Category: Latter-day Saint Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

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…

Nephite Succession Crisis

It was a coup (or divine providence) that Nephi and his brothers Jacob and Joseph were able to assert themselves as religious leaders in this new land, spiritually guiding thousands who were already in the Americas. Emerging as the political leaders of this large, mostly non-Jewish People of Nephi was trickier. Nephi’s inspired leadership, however, was a tour de force.

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,…

The original sins of Mormon blogging

If the discussions here and at sites like this one are sometimes less than satisfactory, it’s partly because of unstated conventions and informal norms that got started nearly two decades ago and that we’re often barely conscious of today. Two especially need to be rethought.

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…

Theology in Mosiah

One of my favorite sets of publications in recent years are the Brief theological introductions to the Book of Mormon. James E. Faulconer’s excellent contribution to the series is the volume focused on the Book of Mosiah. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Faulconer shared some of his insights related to this book. What follows here is a copost to the full interview (a shorter post with excerpts and some discussion).

“All Those Who Would Go with Me”

As the Lehites increasingly mingled with the locals, there eventually arose a division, accelerated upon the death of their patriarch Lehi. Part of Lehi’s family (led by Laman) was attracted to a hunting and gathering lifestyle. Likely, this way of life was common among the Native Americans they were interacting with in the Land of First Inheritance. Laman and his clique possibly saw this as the easier way to make a living and adopted the ways of the locals.

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…

Septuagint

When Jesus and the early Christians talked about the scriptures, they were using a version that is different from the manuscript basis of most English translations, including the King James Version that is so often used in Latter-day Saint circles. In a Hellenistic world, they relied on the Septuagint—a Greek translation of the Tanakh (Old Testament). In a recent post at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Philip Jenkins (professor of history at Baylor University) discussed more about the Septuagint. What follows here is a copost (a shorter post with some commentary).

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,…

Rethinking the OT Narrative

Christians expressed concerns about stories and divine commands in the Old Testament since early in Christian history. Setting aside Isaac and Abraham, things get so much worse with the conquest of Canaan and all the genocidal commands. Christians have long attempted to make sense of the contrast of the significant difference between the divine commands in the OT and NT: “the schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Galatians 3:24-27), allegory, Gnostics who said the OT God wasn’t the highest God but was the lower, problematic demiurge. I heard growing up that God gave the law as a result of the rebellion of the golden calf (sort of like DC 84:24-26 and Exodus 32:19 mixed together). I’ve heard the idea in Mormon circles of Jesus as Jehovah got a lot nicer after he lived on earth.

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…

Lehi’s Thanksgiving

I envision Lehi and his family encountering some curious native villagers near their initial landing beach in the Promised Land. I can imagine that the first Native Americans to see these strangers from the Middle East sailing to their shores in a vessel larger than any canoe may have viewed them as gods. From Christopher Columbus in the West Indies to Hernando Cortés riding into Montezuma’s Mexico, it was natural for the locals to view these otherworldly newcomers as gods. The righteous Nephites would have dissuaded any worship or being treated like gods. Like Ammon later before King Lamoni, they would have denied that they were “the Great Spirit” (Alma 18:18-19). However, it would have been natural for this party of prophets and priests to evangelize to their new friends about the Lord who guided them there.

On Willard Richards

I’ve written previously about the reality that many of the counselors in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have a huge impact on the Church, but they may not always be remembered by the general membership after a generation or two. I made that remark specifically with George Q. Cannon in mind, but Willard Richards is another example that was recently explored in an interview with Alex Smith at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

The Tribes that Greeted the Lehites

As we read the Book of Mormon, we will better appreciate its authenticity if we see its stories in the context of the Nephites and Lamanites continuously bumping up against Native American tribes who were already in the Americas. The Promised Land was not an empty land, as many throughout Church history sometimes imagined. In fact, our testimony of the truths taught within its pages are all the more powerful when we look at this ancient record with eyes wide open to the cultural world it actually took place in.

What Historical Claims Does God Insist We Believe?

I mean that question in terms of scriptural claims, especially related to the Old Testament. Readers may be aware of scholarly skepticism of the existence of major biblical figures and events and I’ve often gotten the sense from my fellow members and other Christians of seeing scholars with such views as problematic, secular people not properly holding biblical claims as they ought. I’m well aware of the limits of historical study, but also think that historical methods and lots of work by scholars as a whole do tell us something. I don’t think scholars in any field go about what they do as some kind of malicious pact with the devil. Scholars are happy to debate with each other so though I’m not arguing that scholarly consensus is anything like infallible (consensus can certainly be overturned), but for, me, scholarly consensus suggest a whole lot of work and evidence. Thus if there is consensus on something, I believe scholars have come to that position in good faith. I do not feel the need to hold doggedly to all scriptural historical claims, nor do I believe that God insists that I do so.

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 Atheist Conversion, 3: A Lack of Theology

My own research played a role in the atheist conversion I described in previous posts. Like I said, I believe I’ve been able to track down the sources of all Mormon ideas from books to Joseph Smith, which, like I said, was something I’ve been generally okay with. Again, this was a gradual process for me that I felt I could make spiritual sense of, and concluded that any means that God used for the Restoration was okay with me. Yet every now and again I’d stop and notice how far I’d drifted from orthodoxy. I recently did a podcast where I described it as occasionally feeling like this Naked Gun clip: with so much on his mind while he wandered around, Frank finally said to himself, “and where the hell was I?”

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…

My Atheist Conversion, Part 2: Spiritual Experiences

In part one, I talked about coming to the conclusion of deciding to both be an atheist and also remain as bishop a year or so into my time as bishop. Part of the conundrum that I was working through was how I felt about my spiritual experiences. I mentioned in my last post that I was not feeling very content with where those experiences seemed to have led me. Furthermore, my PhD education had introduced me to some basics of cognitive science as my adviser had shifted her focus to that field. I talked about this in these posts at JI from a few years back, but had felt strongly prompted to work with Ann Taves, whose work had been in religious history, but was then shifting to cognitive science and its uses in studying religion. Again, I’d felt very prompted to work with her but kind of wanted to do more standard religious history and I had no training at all in this brain science stuff.

“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…

Golden Plates

Richard Lyman Bushman’s most recent book focuses on presenting a cultural history of the gold plates. I’ve reviewed Joseph Smith’s Gold Plates in the past, but Dr. Bushman did an interview that was recently published on the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk that had some interesting tidbits. What follows here is a co-post to the full interview.

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)…

My Atheist Conversion, Part 1

This post got a little long so I decided to break it in two. The title is a little bit click bait as I am not an atheist, but I do want to tell a story of what I call (in my head) “my atheist conversion.” Real atheists may find this disingenuous as my atheism lasted a very short period of time (half a day), but nonetheless it had a significant impact on me and I don’t know what else to call it. The impact was in a “pro-church direction,” and allow me to explain as such an experience frames a lot of my thinking on things I’d like to share on the blog. All of us can have challenges to our beliefs and perhaps mine are a bit unusual. Back around 2010, I shared at “Mormon Scholars Testify” about dealing with getting into scholarship and getting comfortable with the unknown. As I shared in a recent post at the JI, I’ve also worked to make adjustments to faith assumptions along the way.

Joseph White Musser

Mormon Fundamentalism is a well known collective term for groups of Latter-day Saints who attempt to replicate the doctrines and practices of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the 1840 – 1890 era, most notably plural marriage. Less well-known, perhaps, are the figures who initially organized and developed the Fundamentalist Mormon movement, such as Joseph White Musser. In a recent interview at the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk, Cristina Rosetti discussed some of who Joseph Musser was and what his lasting legacies have been. What follows here is a copost to the full interview.

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.

The House of the Lord in Kirtland

The House of the Lord in Kirtland, Ohio has been a major topic in the news as of late, thanks to the recent transfer of ownership between Community of Christ and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On the very same day that the transfer was announced, the Latter-day Saint history blog From the Desk shared a post discussing the history of the Kirtland Temple. What follows here is a co-post to that discussion.