Thoughts today are with John and his family.
Author: Kaimi Wenger
Kaimi is a fellow who blogs every now and again, usually when he should be working.
General Conference is the central forum for official instruction in Mormon doctrine. Conference has very wide viewership among church members, and its influence is magnified by the widespread reach of Conference talks in the Ensign. The last General Conference in which Kolob was mentioned — the star where God lives — was in 1969. In 1969, President McKay briefly alluded to the idea of Kolob as an actual belief: Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints always have known through revelation of the numberless creations of God. They are taught that somewhere out in that great expanse of space is the great star Kolob that we sing about in the hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob.” Abraham of old was shown in vision these kingdoms, and he said: “And I saw the stars, that they were very great, and that one of them was nearest unto the throne of God; and there were many great ones which were near unto it; “And the Lord said unto me: These are the governing ones; and the name of the great one is Kolob, because it is near unto me, for I am the Lord thy God: I have set this one to govern all those which belong to the same order as that upon which thou standest” (Abr. 3:2-3). The idea shows up in a few other conference talks from the 1960s. For instance, Church Patriarch Eldred G.…
A House of Order? Serious Problems of Notice in Kate Kelly Excommunication
The disciplinary council for Sister Kate Kelly met yesterday. Today, the council announced that they had decided to excommunicate her, for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.” This result is very troubling. I have serious doubts about the substantive result here. I will set them aside for this post and instead focus on an important procedural matter: Sister Kelly was never informed that she was to be tried for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church,” was never given a chance to defend herself from that charge, and was ultimately excommunicated for an offense to which she had no way of responding. This is astounding. As noted on her website and in the media, Sister Kelly was informed by e-mail, on June 8th, that the bishopric was considering church discipline “on grounds of apostasy.” In response, she submitted a letter explaining that she had not committed apostasy. This was necessary as the court was scheduled after she had left the state, so she could not attend in person. In addition, Nadine Hansen wrote an excellent brief, examining the question in detail and concluding that Sister Kelly did not commit “apostasy” as defined in the church handbook. The brief may have been persuasive, since the bishopric did not in fact find Sister Kelly guilty of apostasy. However, they ruled that she should be excommunicated for “conduct contrary to the laws and order of the…
Will No One Rid Me of This Turbulent Priest?
“Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?” According to popular tradition, this is the line that King Henry II blurted out after repeated disagreements with Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury. (There are several variations, such as “who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) Four of Henry’s knights interpreted this as a royal command and set off for Canterbury, where they slew Becket while he prayed at the altar. How should we understand the knights’ actions? Should we view them as following orders, or as acting on their own initiative? There are multiple possible interpretations. For instance, if we take an approach that “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same,” we might attribute the knights’ actions to Henry, whose actions set the events in motion. However, an official press release states that all decisions were made by local knights and not directed or coordinated by King Henry. And who are we to question an official press release? == EDIT: A few folks have asked for clarification. So, let’s clarify what I’m saying, and not saying, in this post. First, as hopefully an obvious point, I don’t think that church leaders are murderers. I’m making a historical comparison to elements of the history of Henry, but that doesn’t include the entire history. We can (and regularly do) compare people with historical figures without including all aspects of the figure in…
When Civil Disobedience Isn’t
(Disobedient, that is.) As you may have noticed, the recent discussions about Ordain Women and related projects such as Wear Pants to Church Day have generated a complicated set of responses, many of them very critical. We saw critics labeling these women apostates or “dumb feminist bitches.” A few outliers even threatened violence against organizers. These harsh reactions start from a baseline that women who want to wear pants to church, or attend General Priesthood Meeting, or even (gasp) be ordained to the Priesthood, are obviously disobeying a core gospel principle, by disagreeing with existing church policy and culture. They are sometimes cast as protesters taking a stand through civil disobedience, in a way that violates Mormon norms. But is disagreement really wrong? Is this really disobedience? There is of course a great tradition of Civil Disobedience in Civil Rights activism, and it has generally involved public rulebreaking. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks clearly broke laws. And these were invidious and evil laws, absolutely; but it was also clear that sitting at that Woolworth’s counter or that bus seat meant breaking a law. Hence the name, civil disobedience. But the women of PANTS were not actually breaking any rules. It was not Rob-a-Bank Day, or even Drink a Latte Day. It was Wear Pants Day, and pants are allowed! How crazy is it that these women endured a massive outpouring of public abuse for doing something that doesn’t break…
The Desolation of Noah: An Unexpected Explanation
It seems like we’re being inundated with discussions about Noah lately. A major motion picture is set to discuss the tale of Noah and the Ark — but the picture will also include an unusual disclaimer stating that it shouldn’t be seen as the real Noah story. Meanwhile, the Noah story itself faces a rising tide of criticism, with Bill Nye (the Science Guy) publicly ridiculing the story on national television. In response to that wave of criticism, some writers have floated defenses of the Noah account. For instance, at Meridian Magazine, writer Ronald Millett gives an in-depth discussion of how the Noah account can be reconciled with science — and therefore, how its critics are all wet. Given the extent to which the discussion has made a splash, I thought I might dip in a toe as well. Ahem. So. Millett is, of course, on the right track. Obviously the Noah account is real; and obviously as well, there are significant gaps between the stated account and the understandings of modern science. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to find a way to reconcile the two. And Millett makes several suggestions that show the work he put in to the reconciliation. He notes that miracles, by definition, are not scientific. He notes that the Bible contains a lot of accounts of physically improbable events, such as manna. And finally, he suggests a variety of answers to specific criticisms. For…
Gay : Marriage :: Mormon : Christian
A Play in One Act Heber: . . . and that’s why we should all recognize that Mormons are Christians. Aquinas: Whoa, whoa. I understand your enthusiasm. The label of Christian is really valuable. But it also has a set definition. And I don’t think Mormons are in that definition. Heber: Why not? We believe in Jesus, don’t we? Christianity is defined by one thing: Belief in Jesus. Aquinas: That’s where you’re wrong. In fact, there’s a lot more to Christianity than belief in Jesus. Throughout human history, the word “Christian” has included a complicated package of additional, interrelated ideas. There is the Nicene creed, the Trinity, and a variety of other beliefs. And no entity satisfies that particular combination except for mainline Christians. Heber: But those are peripheral, cultural, possibly wrong. And when you look at it, even those have changed repeatedly over the years. Aquinas: Yes, there has been some shifting over time. But the label has always included some basic attributes, beyond simply a belief in Jesus. The Trinity, for instance. Heber: And, who exactly defines it that way? Aquinas: The Christian community! Heber: You mean, people who are satisfied with the existing system? Isn’t that a little self-interested? Aquinas: It’s no more self-interested than your group seeking social validation by trying to glom on to an existing, respected label. This illustrates my point. Part of the value of these terms is that they don’t just include…
Good news for Gene Schaerr
As reported by outlets including Above the Law, well-known LDS attorney Gene Schaerr is leaving his law firm for a new post at the State of Utah. His departure e-mail describes his new role as “defending the constitutionality of traditional marriage.” This certainly seems like a worthwhile endeavor. It would be terrible if male-female marriage (which is often described as “traditional marriage”) were found unconstitutional, barring straight folks from marrying. I have good news, though. A careful perusal of the Kitchen v. Herbert opinion reveals that male-female marriage remains completely constitutional in Utah. In fact, based on anecdotal reports, male-female marriages are still taking place in Utah, even after Judge Shelby’s court ruling, and apparently without triggering any constitutional crisis. It looks like traditional marriage is still constitutional in Utah. And since that’s the case, I guess we can all go home now. (Image: Wikicommons.)
The Heavenly Family: A Proclamation
ALL HUMAN BEINGS—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of Heavenly Parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose. Heavenly Father and Mother have a solemn responsibility to love and care for each other and for their children. Heavenly Parents have a sacred duty to rear their children in love and righteousness, to provide for their physical and spiritual needs, and to teach them to love and serve one another, observe the commandments of God, and be law-abiding citizens wherever they live. Heavenly Father and Mother will be held accountable for the discharge of these obligations. Children of God are entitled to be reared by Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Heavenly Father is to preside over their families in love and righteousness and provide the necessities of life and protection. Heavenly Mother is primarily responsible for the nurture of Her children. In these sacred responsibilities, Heavenly Father and Mother are obligated to help one another as equal partners. == Do you believe that this is true? Why or why not? Refs: The Family: A Proclamation to the World.
Gay Polygamy in Utah!
By now you’ve heard the news. A federal judge in Utah just ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. This follow on last week’s ruling, from a different judge, that portions of Utah’s polygamy statute were also unconstitutional. What does it mean? Obviously, it means the advent of gay polygamy!! It won’t stop until everyone is married to everyone else, in one giant gay-polygamous-mega-wedding. Let the festivities begin! Okay, maybe not. Let’s go through the rulings, piece by piece, to see what they say, and what their effects may be.
The Glory of God is (Not-Too-Much) Intelligence
In a recent facebook thread (sparked by this post at Patheos), commenters have been talking about intellect and Mormonism. That conversation helped crystallize some thoughts that have been percolating in my mind for a while, about how the LDS community has a complicated and sometimes conflicted discourse about the importance of intelligence, intellect, and education — and some of the interesting ways in which that tension plays out. On the one hand, there is a significant strand of LDS thought that puts extremely high value on intelligence. The paradigmatic statement here, of course, is that “the glory of God is intelligence.” There’s a whole lot more like it. D&C 93 is a paean to intelligence; D&C 130 arguably even more so; and there’s a lot of additional support in places like D&C 88. These are more than just the traditional Christian view on education (which has sometimes been supportive), they are uniquely LDS angles. (I’d argue that the LDS retelling of the Garden of Eden — as a particular and uniquely Mormon kind of fortunate fall — also puts knowledge in a central place.) Beyond that, there’s a lot of LDS history that emphasizes the importance of learning. You get the School of the Prophets and other examples of Joseph Smith striking out very early to set up intensive educational instruction among the Saints. You see early and significant investment in education in LDS settlements in Utah. And today, there’s…
Quick Reminder about Google Reader
Tonight at midnight, Google Reader will officially turn into a pumpkin. If you’ve been reading Times and Seasons (or any other blogs) with Google Reader, you should set up your transition before the end of the day today (if you haven’t already done so). There are a variety of popular alternatives available, and many of them have import-export features to help facilitate switching. And whatever your preferred method of information consumption, thanks for reading Times and Seasons!
The Gold Coin; or, how we should teach our youth about their worth
Object Lesson: The Gold Coin Supplies: Either a $1 coin (such as the recently issued gold coin) or a half-dollar coin. A small bag of dirt. A few miscellaneous objects, such as a pen or paper clip. Lesson: The teacher holds up the coin and asks the class, “What is this?” (Wait for the class to answer: It’s a coin.) “What is its value?” (Either a dollar or 50 cents, depending on the coin type.) Teacher drops the coin on the ground. Kicks it. Steps on it. Lifts up the coin again. “How much is it worth now?” It’s still worth a dollar, isn’t it? Teacher takes a pen or paper clip, and scratches the side of the coin. Covers it in dirt. Lifts it up. Asks again, “How much is it worth now?” It’s still worth a dollar. You are children of God with infinite value. You are worth an infinity of these coins. Please don’t forget this. Some other people may forget this at times, and they may even tell you that because of things that have happened to you, or decisions you may have made, that you have somehow become of less value than before. Those people are wrong. Nothing, nothing, can take away your infinite value as a child of God.
Can we can?
There’s a flurry of facebook posts flying today, based on discussions at right wing survival websites about an alleged decision by the LDS church to stop canning in the Eastern part of the United States, due to excessive government regulation. Has anyone heard about this? Can we still can?
An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign
I’ve just posted my article, ‘The Divine Institution of Marriage’: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign, to SSRN. The article is largely descriptive, setting out in some detail the church’s actions and statements relating to Proposition 8. It chronicles a significant amount of factual material that has not been discussed at all in the existing legal literature. It may be especially relevant to people who have an interest in Proposition 8, same-sex marriage issues, gay rights issues generally, or LDS church issues generally. The full abstract is as follows: “The Divine Institution of Marriage”: An Overview of LDS Involvement in the Proposition 8 Campaign The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS or Mormon church) was heavily involved in the passage of Proposition 8 in California in November 2008, which restricted marriages recognized under state law to those between a man and a woman (as construed by the California Supreme Court, it prospectively denied legal sanction for same-sex marriages while not interfering with such marriages previously recognized under state law). Church members participated in the Proposition 8 campaign a variety of ways, including extensive fundraising and various publicity efforts such as door-to-door get-out-the-word campaigns. Statements by the church and its leaders were a central part of the LDS Proposition 8 strategy. The church issued three official statements on Proposition 8, which combined theological and religious content with specific political, sociological, and legal claims. For instance,…
Established by Jesus Christ himself
In a recent news article discussing the Ordain Women community and its upcoming inaugural meeting, LDS church spokeswoman Jessica Moody stated that the male-only priesthood “was established by Jesus Christ himself and is not a decision to be made by those on Earth.” Of course, there may be a few questions about whether this statement is descriptively accurate, given those pesky Phoebe and Priscilla and Junia verses and whatnot. But let’s set those issues aside for a moment. Because theologically, it does make sense that we might want to follow Jesus’s example here. And factually, a few quirky anomalies aside, the Priesthood ordination pattern during Jesus Christ’s ministry is very, very clear: Jesus only ever ordained men. Jewish men. It’s very clear, folks. No women. And no Gentiles. Zero. And so if we want to follow the pattern set out during Christ’s ministry — well, I guess we ought to do the same. Of course this might be difficult news for some people to hear. For instance, some people might argue that there are important contributions which white men could make in the church, if they were eligible for ordination. Many white men are excellent organizers, and they might potentially serve as effectively as Jewish men. The same could be said for Black men, Latino men, women, and other people who are not-Jewish-men. In addition, critics might point out that white men, Black men, Latino men, women, and other ineligible…
A Very Short History of Gender and Participation at Times and Seasons
Times and Seasons began life, in November 2003, as an institution where men held all leadership and speaking positions. Really! There were four of us: Adam, Matt, Nate, and me; the first post was by Adam. And we men all felt very important in our roles as T&S bloggers. In fact, we felt so important that we added four more men to the group in quick succession: Greg, Gordon, Jim and Russell. You will note the distinct lack of women’s voices. It was a male-only Permabloggerhood, so to speak. Men and women are different, you know: Men blog, and women pinterest! It’s like two complementary shrubs with slightly different roles. Alas, our well-tended shrubbery came crashing to a halt when Kristine joined the group in February of 2004. And while Kristine eventually embarked for parts unknown, Julie and other women continued to brazenly seek — and receive! — ordination to the previously-all-male Permabloggerhood. Against all historical precedent, too. And as you can see, this shift has had nothing short of a devastating effect on male participation at T&S. Indeed, since that fateful day in 2004, the men of T&S have been forever silent.
I’m a Mormon, and I believe that women
. . . should be eligible for Priesthood ordination. So do these other lovely people. Please check out some of the profiles, if it’s a topic that interests you, or visit our facebook page for more discussion. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, and I know that reasonable people can disagree here. But I do think that one can very much believe in female ordination within the Mormon framework. It fits well into the narrative of ever-expanding Priesthood eligibility in LDS theology, I think (ever-expanding circles from Levites to Israelites to Gentiles, and finally to all men in 1978). It also fits well into many LDS ideas on gender — if men and women are fundamentally different as church leaders suggest, then men may not be able to adequately represent women’s interests. It meshes well with statements from LDS history, such as Joseph Smith’s prophecy that the Relief Society would be a “kingdom of priests.” It engages President Hinckley’s public suggestion that members interested in ordination should agitate a little. Heck, it even dovetails nicely with a Harvard study or two. But most importantly of all, it matters a lot to many LDS women about whom I care deeply. The relative invisibility of women in so many spheres causes great pain to many of our sisters. And I mourn with those who mourn; and it is for them that I look forward to the long-awaited day when every…
Jerks for Jesus?
Is it possible to be a jerk for Jesus? If someone believes that God’s laws prohibit women from wearing pants to church, should they physically threaten those women? Is that an act of righteous reprimand and belief, or as a very serious overstep? If an internet writer vigorously responds to harsh attacks from critics of the church, but these responses are often laced with incredibly foul misogyny, should other church members support or distance themselves from those remarks? What makes Mormons — normally among the nicest people on the planet — suddenly feel compelled to lash out with as much meanness and vitriol as they can muster towards women who are perceived as violating cultural norms? Can an excessive focus on boundary-policing result in less Christlike behavior? When somebody is convinced that God is speaking through their mouth, are they quicker to act like an ass? There’s more than one answer to these questions, pointing in crooked line. Love one another but hate your family. Turn the other cheek, but cast out money changers. Mock the idolator but don’t ridicule others. There is ample doctrinal foundation for a variety of approaches, and the statements and principles here can be bafflingly inconsistent — not unlike human behavior. So let’s ask again: Can somebody be a jerk for Jesus? Or are they ultimately just being a jerk? — Update: Brandt provides this invaluable visual aid:
Quirky Questions in Mormon Theology: Can there be an odd number of people in Heaven?
Well, if they’re Mormons, there will definitely be a number of odd people in Heaven! ::rimshot:: So, let’s see. There’s a popular LDS belief that only married couples get to Heaven. But is that really church doctrine? And could there be an odd number of people in Heaven? Sort of. Maybe. Ish. D&C 131 reads: 1 In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; 2 And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; 3 And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. 4 He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase. Does this mean, only paired, married couples in Heaven? Maybe. But it’s complicated. Let’s run through some ways in which an odd number of people could get to Heaven: 1. The possibility of a gender-specific rule. The D&C only says that men who aren’t sealed don’t-go to the highest degree. So maybe women who aren’t-sealed are eligible for the highest degree just fine. Of course, this might be an area where the male pronoun is meant to include both. But it might not. If church members believe that men and women have different sets of rules in lots of areas, why not here? 2. The possibility of celestial polygamy and/or polyandry. Yeah. We’ll just mention this one and…