I take it as a sign of progress that much of the recent discussion on gendered priesthood and female ordination has concerned itself with considering the potential consequences of extending the priesthood to all worthy Church members. You can’t really think through the practical implications of something unless you think about it, and think about it rather seriously, in the first place. People who instinctively support and oppose female ordination are having serious and occasionally productive discussions about the origins, meanings, rationalizations, social consequences, and the future of gendered priesthood. Of course there are unserious and unproductive conversations as well. The specter of “women can experience labor and breastfeed so they don’t need priesthood” has reared its head again, and opponents of female ordination have reminded us that trying to imagine the origins and development of an all-male priesthood in sexism-free terms can be every bit as tendentious, speculative, anachronistic, unscriptural, and doctrinally foundationless as efforts to read explicit support for a unisex priesthood into the current LDS canon. [Read more...]
J. Kirk Richards is my favorite LDS artist. His newest book is a limited edition anthology of fine art prints, hand bound in leather and hand finished with wood panels. Each of the forty works contained in the book is a different image of Christ. I’ve been a huge fan of Kirk’s work for years, and I am honored that he recently asked me to write a short forward to the book. For me, this is devotional art at its absolute best, and I explain why in my introduction to these striking images, which follows below:
It is not uncommon for Mormons to speculate about which LDS Apostles have seen Jesus Christ in person. [Read more...]
I wrote the following post in the wake of my son’s baptism, Easter weekend, two years ago.
I baptized my son yesterday. The coinciding of this event with the celebration of Easter was not deliberately planned. Isaac (my son) share his baptismal date with his cousin, so a time was selected that worked best for all the people involved. We met at a stake center in Spanish Fork, Utah, sang hymns and prayed together, witnessed collectively the performance of this sacred rite along with the conferral of the gift of the Holy Ghost, and then we shared a delicious meal of smoked pulled pork sandwiches, baked lasagna, and homemade cinnamon rolls. [Read more...]
In response to a recent blog discussion about plural marriage, several long-time bloggernacle participants and I got involved in a lengthy and spirited email conversation. We ended up deciding that a redacted, heavily edited, and anonymized version of our exchange would make for interesting blog fodder. The conversation started out by considering whether people today are more scandalized by the plurality of Joseph Smith’s wives, or by (some of) their ages. But it shifted rather quickly in a new, more general dirction, which is where we pick up here. [Read more...]
Mormonism is navigating unpredictable waters in the Age of Information. For the better part of half a century Church members have held unwavering confidence in Church leaders—in counsel, in doctrinal explication, in moral guidance, and in running the Church—as a cornerstone of their religious lives. Of course we don’t embrace the notion of prophetic infallibility (the joke goes: Catholics claim to accept Papal infallibility, but none of them act like it, while Mormons claim to reject prophetic infallibility, but act like they believe it unconditionally—a bit of a disservice to both traditions, really, but still funny). The Mormon version of Papal Infallibility actually goes something like this: Church leaders, including the president of the Church, are imperfect human beings, but God will not permit their imperfections to fundamentally lead the Church astray. (There is a bit of irony here, in that this truism was first articulated by a Church president who many in the Church were frankly and openly concerned was, in fact, leading the Church astray). [Read more...]
The latest bit of artfully produced Church PR—the Earthly/Heavenly Father video—has catalyzed much discussion. Ronan’s post prompts analysis of what the video draws from wider sources, both aesthetically and culturally/ideologically. And Alison’s excellent post at Times and Seasons already explores some of the themes I’ve chosen to excavate by re-publishing this old post of mine.
The fact is, I could not myself have scripted a piece of church produced media that better demonstrates and reinforces the original thesis I argued in the post. A timely reminder of one of the starkest and saddest spaces of invisibility in Mormonism.
tl;dr I told you so,
—Because in my ward (and many other wards I know of) there was a big to-do a couple years ago over the question of whether or not it was okay for women (in their capacity as visiting teachers) to pray for the families they teach in those families’ homes.
—Because that controversy was not caused by any policy originating with church leadership, but rather by some women being instinctively uncomfortable with the idea of praying on behalf of the people they visit teach (and telling other women that it was inappropriate).
—Because there are still women who feel uncomfortable and choose not to pray for the families they teach when they visit them. [Read more...]
In light of recent discussion (including and perhaps especially the re-rearing of the ugly head of LDS creationist-fundamentalism), I’m reposting something I wrote a couple of years ago.
Death, Mortality, And The Fall
The association of the fallen state of humanity with the biblical story of expulsion from Eden has deep and varied Christian roots. While Original Sin might be a notion primarily associated with the theological traditions of Catholicism (and perhaps Eastern Orthodoxy as well), Protestants too view the redemptive work of Christ as the antidote to the problems of human sinfulness as embodied in Adam’s fall from grace. I have no idea the extent to which the problem of physical death figures into these Christian anthropologies (though I assume that the at least some connection between Adam and Eve’s transgression and our collective mortal nature is implicit in most if not all Christian traditions). But my sense is that the link between physical death and the Fall enjoys a unique theological focus and valency in Mormon thought. [Read more...]
I strongly suspect that we tend to fall well short in our understanding of the ordinances of baptism by immersion and the gift of the Holy Ghost. I also suspect that how well or deeply we understand these things has very little to do with their efficacy in our lives and on our path toward God. Nevertheless, here are a handful of observations, some pretty straightforward and non-controversial, some slightly more speculative. None of this is meant as a resolution to the problem or a grand unified theory—I’m not really even making an argument. These observations are more like the reason why I suspect that we’re missing something. [Read more...]
The full announcement can be read here. The long and short: the age requirement for sister missionaries has been lowered from 21 to 19, and the age 19 requirement for boys is now more flexible and can be lowered to 18 (for high school graduates) under appropriate circumstances.
There are lot of practical implications that flow from this change, but I want to focus on one thing in particular. [Read more...]
When I was a missionary in Russia, one of the most jarring culture shocks I experienced was the ubiquity of pornography. Emblematic, perhaps, of this problem were the tiny rectangular pornographic stickers that came in packs of chewing gum, and which ended up plastered on public walls. This was particularly true of elevators (the kind that exist in every single apartment building). Many of the elders in my mission pursued an aggressive strategy with regard to the offending images: [Read more...]
Those of you who have paid much attention to my sporadic blogging activity of late will find little surprise in my confession that I have not exactly been on the best of terms with either Blake Ostler or Ralph Hancock. In fact, assuming the bloggernacle is a serious enough space in which to even speak of enemies, I think it’s safe to say that I have, at times, treated both of these men as enemies. [Read more...]
Have you ever noticed that no matter where you go, no matter when you are experiencing something, there you are?… I sit still, an anchored thing, as temporal changes roll past. From one perspective it looks like I am moving while the river remains still, but in truth I think it is time itself that moves rushing past me, dividing to flow around me.
—Dora Daphne Tanner, from The Scholar Of Moab
The past year has witnessed the opening up (discovery?) of new ecosystems on the Mormon intellectual landscape. I’ve noted elsewhere my satisfaction with some of the advances in historical scholarship. But here I’d like to focus on the brilliant and challenging work of Steven Peck and Adam Miller. This post is not intended as an in-depth, extended review of their work, but rather as a rumination on why I find their work so moving and important. [Read more...]
This past Saturday, May 19th, the 174th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s arrival at the very same site, my family and I visited what our atlas refers to as a “Mormon shrine.”
To that end, I offer you the Mormon Patriarchy BINGO Card:
Now, to facilitate the actual playing of the game, I’ll now provide you a discussion prompt. Here it is:
The key difference between men and women in the Mormon universe is that men can work outside the home without diminishing their capacity or performance as parents, women can’t.
You ever wonder how angry, unselfconscious misogynists react to intelligent, outspoken women? [Read more...]
So, apparently it’s rather difficult to offer a rationalization or defense of a racist practice without sounding like a daft racist. The reason for this is closely related to a more general rule (the bane of unselfconscious racists everywhere): when some idea or practice is racist, claiming it isn’t racist is racist. It just is. It’s one of the unbreakable laws of the universe. Calling something racist not racist is, like, one of the most racist moves you can do. Seriously. [Read more...]
My son, there is a great and marvelous work in store for you. You will be an instrument in my hands in making unto me a great people. They will be my people, and I will be their God, and you will work a work to bring this to pass. You will lead them to their salvation, to the land of the New Zion.
But first you must retrieve the record. [Read more...]
“When death becomes the center of our consciousness, then religion authentically begins. Of all religions that I know, the one that most vehemently and persuasively defies and denies the reality of death is the original Mormonism of the prophet, seer and revelator Joseph Smith.”
“I will open your eyes in relation to your dead.”
–Joseph Smith, Jr.
In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death
Samuel Morris Brown
New York: Oxford University Press. 2010
Hardback, 408 Pages
Sam Brown’s long-anticipated book has been well worth the wait. [Read more...]
Which brings us back to Joseph Smith. [Read more...]
There are any number of angles one could take in trying to think or talk about prayer. How does God hear prayers? How does God respond to them? When and for what should we pray? What are the mechanisms that make prayer potentially efficacious? I’d like to discuss prayer from a perspective that brackets these questions of efficacy or the effects our praying has on God, focusing instead on one particular aspect of prayer, perhaps most memorably described by C. S. Lewis who famously argued that the most important consequence of prayer was not its effect on God but rather its effect on the person who prays. [Read more...]
All the anticipation of and conversation around the upcoming anniversary has reminded me of a powerful experience. I attended a fireside with my wife several years back at which President Hinckley spoke. He was sharply dressed (a light gray suit with a jet black tie and matching pocket-kerchief). I remember being somewhat surprised at his remarks, not because he said anything earth-shattering in itself, but because he seemed to deviate from his more typical folksy conventional wisdom at least topically, if not stylistically. [Read more...]
A good friend of mine and avid Mormon book collector recently apprised me of one of his newer and more impressive acquisitions: Spencer W. Kimball’s personal copy of The Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith. As the inscription below (scanned from the opening pages of the book) indicates, it was a gift from his wife, Camilla. (Click on the image to see it full size).
The following is a list of grievous sins: [Read more...]
Two weeks ago a bishopric counselor asked me to prepare a talk for the upcoming Father’s Day sacrament meeting. Now, I’ve made no secret of the fact that I have some problems with our current (and past) discourse on gender, sex, and gender roles. These problems are trenchant, and definitely not the mere product of self-consciously sexist attitudes on the part of current LDS leaders (indeed, sexist attitudes are much more the products how we talk about these topics and the kinds of things that our talk about them takes for granted). Still there have been some important shifts in the past generation. [Read more...]
On Monday afternoon, 18 April 2011, Stanley E. Whiting passed away at a Hospice center just outside Independence, Missouri. Earlier this year, at age 76, Stanley learned that the pancreatic cancer he successfully pushed back 3 years ago had returned with a vengeance. [Read more...]
I am silvery, scaly. Puddles of flakes form wherever I rest my flesh. Each morning, I vacuum my bed. My torture is skin deep; there is no pain, not even itching. We lepers live a long time, and are ironically healthy in other respects. Lusty, though we are loathsome to love. Keen-sighted, though we hate to look upon ourselves. The name of the disease, spiritually speaking, is ‘Humiliation.’
—John Updike, “From the Journal of a Leper”
Generally speaking, the miracles of Jesus’ ministry fall in to four categories: healings, exorcisms, nature miracles, and post-resurrection appearances. This post will focus primarily on healings, and take Jesus’ healing of lepers as paradigmatic of this important aspect of His earthly ministry. [Read more...]
Women are endowed with special traits and attributes that come trailing down through eternity from a divine mother. Young women have special God-given feelings about charity, love, and obedience. Coarseness and vulgarity are contrary to their natures. They have a modifying, softening influence on young men. Young women were not foreordained to do what priesthood holders do. Theirs is a sacred, God-given role, and the traits they received from heavenly mother are equally as important as those given to the young men.
—Vaughn J. Featherstone, October 1987
This past year I was asked to give a talk on the value of motherhood in our Mother’s Day sacrament meeting service. As I prepared the talk, I posed two questions to a number of women and mothers I know, including my wife.
What is the thing you most enjoy hearing in talks about motherhood?
What is the thing you most dread hearing in such talks?
The answer, it turns out, in virtually all cases, was identical. For both questions: [Read more...]