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.

Choosing Faith and Into the Headwinds

Belief in religion is something that can be hard in Western culture.  Yet, it is something worth working towards.  This idea is something that Terryl and Nathaniel Givens discussed in a recent interview on the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk.  The context of their discussion has to do with a book they recently published called Into the Headwinds: Why Belief Has Always Been Hard–and Still Is (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2022).  What follows here is a co-post to that interview (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion). The publisher of Into the Headwinds describes their book as follows: Acclaimed author Terryl Givens and his son, Nathaniel Givens, combine their respective areas of expertise to offer a fresh take on religious belief through the lens of contemporary research on psychology, cognition, and human nature. They also address two of faith’s foremost modern-day antagonists: rationalism, the myth that humans can or should make the majority of their choices based on logical thought, and scientism, the myth that science is the only reliable means of discovering truth. After reckoning with the surprising fact that people often don’t even understand their own beliefs and are influenced in ways they seldom perceive, the authors go on to describe genuine faith as an act of will—an effortful response to the deepest yearnings of the mind and heart—that engenders moral responsibility, the ability to embrace uncertainty, the motivation and means to relate to others, and…

¿Por qué somos?: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 5

Our Father knows and loves His children all over the world, from Boston to Okinawa, from San Antonio to Spain, from Italy to Costa Rica. In Ghana, President Gordon B. Hinckley recently thanked the Lord “for the brotherhood that exists among us, that neither color of skin nor land of birth can separate us as Thy sons and daughters.” … We come to this world in many colors, shapes, sizes, and circumstances. We don’t have to be rich, tall, thin, brilliant, or beautiful to be saved in the kingdom of God—only pure. We need to be obedient to the Lord Jesus Christ and keep His commandments. And we can all choose to do that regardless of where we live or what we look like.[1] ~Clate W. Mask Jr.   Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here. Hymn Text: The hymn ¿Por qué somos? by Edmund W. Richardson was initially published in the 1912 edition of Himnos de Sion (see Figure 1).  It is one of the three hymns that were written originally in Spanish that are included in the 1992 Spanish hymnal.  The hymn has also been included in the Portuguese hymnal as “De que rumo vêm os homens”, though it is not included in the current hymnbook in that language.  The original publication indicated that it should be sung to the tune of hymn 50 in Songs of…

Santos, Dad Loor á Dios: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 4

What greater power can you acquire on earth than the priesthood of God? What power could possibly be greater than the capacity to assist our Heavenly Father in changing the lives of your fellowmen, to help them along the pathway of eternal happiness by being cleansed of sin and wrongdoing?[1] ~Adrián Ochoa Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here. Hymn Text: “Santos, Dad Loor á Dios” by Edmund W. Richardson was initially included in the 1907 Himnario Mormón (see Figure 1).  It was published in the 1912 edition of the Himnos de Sion, but was not included in subsequent editions of the hymnal.  Both of the hymnals that it was published in did not indicate a tune to which it was intended to be sung, though the John-Charles Duffy and Hugo Olaiz article indicates that it was sung to the tune of “O Jesus! the giver of all we enjoy” from the Latter-day Saints’ Psalmody (GOSHEN, by Ralph Bradshaw), which can be made to fit.[2]  There are a few textual variations between the 1907 and 1912 editions (see Table 1).   Table 1. Comparison of texts from the two editions in which “Santos, Dad Loor á Dios” was published. 1907  “Santos, Dad Loór á Dios” 1912 “Santos, Dad Loor á Dios” Santos, dad loór á Dios, Himnos elevad; Alaban al Señor Por Su gran bondád. Antes en la cruz…

Mexican Pioneers

Back in 1997, M. Russell Ballard spoke about how we should take the “opportunity to honor … the remarkable efforts of our pioneers in every land who have blazed spiritual trails with faith in every one of their footsteps.” (M. Russell Ballard, “You Have Nothing to Fear from the Journey,” Conference Report, April 1997.)  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, F. LaMond Tullis discussed some of the stories of Latter-day Saint pioneers in Mexico. What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). F. LaMond Tullis recently published a book covering the stories of 19 pioneering members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  In the interview, he discussed some of the reasons that led him to write Grass Roots in Mexico: First, I had a long and abiding interest in Latin America triggered by college friends who taught me Spanish. I also had an academic focus on the area at Harvard University, where I wrote several articles about the Church in Latin America, and published my book Mormons in Mexico (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1987). I’ve also struggled over the years to say to an insular Latter-day Saint population that becoming a world-wide church entails attention to cultural matters at home as well as sending out missionaries abroad. He added that he hopes that people who read the book gain “a realization that…

Humildad: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 3

Oh, beloved brethren! Let us always remember the teachings of the prophets, let us always remember the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ which he brought us in the meridian of time.   Let us remember also his exhortations to our people here in the Americas, which are recorded in the Book of Mormon; let us keep watch so that these great treasures which have been left to us will not be buried as they were during the time of the great apostasy.  Strive to preserve them, to cultivate them, to convert our families into strong units in Zion.[1] ~Guillermo Torres   Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here. Hymn Text: Humildad by W. Ernest Young was originally published in the 1912 editions of Himnos de Sion, and was included in the 1927 and 1933 editions of that book before being cut in subsequent editions. According to the 1912 edition, it was intended to be sung to the tune of hymn 223 in Songs of Zion, which was “Beautiful Isle” by J. S. Fearis.  It is notable as the only one of the 23 original hymns in the Mexican mission hymnals to have a verse-chorus structure. Figure 1. “Humildad,” in the second 1912 edition of Himnos de Sion.  Note: The author’s name is switched around slightly in the published text (Ernest W. instead of W. Ernest). The author, Walter Ernest…

Mormon Women at the Crossroads

Caroline Kline’s Mormon Women at the Crossroads: Global Narratives and the Power of Connectedness (University of Illinois Press, 2022) is an important contribution to studies of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 21st century. The book is based on a series of oral interviews that Kline did with women of color in Mexico, Botswana, and the United States, both presenting excerpts from those interviews as well as analysis.  The introduction begins by discussing how her initial lens of gender equality proved insufficient in understanding the stories, perspectives, and priorities of the women she interviewed.  Recognizing that overlapping identities of race, social class, sexual identity, etc. shape people in different ways, Kline strives to capture and represent the voices of these women through focusing on the stories they wanted to tell.  In her efforts to analyze the interviews through their lenses and priorities rather than strictly through her own lenses and priorities, Kline came to focus on the perspective of non-oppressive connectedness, a worldview that blends elements of female empowerment and liberation with a broader focus on fostering positive and productive relationships.  The first three chapters focus on the women interviewed in each of the three different regions (Mexico, Botswana, and the United States) while the fourth is an effort at bringing together and synthesizing theological reflections from the women who were interviewed, focused on a theology of abundance.  All told, the book is very rich with insight…

Padre Nuestro en el Cielo: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 2

“Doing good often means getting one’s hands dirty, engaging in unpleasant things, and coming out of the battle worn and scarred.  The battle for the public good is neither about holding onto or giving up everything, it is about knowing when to do much, when to hold back, a little, and when to do nothing at all.”[1] ~Ignacio M. García   Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here. Hymn Text: Padre Nuestro en el Cielo by Manrique González was one of the earliest-published Spanish hymns in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  It was published in the 1907 Mexican Mission Himnario Mormón (p. 57, see Figure 1) and in the 1912 editions of the Himnos de Sion (p.44).  It was cut from subsequent editions of the hymnbook (1927 onwards).  Textual changes between the two editions it was included in are minor, consisting solely of punctuation alterations (see Table 1).  According to the 1912 edition, the hymn was to be sung to the tune of hymn 37 in the English-language Songs of Zion, which was “We are Sowing” by H. A. Tucket (8.7.8.7 D).  Oddly, the hymn tune fits two verses of the hymn at a time, but there are 5 verses of the hymn, which doesn’t work out math-wise.  In addition, the syllables do not completely align with the music as written.  As a result, I wonder…

Looking at the Prophet Anew (Brigham Young edition)

How we understand and view President Brigham Young as the second prophet of the Restoration is often in a much more negative light than how the Prophet Joseph Smith is viewed.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Chad Orton discusses some of why that is and offers additional thoughts on how to view the man who led the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as they colonized the Great Basin region.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview – a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion. Much of the interview centers on the book that Chad Orton co-authored entitled 40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young: A New Approach to a Remarkable Man (Deseret Book, 2008).  Early on in the interview, Orton explained the non-traditional approach that was taken in writing that biography: 40 Ways to Look at Brigham Young is subtitled, “A New Approach to a Remarkable Man.” Unlike traditional biographies that largely look at their subject chronologically, i.e. from birth to death, 40 Ways is a topical biography. Each chapter—and there are 40 of them—focuses upon a major theme or event from his life. For example, one of the chapters talks about how faith was one of Brigham’s predominate characteristics. Stories from the 1830s to the 1870s have been brought together into one chapter. In a traditional biography they would have been interspersed throughout multiple chapters and would have only been…

La Proclamación: Mexican Mission Hymns, Part 1

“I know for myself that Joseph Smith was a prophet because I have applied the simple promise in the Book of Mormon: ‘Ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ’ (Moroni 10:4). In simple words, look up.”[1] ~Adrián Ochoa   Note: This is a part of an ongoing series.  To start at the introduction, follow the link here. The Text La Proclamación, by José V. Estrada G., is one of the few hymns original to Mexico that have survived up to the present (1992) Spanish-language hymnbook in the Church.  Also called “La voz, ya, del Eterno”, it was was initially included as hymn 51 in the 1912 Himnos de Sion (Mexican Mission) (see Figure 1), and was included in all subsequent editions of that collection, the 1942 Himnos de Sion that was published by the Church (Hymn 252), and the 1992 Himnos (Hymn 145).  In the original hymnal, it was intended to be sung to hymn 53 in Songs of Zion, which was “Improve the Shining Moments” by Robert B. Baird (the tune still used today).  The text itself has had a few edits over the years, particularly for the 1992 Himnos (see Table 1).   Figure 1. “La Proclamación” in the 1912 Himnos de Sion.   Table 1. Variations in text of La Proclamación over the course of Church Publications.  Changes from the 1912 edition are bolded. 1912 1942 1992 1. La voz, ya, del Eterno, Nos llama…

Announcing a Mexico Mission Hymns Series

I’m excited to announce a new project that I’ll be sharing on Times and Seasons over the next few months – my Mexico Mission Hymnody project. A few years ago, a future new edition for the Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was announced. While working on what would become my first post on Times and Seasons, I talked a lot with friends about what the next hymnal might look like. Virtually all of my friends who had served in Spanish-speaking missions mentioned loving a song that didn’t have any English equivalent – “Placentero nos es trabajar”. I mentioned it in passing as something that might be added in an update to the hymn book in my 2018 post on the subject. I followed up in early 2019 with a post specifically about Spanish-language hymns that might find their way into the next hymn book. While researching for the latter post, I came across an article by John-Charles Duffy and Hugo Olaiz that detailed the history of the Spanish-language hymnals in the Church. One thing that stood out to me in the Duffy and Olaiz article was that there were 23 hymns written originally in Spanish and published in the hymnbooks that were prepared for use by the Church in Mexico, either in the original 1907 edition or the subsequent 1912 edition. As described in the article: Hymn texts were produced by American missionaries, Anglo saints…

To Ezra or not to Ezra…

Ezra is an important figure in the Hebrew Bible, but there are some concerns that have been raised over the historical record around him and some interesting places where he is missing in that record.  In an interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, the Biblical scholar Charlotte Hempel discusses some of the theories and thoughts around Ezra, with a particular focus on the Dead Sea Scrolls.  What follows here is a co-post to the interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). One of the central questions in the debate is whether or not Ezra was an actual historical figure.  Charlotte Hempel explained that: This is a great question and has been debated by scholars for centuries. Ezra appears in 6 chapters of the Hebrew Bible in Ezra 7–10 and Nehemiah 8 and 12. He is described as a priest, a skilled scribe who has his heart set on the study of the law and its promulgation among the people, as well as a social reformer. On the more radical end of the spectrum there are those, including C. C. Torrey, who suggest Ezra was a fictitious creation. For most scholars today Ezra is a historical figure whose literary record was amplified by subsequent authors and editors. There is a spectrum of thought on how accurate the records we have are in relation to Ezra’s life. Ezra and Nehemiah are portrayed as contemporary individuals,…

Shaking the Dust from Your Feet

Have you ever performed a ritual shaking of the dust from your feet?  I never have (in fact, I’m pretty sure I was specifically instructed to not do that as a missionary), though as a 20-year old, I was somewhat tempted while serving a full-time mission on a few occasions.  In an interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Samuel Weber discussed some of the intentions behind the ritual in the first place and also why it is no longer performed in the Church today.  What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). In the interview, Samuel Weber explained the ritual of shaking dust from feet.  As he put it: Shaking the dust off one’s feet was a ritual practice common in the early Latter-day Saint movement. The basic idea of the ritual was to invoke a curse on individuals who rejected the message or messengers of the restored gospel. Similar to other Latter-day Saint rituals and ordinances, it was a practice intended to call down God’s power on behalf of His servants. Although no longer practiced today, ritual cursing is found in scripture and church history, making it a topic of continued interest for Latter-day Saints. So, the ritual was one of cursing against those who rejected the Gospel or missionaries for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As mentioned by Weber above,…

Grass Roots in Mexico

Grass Roots in Mexico: Stories of Pioneering Latter-day Saints by F. LaMond Tullis (Provo: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 2021) was one of the books I was most excited to see on the lists of books coming out in 2022.  Released in early July, Grass Roots in Mexico offers an important glimpse into the Church’s history in Mexico.  The first two chapters give a brief overview of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.  These are followed by 19 chapters of short biographies or vignettes of Latter-day Saints in Mexico.  The selection includes a range of different people—from indigenous converts to Euro-American colonists from Utah, both men and women, relatively well-known stories (i.e., Rafael Monroy and Vicente Morales), and some about people who are largely unknown.  The book is not, by any means, comprehensive, but it does provide snapshots of various experiences of Latter-day Saints in Mexico. One thing to know going in is that the book does have a devotional dimension to it.   It is a history of the Church written by and primarily for faithful members.  Within the vignettes (the 19 short biographies), the majority of them follow a pattern of focusing on conversion stories followed by brief overview of some way in which they contributed to the Church and then a note on how many descendants they have in the Church and what high-profile Church callings those descendants have held.  A few chapters…

Women and the Priesthood with Lisa Olsen Tait

“Do women have the priesthood?”  You would think the answer would be a simple yes or no for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  The reality, however, seems to say differently, with people arguing for a whole spectrum of answers while discussing this topic of perennial interest.  In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Lisa Olsen Tait shared her historical perspective on how we arrived at the current state of women’s relationship to the priesthood in the Church, drawing on her research that was presented in an article in BYU Studies’ “Yet to Be Revealed” issue.  What follows here is a co-post, a shorter post presenting and discussing excerpts from the interview and related materials. In the original article, Lisa Olsen Tait divided the history into sections with inflection points between them, as follows: 1840s: “The Ancient Priesthood” 1850–1900: “In Connection with Their Husbands” 1900–1940: “The Blessings of the Priesthood” 1960s: “The Home Is the Basis” 1970–2000: Feminism and Responses Twenty-First Century: Priesthood “Power” and “Authority” In the interview, Tait explained some of the evolution through those eras, specifically related to the temple.  To quote in relation to the 1840s: The revelation commanding the Saints to build the temple (Section 124) repeatedly spoke of it in terms of priesthood. “Therein are the keys of the holy priesthood ordained,” it said. In the House of the Lord the “fulness of…

A Time When Tithing was Almost Done Away

In the aftermath of the US Civil War, the Church faced a heavy tax settlement that led to a contemplated hiatus in requiring tithing.  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Samuel Brunson discussed how that situation came about, what the leaders of the Church tried in order to work through the situation, and the surprising resolution to the whole incident. Federal income tax was something that first began to be used in the United States during the U.S. Civil War.  As Brunson explained: “The Civil War was expensive. And it turned out that tariffs weren’t going to be enough to fund the war effort, so the North decided to engage in a 10-year experiment with income taxes.”  In the midst of that, John P. Taggart, the Internal Revenue Assessor for Utah Territory, assessed that the tithing collected by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was taxable income and, as such, the Church (more specifically, Brigham Young) needed to pay $59,338.51.  His reasoning was that: Taggart believed that tithing was obligatory, not just a free-will offering, both because the church occasionally kept a ledger of how much people owed and how much they had paid and because he claimed that nonpayment of tithing was punishable by death or expulsion which, in his mind, was basically the same thing for Mormons in Utah. (It’s worth noting that the pioneer church was on the…

Three Degrees

Language is a tricky thing. Sometimes, when someone says a word, it can mean something very different to them than it does to us. This can be particularly true when that person is from the past and the exact meaning of a word changes over time. In a recent interview with Bryan Buchanan about an article by Shannon Flynn at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk discussed a major example of where this seems to have happened in our understanding of the afterlife about divisions within the Celestial Kingdom. What follows here is a copost – a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion. The concept that there are three subdivisions within the Celestial Kingdom is based on one section in the Doctrine and Covenants (131). In the current edition of the scriptures, it reads as follows: “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.” The assumption is that “celestial glory” is precisely equivalent to the Celestial Kingdom-the highest degree of glory announced in Joseph Smith’s 1832 vision (D&C 76). As it turns out, that may not be a great assumption. The word in question is “celestial”. Buchanan explained that: If we look at contemporary dictionaries (like Webster’s 1828 dictionary), “celestial” was simply a synonym for “heavenly.” In other words, Joseph Smith may have been expressing the idea that “in the heavenly glory (or just, heaven), there are three gradations.” … If we argue…

Method Infinite: On Masonry and Mormonism

The recently-published Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski (Greg Kofford Books, 2022) is an insightful and information-packed volume about a plethora of possible points of contact between Freemasonry and the Restoration of the Church of Christ.   While many studies of Masonry and the Latter Day Saint movement focus primarily on temple rituals, Method Infinite covers the entirety of Joseph Smith’s life and follows the influence of Masonic ideas and rituals into some of the major branches of Mormonism that emerged in the aftermath of the Prophet’s death.  The book starts with a brief history of Freemasonry and its existence in the early United States of America, then discusses how Joseph Smith grew up in an environment saturated with Freemasonry.  It points to ideas that were being discussed or practiced by Freemasons and compares these with strains of Latter Day Saint thought and action, suggesting that Joseph Smith saw himself as the restorer of the pure form of Masonry from the outset and that he viewed the Freemasonry practiced at the time as an apostate or spurious form of Masonry.  Evidences for this idea that are pointed out have to do with the Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham, the way various organizations within or connected to the Church were organized, specific teachings of Joseph Smith and other early Church leaders, the ways that the City…

Daughter of Mormonism

Susa Young Gates was an interesting and important personality, and Romney Burke’s recently-published biography Susa Young Gates: Daughter of Mormonism (SLC: Signature Books, 2022) provides a well-researched glimpse into her life. Perhaps the best-known daughter of President Brigham Young, Susa led a life as a prominent figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  She would go on to serve missions in Hawaii, write prolifically about the Church, serve prominently on the National Council of Women in the United States and also participate in the International Council of Women as a feminist advocate, serve in the general boards of both the Young Lady’s Mutual Improvement Association and the Relief Society and edit publications for both, teach courses at universities in Utah, and raise a family with children who would go on to make their own significant contributions in the Church.  She could also be outspoken, overbearing, and tactless in pursuing her goals, which could cause her trouble, but also showed herself to be very capable in getting things done and in rubbing shoulders with the powerful and famous. Burke’s biography follows her life chronologically at first, then shifts to addressing different aspects of her life and career topically by chapters, then returns to discussing the twilight of her lifetime at the end of the book in a more chronological fashion.  The book is meticulously researched, drawing on a treasure trove of documents that record her life, particularly from a…

Was Jesus Married or Not?

An enigma that has been explored repeatedly over the years, both in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and in Christianity more broadly, is the marital status of Jesus of Nazareth. There is little to reliably indicate either way in the established canon of the New Testament, but that hadn’t stopped people from discussing the topic. And in organizations like the Church that emphasize marriage, there are some theological reasons to want to say that he was indeed a married man.  In a recent interview over at the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk, Christopher Blythe discussed the issue in connection with a recent article published in BYU Studies. What follows here is a copost to that interview. In addressing how Latter-day Saints have approached the question “was Jesus married?” over the years, Blythe described how it has shifted within the Church. It’s a little more complicated when you talk about whether Jesus was married. Historically, the question has gone through an evolutionary process: First, there was a wide consensus among Latter-day Saints that Jesus was married. Then, there was a wide consensus that he was married (but we should not speak about it). And finally, it was thought that the answer is unknowable and individual Latter-day Saints might take either position. For me, this essay belongs in the book because it shows that even when a doctrine is privately held by general authorities, that does not…

Masonry and Mormonism

The relationship between Freemasonry and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a subject of controversy for members of the Church.  In the near future, two important studies of that relationship are slated to be published – Method Infinite: Freemasonry and the Mormon Restoration by Cheryl L. Bruno, Joe Steve Swick III, and Nicholas S. Literski, which will be available on 9 August from Greg Kofford Books (which discusses possible influences of Freemasonry on Joseph Smith’s ministry throughout his life) and Freemasonry and the Origins of Latter-day Saint Temple Ordinances by Jeffrey M. Bradshaw, which is anticipated to be released the same day by the Interpreter Foundation (and which analyzes the relationship of Freemason rituals and Latter Day Saint temple rituals).  Last week, two interviews related to these books (one with Cheryl L. Bruno and one with Jeffrey M. Bradshaw) were published on the Latter-day Saint history and theology blog From the Desk.  What follows here is a co-post to the two interviews. Jeffrey Bradshaw summed up the crux of the concern that members of the Church have when approaching Freemasonry.  He wrote: There are elements of the Nauvoo temple ordinances—for example, some of the signs and tokens and related language—that are almost identical in form to those used in Masonic rites. Since Freemasonry is an 18th century creation, similarities like these seem to undermine Joseph Smith’s claims that the temple ordinances are ancient. The same applies to the Restoration…