarring to learn that their perceptions about the translation process were not completely accurate, and as part of the discussion in class, they had realized that a lot of those perceptions had been adopted through viewing artwork depicting the translation process, and the teacher was trying to address that issue.  He added his comment in jest as a way to drive home the point that while artistic representations of Church history can be beautiful and useful, they aren’t perfect and shouldn’t be understood as sources that define doctrine and history in the Church. In a recent interview with Kurt Manwaring, Anthony Sweat—an Associate Professor of Church History…

“For he Receiveth them even as Moses”

Several years ago, I had a conversation with co-worker from outside of Utah about various Mormon churches that existed in Utah.  He had been doing some research and we were discussing fundamentalist Latter-day Saint groups (ones like the FLDS or the Apostolic United Brethren that promote polygamy and other doctrines from the early Utah era) when he made the remark that those groups had stayed more true to early Mormonism.  I paused for a moment, then explained that it depended on how you looked at it.  They had stayed true to specific beliefs and practices from the Church from that time, while we had stayed true to others—with accepting revelations from the prophets who lead the Church (such as the one that led to the end of plural marriage) being one of the key points that our religion valued over staying the same in belief and practice.  In a way, it could be said that there is a paradox at the heart of our religion that causes the tension displayed in that conversation—the belief in a restoration that has recreated the primitive Church of Christ, and the belief in ongoing revelation that leads to changes from time to time. On the one hand, we have the concept of a restoration, which leads to conservatism in how we view our religion.  The term restoration, at its heart, means a return to a former condition—a recovery, a re-establishment, or a renewal of…

“All things shall be done by common consent”

Within the corpus of J. Golden Kimball folklore, there is a story of Elder Kimball getting bored during a long process of sustaining officers at a stake conference somewhere south of Provo, Utah.  Noticing that most of the congregation was nodding off or had fallen asleep while mechanically raising their hands for every name read, he continued in his usual voice, stating: “It is proposed that Mount Nebo be moved into Utah Lake, all in favor manifest by the usual sign.”  The majority of the people raised their hands.  Then, Elder Kimball paused, looked around, and screeched in his magpie voice: “Just how in the hell do you people propose we get Mount Nebo into Utah Lake?” I enjoy the story because it does highlight some interesting things about the nature of sustaining votes in Latter-day Saint culture.  By raising our hands to sustain officers or policies in conferences in the Church, we fulfil the instructions found in the July 1830 revelation (now Section 26) that “all things shall be done by common consent in the Church by much prayer & faith.”[1]  At this point in our history, however, these sustaining votes are largely perfunctory and a manner of routine rather than truly seeking common consent among Church members, hence the boredom and subsequent trickery during the stake conference with Elder Kimball.  In a way, that seems to have to do with a shift in the way we understand the…

“It is expedient that the church meet together often to partake of bread and wine”

If the Book of Moroni is an instruction manual to “build a church,” as Michael Austin suggests, with the “nuts-and-bolts how-to-run-a-church stuff that anybody trying to reassemble what the Nephites built will need to know,”[1] then Doctrine and Covenants Section 20 represents an effort to take that manual, adapt it and expand on it for the restored Church of Christ.  Known as the Articles and Covenants, the section is something like a charter for the Church in the early 1830s, capturing how to function as a church and the basic information about the Church (with occasional updates up to the time of publishing the Doctrine and Covenants in 1835).  Want to know the Church’s history?  Read verses 1-12.  Core doctrines and beliefs?  Read verses 13-36.  Requirements for baptism?  Go to verse 37.  Basic ecclesiastical offices, their functions and how to be ordained?  See verses 38-67.  Expectations for church members after joining?  Verses 68-71.  How to perform core ordinances?  Read verses 72-79.  How to handle inter-congregational gatherings and Church discipline?  See verses 80-84.  Several key sections in Section 20 are drawn from Moroni’s writings, including, notably, the sacrament prayers. The sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and the way we approach those sacrament prayers in Section 20 (and Moroni) has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.  When gatherings of church members were suspended worldwide on 12 March 2020, instructions were given that “bishops should counsel with their stake presidents to determine how…

“It is not written, that there shall be no end to this torment”

Years ago, I attended a testimony meeting that began with a counselor in the bishopric talking about how grateful he was to be a part of a religion where believed that God was full of grace and would save almost every individual in one degree of glory or another.  He quoted from the Vision in Section 76, and discussed how all but a very few would be saved in the Telestial, Terrestrial, or Celestial Kingdom and how grateful he was that God loved His children enough to make a plan that allows pretty much everyone into heaven in some form.  What was interesting was what followed—the bulk of the remainder of the testimony meeting was dominated by adults in the ward getting up and rebutting his testimony by “clarifying” that being in a place outside of the top tier of the Celestial Kingdom is still damnation, so we need to work hard to gain eternal life instead of believing that we will have it good in the end, no matter what.  In a way, that meeting captured the complicated relationship Latter-day Saints have with universalism. Joseph Smith lived in a context where Universalism was a major part of the religious discussion.  Universalists argued that God is a benevolent and generous being whose attributes of love and justice were incompatible with widespread condemnation and permanent torment. They also held that God would not allow Himself to be defeated by Satan and…

“You shall obtain a view of them”

What were the three witnesses promised and what did they claim to experience?  The basics of answering this question seems obvious—they saw the gold plates and other artifacts related to them.  What is less apparent is how the Three Witnesses had that experience, since there are indications that they viewed the plates in vision, rather than experiencing them in a tangible way.  There is often a desire to make their experience out as being more materialistic than it was, perhaps as a result of conflating their experience with that of the Eight Witnesses, contradictory recollections of those who knew the witnesses, or a desire to have the experiences seem more real by being more physical in nature.  Whatever the case, it seems that the Three Witnesses saw and heard in a supernatural setting in a direct contrast to the experience of the Eight Witnesses, who claimed to have touched and handled the plates. Both early revelations and the Book of Mormon itself lay out the promises made to the three witnesses.  The earliest promise of a chance to witness the Book of Mormon was a revelation that was received in March 1829 (now D&C 5). The text states that: “three shall Know of A surety that those things are true for I will give them power that they may Behold & v[i]ew these things as they are.”[1]  Next, while translating Moroni’s writings in the Book of Ether, the promise was made to…

“The keys of the ministering of angels”

One of the persistent questions from Doctrine and Covenants, Section 13 is what is meant by the statement that the Priesthood of Aaron “holds the keys of the ministering of angels.”  Answers from general authorities in recent years have varied, including the idea that the Aaronic priesthood comes with a special privilege to have the visitation and ministering of angels;[1] the idea that when men ordained with the Aaronic priesthood serve other people, they act as ministering angels themselves;[2]  and the idea that when men ordained to the Aaronic priesthood administer ordinances that offer a remission of sins to those who receive the ordinances (i.e., baptism and the sacrament), they open the door to the ministering of angels to all Church members, since spiritual cleanliness is generally a prerequisite of communion with heavenly beings.[3]  The fact that there are a few different answers is an indication, to me, that we don’t really know what is meant by the phrase.  This may be, in part, because it brings up a conundrum that we are generally faced with when discussing the priesthood in the Church—what does ordination to the priesthood offer that is not available to faithful, believing, and righteous members of the Church otherwise? First, however, it is worth investigating what the term “keys” might mean in this context.  In one dictionary that was contemporary with Joseph Smith’s time, there are eleven different definitions for the word “key”, four of which…

“I will establish my church”

Doctrine and Covenants Section 10 is interesting in its discussion of the Lord’s church because it seems to use the term in two different ways.  One definition is the institution that we’re most likely to think of when we hear the term—the one we call Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The second is what has been loosely termed the “church without walls” or the “invisible church”—the collective group of people who are in tune with the Holy Spirit and do God’s work in the world.  Both definitions are important to understand and think about in our relationship to the world today. The first definition to be brought up is the institutional Church of Christ that would be established in April 1830.  The revelation paraphrases an earlier revelation in stating that the Lord had said: “If this generation harden not their hearts, I will establish my church among them.”[1]  This seems to alluding to either an unknown revelation that we don’t have today or a revelation given to Martin Harris in March 1829 about the Three Witnesses, which proclaimed that they would receive their testimony “in this the beginning of the rising up and the coming forth of my church out of the wilderness—clear as the moon, fair as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners,” and that “their testimony shall also go forth unto the condemnation of this generation if they harden their hearts against them.”[2] …

“You have another gift”

In a land of myth and a time of magic, the destiny of a great kingdom[1] rests on the shoulders of a young man.  His name … Joseph. If you couldn’t tell from the text above, my wife and I have been watching the TV series Merlin lately.  We’ve rather enjoyed their take on the Arthurian legends.  To me, there is something fascinating about stories that are told and retold time and time again for hundreds of years.  Now, I inserted Joseph’s name into the opening sequence of that TV series for this post because while the United States isn’t a land lost in myth and legend like Camelot, the early days of our religion were, for many adherents, a time of magic. To be fair to them, they didn’t necessarily see what they were doing as magic—more often they viewed it in religious terms.  For example, in this week’s readings for “Come, Follow Me,” we come across an interesting portion of Section 8 that discusses Oliver Cowdery having “the gift of Aaron.”[2]  While the nature of this gift is obscured in the text of the Doctrine and Covenants, the earliest extant version of the revelation states that Oliver had “the gift of working with the sprout,” which was a “thing of Nature” and that it was “the work of God.”[3]  A subsequent version of the text rendered this as “the gift of working with the rod.”[4]  The Joseph Smith…

Louis Midgley on Hugh Nibley, the Maori, and More

In an interview ranging from discussing Hugh Nibley to missionary work in New Zealand to systematic theologies to the dedication of the Swiss Temple, Kurt Manwaring recently sat down with Latter-day Saint apologist (and retired professor of political science) Louis C. Midgley.  What follows here is a co-post to one at Kurt Manwaring’s site, where I’ll focus in on a couple points of particular interest, but for those interested in reading more, hop on over to the full interview here. Louis Midgley was a friend and colleague of Hugh Nibley and has worked hard to defend Nibley’s career and to share his writings with the world.  At a few points throughout the interview, he shared stories about Hugh Nibley.  One humorous one from Nibley’s mission was that: When Hugh Nibley was a missionary in Germany before WW II, a local branch took up a collection for someone who really needed a suit. Hugh chipped in with some money. He did not realize that he was the one for whom they were raising money—it was his suit that was in rags. A more poignant story was about Nibley at the end of his lifetime: Phyllis called me and urged me to visit her husband. I did. And we talked. Hugh was in a hospital bed. He could hardly speak. He’d mumble and we’d talk back and forth. We talked a bit about New Zealand and the Maori. Since he had heard…

“A man may have many revelations”

We’re four weeks into the year, and we’ve finally reached the beginning of the Doctrine and Covenants.  I know we started the book weeks ago, but what I mean to say is that this week we’re now working with the earliest material in the Doctrine and Covenants.  Section 3 is the first revelation from Joseph Smith for which a text has survived (even pre-dating the text of the Book of Mormon), while for Section 5 is the revelation for which we have the earliest extant copy of any of Joseph Smith’s revelations (a copy created by Oliver Cowdery after his arrival, around April 1829).[1]  The prior two sections that we’ve studied are placed before Section 3 because Section 1 was written as a preface for the Doctrine and Covenants and Section 2 is recalling events that occurred in 1823.  Section 2, however, was written in 1838-1839 as part of an official history and added to the Doctrine and Covenants in 1876 (by comparison, our Section 3 is Section 2 in the Community of Christ’s version of the Doctrine and Covenants), while Section 1 was written in 1831.  All three of the revelations we are studying this week were received in the period before the Church itself was founded or the bulk of the Book of Mormon as we have it was dictated, spanning the period of July 1828-March 1829.  As the earliest existing documents of the Latter Day Saint movement,…

“A messenger sent from the presence of God”

I’ve always been interested in knowing what all Moroni said to Joseph Smith during their first conversation.  We have several accounts, both from Joseph Smith himself and from close associates like Oliver Cowdery, Orson Pratt, and Lucy Mack Smith of that visit, but all of them pick and choose what they discuss and all of them were written somewhere between 7 to 22 years after the event occurred.  Cowdery claimed that the visions began around “eleven or twelve, and perhaps later”,[1] and in Joseph Smith’s official account, he recalls that after three visions with the angel, “the cock crowed, and I found that day was approaching, so that our interviews must have occupied the whole of that night.”[2]  If we assume that the visions of Moroni began at midnight, that sunrise on 22 September 1823 occurred around 5:45 a.m.,[3] and that an insignificant amount of time passed between each visit, then that makes for an average of slightly less than 2 hours per vision.  Admittedly, the records indicate that each vision was longer than the last, but that still gives a lot of time for talking on Moroni’s part compared to the number of words we have in the Joseph Smith—History.  What all did he cover in that time?  The accounts we do have of what Moroni told Joseph Smith can give us some insights, even if they aren’t likely to be perfect in their presentation of the details. The…

Keith Erekson and the Scholars of Pajamalot

In a recent interview with Keith Erekson (the director of the Church History Library and a member of the editorial board of the Church Historian’s Press), Kurt Manwaring discussed a variety of topics, including the forthcoming publication of the William Clayton journals, the impact of Mark Hofmann on the Church History Library, and a moniker for the current era for the Church History Library.  It’s an interesting interview, so I recommend reading the full text here, but what follows below is a co-post, covering the highlights with some quotes and discussion. First things first, the item that will probably be of most interest to many of our readers is information about the William Clayton journals.  There have been several holy grails from the Church archives that historians have wanted to get their hands on but have been unable to do so until recently—the Council of 50 minutes, the George Q. Cannon journals, and the Nauvoo Relief Society Minute Book being a few examples to go alongside the William Clayton journals.  About three years ago, Matthew Grow caused a stir by announcing that William Clayton’s Diaries were going to be published.  As J Stuart explained at the time: “The Clayton Diaries … [are] one of the best sources to understanding Joseph Smith’s personal life, thoughts, and activities in Nauvoo.”[1]  Erekson also explained in his recent interview that: “The journals are significant because they contain contemporary information about plural marriage in Nauvoo…

“Or, are they all wrong together?”

In this week’s chapter in the Come, Follow Me manual, one of the core areas of discussion is “why are there various accounts of the First Vision?”  It’s an opportunity to explore the other accounts of the First Vision in a way that is potentially helpful to members of the Church.[1]   The section mentions that: “Although these accounts differ in some details, depending on the audience and setting, they are otherwise consistent.  And each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.”  The manual offers a link to the Gospel Topics Essay, which in turn links to the different accounts, and then asks: “What do you learn from reading all of these accounts?”  While I’ve offered my thoughts on what the messages of the First Vision were according to what’s actually in the accounts (more or less my response to that final question), I want to take some time to look at a relatively minor example of how “each account adds details that help us better understand Joseph Smith’s experience.” Within the canonized account of the First Vision, there is an inconsistency that has often stood out to me.  In discussing his confusion caused by several Protestant sects proselyting and contending with each other, Joseph Smith states that: “I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together?”[2]  Later, when he is talking about…

“By mine own voice or by the voice of my servants”

Doctrine and Covenants section 1 is a fascinating document.  Written in late 1831, it would chronologically fall in place right around section 67, but was intended as a preface for the compilation of Joseph Smith’s revelations known as the Book of Commandments.  By extension, it later served as the preface for the Doctrine and Covenants. Section 1 is intended to get people’s attention and make it clear that modern revelations from the Lord are important to pay attention to.  It declares that the text is written in “the voice of him who dwells on high … the voice of the Lord,”[1] and that “the voice of warning shall be unto all people, by the mouth of my disciples whom I have chosen in these last days …, for I the Lord have commanded them.”[2]  Right off the bat, we have a document presented as the voice of the Lord and that voice declaring that He has authorized disciples to give voice to His warnings.  It specifically names Joseph Smith as “my servant” and states that the Lord “spake unto him from heaven and gave him commandments” and that “these commandments are of me, and were given unto my servants in their weakness, after the manner of their language, that they might come to understanding.”[3]  As indicated by the title that was given to the first attempt at publishing a collection of revelations or sections (the Book of Commandments—the title was…

The Most Significant General Conference Addresses of the 2010s: A Tentative List

With the 2010s a year behind us now, I thought it might be a good time to look back at general conference in the 2010s and consider which of the talks were some of the most significant addresses given during that period.  I suspect that the Gospel Topics Essays will be the most significant documents from that decade in their long-term impact on the Church, but there are still a few memorable and significant general conference talks worth discussing.  Glancing through, here were some of the ones that stood out to me as significant for reinforcing, articulating, or developing the doctrine of the Church in notable ways; for the policies they announced or defended; or for the historical initiatives, moments, or controversies to which they were tied.  Together, they also give us a glimpse into the history of the Church in the 2010s.  Without further ado, here is my list: Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” CR April 2012 This talk was likely written specifically for the “Mormon Moment” that accompanied Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign in mind as a way to deal with the fact that things Church leaders had said in the past that didn’t reflect well on the Church today were being dredged up in the news. Most memorably, we had the Randy Bott interview that discussed some of the awful rationales we used to give for the priesthood and temple ban against individuals of black African…