Book Review: Women At Church

Theric Jepson is a long-time friend of BCC, although it’s been some time since his last guest post. You can find out more about him here.

Neylan McBaine‘s name seems to be a bit like Joseph Smith’s—known for good and evil (though without the same kind of among-all-people reach). It’s fascinating how to some she is Moses come off the mountain and to others she’s Uncle Tom. I think she’s sensible enough to reject both those labels, but if those were the only two options, I would choose the former. But if she is Moses, she’s more of a Greek Moses, not with anything written in stone, but with a wandering series of questions and reasonable answers and followup questions that lead to a seemingly inevitable conclusion. [Read more…]

Common ConCent$$$

Daniel Crosby is a a psychologist and an expert in behavioral finance. We asked him to give us his thoughts on the recent shenanigans of the stock markets. You can follow Dr. Crosby on Twitter: @incblot.

Are stocks expensive right now?

In a word, “yes.” [Read more…]

On Seerstones

Richard Bushman is an American historian and Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder. He also serves on the general advisory board of the Joseph Smith Papers. We’re very grateful for his thoughts.

In a way the pictures of the seerstone are nothing new. We have known for a long time that Joseph found a stone that he used to discover lost objects and later to help him translate. The Urim and Thummim which has long been part of the story consisted of crystal stones, and there is the passage in D&C 130:10 about celestial beings receiving a white stone to reveal things about higher kingdoms. (Something like each missionary receiving an ipad.) This is all tucked away in corners of our memories as part of the technology of revelation. [Read more…]

The Church and Religious Liberty: Abercrombie v. Amos

Supreme Court US 2010by Carolyn Homer

Longtime BCC reader Carolyn is an attorney and religious liberty law enthusiast in California. She wrote an amicus brief in Holt v. Hobbs defending accommodations for religious prisoners.

Religious freedom advocates rejoice! The Supreme Court has issued its second major victory for religion this year. In January, it unanimously held in Holt v. Hobbs that it should be easier for religious prisoners to get religious accommodations in prison.  Last week, it held 8-1 in EEOC v. Abercrombie that it should be easier for religious employees to get religious accommodations in the workplace.   [Read more…]

Recap of “Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom”

Audio recordings of talks from the symposium are available here, with video of Clayton Christensen’s plenary here. Symposium organizers Matt Bowman and Sharon Harris share their thoughts below in a mock interview. We are glad to welcome them once again as guests at BCC.

On May 16, we held a symposium in New York City. Called “Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom,” it was designed not as a typical Mormon singles conference (planned to encourage flirting and courtship), but as a serious discussion about the growing numbers of single Mormons and the falling rates of marriage within Mormonism. Both of these trends reflect broad patterns in American culture, but we wanted to discuss what they mean for Mormons in particular. We invited a number of speakers: In the introduction Matt Bowman outlined these demographic trends and talked about the meaning of the title (drawn from the apostle Paul). Sharon Harris discussed the history of singles wards. Clayton Christensen offered thoughts on how we think about the place of single people in the Church. A panel of those in leadership callings gave their perspectives on working with single people in their flock. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife talked about the law of chastity and how singles of a wide variety of ages grapple with it, and Kristine Haglund delivered a closing homily on the place of single people in the body of Christ. We are grateful to the Manhattan stake for its sponsorship.
[Read more…]

The Intriguing Impossibility of Mormon-themed Near Future Science Fiction

DarkWatch-cover-forwebWilliam Morris is a longtime friend of the blog and champion of Mormon Lit. He has a new book out, Dark Watch and other Mormon-American Stories. We encourage you to read it!

One of the truisms that genre fiction writers often trot out is that science fiction is never about the future–that no matter how much of the language of futurism a work of science fiction employs and no matter how much SF writers get right or wrong about future technologies, science fiction is actually about the present. It has to be: the people who create it are always stuck in the present.

That doesn’t pose much of a problem if you’re writing the kind of science fiction that takes place in a distant future, where the extrapolations from current technologies and scientific discoveries can be stretched and metaphorized to the point that they are essentially fantasy in the garb of SF. I’m more interested, however, in near future science fiction because it requires more direct, rigorous engagement with the technologies and Mormonism of now. It intrigues me. I also find it almost impossible to write (even though I’ve written it). [Read more…]

Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom

We’re pleased to promote this event planned by friends of the blog Sharon Harris and Matt Bowman (bios below), and featuring our own Kristine Haglund.

smaller title

This is not your regular singles conference. While singles conferences have adopted more educational, service-oriented, and think-tank approaches in recent years—with Silicon Valley, Boston, and Northern Virginia singles conferences as notable examples—most of the time the idea of a singles conference conjures up either the spring break vibe of hundreds of singles scoping each other out at Duck Beach or the awkwardness of singles getting together in a gym to try to meet a special someone while dancing and drinking fruit punch. Basically, singles conferences revolve around creating situations in which singles are encouraged to meet, flirt, and date, and that underlying motive often seeps into all the other activities. [Read more…]

Q&A With Paul Reeve on Race in the Church

Back for more!

W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Utah where he teaches Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the US West. Paul is the author of Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness. He was our guest a couple of weeks ago, and has agreed to answer some of the questions that came up in the comments to that earlier post.

Bro. Jones: So are you defining “ordained by Joseph Smith” as “literally had Joseph lay his hands upon Elijah Abel and ordain him to the priesthood”? For what it’s worth, while this interpretation is new to me, I don’t suppose I’d assumed that Joseph was necessarily the man who personally ordained Brother Abel to the priesthood, but rather that Joseph supported and was aware of the event. But this is a valuable, scholarly basis to make that assumption.

[Read more…]

The Observer Effect Applied to Church Doctrine and Conference Talks

We’re really glad to have Kacy Faulconer back with us, in time for General Conference.

Writing about something helps me figure out what I think about it. More specifically, figuring out what I want to write about something is usually a good way to think more carefully about it. You know how it is in an English class when you get assigned to write a paper on the role of the hero in contemporary children’s literature and you find out—when you dig into writing this paper—that you think Professor Snape is the true hero of the Harry Potter series. Or something like that. [Read more…]

Did Joseph Smith, Jr. Ordain Elijah Abel to the Priesthood?

W. Paul Reeve is Associate Professor of History and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Utah where he teaches Utah history, Mormon history, and the history of the US West. Oxford University Press recently published his book Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness.

In addition to this guest post, Paul has graciously agreed to answer any particularly interesting questions you may have regarding his book and his research on race in the Church. Please leave questions in the comments below, and they will be answered in a subsequent post.

The short answer is no, I do not believe that he did. I know that my answer runs against the grain of what has grown into a popular understanding regarding Elijah Abel(s) and his priesthood ordination. In some circles it has become an almost assumed fact that Joseph Smith ordained Abel, a black man, to the office of Elder in the Melchizedek Priesthood. When I began research for my book, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness, I assumed the same thing. In fact, I made that claim in early chapter drafts for the book. However, as I dug into the sources I grew increasingly uneasy with that assertion and the evidence upon which it is based. In the book I don’t walk the reader through my behind the scenes reasoning and only the most careful reader will notice that I only claim that Joseph Smith, Jr. “sanctioned” Abel’s priesthood. What I offer below is a glimpse into my reasoning behind the decision to characterize it that way. [Read more…]

The Sacrament of Attention

We are pleased to feature another guest post from Michael Austin.

The often-used phrase “pay attention” is apt: you dispose of a limited budget of attention that you can allocate to activities, and if you try to go beyond your budget, you will fail. It is the mark of effortful activities that they interfere with each other, which is why it is difficult or impossible to conduct several at once.
​​​​​—Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

The key to a Christian conception of studies is the realization that prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God. The quality of the attention counts for much in the quality of the prayer. Warmth of heart cannot make up for it.
​​​​—Simone Weil, “Reflections on the Right Use of
​​​​ School Studies with a View to the Love of God”

A few weeks ago, I was stuck in the Denver Airport because I missed my flight. I was sitting at the gate when the boarding calls were issued, but I didn’t hear them, nor did I even notice when the plane left the runway. That’s because I was completely engrossed in a marvelous book called Thinking Fast and Slow by the Nobel prizewinning psychologist/economist Daniel Kahneman. This book’s description of attention as a limited resource, optimized by two separate mental systems, fascinated me so much that I proved Kahneman’s thesis empirically—by failing to notice the large jet airliner fifty feet away taking off without me.
[Read more…]

A Stranger in the Garden

We are pleased to feature this guest post from Mark David Dietz. Mark has been a company commander in the US Army’s 101st Airborne, a corporate training manager and management consultant, a teacher of ethics at the University of Texas at Austin, and he is now the Vice President of research and development at a small company. He is the author of An Awkward Echo: Matthew Arnold and John Dewey (IAP, 2010).

by Mark David Dietz

by Mark David Dietz

‘Twere well could you permit the world to live
As the world pleases: what’s the world to you?
Much. I was born of woman, and drew milk
As sweet as charity from human breasts.
I think, articulate, I laugh and weep,
And exercise all functions of a man.
How then should I and any man that lives
Be strangers to each other?
– William Cowper, The Task, Book III, The Garden (1785)

I am nominally an atheist. That alone should preclude me from religious apologetics, and yet religion is dear to my heart. It is a garden richly sown, flowered with the gifts of nature and artifice, arbored by stout-grown trees of tradition and reason, lawned with the turf of the daily domestic struggle, and watered with the tears of human desire. It is, though rather should not be, a walled garden of paternalism and security; the walls keep at bay the strife of anarchy, but they are old, mossy, crumbling, walls, and they exclude too much of life and nature. I would I were not a stranger in this garden. And yet and still – I am nominally an atheist. [Read more…]

Enduring to the End is Kind of Hard

Kacy Faulconer is an author, thinker, blogger and all-around great person. We’re excited to share this guest post from her.

When I was a kid the churchy end-all be-all was getting to the temple. It seemed like the last big thing after getting baptized and doing Personal Progress. Once you went through the temple (covenants made, endowments in place) the only thing left to do was endure to the end. D&C 18:22 puts it like this: “As many as repent and are baptized in my name, which is Jesus Christ, and endure to the end, the same shall be saved.” Easy peasy!

It dawns on me that enduring to the end is kind of hard. It’s not necessarily smooth sailing once you “enter the the strait gate.” Grabbing hold of the iron rod is, I think now, less “you’re all set,” and more “hold on tight!” [Read more…]

Love and Priesthood

We’re super grateful that Melody Newey would share this guest post with us.

I.
“Will you please include me in your prayers tonight?”

It is a simple and sincere question. I am preparing for an exceptional challenge the next day and I mention to my friend, Mark,* that I could use extra spiritual support. He replies that he’s glad to offer up all his faith on my behalf and he thanks me for asking.

The following morning he sends an email to check in and to tell me what he’s praying for. The words and phrases he uses are indeed prayer-like and as I read, something interesting happens: I feel as though I am being “blessed” in a literal sense. The words on the screen carry a message of peace and comfort not unlike words I’ve heard before. The feeling is not unlike feelings I’ve had before when good men have placed hands on my head to offer priesthood blessings. The feeling includes what I interpret as a spiritual witness –something about priesthood power–not just as a memory of past blessings, but also as a concrete experience in this moment. Mark is a Melchizedek Priesthood bearer. [Read more…]

“For I was in prison, and ye came to me……”

We’re really proud that Kristine A shared this guest post with us.

IMG_3388It might surprise you to know that after sitting over three decades of church meetings and general conference sermons, the place that I’ve learned most about the importance and sanctity of family was in prison. I’ve been visiting my sister in several county jails and state prisons for the last few years. Without sharing too much of our personal background without her permission, I’ll just share that late last year she was released on probation and after many unfortunate incidents, relapsed and was re-incarcerated. [Read more…]

Guest Post: New Testament Lesson 1

This guest post is by Brad Masters. He is a judicial law clerk, an Angels baseball aficionado, and a contributor at Normons.com.

It’s been sad to watch friends and family struggle with their testimonies. Lately, we’ve been inundated constantly with tough stuff, from priesthood bans to polygamy to any other number of topics du jour. Far too many have lost faith in Mormonism. (One is too many.)

Interestingly enough, many whose faith is extinguished not only leave the Church, but leave Christianity altogether. Rarely do the exmormon.org boards (which look increasingly like the kinds of caves trolls retreat to after long hours spent pestering unexpecting bridge-crossers) or other “recovering Mormon” blogs showcase testimonies of no-longer-Mormon Christians.  Instead, the posts are mostly from newly-minted atheists. [Read more…]

A Religion of Peace?

This guest post is by long-time friend of the blog Michael Austin.

I read the Qur’an often because it speaks peace to my soul.

I know that sounds kooky, but I promise I’m not a hippie or anything. I don’t burn incense or wear sandals. I wouldn’t even call it a spiritual experience. It’s more like a calming effect. I love to read the text, and I love to listen to the recitations of a talented qāri’ (which I am doing even as I write). It’s not the meaning of the words that does the peace-speaking; it’s the words themselves. I have long been deeply affected by the way that the Qur’an represents the voice of God. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Neylan McBaine on Statistics and Women’s Stories

On December 4th, the David M. Kennedy Center for International Studies at BYU, in partnership with The WomanStats Project, the largest compilation of data on the global condition of women, sponsored #WeForShe. The event was designed to educate students on the on the 12 “critical areas of concern” in the Beijing Platform for Action, a year-long campaign aimed at raising awareness of an upcoming UN conference in which BYU will participate. Hundreds of students toured informational booths focused on the 12 areas and made pledges to support the global empowerment of women. Neylan McBaine was one of the invited speakers who participated in the evening’s program. We are pleased to publish her remarks here.

It’s an honor for me to be with you here tonight. I deeply admire the work that the WomanStats team and the Kennedy Center at large are doing to increase our awareness of the global condition of women and what we can do to alleviate the pain points. One of the project’s founders, Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill, is one of my family’s oldest friends and a personal hero of mine. I have spent most of my efforts over the past five years studying and reporting on the condition of women within The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, first by starting my own non-profit called the Mormon Women Project and most recently by writing my book Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. But it has been impossible for me to study LDS women – their motivations, their choices, their expressions of authority and voice – and not expand that exploration into the condition of women outside of that particular community. [Read more…]

Forgiving the Prophet

This guest post comes to us from MargaretOH.

There’s been a lot of talk about prophetic fallibility recently. My own thoughts have been swirling around the question of how much I am required to forgive of a prophet, understanding that he is an imperfect man as well as an anointed one. Like Kristine, I was lucky enough to grow up in a family that inoculated me to many of the difficulties of church history. I don’t remember specifically learning about Joseph Smith’s polygamy, just like I don’t remember learning my alphabet. It was part of the background of the faith I was raised in and my questions about and reactions to it came slowly as I grew, rather than falling on me all at once as an adult. I remember coming home upset one day about something I had learned about Joseph Smith (I can’t recall now exactly what it was) and going to my mother for an explanation. Her response was that the failings of Joseph strengthened her faith instead of withering it because, “If God can do such marvelous work with such a flawed man, then the power of the divine is real. And it means that there’s hope for me as well.” I’ve fallen back on that idea many times when the limitations of a prophet feel like too much for me. [Read more…]

Beaches and Footprints

Sam Brown is an historian, scholar, author and medical doctor. His latest work, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith In Light of the Temple is now available, and is a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. We published an excerpt from the book a couple of weeks ago and are happy to offer another now.

We often remind our adolescents and young adults that they will need to stand on their own, that they will need a testimony that can withstand separation from their parents. And it’s true that our attachment to Church and gospel must be stronger than the vagaries of young adulthood. There must be within us something more than just conformity to whatever people around us say. But we must not believe that our walk of faith is solitary. We must be able to experience commitment to true principles and to the people of Zion that can resist mocking voices or temptations of the flesh. But we should not thereby forget that God and the Holy Ghost generally speak to us in the context of our relationships with the Saints. Our lives are deeply blessed by the people who carry the Spirit to us at times of great sadness or anxiety. [Read more…]

Brigham Young’s Couplet

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from John G. Turner, associate professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, in addition to other writings about Mormonism.

Terryl Givens ends his lucid and immensely informative Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought with a long chapter on theosis, the idea that human beings can progress toward and achieve godhood.

Givens presents Mormon thought as a recovery of “a Christian road not taken,” paths explored by early thinkers such as Origen and Pelagius and then rejected by subsequent definers and defenders of Christian orthodoxy. Mormonism as explicated by Givens insists upon human potentiality, freedom, responsibility, and affinity with the divine. Human beings, the spirit children of heavenly parents, embrace mortality as an ascent — sometimes a very difficult and gradual ascent — toward an exalted return to a heavenly family. [Read more…]

Faith, fidelity, faithfulness

Sam Brown is an historian, scholar, author and medical doctor. His latest work, First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith In Light of the Temple is now available, and is a publication of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship. Sam will be at a book reading and signing at the King’s English bookstore on Nov. 5 (details here). It’s an excellent book, and while a review is forthcoming, here is an excerpt to tide you over.

Faith, Alma explained, requires an experiment upon the word of the gospel [1]. The image of experimenting is powerful, but it can easily be misunderstood. [Read more…]

Review: A Song For Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

71pTGcqw86L._SL1334_Reviewed by Rebecca, friend of the blog and FMH old-timer.

First impressions are good: the dust jacket is lovely and textured and includes praise from authors such as Nick Hornby. It’s the kind of book that feels nice to hold and is inviting. This is not some cheap-o Mormon novel.

British author Carys Bray — once a devout Mormon who “replaced religion with writing” — tells the story of the Bradleys, a Mormon family in the north of England. Dad is the local Mormon bishop, mum is starting to have questions about her faith. Disaster strikes with the death of their youngest child, Issy. The story follows each member of the family and how they deal with their grief.

A Song for Issy Bradley is Carys Bray’s first novel, written as a part of her PhD. In some ways this is obvious, as the writing takes a while to warm up. The characters, however, are well-drawn in the short time before the death of Issy, which is important and allows the reader to be able to empathise with them as the aftermath of the family tragedy unfolds.

For me, there were two main components of the novel: the handling of grief and the presentation of the family’s Mormon-ness. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Miracles of Jesus, by Eric D. Huntsman

A Book Review by Michael Austin*.

Miracles of Jesus, complete, 5-27-14.pdfThe Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
$25.99
Hardcover
164 pages
ISBN: 9781609079161
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)

OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]

Thoughts From A Mid-Single Mormon

Not long ago I suffered from a back injury and decided to arrive at church early to assure myself a seat in the more comfortable pews. I attended a family ward and always sat by myself. After sitting down, a woman with her family in tow asked me to move because this was their spot. I moved. The same thing happened with a different family and I moved again. After being displaced a third time, I looked around and found the chapel already filled up. The only seats available were the stiff chairs in the back for the latecomers.

Instead of sitting down, I left and drove down the street to another denomination’s church. [Read more…]

Mormon Man Causes Controversy

My boyfriend is 47 and lives in the 1850s. Nerdy writers understand those late nights, at least I’m hoping. Explaining my book to people living in the twenty first century, though, takes a bit of finesse. Researching a Mormon man, deceased as he is, shouldn’t stir any controversy. Not until he’s published, at least.
[Read more…]

Reimagining Apologia with an Uncertain Faith

Brian M. Hauglid, Senior Research Fellow at the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, has provided us with this guest post. We’re grateful for his participation.

I like to ask questions. It’s what got me into the Church almost forty years ago. It’s also a big part of my going into academics. I love teaching inquisitive students and I thoroughly enjoy trying, like a detective, to piece together evidence and come up with reasonable arguments and hypotheses to help explain questions in scholarship.

[Read more…]

Primary effects

Guest post by Michael Hicks.

I’m not always consistent. But I’ve been consistent about two things for many years.

First, in discussions of Mormon music I always say that the masterworks of indigenous Mormon hymnody are mostly in the Primary Song Book. Second, whenever I hear Janice Kapp Perry spoken of in a disparaging or even mocking way–not uncommon among BYU music majors–I always speak up in her behalf.  [Read more…]

Standing Apart

Miranda Wilcox is an associate professor of English at Brigham Young University where she teaches medieval literature and researches the religious culture of Anglo-Saxon England. She is co-editor, along with John D. Young, of the recent compilation Standing Apart: Mormon Historical Consciousness and the Concept of Apostasy.

This interdisciplinary collection brings together fourteen essays that explore the relationship between the development of Mormon historical consciousness and one of the central tenets of Mormonism—the concept of a universal Christian apostasy from its apostolic origins. [Read more…]

We’re #1! We’re #1!

Kristine A returns to share with us her thoughts about why Rexburg is home to the best ward in the world.

Last week I was strolling around my neighborhood near dusk and ran into a friendly neighbor, let’s call him “Bro. Smith”. As we visited I shared that my husband and I were building a home 5 blocks away (.5 mile and 2 wards away, in Rexburg measurements) and we’d be moving in a few months. Bro. Smith mentioned how sad it was we had to leave our ward, but at least we were staying in the best stake.

He went on to share that when “Bro. Young” from our ward was Stake President, Elder Packer came up to Rexburg and in confidence with Pres. Young, told him the our Rexburg Stake was THE literal best stake in the Church. [Read more…]

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