Author: Stephen C

Stephen Cranney is a Washington DC-based data scientist and Non-Resident Fellow at Baylor’s Institute for the Studies of Religion. He has produced seven children and almost 30 peer-reviewed articles. His research interests center on fertility intentions, sexuality, and the social psychology of religion.

From Whence Muhammad?

  Fun fact: One of the most prominent movies about the life of Muhammad (who, out of respect for Sunni Muslim sensitivities, is never actually shown onscreen) was produced and directed by Latter-day Saint Richard Rich, who has also done some Book of Mormon films, and whose aesthetic you might recognize from movies like the Swan Princess.   Muhammed occupies an interesting place in Latter-day Saint thought. On one hand, Joseph Smith was often compared to Muhammad in the 19th century, and there are a lot of points of similarity with the idea of a true faith being restored to an unlearned prophet visited by angelic messengers who was able to create an extensive work of religious literature (or oral recitation that eventually became literature in there case of Muhammad).   On the pro-Muhammad side, there a variety of GA quotes that make the case that Muhammad was inspired by God. Of course, the Church and Islam are theologically incompatible on various important points, so while interfaith dialogue, support, and outreach is important (I’ve been particularly moved by accounts of the Church offering meetinghouse space to Muslims), at the end of the day the two faiths are obviously not going to merge any time soon, so for a believing TBM Latter-day Saint to believe Muhammad was inspired would require also believing that there is some slippage between the historical Muhammad and what eventually became Islam. This is a valid perspective (and…

The Cosmological Grandeur of the Restored Gospel: Mining the Journal of Discourses

Worlds Without End in the style of Van Gogh How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, “This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?” Instead they say, “No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.” A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths. -Carl Sagan One of the unique characteristics of the restored gospel is the expansiveness of its cosmological vision. Traditional religion held a Ptolemaic worldview in terms of existential importance if not astronomical reality. This world was the creation that mattered, and all discoveries beyond its horizon landed in the realm of speculative theology, whereas almost from the beginning and long before infrared space telescopes the restored gospel preached a very fundamental premise that is radically distinct: this world and its inhabitants are only a small part of God’s creations. However, we were only ever given little precious glimpses into this broader scheme. Even the one line from the temple: “I have only been doing that which has been done on other worlds” has a sort of understated power. It’s said in passing, so quickly that you could miss it if you weren’t paying…

The Church in the Courts, 2024

The website “Court Listener” is a publicly available source for looking up cases around the country. By searching for the term “Latter-day” I looked for all cases involving the Church that were filed sometime during 2024. Of course, I am no lawyer (unlike By Common Consent, our bench is quite shallow on the legal side of things), so I uploaded the court PDFs to ChatGPT to explain the role of the Church in the respective case. I did not include one divorce case that was picked up or any case that simply cited a case that the Church was involved in. As seen, most of the Church’s involvement is with amicus briefs, or briefs filed by parties who are not directly involved in the case, but who want to make their perspective on the case known.   People In Interest of C.M.W.R., 22CA0925 (Colo. Ct. App. 2024) Colorado Court of Appeals In the case referenced, the role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) is central to the incident under examination. Here are the key points: Incident Location: The fire occurred at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Meetinghouse in Fruita, Colorado. Damage: The fire resulted in more than one million dollars in damage to the church building. Connection to the Juvenile: The juvenile, identified in the case as C.M.W.R., was arrested in connection with this fire and subsequently charged with criminal mischief, first-degree arson, and second-degree burglary. The…

The Latter-day Saint Homeschooling Conundrum

Latter-day Saint homeschooling families living outside the Mormon belt face a conundrum. For the uninitiated, many if not most homeschoolers actually do quite a bit of organized educational activities with other homeschoolers in what are called “homeschool co-ops.” Sometimes this is limited to activities while in other cases one of the parents will volunteer to teach. (So yes, contrary to popular stereotypes, homeschool kids do actually get quite a bit of socialization.) However, again outside of the Mormon Belt it seems that homeschool families basically fall into two camps: purple haired, hippie, atheist types or super religious, often fundamentalist protestant types who don’t want their kids to learn about evolution. (And yes, there are others, but I’m slightly exaggerating for effect here).  In some areas there aren’t enough homeschoolers to allow differentiation, and people simply can’t afford to be picky; this was the case when we lived in Texas, and it leads to some fun circumstances where the purple haired atheist kids play with the fundamentalists.  However, in places where there is a critical mass of homeschoolers they tend to differentiate.  And in these cases the Latter-day Saint families tend to join the secular homeschoolers, because the religious ones often require one of those faith statements that we Latter-day Saints are adept at legalistically parsing to see if we can in fact sign them in good faith. Of course, often the faith statement has some kind of trinitarian, creedal formula,…

How Literally Do Members Take the Church’s Truth Claims?

Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  Occasionally in Latter-day Saint discourse people that have lost their testimonies of the Church’s truth claims float the idea that perhaps they could salvage their belief in the Church if it was made to be more allegorical and less literal. At the outset we admit our own perspective that, while we respect people’s different beliefs and ways of making the Church work for them, this wouldn’t really work at scale, and that for the Church to actual continuing functioning as a living, breathing, growing faith, and not just a cultural relic of a bygone sociocultural movement of a kind of “descendents of the Mormon pioneers” lineage-based service organization, it has to not only hold to its literal truth claims, but to actively promote and defend them. The Community of Christ, for example, does not have a position on the historicity of the Book of Mormon (or of many historical questions in general). The ambivalence of leadership towards actively promoting literal truth claims is undoubtedly sensed by the membership, who follow suit. (And as an aside, contrary to widespread missionary folklore, they did not “renounce” the Book of Mormon to be accepted by mainstream Protestants.) Of course, how common the…

Religious Studies Graduate Programs are Pyramid Schemes. Just Say No.

Blind leading the blind I’m not saying that religious studies folks are blind to things that matter, I just thought it was a good depiction of the religious studies treadmill in general, and I kind of just like the picture.  I have one of those Facebook friends who I’ve only met briefly once in real life (at Sunstone), but with whom I’ve had enough Facebook interactions with that it’s like we know each other in person.  I’ve been privy to a tragic trajectory of his career that I’m seeing as becoming all too typical. He enjoys researching and talking about religion, so he bought the “pursue your passion” line that was ubiquitous in our generation, got a PhD in Mormon Studies (more or less, I don’t know the exact degree title) at Claremont (not afraid to say it out loud, they’re one of the worst offenders), and then gradually realized after the umpteenth rejection that, when people make it sound like the Mormon Studies academic job market is “tough,” as if with a little positive thinking and grit you can still get that job, what they should have said is that it is “non-existent.” He has since had to restart his professional life and seek retraining in middle age.  Outside of BYU or the Church Office Building, I can only think of a handful of people who are full-time “Mormon Studies” scholars: Deidre Green at Berkeley, Patrick Mason at Utah…

An Anonymous BYU Honor Code Office Experience

An Anonymous Account of an Experience with the Honor Code Office at BYU and its Aftermath that was Submitted to T&S as a Guest Post.   Surprisingly, after the initial rush of dread the first feeling after seeing the pop-up message on the screen was one of relief. I had been caught, would be reported to the honor code office, and was told to log off immediately.  It started very subtly. As a newlywed I had a basic curiosity about this new world of sexuality that I had just entered into, and that was the hook which led to me watching YouTube videos that I should not have been watching. I could typically find a little corner in the BYU computer lab against a wall. At first I tried to find some plausible deniability in what I was typing in the search bar, but as the hunger and risk taking grew there was little of that left. And besides, I had been doing it for a while now, if they were actively monitoring me, surely I would have been caught by now? (Many years later I found myself on BYU campus for the first time in a long time, and noticed that the computer labs had signs warning users that they were being monitored. “Now you tell me,” I thought).  We had just moved wards so my initial introduction to my new bishop was a little awkward. (Hi, I’m emailing…

My “Sacred Envy” List

“Sacred Envy” is the well-known idea (at least in Latter-day Saint circles) of having the humility to recognize some positive attributes of other faiths, so I thought I would make my “sacred envy” list.  To be clear, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my faith because I think it is the best and it is what it claims to be, to speak rather bluntly. It’s not my faith because of inertia or because I feel some kind of sociocultural connection. Still, I’m open to recognizing places where other faiths get it right, even if in recognizing these points I’m not necessarily saying that I think we should adapt the same. Buddhism, Jainism, or other religions based around ahimsa or non-violence: While most Western faiths have some history of religious/ethnic entrepreneurs using religion as a justification for violence, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that that’s quite rare in faiths based on ahimsa, or non-violence towards living things. If you’re part of a faith that covers your drinking water in a cloth so that you don’t inadvertently hurt insects, or who doesn’t engage in farming because it might hurt some worms, you’re probably not going to be burning people alive in the name of your faith, no matter how creative the exegesis. They simply don’t have the seeds for religious violence in their theology.  Of course, combined with other things (e.g. Buddhism in militaristic,…

Addressing One Part of the Female Ordination Question

And yes, if women ever receive the priesthood I’m sure it will also be given to sisters with extra fingers.  Female ordination is one of those issues that is built on so many premises that are themselves so potentially polemical that it would take a ten-part series to walk a true believer and a true non-believer through every point of fundamental disagreement about gender roles, gender essentialism, etc. Consequently, I’m not going to try to digest the whole issue here. Rather, I want to address a particular line one sometimes hears in regards to this issue without claiming to holistically tackle the entirety of the female ordination debate.  A common narrative goes something like this: A woman, maybe the woman herself or the daughter of the person speaking, recognizes that, unlike in the Church, women in the workforce sometimes have ultimate, autonomous, organizational authority. [Although, sidebar, I think in practice this actually happens less outside the Church than such interlocutors imply, but that’s another issue].   She recognizes that there’s no equivalent in the Church.  Therefore, because she wants to “BE SOMEBODY” and do something grand with her life, she’s going to leave the Mormon space where there are limits to her organizational power by dint of her chromosomes.  Often this argument then goes into the old motherhood-versus-careerism, whether women can in fact have it all, whether we truly value motherhood, etc. but these are third rails I’m not touching…

Christ-Like Living According to “The Godfather”

In the Godfather Part III (I know, I know), in response to his protege threatening to knock off a competitor, Mafia don Michael Corleone quips “never hate your enemies, it affects your judgment.”  This is a common theme throughout the Godfather series, also embedded in the (in)famous “it’s not personal, strictly business” line. The cold-hearted calculation for self-interest that requires people to put personal or petty grudges on the side. Incidentally, this is a theme in the book too. For example, the scene where the pedophile/movie producer–his pedophilia is hinted at in the movie but is much more explicit in the book–loses his temper with Tom Hagan is accompanied by an internal monologue where Hagan is stunned that somebody so accomplished would let his emotional desire for vengeance drive his actions.    You see this in politics, diplomacy, business, and other high-stakes games where people who would otherwise hate each other are willing to turn and collaborate on a dime if it’s in their own self-interest. On the opposite extreme, I’ve seen people in the professional world burn all their bridges down because they could not get in control of their personal spite, and one’s ability to be the former and not the latter is a sign of mature emotional regulation. You just don’t pick fights or make enemies unless you have to, because antagonists can hurt you later down the road, sometimes in unpredictable ways. I remember seeing an interview…

My Spirituality Stack

I’m a sucker for those lifestyle influencers that show off their green smoothie stacks. Even though I know that 99% of supplements are scams that don’t pass the double blind, RCT standard, at the very least it’s still health-motivating to see somebody cram a bunch of greens into a blender (although, to save you time, the only health/muscle/workout supplement that is really worth the cost if you’re already eating your fruits and veges is creatine). Similarly, I’d love to see somebody put together a sort of collation of spiritual “stacks” of spiritually powerful people, including but not exclusively Church leaders. I suspect they would shy away from this kind of thing because beyond the basics of prayer, fasting, and scripture study it’s highly individual, and people might take a particular individual’s personal routine as gospel, but I don’t think there’s any risk of that coming from me, so… My personal spiritual “stack” Prayer at night: My Mission President told us a story about how his MP would require that they set a timer to pray for five minutes every night, and how he thought it was dumb thing to require, but that when he actually tried it and realized that when you have five minutes you have to use, it helps you sit and center your thoughts and not feel any kind of rush. So he did not require us to do the five minute timer, but strongly suggested it,…

How Do Members Explain the Priesthood and Temple Ban?

Black man ordaining another Black man in the style of African folk art Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  The provenance and maintenance of the priesthood and temple ban against Black Latter-day Saints is one of the more if not the most sensitive subjects in the modern Church. Of particular sensitivity is the question of whether the ban was inspired or not and, if not, why it took as long as it did to rescind it. Both David O. McKay and Harold B. Lee were reported to have sought revelation to remove the restriction, but were told that it was not time. Although the Church published an essay in 2013 that condemned past and present racism and disavowed theories of the past, it did not make a statement as to whether or not the restriction was inspired by God.  We suspected that this question of the priesthood ban still divides the membership, with a lot of members on one side or the other. Because of its complexity, we could have asked myriad questions on race in the survey: how many members believe in the “Curse of Cain?” How many members think that Joseph Smith started the ban? How many members think that Black people were…

Cutting-Edge Latter-day Saint Research, April 2024

Apologies for the length in advance. A lot of people had things to say about the Church and its members this month! Carr, Ellen Melton. “Fountains of Living Waters: How Early Mormon Irrigation Innovated the Legal Landscape of the West.” Oil and Gas, Natural Resources, and Energy Journal 9, no. 3 (2024): 361. There was no abstract, so I uploaded the PDF to GPT-4 and asked it to make a summary.  

Temple Architecture and Local, Native Styles

Longtime readers may recall that I started to do a series on “temple architectural heritages” a while ago. I eventually aborted it since the subject was too big and unwieldy. Still, I’m looking forward to the day when somebody puts together a glossy coffee table book with not just pretty pictures, but also the architectural history and insights of all the different temple designs. (Although the excellent website churchofjesuschristtemples.org/ is close).  Still, I thought as a sort of coda to that enterprise I would provide a list of temples that, in my opinion, do a good job of incorporating unique, local styles into the general Latter-day Saint temple ur-style instead of using a standardized plan that’s been done a thousand times already.  This list is not comprehensive, and I’m sure I’ve missed some.  Japan, Sapporo This recent addition to the Japanese landscape boasts a Zen Garden inside.  Mexico, Mexico City Made in the Maya Revival style that includes Mayan and Aztec elements, so it kind of looks like an ancient Mesoamerican temple.   Bangkok, Thailand “The design of the Bangkok Thailand Temple follows the patterns and colors found within Thai architecture. Many of these patterns overlay various diamond shapes with lotus flower elements and a herringbone pattern, evoking the weaved palms used in traditional arts and goods.” Madrid, Spain  Mediterranean-looking vases in front and Arabesque diamond-patterned screens that are redolent of the Muslim-Spanish architecture.  Rome, Italy According to Wikipedia patterned…

My Mansplaining About Modesty

There are few issues in the Church as touchy as modesty. Every society has their lines for what is considered in poor taste on the revealing side or conversely too demure in the other direction, while the Church is consistently a few clicks to one direction on that continuum, making this one of those issues that puts us at slight tension with the background environment, even though the tension here is minor compared to, say, our exotic family forms of yore. A common response about our slightly more restrictive norms is to smirk about the difference between the Church and broader society. “Oh, those silly uptight conservatives.”  Ironically, this attitude is a mirror image of the conservatives that think that modesty lines are eternally drawn by God across time and space. However, in this case instead of acknowledging, respecting and contextualizing cultural differences like one would if they were, say, in an Amish community or a Muslim holy site, the sort of chiding about Latter-day Saint differences (typically by members themselves) ironically kind of presupposes that the metaphysical ideal written in the sky for the balance between too little and too much modesty happens to be right where 2024 America is. “Appropriateness” is by definition relative. Virtually all non-hunter gatherer cultures would find somebody walking down the street completely naked a little jarring (even if legal), and unless you’re fine with that then you too have your lines in the sand,…

How Often Do Members Pray?

  Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here. How often do members pray? This is one of those standard questions that are in most religion surveys and many generalist surveys. Still, the problem with virtually all such surveys is that the Latter-day Saint sample is too small to derive reliable estimates from. However, the Cooperative Election Study is one of the few surveys that has both a prayer question, an affiliation question, and a large enough sample overall that even the Latter-day Saint subset is pretty big (relatively speaking, N=706). This sample was used in this piece for the Deseret News on how people who don’t go to Church much also don’t pray much.  By comparing our results with the CES’ we can be even more sure of our estimates since it’s essentially a “in the mouths of two or three surveys” situation. So what do the numbers say?  First, the questions are worded somewhat differently, and this can be important:  CES: People practice their religion in different ways. Outside of attending religious services, how often do you pray? 2023CFLDS: About how often do you pray alone?  Also, as seen below, the response options are different, and some of the categories that sort of fit together…

The Going-Back-On-The-Mission Dream

Anecdotally, a common recurring dream among members (and a lot of ex-members) is the classic “return-to-the-mission,” where somebody is called to be a missionary again in middle age.  Dream interpretation can be irresistible to conjecture about, but any particular interpretation is ultimately non-falsifiable. While it makes sense that that particular dream is manifesting some Freudian, deep-seated anxiety our current psychometric tools are way too blunt to test anything. It’s so widespread I suspect the return-to-the-mission dream means something psychologically, but I don’t know what.   In my own version, the primary feeling is one of inconvenience and anxiety. I’m in the middle of life and I’m told I have to drop everything to go back to my old field of Eastern Spain. While in my non-dream, real world mission I did in fact serve the full 24 months (not that I would be ashamed if I didn’t), in the dream the rationale is often so that I can finish a complete 2 year term that I terminated early, and I’m thrown back into the field with a bunch of 19-year olds for a few transfers. Another feeling is one of moroseness; I was super excited to leave the mission and move on with the next steps in life, and returning to the field felt like a step backward.  Makes me think about what it would be like if it was like the old days and I was companions with Bob from…

“Stop Crying and Get Up”

Many years ago I retreated to Rock Canyon just above the Provo temple to pray about something I was stressed out about that, in my adolescent universe, was a big screaming deal. I retired to the beautiful night-time scenery of the Utah Valley lights twinkling below in the twilight fully expecting some kind of comforting spiritual atta-boy shoulder rub, and if all responses to prayers are really just psychological wish fulfillment as some say, that is probably exactly what I would have gotten with enough time and energy.  Instead I got something along the lines of “stop crying, and get up,” and felt a clear rebuke. Not at all what I was expecting.   There is a strand of academic research that looks at what is called “God imagery,” or how we perceive and view God, whether he is, for example, a judge, or a friend, or a father figure. The answer, of course, is all of the above. One of my favorite Joseph Smith quotes is that  Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings, than we are ready to believe or receive; and, at the same time, is more terrible to the workers of iniquity, more awful in the executions of His punishments, and more ready to detect every false way, than we are apt to suppose Him to be. He can thread that needle in ways that are very difficult…

How Many Members Support Same-Sex Sealings? Insights from the B.H. Roberts Foundation’s Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey

Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  Polling data shows that a majority of Utahns support same-sex marriage (although, and we hope this goes without saying at this point, that does not mean that a majority of members do). Occasionally people grab onto these datum to suggest that a sea change is afoot on LGBTQ issues in the Church; some versions of this narrative imply that young people are less heteronormative, so that cohort replacement will eventually lead to the Church shifting. (Although, anecdotally, we see less of that argument now than, say, 10 years ago).  However, support for government recognitions of same-sex marriage is distinct from religious recognition of same-sex marriage. As noted in this article from the Deseret News, the number of people who attend non-heteronormative churches is quite small. While some may see LGBTQ issues as a dichotomy between allies and bigots, that neglects a lot of variation on the continuum of heteronormativity.  So as part of the 2023 Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey we asked members what they think about religious solemnization of same-sex marriages. Ultimately, the Church being fully non-heternormative would entail same-sex marital sealings in temples. So we asked: “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)…

We’ve Become Boring

I was playing around with Google Ngram viewer, a tool that allows you to see the relative frequency of words across time in books, and came across the fact that we’re actually much less interesting in the year 2024 than we used to be. While it seems like the gentiles have this prurient preoccupation with our housewives, swingers, soaking (not a thing, for the umpteenth time), and baptisms for the dead, this probably doesn’t hold a candle to the old days when we were committing murders that Sherlock Holmes had to solve, or kidnapping the fair maidens of Britannia for our Intermountain West seraglios. We’re probably not as click-baitey as we used to be, and It’s good to keep things in perspective.

AI and Gospel Music, and a Public Service Announcement

Note: None of this is an April Fool’s Joke, it just happens to be the day we had a spot available in the queue. So far the three main AI use cases that have achieved liftoff are Large Language Models, text-to-image, and translation (Supposedly OpenAI has achieved text-to-video that is so good that multimillion dollar movie production investments are being cancelled. Still, for some reason Open AI has not actually released “Sora” to the public, so until we can play around with it it’s hard to know what to make of the hype).  However, text-to-music has just had its breakout moment. Previous AI-generated music was short and consisted of a series of extremely formulaic pastiches, but this latest model by Suno has achieved breakout, and AI junkies have spent the better part of this week making Viking saga songs about their cats.  Being a non-music junkie, I feel like 90% of the music content put out by stars basically sounds the same, with 10% of them being the mind worm hits that we all know. My take is that Suno is pretty good at generating the 90% in the style you want. In principle it’s not supposed to let you replicate styles based on particular musicians, but evidently it’s pretty easy to get past the safeguards.  So what does this mean vis-a-vis the Church? The people I’ve seen trying it out in Latter-day Saint land haven’t had the greatest luck…

Does Humanity Deserve Hell?

Scene from Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” I’m not much of a theologian. Some of this is part Joseph Smith saying that if you stared into heaven for five minutes you would know more than has ever been said on the subject, and some of it is Aquinas’ cryptic comment near the end of his life after some sort of numinous experience that all of his work was straw. It also just seems very convenient for intellectual types that God’s system lends itself to the kind of puzzles and mind games that they find interesting. But I can speak from my gut, and sometimes what makes sense intuitively is at variance with what theologians say, with a prime case of this being Julian of Eclanum’s response to Augustine (that I discuss in another post) that his conclusion that unbaptized babies are burning in hell “is beneath argument.” He doesn’t try to systematically challenge Augustine’s arguments based on shared premises or scriptures, but simply points out that the idea of ridiculous on the face of it regardless of his reasons. Similarly, another notion that never sat well with me is the idea that our default as humanity without the divinity of the atonement and God’s grace is hell, that we’re inherently so depraved that we all “deserve” to be tortured for eternity, consigned to outer darkness, or what have you. It reminds me of a famous/infamous…

Latter-day Saint AI Art Group

I’m going to take advantage of blogger privilege to announce a Facebook group I’m starting for Latter-day Saint AI artists creating gospel-themed content to coordinate, showcase their work, and collaborate. I follow a number of AI art groups on Facebook that serious artists and graphic designers frequent, and people with an artist’s training and eye, combined with AI, have the potential to produce genuinely good art at scale that makes my amateur hour pieces I sometimes drop here pale in comparison. Of course, as these are secular groups, a lot of the subject-matter revolves around superheroes and other silliness (no offense), and some of them are outright softcore porn, but the same skills and technology have the potential to revolutionize the creation of moving, gospel-oriented pieces. Because it democratizes and expedites the art production process, AI has the potential to drastically expand the variety and volume of quality gospel art. Whereas before we had the same several dozen or so scenes, themes, and styles; now, in the right hands we can produce exponentially more variation across virtually any Church history, gospel, doctrinal, or scriptural theme. In my experience as a lurker in this world, the people that have the artistic know-how to know the difference between, say, a 1970s camera style and a 1980s camera style, or what an alcoholic paint looks like, for example, are typically the ones who, combined with some promptology, can produce masterpieces. Of course, beginners…

How Big is Joseph Smith Polygamy Denialism in the Church? Insights from the B.H. Roberts Foundation’s Current and Former Latter-day Saint Survey

Stephen Cranney and Josh Coates This is one of a series of posts discussing results from a recent survey of current and former Latter-day Saints conducted by the BH Roberts Foundation. The technical details are in the full methodology report here.  The people who do believe that Joseph Smith did not practice polygamy fall into two camps. The first is those who simply do not know. Presumably because the practice wasn’t public until Brigham Young’s day, and because the Nauvoo practice is much more sparsely documented, Brigham Young, and not Joseph Smith, became the icon of polygamy. Although people more familiar with official Church history (or even a careful reading of D&C 132) would have also known about Joseph Smith’s plural wives, anecdotally there are cases of people simply not being aware because the emphasis was always on the better documented Utah-era polygamy. (And although the 20th century Church did not emphasize Joseph’s plural marriages, the Church did not hide it; and in the late 19th century it went out of its way to gather invaluable primary source, first-hand evidence of his plural marriages and publicize them in order to stick it to the RLDS during the Temple Lot trial.) And so while the Church is publishing more content on Joseph Smith’s plural marriages (and there’s just more content available now overall, with perhaps the summum of this being Brian Hales’ and Don Bradley’s excellent multi-volume work and website on…

Transportation of Car-Less Members, Giving Rides, and Jesus Vans

Yes, I know, the “Jesus” in the bottom-right hand corner has a t, at the end, but still, it’s almost there.  I typically like to avoid making too many posts that take the form of  “what I think the Church should do,” in part because the gospel of the almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, is so much bigger than this or that policy from North Temple Street; also, a lot of my thoughts on that topic have typically already been said by others in some place or another, sometimes more elegantly than I could have, so I don’t have a lot to add.   Still, occasionally something comes up where I haven’t seen much discussion and I might have something unique to add, so here I’m discussing–Jesus Vans.  If you live in a more urban area with a lot of churches you’ll see these zipping around on Sunday to pick up parishioners (I get the sense that Korean Christian churches have a lot of these, but that’s just anecdotal). Also if you have been a member in a high-needs, urban area you know that transportation is the bane of the Church’s existence in those places. Many of the members are immigrants that do not have their own vehicles. If you’re lucky your urban area has good transportation (e.g. my ward in Philadelphia), and if not they don’t (e.g. my current ward outside of DC).  I’m convinced that for high…

BYU is # 1 in the Nation for Number of Foreign Languages Offered–By Far

Fellow blogger Jonathan and I were talking on the back-end about Modern Language Association statistics (as one does in the bloggernacle), and he drew my attention to a dataset kept by the MLA that records the different foreign language classes taught in the US, so I ran some simple summary statistics to see where BYU ranked in terms of how many languages they offered in 2021 (see charts at the end). While I always knew that BYU was a foreign language powerhouse because of the missionary angle, I was still surprised by what I saw. BYU is not only one of the top universities for diversity of language offerings, it is the top university. And not only is it the top university, but #2 (Harvard) is a quite distant #2. Heck, BYU offers classes in Kiribati a Pacific Island language with 120,000 speakers. As long as BYU is run by a more traditional religious organization it is probably never going to be the top place for the more ideologically loaded metrics and fields, but there are more objective, less ideologically loaded metrics that BYU can dominate in, and foreign language offerings is one of those. Number of Unique Languages Offered by University University # Distinct Languages Offered BRIGHAM YOUNG U (UT) 96 HARVARD U 78 U OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY 59 CORNELL U (NY) 58 U OF WASHINGTON 58 INDIANA U, BLOOMINGTON 57 U OF PENNSYLVANIA 53 U OF GEORGIA 52 STANFORD U 51 U OF CHICAGO 51 COLUMBIA U (NY) 50 U OF CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES 49 U OF MICHIGAN, ANN ARBOR 48 YALE U 45 U OF WISCONSIN, MADISON 44 NEW YORK U 41 U OF MINNESOTA, TWIN CITIES 41…

The Church as the Knights Templar and #MakeItATrillion

I tried to get it to show a missionary swimming in a pool of coins like Scrooge McDuck, but it wouldn’t let me produce images that it deemed to be satirical of religious beliefs. Once upon a time there was a devout, hard-working, highly efficient religious organization that started stockpiling and investing money for the glory of God. Because of their business acumen and scrupulosity, the pile grew fabulously large until… King Phillip (the French King in Braveheart) and the Pope collaborated to steal their money and had the leaders arrested, tortured, and executed.  Given the title of this post, you can see where I’m going with this. Now, I don’t think the Church leaders will get burned at the stake or arrested, but it’s a truism that the larger the amount of money you have the bigger the target you have on your back for people to just take your money. Because you really can buy (almost) everything in this world with money and money can make people weird and unscrupulous, with the unscrupulousity increasing with the amount of money at stake.  It’s why super rich people have bodyguards and have to deal with a constant stream of lawsuits and bad-faith friends and relatives (and why I’m okay with Church security being more than a guy with a radio outside President Nelson’s apartment). For the Church I don’t know what the actual mechanism might be, maybe some out of…

Griping about Church Leaders and Policies in Front of My Kids

Griping about religion First of all, I don’t have a lot to gripe about when it comes to the Church or its leaders. This isn’t a holier-than-thou attitude, I’m sure that if I looked hard enough I’d find plenty with an organization as large and with as many moving pieces as the Church, just that with all the demands for my big family I’m saving my gripe energy for the elite charter school that wantonly discriminates against homeschool applicants (ahem). Plus on a local level my bishopric probably puts in 20+ hours of uncompensated work every week, largely to help my children’s religious formation, so I have no desire to look the gift horse in the mouth.  Still, of course, sometimes things come up. I don’t really work for the Church in any significant capacity and I’m engaged with it of my own free will and choice; If they want me to drive out an hour to undergo a multi-hour training that would completely wipe out my precious and rare weekend time with my family, I just tell them no. If Elder so-and-so only seems capable of speaking in cliches, platitudes, and quotes from his superiors I’ll internally roll my eyes and maybe mention something to my wife but will move on; the little gripes are more of an intellectual exercise than anything at this point, and they don’t really affect me personally if I don’t let them.  Still, kids pay…