How Mitt Romney Deflated the Mormon Moment

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Before we get too far into this week’s Democratic National Convention, let me get off my chest something about last week’s, something that I’ve alluded to in other places before, but now, having watched and read up on all the Mormon-centric stuff that came out of Tampa last week, I’m more certain of than ever. The speeches given last Thursday, culminating in Mitt Romney’s speech accepting the presidential nomination of the Republican Party wasn’t just a “climax” for the Mormon Moment–it was the effective sublimation and emptying of it as well. [Read more…]

Blessed, Honored Pioneers

Caitlyn–our second daughter, age 12–gave her first talk in sacrament meeting on Sunday. The topic was, as no doubt was the case in wards and branches all across the country, the Mormon pioneers. She genuinely struggled over it, asking smart questions (like “Why did they go all the way to Utah; could they have just set up a new city once they’d escaped from Illinois?”), and wondering whether it was appropriate or not to mention our family’s pioneer heritage (Brigham Young on my father’s mother’s side; C.C.A. Christensen–and hundreds of other Scandinavian saints–on my wife’s father’s), or whether that would seem like bragging. In the end, she gave fine 7-minute talk, telling stories and expressing appreciation for the way the pioneer experience “gave us a church we have today.” Which is true, mostly. Her ancestors would have been proud. Really, it was a good sacrament meeting, all around. The only way it could have been improved is if we’d sung The Handcart Song as a congregation–you know, the real one. [Read more…]

Why I Think I Was Wrong About Proposition 8 and Same-Sex Marriage

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The only time I have had the opportunity to actually vote on–as opposed to pontificate about–same-sex marriage was in 2004 when I lived in Arkansas, when an amendment to the state constitution forbidding the legal recognition of anything besides a union of one man and one woman as a marriage was on the ballot. I voted in favor of it. In 2008, though I wasn’t living in California, Proposition 8–the ballot initiative to re-establish what was, at the time, the exclusively heterosexual definition of marriage in that state–was obviously something just about every informed American Mormon, due to our church’s heavy involvement in its passage, had an opinion on. My opinion, which was published as part of a roundtable in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, was that I would have, if I’d lived in California, reluctantly voted in support of the referendum. I now think both my vote on same-sex marriage in Arkansas, and the arguments I laid out regarding Proposition 8, were wrong. [Read more…]

“What Think Ye of Christ?”

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Twice in the past week, I have been asked, in essence, this very question, though not exactly as it is recorded in Matthew 22:42. Once the question came from a student of mine, a young person, unfamiliar with the Mormon church but filled with questions, a person generally uninterested in Christianity; the other came from a fellow Mormon blogger, an academic like myself, trying to make sense of certain statements I’d made in response to some of the temple-related controversies which the Mormon Moment has thrust upon us. I found myself responding as I did in both cases, I suppose, because I’m mostly unconcerned with, and admittedly sometimes outright dismissive of, many of the doctrines in question: the point of the church, for me at least, is to get close to God, and experience the condescension, love, and grace of Jesus, and I often find the need to justify or make sense of much of the rest of our teachings a distraction, at best. What follows is my attempt to recreate the answers I gave to those two questioners, with some help from Elders Holland and Uchtdorf along the way. [Read more…]

Prayer and the Sovereignty of God

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This is a sermon which I gave in sacrament meeting on January 1, 2012. It was the day after our third daughter, Alison, was baptized, and my parents and parents-in-law were in attendance, which all made for a wonderful occasion. I don’t think I would have done anything different with this sermon it had been just another Sunday though. In any case, I think it turned out well, and enough people told me afterwards that they liked it that I decided to post it here. Enjoy. [Read more…]

Happy Christmas, Everyone

This, or something very much like this, is perhaps my oldest Christmas memory. Also one of my best.

Best wishes for a great holiday tomorrow.

The (Not So) Radical(ly Conseravtive) Mormon Priesthood

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

That Mormonism was at one time a radical movement which challenged dominant American liberal norms–most famously regarding marriage and sexuality, but also (and I think more importantly) regarding economics and government–is pretty well understood by most who have even a passing familiarity with Mormon history. (If that’s not you, see here and here.) That Mormonism today–at least American Mormonism, at least if the dominant voting patterns and preferred modes of discourse amongst the majority of American Mormon wards are taken as evidence–is no longer much committed to radical communitarianism and egalitarianism, to radical re-organizations of social life, to radical distinctions in how one talks about sovereignty and loyalty, is also pretty well understood. (Again, if you’re lost, begin here and here.) America is a different place than it was in the late 19th-century, to be sure, when the U.S. government invested considerable effort to imprison church members and break apart church operations…but then, we are also a significantly different church than we were then, far more at peace with, and far more aligned to, dominant American ways of socializing, making money, electing our leaders and living our lives. Sure, we could point to all sorts of contrasting evidence–but we’re much more sexually traditional than most Americans! we challenge all sorts of trends regarding divorce and family! we’re considered weird by people in Hollywood!–but all that is, I would assert, fairly circumstantial: fundamentally, for better or worse (or both), the “Mormon moment” has come, in all its multicolored variety, and its conclusion is: even allowing for our mostly traditional mores and mostly conservative politics, here in America we are, I think, undeniably a pretty modern mix of mostly independent individuals, just like nearly everybody else (or, more honestly, just like nearly every other mostly white, mostly suburban church in America). [Read more…]

Mormonism and Utopian Politics

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I don’t mean to make a habit of responding to Matt Bowman’s essays in The New Republic, if for no other reason than that the man’s scholarly chops and writing skills are both impressive and intimidating. Both those talents are fully on display in his latest piece, which thoughtfully postulates a link between Mitt Romney’s technocratic worldview and organizational acumen (as well as his occasional history of deviating from quasi-libertarian, Tea Party-conservative Republican orthodoxy) and Mormonism’s history of progressive-style responses to social problems. But there’s a problem with Bowman’s essay: what he identifies from Mormon history and culture as a variation upon “classical American progressivism” isn’t really, or at least isn’t at its roots, despite his claims otherwise. In fact, the affinity which Matt sees between Mormonism and progressivism is actually just an echo of an ever deeper, more radical historical parallel and inheritance–one which, I’m sad to say, Mitt Romney (like most American Mormons) shows little sign of having been influenced by at all. [Read more…]

Finally Weighing in on the Jeffress-Romney Thing….

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

(I’ve no deep interest in the whole current morass of Republican party politics and anti-Mormonism, partly because I’ve gone through the whole thing before, and partly because many others have weighed in with thoughts much better than my own. Still, last Friday I sent this editorial off to my local newspaper, responding to a piece by Robert “Mormonism is a cult” Jeffress which had appeared that morning, and today they actually ran it, though I had to cut down my essay to under 600 words, which was simply criminal. Anyway, here’s the original, longer version of the piece. Read and enjoy.) [Read more…]

Uncle Buck Demonstrates the Wisdom of President Dalton’s Counsel

President Elaine S. Dalton, speaking in this morning’s conference: “Fathers, if  your daughter isn’t back from her date on time, go get her!” [Read more…]

Getting Everything Wrong (Even What He Gets Right)

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The October 2011 issue of Harper’s Magazine features as its cover article a lengthy, provocative, at times insightful, but mostly wholly tendentious anti-Mormon screed by Chris Lehmann, entitled “Pennies from Heaven.” Lehmann’s thesis basically boils down to 1) Mormon doctrine conveys a particularly pure version of the “prosperity gospel,” in which the tightly organized collective acquisition of non-speculative wealth (mostly gold or land) is held up as the ideal characteristic of God’s chosen people, and 2) this ideological mix of piety and material plenty has spread through the Tea Party movement and into the mainstream of the Republican party, with Mormon presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman being exemplary contributors to this continuing economic conversion. This thesis–both parts of it–is, to put it plainly, complete balderdash. At one point Lehmann, in criticizing the Tea Party, speaks of their “tortured and largely confabulated vision of the Founding Fathers” (p. 36); the exact same sentence could be used to describe how he treats what he calls “Mormon economics,” or indeed how he treats Mormonism itself. Even when he touches on an important point or two that could contribute to a thoughtful story about the unfortunate alliance between much of contemporary American Mormonism and the G.O.P.’s free-market fetishization, he still manages to get the actual argument wrong. [Read more…]

“We Have Seen Strange Things To Day”

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I recently finished reading through the four canonical gospels. I didn’t embark on this scripture study project because the church is studying the New Testament in gospel doctrine class this year, but because, after having completed both another family and a personal read of the Book of Mormon, I thought I should do something different. I thought about reading the Old Testament, which I’ve never completed all the way through (the closest I ever came was more than 20 years ago, on my mission, when I made it all the way to Lamentations when I just gave up). I thought about the Doctrines and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price, but the truth is they’re my least favorite books of scripture; much better, to my mind, for occasional study, both historical and theological, than for devotional reading. And that’s what I’ve come to view my own scripture reading as: an act of ritual and repetition, a brief, daily, meditation upon The Word. The New Testament presented the obvious text of choice. And in reading through the gospels, one point seemed to me to be clearly hammered home by the text, again and again: Jesus seriously freaked people out. [Read more…]

Reviving the Review

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

When I began my university education at nearly 25 years ago, Student Review, an independent, non-correlated, student-run newspaper at BYU, was a year old. I’d never heard of it before, but when walking through the parade of booths set up by clubs and other student organizations during Freshman Orientation, I spotted a man with a beard. Since this was Provo, that was, of course, unusual. I walked to him, and learned he was Bill Kelly, the publisher and one of the three key founders of the newspaper. (He had to shave the beard the next week, when the semester officially began.) I’d worked for student newspapers before, and like the–admittedly, rather self-congratulatory–feeling of being a bit of a rabble-rouser, so I immediately signed up. And that was it. For all the rest of my time as an undergraduate–throughout my freshman year in 1987-1988, after I returned from my church proselytizing mission in 1990, and until I graduate in 1993–Student Review (or “SR” as we near-universally referred to it) was one of the defining elements of my education. [Read more…]

The Scriptorian

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

My first encounter with Jim Faulconer came on my mission to South Korea. I’d been in the country about a year, and my companion at the time had an older brother who was studying philosophy back at BYU. He sent his younger brother a recent essay by Jim: “Self-Image, Self-Love, and Salvation”, a masterpiece which has since been reprinted and celebrated and attacked many times. I don’t know why this fellow thought his brother would like or need the essay: perhaps it just struck him as a great piece of writing, or perhaps he thought his brother would relate to Jim’s own experiences as a missionary in South Korea more than 20 (now more than 40!) years before, or perhaps he thought his brother would value Jim’s advice. If the last of these, he misjudged his brother greatly; my companion looked through the essay, turned to me and said (if my memory is accurate, which it probably isn’t) “This guy just doesn’t like people being successful and making money!”, and threw it in the trash. I retrieved it, read through it, and realized several things, among them: 1) this man, James E. Faulconer, has put into better words than I ever could at least a portion of the many inchoate and confused thoughts I had about my situation as a missionary and a Christian, and 2) that I want to read everything he’d ever written, or ever would write.

As it turned out, Jim’s thoughts, profound as they were (and are) didn’t do much to prevent me from being a pretty crappy missionary, but I have attempted diligently to read just about everything Jim has written in the years since, and I have been blessed by that determination. Let me take a few moments to attempt to explain why.

[Read more…]

Radical Homemaking, Radical Enrichment

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I first heard about Shannon Hayes work through Laura McKenna’s blog nearly two years ago. I was already disposed to like the sorts of localist, agrarian, and traditional causes that Hayes urges us to consider when I first read about her (after all, Melissa and I vaguely aspire to that sort of lifestyle ourselves), but it was Laura’s concluding line–“There is absolutely no reason that feminism should mean a devotion to capitalism”–that really pulled me in. When I finally got a copy of Hayes’s book, Radical Homemakers, I confess it wasn’t what I expected–rather than a serious, theoretically grounded critique of consumer culture, family life, and the structural obstacles that often stand in the way of adopting a simpler, more communal lifestyle, I found an often sloppily researched but nonetheless impassioned instruction manual-cum-rallying cry. A cry and a manual for what? Very simply, for rejecting the economic demands which insist of dual-income households (p. 17), for relearning how to grow and preserve your own food (pp. 78-83), and for refusing the economically and environmentally devastating materialism of modern American life (pp. 93-94). And I thought to myself: now, wouldn’t this make for a great Relief Society lesson?

[Read more…]

Should Mitt Even Want a “Moment”?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Another thought (shorter than last time) about the recent Newsweek cover story on Mormonism in America today, and Mitt Romney’s–or any other prominent member of my church’s–place in it all. [Read more…]

Do We Want Our Religion To Be Mainstream?

[Cross posted to In Medias Res]

This cover story in Newsweek is pretty much the only thing Mormons in my crowd have been talking about this morning. (They’ve also been talking about the other features in the package, as well as a wonderful sidebar article on Elizabeth Smart, but not as much as the main piece.) The main article, “Mormons Rock!”, written by Walter Kirn–who is a long-lapsed member of the faith himself–apparently started out as a piece on the new “The Book of Mormon” musical on Broadway, but grew from there. The editor primarily responsible for putting the package together and guiding it was Damon Linker, my old friend and frequent intellectual sparring-partner, not least when it comes to things Mormon. Here, thanks to the work of some fine other journalists, he’s developed something that might well be read as a basically innocuous puff-piece (running through some of the basics of the church’s history and current institutional culture, quoting several prominent members of the faith about how they deal with the misunderstanding and marginalization that comes along with being a minority faith), but which, to me anyway, presents a fairly challenging question, a question that might be legitimately asked to believers of any non-dominant religion: should you, as a adherent of a faith, actually want to have your “moment”? [Read more…]

Rosalynde Defines Mormon Art

Rosalynde Welch, with her characteristic intelligence, has laid down a concise, cogent, and challenging explanation of why American Mormon authors tend to congregate in “genre” categories, like science-fiction, fantasy, horror, romance, or some combination thereof, rather than pursue “serious literary fiction”: [Read more…]

What Matt Missed About Mitt (and Jon)

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Matt Bowman, a Mormon blogger I know slightly (in the same way, I suppose, that just about all Mormon bloggers know each other at least “slightly”), has written a fine and thoughtful piece about the different “Mormonisms” of Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, the two members of my faith that are at present making noise about their interest in pursuing the Republican nomination for president next year. His basic thesis is that the differences between them in how they talk about and relate to others in the context of their religious beliefs, and consequently their differences in how they may potentially reach out to voters in the Republican primaries and then the general election, is greatly a function of their ages: that there is a “generation gap” between a Mormon who came of age in the mid-1960s (as Romney did), and the late 1970s (as Huntsman did), and that gap is meaningful. [Read more…]

Do We Still Teach Homemaking?

The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.) [Read more…]

Starting the Book of Mormon, All Over Again

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Today, Monday, April 4, 2011, the Fox family finished reading the Book of Mormon together, a project we last began in August of 2006. Tomorrow, assuming we maintain our usual habits, we’ll be starting it once again. [Read more…]

An RM Reflects

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Years ago I had a friend, Andrew Christensen, that served his mission about the same time I did, in Sendai, Japan. Actually, I have a few friends that served in that country–and as I served in South Korea, there were, in later years, occasional expressions of joking rivalry between us. I’d forgotten about most of that, as I’ve forgotten, or at least seriously reconsidered, much of my own mission experience. Andrew, thankfully, has not–or at least, the tragedy in Japan, which hit hard the mission in which he served, and particularly devastated a community he knew and loved (the city of Natori, shown being wiped out by the tsunami to the left), has brought back all sorts of memories. He has posted some of them, and has kindly given me permission to share them. Perhaps his thoughtful, heartfelt words will help others to gave months and years of their lives serving the people of this (to us) distant land to share their own reflections as well. Anyway, here is what he wrote. [Read more…]

Memories of a Year, Up in Flames

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Last night the historic Provo Tabernacle, the most beautiful building in Provo, Utah, caught fire. The fire burned through the night, with firefighters working both within the building and without to contain it, without avail. Word is, the building is a total loss, and will have to be demolished. (More links and words about the tragedy at Ardis Parshall’s blog and Juvenile Instructor. Also, more photos below the fold, courtesy of David H. Bailey.)

[Read more…]

Damon Linker’s Religious Test

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

My friend Damon’s new book, The Religious Test: Why We Must Question the Beliefs of Our Leaders, will be published later this month. It’s already attracting attention (partly due to a well-placed précis of the book which Damon wrote for the Washington Post), and it should: it’s an excellent book. It isn’t so much a scholarly work that will fundamentally affect how people think about the history, nature, and role of religious belief in a liberal society like our own, but a thoughtful and scholarly work of argument, one that has the potential to orient much of our thinking about religious candidates for office and religious claims in public life generally. The thesis of the book, in a nutshell? Damon is a liberal, through and through, and he worries about what he sees as all the illiberal ways (some of which are easily recognized, but some of which are not) in which the American electorate, voters and parties and interest groups alike, often fail to ask the hard–even “religious”–questions of those who come before us, asking for a vote with one hand, while keeping their Bible (or Koran, or Book of Mormon) close by with the other. [Read more…]

A Day of Philosophy, Theology, and Law

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I’ve received a couple of queries about the conference I mentioned in passing in an earlier post. I suppose I could write at length about the presentations given at the conference, and what I learned, and who I met, and what the purpose of the conference was as a whole, but fortunately Robert Crouch, one of the conference participants and one of the geniuses behind the wonderful Feast Upon the Word blog, has already provided all the summaries and links anyone could need. So go look there, if you’re interested. [Read more…]

The Most Patriotic Fast and Testimony Meeting Ever

Toronto (actually Pickering), Ontario, Canada, July 2, 2006. [Read more…]

Can a Good Mormon Make Over $100,000 a Year?

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This post is, in a sense, a sequel to two older posts: “Can a Good Mormon be a Meritocrat?” and “Can a Good Mormon be a Socialist?” In case you can’t be bothered to read until the end, the answers to the three questions are: “Probably not,” “Yes,” and “Sometimes, maybe, but seriously, why would you want to take that risk anyway?” [Read more…]

You Make the Call: Spouses and Boy Friends

Not “boyfriend”: Boy. Friend. [Read more…]

A Mormon Easter Sermon

Presumably, you’re all watching or listening to General Conference now, or at least checking out By Common Consent, thinking that you ought to be. Whatever is or isn’t said in the conference sessions today, very likely there will be no mention of the fact that today is Holy Saturday, the quietest and most somber day in the whole Christian calendar. That’s all right; just because no general authority is going to name today the Sabbatum Sanctum, doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from calling it such.

I have a tradition of reading Eugene England’s powerful and appropriately somber essay “Easter Weekend” on Holy Saturday. But I have also noticed that, very nearly exactly 25 years ago, on the day before Easter in 1985, a sermon–also powerful, and also appropriately somber–was given in general conference. Elder Bruce R. McConkie delivered his last general conference address, “The Purifying Power of Gethsemane”, during the morning session of that Holy Saturday. (He died 13 days later.) Whomever may or may not be speaking at the time you’re reading this, I very sincerely doubt that they will have anything as important, or as appropriate, to say this Eastertide as Elder McConkie did, a quarter-century ago. I remember watching it, long ago, and it moves me still.
[Read more…]

Friday Reflections on Mormonism and the Cross

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res. A version of this post previously appeared at Times and Seasons]

This past Sunday, which was Palm Sunday (though so far as I know, no one in our ward made mention of that fact), my second daughter, Caitlyn, was taught in her Primary class that the Atonement which we accept Jesus Christ to have performed for us–the Atonement which we, along with the rest of the Christian world, particularly honor with our commemoration of His resurrection every Easter–was performed in the Garden of Gethsemane, not (or at least not primarily) upon the Cross. [Read more…]


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