Category: General Doctrine

The Most Significant General Conference Addresses of the 2010s: A Tentative List

With the 2010s a year behind us now, I thought it might be a good time to look back at general conference in the 2010s and consider which of the talks were some of the most significant addresses given during that period.  I suspect that the Gospel Topics Essays will be the most significant documents from that decade in their long-term impact on the Church, but there are still a few memorable and significant general conference talks worth discussing.  Glancing through, here were some of the ones that stood out to me as significant for reinforcing, articulating, or developing the doctrine of the Church in notable ways; for the policies they announced or defended; or for the historical initiatives, moments, or controversies to which they were tied.  Together, they also give us a glimpse into the history of the Church in the 2010s.  Without further ado, here is my list: Todd Christofferson, “The Doctrine of Christ,” CR April 2012 This talk was likely written specifically for the “Mormon Moment” that accompanied Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign in mind as a way to deal with the fact that things Church leaders had said in the past that didn’t reflect well on the Church today were being dredged up in the news. Most memorably, we had the Randy Bott interview that discussed some of the awful rationales we used to give for the priesthood and temple ban against individuals of black African…

Pondering on Isaiah and the Abrahamic Covenant

For the past few years, I’ve tried to take some time each year to focus in on a specific subject related to the section of scriptures covered in Sunday School.  Last year, for example, I tried to scratch the surface of understanding Paul in the New Testament and look at some of how scholars approach him.  This year, I focused on understanding how the Isaiah texts are used within the Book of Mormon—particularly in Nephi’s writings.  I shared some very preliminary thoughts from studying Isaiah in 1 Nephi earlier this year, but since then I’ve done a lot more reading and thinking.  I think the most insightful book I read was Joseph Spencer’s The Vision of All, but I also enjoyed pondering on a few other books too. One issue that came up over and over in literature about Nephi’s use of Isaiah was his efforts to reaffirm the Abrahamic Covenant.  Nephi does say, after all, that the “marvelous work” of the Lord in the Latter-days shall be of worth “unto the making known of the covenants of the Father of heaven unto Abraham,” while he explained his interpretation of Isaiah’s words to his brothers.  He also stated that his “soul delighteth in the covenants of the Lord which he hath made to our fathers” as part of his explanation for including the large block of Isaiah text in 2 Nephi.[1]  What is interesting to me, however, is that while…

President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 4: The Plan of Salvation

For forty years before his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, Russel M. Nelson spent his career as a cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon.  One aspect of his work that had a profound impact on him was that it “brought me into contact almost daily with seriously ill patients who faced the real prospect of death.”  While he saw death as a foe to fight against while he was a doctor, his later time in the ministry led him to “no longer feel that death is always that foe to be feared.  Instead,” he wrote, “I view it as a potential friend to be understood.”  And with that perspective, he came to feel that the Lord’s “gospel will help us to prepare for that great day of judgment.  His gifts will assuage the grief of the bereaved and bring joy to those who love him.  He will help them to fulfill their noblest purposes in life.”[1]  With that background in mind, it’s not very surprising to find that aspects of human existence, including the purpose of life and preparation for life after death, are central topics in President Nelson’s conference addresses. This is the final post of the second part of my analysis of President Russell M. Nelson’s general conference addresses.  In the overall scheme of things, this puts us here: Introductory Thoughts President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Phrases God and Power The Church, Priesthood, and Gathering Israel Family Plan of Salvation Examining the Sources…

President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 3: The Family

Throughout my time studying President Nelson’s conference addresses, I observed that one topic that he came back to over and over is families.  Whether it be decrying the fragmentation of families, encouraging men to pay more attention to their wives, or offering encouragement to women who are mothers, Russell M. Nelson has had a lot to say about families over the years. In discussing this topic, this puts us here in the overall scheme of thing: Introductory Thoughts President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Phrases God and Power The Church, Priesthood, and Gathering Israel Family Plan of Salvation Examining the Sources in President Nelson’s Talks Potential Long-Term Impact of President Nelson’s Addresses   The Family Two of the most frequently repeated statements from Russell M. Nelson are focused on families.  The first is: “The home is the great laboratory of love. There the raw chemicals of selfishness and greed are melded in the crucible of cooperation to yield compassionate concern and love one for another.”[1]  He sees families as an important training ground for individuals to learn to love, echoing the statement attributed to the Protestant reformer Martin Luther that “marriage is the school of love.”[2]  The second is that: “While salvation is an individual matter, exaltation is a family matter,”[3] with temple covenants being essential to exaltation.  Together, these statements about families being essential to exaltation display a frequent focus in his talks and may be remembered as short Nelson-isms…

President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 2: The Church

Last year, the Church released the guidelines by which a committee was evaluating hymns and songs for inclusion in the next hymnbook and children’s songbook and a list of topics they wanted to see more hymns about.  What surprised me as I studied President Russell M. Nelson’s general conference talks was how frequently the list of topics the hymnbook committee wanted to see more hymn submissions focus on lined up with what seemed to be President Nelson’s favorite topics:  “Praise and Worship”, “The Atonement of Jesus Christ”, “The Plan of Happiness”, “Gospel Learning and Revelation”, “The Family of God”, “Our Families”, “Priesthood Power and Authority”, “The Restoration of the Gospel”, “The Gathering of Israel”, “The Sabbath Day”, and “The Second Coming.”[1]  Perhaps it’s coincidental, perhaps it’s just the general waters of the Church’s headquarters, but given that the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve are officially the ones compiling the new hymnbook and songbook (with input and suggestions from the committee), the fact that the initiative was announced shortly after President Nelson’s became president of the Church, and the level of interest that President Nelson has displayed towards hymns in his talks, there is a good chance that President Nelson had some input there. This is the second part of the second part of my analysis of President Russell M. Nelson’s General Conference addresses.  In the previous post, I discussed some of the more Godhead-focused topics of interest in…

President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Statements, Part 1: God and Power

This is the beginning of the second part of my analysis of President Russell M. Nelson’s general conference talks, focusing on his favorite topics and statements.  In looking at what President Nelson talks about, I tried to take a few approaches to understand his favorite topics objectively.  Approaches included word count analysis of his talks and the titles of his talks, noting topics that come up frequently across his talks as I read them, looking at the focus of initiatives that have come out under his administration, and observing key phrases that come up on a repeated basis.  For the sake of post size, I intend to cover these topics in a series of groups, making the overall game plan as follows: Introductory Thoughts President Nelson’s Favorite Topics and Phrases God and Power The Church, Priesthood, and Gathering Israel The Family Plan of Salvation Examining the Sources in President Nelson’s Talks Potential Long-Term Impact of President Nelson’s Addresses Today’s post will focus on his comments about God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Ghost, and how we can draw access their power in our lives. As for the analysis, one approach I took was to create two word clouds to identify the words that come up most frequently in President Nelson’s general conference talks and the titles of his talks.  A word cloud is an image that shows words used in a text or series of texts where the words are different…

Reconsidering the Curse of Ham

In a candid moment in January 1858, an early Church leader named Zerah Pulsipher told his family that: “Most of you are young therefore you have the advantage of me because [yo]u have less Gentile Traditions to over com[e].”[1]  This is an interesting observation from Pulsipher—all of the early Church members (including leaders) were converts to the Church and they brought much of their previous beliefs and traditions with them into the Church, including many good and correct beliefs, but also some incorrect beliefs as well.  In the latest volume of the official history of the Church, an example of the latter is brought up in a discussion about the position early converts to the Church that were Black, such as Jane Manning James, found themselves in.  We read: “Jane … knew that white Saints generally accepted black people into the fold. Like other groups of Christians at this time, however, many white Saints wrongly viewed black people as inferior, believing that black skin was the result of God’s curse on the biblical figures Cain and Ham. … Brigham Young shared some of these views.”[2]  It is significant that this Church publication brings this issue up and to state, point-blank, that the early Saints (Brigham Young included) were wrong to believe this traditional idea.  Likewise, Elder Quentin L. Cook recently stated that Brigham Young “said things about race that fall short of our standards today.”[3]  I have discussed one part…

Joseph Smith’s Studies and Translations

It has been a big year for volumes that discuss Joseph Smith’s translation projects, with contributions ranging from Terryl Givens and Brian Hauglid’s The Pearl of Great Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture last October, to William L. Davis’s Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon this April, to Samuel Brown’s Joseph Smith’s Translation: The Words and Worlds of Early Mormonism in May, and a few other notable works.  One book in particular, however, has recently been billed as groundbreaking and potentially one of the most foundational contributions to the subject:  Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity, ed. Michael Hubbard MacKay, Mark Ashurst-McGee and Brian M. Hauglid.  The volume is a collection of chapters written by many notable scholars of Mormonism, discussing a variety of topics related to Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon, the Bible, and the Book of Abraham.  Recently, Kurt Manwaring sat down to interview Michael Hubbard MacKay and Mark Ashurst-McGee (two of the general editors of the book).  What follows here is a co-post to that interview, a summary with quotes and commentary on the interview, but to get the full treatment, I recommend going to read the interview here. It is relatively common to describe Joseph Smith’s translations as being revelations.  For example, at the most recent general conference, Elder Ulisses Soares stated that the Book of Mormon “was…

Reconsidering the Curse of Cain

Eugene England once shared an experience he had with the prominent Latter-day Saint Church leader, scriptorian, and doctrinaire Joseph Fielding Smith.  President Smith had written extensively on the subject of the priesthood and temple ban against individuals of black African ancestry, offering rationales for the ban that have since been disavowed by the Church.  During that time, England sought out the opportunity to meet with President Smith and recorded that: I told President Smith about my experiences with the issue of blacks and the priesthood and asked him whether I must believe in the pre-existence doctrine to have good standing in the Church. His answer was, “Yes, because that is the teaching of the Scriptures.” I asked President Smith if he would show me the teaching in the Scriptures (with some trepidation, because I was convinced that if anyone in the world could show me he could). He read over with me the modern scriptural sources and then, after some reflection, said something to me that fully revealed the formidable integrity which characterized his whole life: “No, you do not have to believe that Negroes are denied the priesthood because of the pre-existence. I have always assumed that because it was what I was taught, and it made sense, but you don’t have to to be in good standing because it is not definitely stated in the scriptures. And I have received no revelation on the matter.”[1] The story is…

It Matters Why the Church is Pro-Life

Edited with author’s note on the comments at end of post. Abortion is a hot-button issue. Maybe the hot-button issue. That’s why–after finishing a draft of this post in November of 2019–I sat on it for almost a year. I’ve rewritten it and am posting it because I’ve realized it’s important to understand not only the what of the Church’s position, but also the why.  This is tough, since the Church has a publicly available policy on abortion but no single, authoritative theological rationale for the policy. This provides a certain amount of leeway in interpreting and applying the Church’s policy, although not nearly as much as some Latter-day Saints would like to believe.   Let’s begin with the Church’s official position on abortion: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in the sanctity of human life. Therefore, the Church opposes elective abortion for personal or social convenience, and counsels its members not to submit to, perform, encourage, pay for, or arrange for such abortions. The Church allows for possible exceptions for its members when: Pregnancy results from rape or incest, or A competent physician determines that the life or health of the mother is in serious jeopardy, or A competent physician determines that the fetus has severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth. The Church teaches its members that even these rare exceptions do not justify abortion automatically. Abortion is a most serious…

All Are Alike Unto God

I’ve been thinking about the issue of race in the Church (and the history of the temple and priesthood ban in particular) a lot lately.  As part of that thinking, I am working on a series of posts wrestling with the oft-proposed idea of an apology for the ban, but I did have something I wanted to share as a middle of the road approach before I get into the more in-depth discussions. One thing that could be done to help address the issue of both historical and ongoing racism within the Church would be to publicize a brief document treated with similar weight and importance as “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” or “The Living Christ: The Testimony of The Apostles” during general conference.  The positive aspects of this approach are that: a) It doesn’t require Church leaders to say anything they haven’t already said, b) It makes it clear that they what has been said before is authoritative rather than a series of PR stunts, c) It gives members a concise resource to draw upon in understanding and representing the Church’s stance on issues of racism, and d) It sidesteps the thorny issues surrounding the idea of releasing an apology for the ban.  As an exercise in curiosity, I tried to compile many of the most important statements of Church leaders and official statements of the Church on the subject into a document with a similar word…

Fundamental Principles of Mormonism

Today marks the 176th anniversary of the day that Joseph Smith died in an untimely fashion.  As I’ve been pondering on what his legacy means to me personally, I wanted to write about three topics that were central to Joseph Smith’s ministry, at least according to his own words.  As far as I am aware from the records I have searched through, he only used the term “fundamental principle” to describe aspects of our religion on three occasions.  The first was in 1838, when he wrote that the “the fundamental principles of our religion” were focused on the Atonement of Jesus Christ and “all other things are only appendages to these, which pertain to our religion.”[1]  The second occasion was in 1843, when he declared that, “the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to recieve thruth let it come from where it may.”[2]  The third occasion was also in 1843, when the Prophet stated that “friendship is the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism.”[3]  Together, these three fundamental principles form the heart of Joseph Smith’s message and, perhaps, help us to understand how Joseph Smith has done “more, save Jesus only, for the salvation of men in this world, than any other man that ever lived in it” (D&C 135:3).[4] Atonement and Resurrection The first of the three fundamental principles is the Atonement of Jesus the Christ. The full quote, written by Joseph Smith in 1838, is as follows: “The fundamental…

A Lake of Fire and the Problem of Evil

I remember talking to an atheist on the riverfront walk in Dubuque, Iowa one day while serving my mission.  He told my companion and me that he couldn’t believe in God after some of the things he had seen, and went on to describe (in a fair amount of gruesome detail) visiting a Catholic church in South America in the aftermath of an attack by a militant group of some sort and seeing the mutilated bodies of the Christians laying scattered about.  If God existed, he reasoned, God would have not allowed such horrific act to take place.  I was taken aback and was uncertain how to respond to his expression of disbelief rooted in such deep trauma.  We talked with the man for a little while longer and moved on in with the day.  His comments got at one of the most difficult and complex philosophical issues of Christian religion—the theodicy, the question of why evil exists if God exists, is good, and is all-powerful.  That evening, I remember talking about the incident with my companion and thinking (somewhat naïvely): “I should have just opened up the Book of Mormon to Alma 14, where Alma and Amulek watch their converts burn and discuss why they can’t do anything about it.  That would have shown him how we have all the answers.”  Looking back, however, I’m grateful we didn’t turn to that section of the Book of Mormon during our…

Monotheism and Mormonism

One of the most central and difficult issues of Christian theology is how to fit together a commitment to monotheism with a belief that Jesus is a divine being.  While we, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have resolved some aspects of this in our own ways, we still have areas that are unclear when it comes to working out this theological knot.  While I’m aware that we are looking at scriptures and doctrines that represent ideas that have evolved over time, my hope today is to muse on what we currently believe as a community based on the scriptures and the teachings of Church leaders and try to work towards a better understanding of the issue (as much for myself as for any readers). We have several competing commitments in our doctrine that complicate the issue of the Godhead and Jesus’s status in our theology, including a commitment to monotheism.  We are part of the Judeo-Christian religious family and Israelite theology committed itself to belief that there only existed one God—their God—known at various times as Yahweh/Jehovah/the Lord, Elohim, El Shaddai, and a few other names as well.  Think, for example, of the proclamation: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone.”[1] This commitment to believing that there was one God passed on to Christianity, as indicated when Paul wrote that: “Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in…

Laban… as a Christ Figure?

This Holy Week I’ve been monitoring my employer’s livestreamed Roman Catholic masses and services, meaning that I (for the first time) attended a Holy Thursday mass and a Good Friday service. So it happened that, during the reading of the Gospel of John in the Good Friday service, I noticed something peculiar. In response to Jesus’s raising of Lazarus from the dead, the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the council, and said, “What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed.” (John 11:47-50, NRSV) In the KJV, for reference, that last line is rendered thus: “It is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not.” I was roughly familiar with Caiaphas’s role in the Passion narrative, but I had never clued into this particular pseudo-utilitarian line of reasoning — reasoning that was, in John’s telling, effective enough to convince the Council to pursue Jesus’s execution. This time, my mind immediately jumped to the…

Resurrection and the Timing of Healing

The Christus

Bear with me as I go out into the theological weeds to explore an obscure doctrinal debate about the resurrection.  As my wife and I studied the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum section on Easter, we discussed Amulek statements about the resurrection in Alma 11.  Our question was: What exactly does it mean to “restored to its perfect frame, as it is now, or in the body” (Alma 11:44)?  Does it mean that the body is perfectly brought back to the condition it was when it died (“as we now are at this time”) and may undergo further healing and development or that it is brought back in a perfected, ideal state (“its perfect frame”)? Decades ago, the same question was asked by a priesthood quorum.  According to a Church periodical: It was the opinion of some members of the class that when the body comes forth it will be just as it was when it was laid down.  That is to say, if an arm or a leg were missing or the person otherwise maimed, the body would come forth as it was laid down and the restoration of any missing part would be added later.  Others thought that it would come forth in physical and mental perfection. When they turned to the then-apostle Joseph Fielding Smith for clarification, he wrote that: “There would be no purpose whatsoever in having the body of any individual come forth from the dead…

Sacrament Prayers and the Doctrine of Christ

I am always interested in seeing how ideas grow, develop, and take shape of the years.  I suppose that is part of why I find the study of theology so interesting.  As I was studying the “Come, Follow Me” curriculum this last week, it struck me how the sacrament prayers seem to have developed and formulated alongside the Doctrine of Christ in the Book of Mormon. Early in the Book of Mormon, the prophetic triumvirate of Lehi, Nephi, and Jacob propose a controversial change to the traditional Hebrew religion, a change based on their revelations and their understanding of Isaiah that they called the Doctrine of Christ.  Towards the end of his record, Nephi summarizes this doctrine as follows: Wherefore, my beloved brethren, can we follow Jesus save we shall be willing to keep the commandments of the Father? … Wherefore, my beloved brethren, I know that if ye shall follow the Son, with full purpose of heart, acting no hypocrisy and no deception before God, but with real intent, repenting of your sins, witnessing unto the Father that ye are willing to take upon you the name of Christ, by baptism—yea, by following your Lord and your Savior down into the water, according to his word, behold, then shall ye receive the Holy Ghost; yea, then cometh the baptism of fire and of the Holy Ghost; and then can ye speak with the tongue of angels, and shout praises unto the Holy One of Israel.[1] There is the nucleus of the future sacrament…

What Can’t Be Discussed in Church

In a podcast I listened to recently, a man who had left the church described going to sacrament meeting with his still-believing wife and feeling upset at what was said in church. He had come to believe that certain claims that are regularly stated at church were not true, and hearing them was uncomfortable. Initially, I found this idea strange. Why would it be uncomfortable to simply hear someone say something that you don’t believe to be true?

Six Funerals and the idea of Legacy

While I was at BYU years ago one of my best friends asked me to go with him and his wife to Cedar City to the Utah Shakespearean Festival. His wife’s father had served a mission with the founder, Fred Adams, and her family had gone frequently over the years since Adams founded the festival. Thirty-four years later, I still go to the festival each summer with the same group of friends. So when I learned that Fred Adams passed away February 5th at the age of 89, I mourned because of his influence on my life. I was particularly impressed by the human Fred Adams portrayed at his funeral. Fred’s passing is just the most recent of six that have had an impact on me over the past year. I have long admired Fred’s vision and persistence in creating an institution that benefits the lives of hundreds of thousands. Part of me has a longing to create something as significant as the Utah Shakespeare Festival. His death followed close on the passing of Clayton Christensen. He too was someone lauded as much for how he treated the individual as his accomplishments. [I found this podcast tribute notable for pointing out that Christensen practiced what he preached at work as well as at Church.] Like Adams, I admired Christensen for his accomplishments and for his integrity. These losses were significantly less personal than others I experienced. Last year a neighbor,…