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.

The Law of the Gospel

A couple years ago, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints included a list of the covenants made during the endowment session in their general handbook. It was a surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one. Yet, I missed a part of the significance of the text presented until reading a recent interview with Samuel R. Weber over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk—not only are the specific covenants included, but definitions were as well. In particular, the Law of the Gospel, had an official definition pinned down for the first time in recent history, which is the subject of the interview.

Let’s Talk about Science and Religion – A Review

Back when I was studying biological engineering in college, I remember one Sunday where a stake high councilor came and spoke in our ward. He based his remarks on Elder Quentin L. Cook’s talk “Lamentations of Jeremiah: Beware of Bondage”. When he discussed how “Turning from the worship of the true and living God and worshipping false gods” results in forms of “spiritual, physical, and intellectual bondage,” the high councilor decided to add his own embellishments and examples of what those types of bondage looked like. His first example of intellectual bondage was the belief that organic evolution was real. Given my field of study and life experiences, that went over like a lead balloon. And yet, I at least understood where he came from. I can remember talking with an evangelical farmer at the edge of his property in rural Iowa on my mission and talking about evolution. The farmer was accusing Mormons of believing in evolution, which was a grievous sin in his eyes, and I was trying to convince him that because Bruce R. McConkie said that belief in evolution was wrong, Latter-day Saints were required to reject evolution (since he was sustained as a prophet, seer, and revelator), so the farmer didn’t need to feel concerned about that aspect of our religion. While I was very conflicted about rejecting evolution, at the time I was also in the camp that essentially believes that Bruce R. McConkie…

Jesus’s Female Ancestors

Jesus the Messiah was the son of a righteous and godly woman named Mary, through whom he had many ancestors discussed in the Hebrew Bible. Among those were several remarkable women. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog, Camille Fronk Olson discussed some of the women in the genealogy of Jesus. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy: A Review

George Q. Cannon: Politician, Publisher, Apostle of Polygamy by Kenneth L. Cannon II is an entry in the Signature Books brief biographies series focused on one of the most influential and best-known Latter-day Saints in the 19th century. As a missionary, publisher, representative for Utah Territory to the United States Congress, businessman, apostle, and long-term First Presidency member, he accomplished a lot during his lifetime. The brief biographies are essentially a Latter-day Saint version of the Penguin Lives series that was published by the Penguin Random House and Viking Press–short, accessible biographies of notable individuals. At 250 pages (plus index material), this George Q. Cannon biography pushes the bounds of “brief”, but the subject led such a big life and left so many records of his efforts and accomplishments that it is understandable why it didn’t fit into 100-150 pages.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 13: A Mission Revived

The closure of the mission in Mexico in 1889 led to an 12-year gap in the presence of missionaries and official church leadership in central Mexico. Ammon Tenney worked to restart the mission, connecting with the Latter-day Saints who were effectively abandoned and beginning new efforts at proselytizing.

Remember the “F.” And seniority.

I know I’ve talked a bit about Joseph F. Smith (JFS) lately, but the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk recently shared another interview about him. This time around, Dennis Horne spoke about Joseph F. Smith’s succession to the presidency of the Church, but it also covers other info about this pivotal president of the Church. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with quotes and some commentary by myself).

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 12: Bautista’s Lamanites

While efforts to gather converts from central Mexico failed and the mission in central Mexico closed, there would still be future successes. Among the earliest converts in the 20th century in Mexico, the Bautista family would go on to have an impact on the Church for years to come, including the development of an indigenous-affirming perspective on Lamanite identity.

Carthage and the Nauvoo Expositor

The Joseph Smith Papers recently released a final podcast series, the Road to Carthage podcast, focusing on the final days and immediate aftermath of Joseph Smith’s life. It was an explosive time, filled with tension both within and outside of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, podcast host Spencer W. McBride talked about the events that led to Joseph Smith’s death in 1844. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). An important piece of the picture when it comes to events leading to Joseph Smith’s death is the way that information was shared at the time and place and the impact that had on public opinion. As McBride explains, the mechanism mostly focused on a network of local newspapers: There was no national newspaper that reached readers throughout the country. Instead, local newspaper editors borrowed liberally from each other, reprinting articles wholesale. This meant that really interesting news and opinions in one part of the country could eventually receive national coverage through this exchange network of newspapers. So, there was great potential in operating a newspaper, even far away from the country’s centers of population and power. Two newspapers in particular played a key role in the story: The Warsaw Signal was the premier venue for anti-Mormon editorials in Illinois. That paper stirred…

The Fiery Meteor

Joseph F. Smith “(remember the F)” is one of the most important and influential presidents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, even though he isn’t frequently discussed in church settings. It was during his administration that the Church really started to take on its current form – rejection of polygamy, modern monetary auditing systems, the first attempts at correlation, temples outside of the United States, our understanding of priesthood as an entity unto itself, the vision that is now D&C section 138 was received, and the purchasing and development of historical sites all were developments overseen by Joseph F. Smith. As a person, Joseph was also extremely complex, making him a fascinating subject to study, as Steven Taysom’s recently-released biography Like a Fiery Meteor: The Life of Joseph F. Smith demonstrates. In a recent interview with the Latter-day Saint history blog, Steven Taysom discussed a bit about the life of Joseph F. Smith. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

“Like a wise man who built his house on rock”: A Pioneer Day Homily on Matthew 7:21-27

A sacrament meeting talk given 23 July 2023 At the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, St. Matthew recorded that the Lord, Jesus Christ stated: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; go away from me, you who behave lawlessly.’ “Everyone, then, who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!” (Matthew 7:21-27, NRSV.) Besides being the basis of a very fun song to sing with children, these words underscore the importance of both learning and acting upon the words of the Lord. Now, why did the Lord…

Asking Questions About the Book of Mormon

A central question about the Book of Mormon that has been asked over and over again is whether it is an ancient document or a modern one. Despite being asked and answered by so many people, that question is still being argued and fought over and probably will be indefinitely. But what other questions are being asked about the Book of Mormon? In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Joe Spencer and Nick Frederick talked about some of those questions in a discussion about the field of Book of Mormon studies. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion.

Joseph Smith and the Mormons: A review

Joseph Smith and the Mormons, by Noah Van Sciver, is a fantastic addition to Mormon literature. And while not written as devotional literature, this graphic novelization of Joseph Smith’s life is very well-researched and makes a lot of effort to portray things in a fair and open manner. And the book itself is beautiful in its presentation.

Jesus Christ in Joseph Smith’s Teachings

There is an apocryphal story about John Taylor that was shared by Leonard Arrington: Shortly after the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith in June 1844, a prominent eastern visitor to Nauvoo[, Illinois] was being ‘shown around’ by Apostle Taylor.  He remarked to Brother Taylor that he sincerely regretted the murder of the head of the Mormon Church.  Brother Taylor got a twinkle in his eye at this reference to the ‘head of the Church’ and replied, ‘Yes, and isn’t it wonderful that on the on the third day he arose from the tomb and came back to administer to the Saints’ (Leonard Arrington Journal, 14 May 1973). It’s a fun play on expectations, but also goes to the point that Jesus Christ, rather than Joseph Smith, is at the heart of the Latter-day Saints’ religion. In a recent interview with historian Keith Erekson at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, he pointed out ways in which Joseph Smith taught about Jesus Christ and about God. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 8: Colonization

One of the important aspects of the Church’s presence in Mexico was the establishment of colonies in the far north.  Intended as refuges against anti-polygamy legislation and persecution, the colonies were a constellation of settlements that proved successful for many years and, in some cases, still continue to exist to this day.

Translation or Revelation?

I posted about Book of Abraham translation a couple weeks ago as part of a co-post on an interview with Stephen O. Smoot. This time, we’re looking at a different interview with Michael Hubbard MacKay, who had a different perspective about Joseph Smith’s translation projects. The interview on Book of Mormon translation is over at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, so what follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

The Jewish Revolt and the Abomination of Desolation

One of the more pivotal events in the development of both Christianity and modern Judaism was the First Jewish Revolt, which started in 66 CE and culminated in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Jared W. Ludlow discussed this event in connection with his chapter in New Testament History, Culture, and Society: A Background to the Texts of the New Testament. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion). To start, Ludlow discussed what the First Jewish Revolt was: The First Jewish Revolt beginning in AD 66 was an attempt by the Jews in the Roman province of Judea to gain independence from Rome. Rome had dominated the region since 63 BC, mostly under vassal kings like Herod, but also directly with procurators and prefects. The revolt culminated in a siege on Jerusalem and the subsequent destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in AD 70. Some of the rebels held out, particularly at Masada until AD 73. . . . There were various factors that caused the Jewish Revolt. There was long-simmering animosity among the populace against the local vassal kings and elites who worked closely with Rome. This animosity fed the rise of Zealots who wanted to purge the land from foreign, corrupt influence and return greater control of religious traditions to their understanding of…

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 6: Voz de amonestación

The first two years of missionary work in central Mexico brought some long-standing successes, such as the conversion of Desideria Quintanar de Yáñez and her family, and some frustrating failures, as was the case with Plotino C. Rhodakanaty.

Book of Abraham Translation

When Joseph Smith used the word “translate”, it meant something different than what we usually think of as translating. The Book of Abraham is a very intriguing example of the process that, while it still has a lot of unknowns, does provide some insight into the process. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Stephen O. Smoot discussed the Book of Abraham translation. What follows here is a co-post (a shorter post with some excerpts and discussion).

Mormonism in Mexico, Part 5: Thanks to Plotino

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints post-WWII, the statement that a socialist and anarchist was largely responsible for initiating missionary work in the country that is home to the second-largest community of Latter-day Saints is unexpected. Yet, that is exactly what happened in Mexico thanks to Plotino Constantino Rhodakanaty and his associates.

Temples, Communication, and Covenants

Temple rituals form an important part of Latter-day Saints’ covenant relationship with God. A recently-released book by Jennifer C. Lane entitled Let’s Talk About Temples and Ritual delves into the importance of temple rituals. Lane has shared some of the insights she gained that are captured in that book in an interview with the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to that interview (with some related information from a second interview included as well).

Wilford Woodruff and Adoption Sealings

Wilford Woodruff was hugely important in the development of temple work as we understand it today. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint blog From the Desk, Jennifer Mackley (the executive director and CEO of the Wilford Woodruff Papers Foundation) discussed some of the influence that Presisent Woodruff had on temple work. The interview covers a lot of ground, so this co-post is going to zoom in on one specific aspect–Priesthood Adoption Sealings.