Destroyed in the flesh

In Gospel Doctrine we hit on the first part of 1 Corinthians this week. In chapter 5 Paul is fairly irritated that Church hasn’t done anything about the guy who is shacking up with his stepmom. This was clearly verboten in the Torah, but it is also apparently one of those things we are going to keep. A good call, I think. Paul’s instructions are pretty clear: kick this guy out.
[Read more…]

Michael Austin in Seattle, September 12

Michael Austin will be speaking on Job at the home of Molly Bennion on September 12 at 7:00 PM. You may know his book on Job won the Association of Mormon Letters Award for Nonfiction for 2014. He is a fine man and a fine Mormon. He’s also a man of wit and charm, an excellent speaker. He is currently working on a book about the over 100 19th century novels by or about Mormons. You can check out his posts here at BCC for a sample of his keen and humane acumen. Here is the deal: first come, first served so RSVP with Molly ( No charge but donations for airfare are always appreciated.

Saturday Night Fireside:
“The Book of Job and the Challenge of Scriptural Poetry”
One of the disadvantages of the King James Translation, which Latter-day Saints use as our official version of the Bible, is that it makes no distinction between poetry and prose. Every line is printed as straight prose, and every sentiment is elevated to the high linguistic register of poetry. But the Old Testament is made up of a mixture of prose and poetry, and of a blending of styles and registers, that readers are supposed to notice. Nowhere are these interpretive difficulties more evident than in the Book of Job, which alternates between prose and poetry—and between simplistic prose and elevated poetry—in ways that readers are supposed to notice. This presentation will explain the structure of Job and explore how understanding its shifts in style and register can help us make sense of one of the ancient world’s greatest works of literature.

Michael Austin received his Ph.D. in English at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1997 and taught English literature for many years. He has written or edited nine books, including Re-reading Job: Understanding the Ancient World’s Greatest Poem, which won the 2014 Association for Mormon Letters Award for Nonfiction. He currently lives in Wichita, Kansas, where he is a Provost, whatever that is.

“knowledge, and power, by revelation”

I just learned that a twenty-two-year-old friend of our family died in a car accident this morning. I was immediately wrenched back seven years to when my nephew died. I can still hardly talk about it. I wrote this short piece after I came home from his funeral. In the time since I have researched and written on related topics, I’ve had two more children, and the pain still smolders. God be with my friends as they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. May they know that they are never alone.
[Read more…]

Divergent Tribes

A bit ago Kevin fielded a question from the BCC inbox relating to the meaning of tribal assignments in Patriarchal Blessings. I liked his response. It reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend a couple of years ago. We went out for some overpriced burgers and chatted about his declared lineage to one of the more uncommon tribes. I’d certainly never met anyone who professed a similar assignment. He wondered what I thought it might mean.
[Read more…]

Blessed Are the Dead Who Die in the Lord

boyd-k-packer-largeMy first clear memory of Elder Boyd K. Packer, beyond an awareness of his existence and position, was mediated through my father. Fresh off of my mission my dad had attended Stake Presidents’ training by Elder Packer and taken copious notes.  The text was nitrous oxide to the engine of my post-mission soul. In the time since that moment, through my training as a critical observer of our history and as believing member, I have consistently viewed our recently deceased Quorum of the Twelve President through those pages. He rightly understood our tradition to be venerable, and confessed the primacy of revelation. [Read more…]

Consequential changes

I live in a State where gay marriage was legal before the Supreme Court ruled on the matter. My day-to-day Mormonism did not change when my State adopted it, and I don’t think that it will change now. With the national attention, however, I did start thinking about some of the eventual issues that the church will need to adjudicate. Naturally I thought of matters liturgical. [Read more…]

Understanding each other

I’ve spent a decade researching and writing Mormon history, focusing primarily on church liturgy—our rituals and ritualized patterns of worship. And with every additional project, I am more convinced that the voices, records and stories of women are not only important, but necessary to comprehend our past (and present). Even with topics we often associate with men, like “ordinances,” we fail when we don’t account for the experiences of women. One cannot understand Mormon healing without understanding the integral participation of women in the liturgy. And even where male priesthood office holders are the sole administrators, often women are the majority of recipients.
[Read more…]

Mormon History Association Conference weeks away

In a couple of weeks, the Mormon History Association will be hosting its annual conference in Provo. It is $170 for the multi-day conference per person if you register by Tuesday. MHA also got special rates on the hotel ($99 a night plus ability to share rooms). I’ll be there to attend and present and I am involved with organization more broadly, but I don’t hesitate to say that MHA is the best source for information on Mormon History.

[Read more…]

Mormon Jesus?

Some months ago, I sat with a close friend just outside of Heathrow airport. We shared the Chinese food that was apparently prepared by Malaysian chefs, but we also shared deep interests in religion and theology. It was just the most recent meal of dozens over the years, and as was common, our conversation drifted in and out of chemistry, scripture, and belief. Quite appropriate to the context of our discussion, my friend asked, “Now, Mormons believe that Jesus was not always God, right?” Without blinking I replied that while some Christians might reject our formulation of the Trinity, Jesus was most certainly God from all eternity to all eternity. It was only later—some hours after we separated ways—that I reflected back on my response and wondered if I had mischaracterized some Mormons’ beliefs.
[Read more…]

Elder Christofferson: The ascendance of the tripartite model #LDSConf

In the spirit world where the dead await the glorious Resurrection of the just, B. H. Roberts is currently giggling to himself, trying not to smile too conspicuously. Bruce R. McConkie wants to go over and wipe the smile off his face with his spirit fist.
[Read more…]


It is Maundy Thursday. Today is the day that for millennia Christians have gathered to consecrate oil for anointing. For my part I have made a point to revisit the related venerable rites. The oil. The garden. Life. Death.
[Read more…]

Seeing the sites, II

I recently was in St. George with my family. We have been there before, but this time we went to some new spots.
[Read more…]

Review: Religion of a Different Color

Paul Reeve’s book, Religion of a Different Color, arrived in time for me to take on my trip and I finished before getting home. I wanted to write something up quickly; this is not meant to be an exhaustive review. Still, I think there is a lot worth saying. Paul opens and organizes the volume with a handy conceit, namely the cartoon from Life magazine that adorns the cover, and he uses the various children as sections to discuss the complex interplay between Mormons, Americans and race. From today’s perspective it does seem absurd that Americans denigrated Mormons as more black, or Native American, or Asian than white. Handy and tremendously perspicuous. Religion of a Different Color is the most sophisticated and penetrating treatment of Mormonism and race to date.
[Read more…]

Death and the genesis of belief

Reading one of J Stuart’s recent posts over at the JI stirred a memory of a diary entry written several decades earlier by James Talmage. The limen of death is perhaps the greatest locus of ritual and theological innovation.

[Read more…]

2014 Christmas gift book guide

I’m starting to really believe that the older you get, the brain really does process time differently, the perception of it being accelerated. Welcome to another year of the BCC annual Christmas gift book guide. 2014 was a pretty fine year.

[Read more…]

It takes a long pull to get there.

I recently watched Porgy and Bess at the 5th Avenue Theater. My knowledge of opera is fairly limited, but this one is my favorite. I am aware of its problematic elements, but I’m a sucker for Gershwin.
[Read more…]

Review: Documents, Volume 1, 1829-1831 of the JSPP

I delivered this essay at the 2014 annual conference of the Mormon History Association as the critic in an author-meets-critics (or more accurately, editors-meet-critic) session for Documents, Volume 1, 1829-1831, in the Joseph Smith Papers Project.

Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.

[Read more…]

Council of Fifty Minutes

I was giddy when Matt Grow, Rick Turley, and Ron Esplin gave the first public details regarding the Nauvoo Council of Fifty minutes. [Read more…]

Mormon History Association conference next week

Next week is the annual conference of the Mormon History Association. It will be held in San Antonio, Texas (next year is in Provo). It is probably too late for a last minute trip plan, but if you live in the area, be sure to come down. (Register here; program here)
[Read more…]

The 1983 Mercer Island Ward Cookbook

I sometimes look at the used markets for research materials and I recently found a copy of the 1983 Mercer Island Ward Cookbook for sale on ebay. I remembered that my current ward was organized in the mid-1980s and that previously it was part of the Mercer Island Ward. A quick email to the ward list and responses confirmed my suspicion. Within a few weeks a friend lent me a copy from their own shelf.

[Read more…]

Providential tentacles, sacerdotal perseverance, and punishment for sin

Elder Bednar in the most recent Ensign (PDF) takes up a sensitive topic—the eternal fate of our children who turn away. This isn’t something that is uniquely Mormon. Faithful people the world over struggle with this, and it is at the root of some of the most interesting accommodations in religious history. Think the halfway covenant that bugged Jonathan Edwards so much.
[Read more…]

Priesthood ecclesiology, 1876 edition

A number of months ago, I read an interesting entry in Frederick Kesler’s diary. He was a bishop in Salt Lake City, and on October 19, 1876 he attended a bishops’ meeting and had summarized Brigham Young’s instructions. Bill Hartley briefly mentions this meeting as an antecedent to Young’s more comprehensive ecclesiastical reforms in 1877. [n1] Kesler’s reaction is quite imformative:
[Read more…]

New JSPP content now online

So, the Joseph Smith Papers crew has released another batch of content on their website. Included in the release are holograph images and transcriptions of the four contemporaneous accounts of the King Follett Sermon (plus the T&S version as a bonus). [n1] The chunk of early 1842 documents includes the minutes of the organization of the Nauvoo Masonic Lodge. Also some Nauvoo Legion minutes, and skads of letters and deeds. One page that has been out for a while but is announced today is the Calendar of Documents which lists all the known JS documents to 1833 along with forgeries, so you can easily check.

Solid work guys.

  1. I hereby proscribe (again) any reference to the TPJS in historical writing, when discussing anything before the time it was written.

Our liturgy of lives and deaths

WP_20130714_016I served a mission in France and Belgium. Though I have seen blessing gowns in the Church History Museum, my family has not made a tradition of the infant’s clothing. At the end of my time, I walked with my parents not far from the Grande Place of Brussels, and they found a white lace dress. It was not meant for me, but death and life sometimes intercede without expectation.

[Read more…]

2013 Christmas gift book guide

I’m a little late in getting this posted. I blame the 4:17 pm sunset time. And look, I wait for three years to have the Doctrine and Covenants as the topic of study, and now we are back to the Hebrew Bible. I guess this is how the rest of you felt last year. Also check out Ben’s fine recap of this year’s crop of Mormon Studies publications.

[Read more…]

Were church leaders “wrong”?

In the short time since the “Race and the Priesthood” section of Gospel Topics was added to, I have seen various reactions. Some people have asked if church leaders were wrong about the priesthood and temple restriction, then could they possibly be wrong about something significant today? Similarly, I have seen the syllogism rephrased for rhetorical effect: The ban was not wrong. If it were then church leaders could similarly be wrong about something today like [invoke pet topic here].

[Read more…]

Responses to Gospel Inquiries

I think this is a pretty big deal.

[Read more…]

Missionary Work

In a conversation with a friend from my ward, I made some comments regarding the current Missionary Program, based on my limited observations of the general and regional ecclesiastical bureaucracy and things on the ground. I’ll be honest in that I think that the church is struggling existentially with regards to missionary work. Church leaders clearly have the mandate to spread the gospel, but the standard methods are rooted in a culture that doesn’t exist (and hasn’t existed for over a century), at least in the US and many other countries. I think church leaders don’t know what to do (I should add that I certainly don’t, either). So it will be interesting to see how things play out.
[Read more…]

Open Position: MHA Executive Director

* Position Opening *
Mormon History Association
Executive Director/Business Manager

The Mormon History Association is seeking qualified applicants for the independent-contractor position(s) of Executive Director/Business Manager. The position(s) may be best filled by two people, one of whom serves primarily as Business Manager. The Executive Director/Business Manager serve as officers and members of the MHA Board of Directors. The term is for three years, may be renewed, and begins in early 2014.
[Read more…]

Self Reliance: A Response from My Mom

My mom read my post of a couple of days ago and sent this response to me.

Self-Reliance has been a topic for Visiting Teaching off and on for as long as I remember. The last time I was to give a lesson to the two well educated and affluent sisters whom I teach, I took the tack of being emotionally, physically and spiritually self-reliant instead of the garden/food storage track. I, who at the time felt very self-reliant, was quite confident that I could teach this principle very well.
[Read more…]


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,580 other followers