I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church. [Read more…]
According to the song, love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. But when it comes to the history of marriage, pairing marriage with love is putting the cart before the horse. If we look at why people used to get married, traditionally, we’ll quickly see why marriages today are less stable. And why that may not be a terrible thing.
The phrase “traditional marriage”  is currently in vogue to describe opponents of gay marriage. Just what does marriage look like over time? Why do people marry and why is marriage changing so much? [Read more…]
A couple days ago, the Wall Street Journal highlighted (subscription required[fn1]) the accelerating loss of members certain churches in Germany are facing. The popular press is placing the blame at least partly on the new administration of Germany’s Church Tax.
What? you ask. A church tax? What’s that?
So glad you asked. [Read more…]
In April 1959, the Church published its last financial report. The last here is important, though, because, for almost half a century leading up to that report, the Church presented a relatively detailed financial report in each April General Conference.
Until a couple months ago, though, I’d never seen the financial reports that the Church issued. In the course of his reading and research, J. Stapley came across the Church’s 1947 financial report, and offered to let me blog it. I jumped at the chance, and the disclosure turns out, in many ways, to be as fascinating as I’d hoped. [Read more…]
I started writing a comment on Russell’s recent blog post, in which he explains why he’s canceling his Ensign subscription. Once the comment got past a couple hundred words, I figured a full complementary post might be more appropriate. So here goes.
I haven’t subscribed to the Ensign in over a decade. I read it a couple times a year, usually when I’m at my parents’ house, and the experience is sufficient to remind myself why I don’t subscribe, and why I don’t feel particularly guilty about it.
And yet, I spend time in the bloggernacle, where I tend to stick to faith-promoting sites with some level of orthodoxy. When I started reading and later writing for By Common Consent, it was specifically to fill the Ensign-shaped hole in my heart. A faith community needs an outlet where it can share struggles, devotional thoughts, and personal experiences with the divine, and interact with the culture beyond congregational boundaries.
Why do churches sometimes act like corporations? Isn’t there something fundamentally at odds between the ostensibly otherworldly business of saving souls and the dollars-and-cents mindset of 21st-century global capitalism? Questions of this kind these seem to undergird discussions of church finance, covering such matters as the property dealings of American Catholic dioceses, the uses of monies donated to Islamic charities, or the investment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a shopping mall across the street from historic Temple Square in Salt Lake City, or, now, a 32-story mixed-use structure in downtown Philadelphia.
When I returned to my office after winter break, I found two large brown boxes (with “Joe Christensen” written on the sides) waiting for me in the mailroom. I was pretty sure I knew what they held and, sure enough, upon opening them, I saw copies of Taxing Polygamy, my (finally published!) article dealing with the difficulties that a regime of legally-recognized polygamy would present to the U.S. tax system.
And, in celebration of its finally being published, I thought I’d do a little polygamy-blogging, starting with this broad introductory post. [Read more…]
A little over six months have passed since the Church held its mission president training meeting that was double-billed as a worldwide leadership training meeting relating to missionary work to which all members were invited (either in person at the BYU Marriott Center or virtually, by way of the internet) and which was preceded by unprecedented fanfare. [Read more…]
One of my most vivid memories as a boy growing up in the gospel-centered home that I did is of a Family Home Evening that we had when I was maybe four, in the basement of our little starter home in Bountiful, Utah. Mom and Dad helped my little brother and me trace our hands with blue marker on poster board. We cut those out, and then wrote on the five fingers of each hand our life’s goals, which we arrived at with Mom and Dad’s gentle persuasion:
1. Get Baptized and Receive the Holy Ghost
2. Receive the Aaronic Priesthood
3. Receive the Melchizedek Priesthood
4. Go on a Mission
5. Get Married in the Temple
That remains a pretty ideal life’s plan for young men in the Church today1—and there is a lot of good to it. Speaking personally, those were good goals for me, and they served me well. Over the years, I have also become more sensitive to the fact that sometimes ideals aren’t attainable, and that within Mormon culture the pain of unmet expectations or attainments can be really acute, even brutal. I want to speak in this post to a slightly different set of expectations that I wish we laid more cultural emphasis on—expectations that, in my view, are more attainable for a larger percentage of our willing young men and that might be more easily adapted to young women, as well.
Are Mormon marriages more equal or less equal than other marriages? Do Mormon women feel that they are taken seriously and treated as equals by their husbands? Are they encouraged to follow their dreams? Do they find their work (whether at home or in the workplace) meaningful and rewarding? In the give and take of marriage, are men and women giving and taking fairly?
I recently finished reading Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In. In the book, she talks about several things we can do to help women achieve their potential and to help men and women feel more equal and personally satisfied, within their personal lives and in the workplace. This list includes things like: [Read more…]
In a recent post, frequent commenter Ardis noted her experience with the standards of the church that have been pushing similar themes since the mid-1960s. This reminded me of a post I did elsewhere noting some of the “timeless standards” from the 1965 pamphlet.
There is a new trend in the church to elevate the For the Strength of Youth standards to something that should be applied to all members, not just the youth. I’ve experienced first hand and heard online from others that local wards have reviewed the For the Strength of Youth pamphlet and standards with the adults, explaining that it applies to them as well. In our Singapore stake, this was presented in a talk called “For the Strength of YOU.” What’s behind this trend? Here are some possible theories: [Read more…]
This post began as a response to J. Stapley’s recent post about Ordinances but quickly veered off in a tangent that would have constituted a threadjack of his post, so I’ve posted it as an independent contemplation.
J. was exploring possible origins of Mormon use of the word “ordinance” (or early influence as to the use and meaning of the word) in legal usage in his post and especially in the ensuing discussion in the comments (J. notes that he is beginning to think that “JS . . . was explicitly using legal language” when using the term “ordinance”). I think “covenant” also falls into this category of a term coopted from legal usage to express a religious teaching. [Read more…]
(Video clip from Habitat for Humanity, http://www.habitat.org)
For the last couple of weeks, our ward has been announcing a worldwide leadership training meeting that will be held on the afternoon of Sunday, June 23, 2013 in BYU’s Marriott Center. The meeting is being billed as a very big deal. Church leaders have requested local units to even modify their meeting times if they conflict with the 4:00 pm meeting time (which will be the case for us). If I understand correctly, the meeting is technically part of the mission presidents training but, unusually, all members of ward and stake councils and their spouses and all other members of the Church who are interested are invited to attend. My understanding is that all members of the First Presidency and Quorum of Twelve Apostles will be in attendance. The upshot is that they have an important message to deliver, presumably about missionary work. [Read more…]
We’ve just experienced the Mormon preaching festival. That is, general conference! In addition to inspired teaching, it gives the outside world a chance to experience some of the variety of Mormon address. And besides, I’ve been toiling over chapter 7 of the book, rewriting, rethinking some, and redoing other. This represents mental suds rising to the top of my brain-glass.
Texts are always encased by interpretation. Generations come and go, and interpretation floods over texts, at least those that rise to surface (paradoxically), via unearthing by graduate students or rediscovery by the public, or just constant devotion, etc. Scripture is no exception, and everyone, not just Nephi, deploys a kind of rationalization with circumstance and inspiration to come up with a correlated understanding, whether that be official, communal, familial, or even “backlistial.” Among Mormons, Joseph Smith’s sermons are quite often seen as doctrinal in some sense, a sense I won’t attempt to make precise.
9 No seas como el caballo o como el mulo, que no tienen entendimiento;
cuyos arreos incluyen brida y freno para sujetarlos,
porque si no, no se acercan a ti
10 Muchos son los dolores del impío,
pero al que confía en el SEÑOR, la misericordia lo
11 Alegraos en el SEÑOR y rogocijaos, justos;
dad voces de júbilo, todos los rectos de corazón.
Madrid, March 30, 2013 — john f.: A motley crew of Mormons walking The Way of St. James might seem strangers on the Camino indeed. This will not be the first time that Jordan and I have raised eyebrows as Mormons in a culturally non-Mormon setting. Nearly fifteen years ago we studied Yiddish together in Vilnius — many of our fellow students young and old, I recall, found it very amusing that a couple of Mormon brothers were among them. [Read more…]
O be wise, what can I say more?
A Mormon boy from an affluent neighborhood in Utah, barely 18 years old, will leave a few days after graduating from high school for the crushing poverty, suffering, and misery of Sierra Leone. This isn’t the plot of an off-color Broadway musical. It’s going to happen in a couple of months to a real person. He’s not going to experience mere culture shock; it will be an entirely different world, a different universe. Nothing in the boy’s lived experience up until this point is going to have prepared him for even the smallest percentage of what he is going to observe landing there. I hope and pray he survives!
There isn’t much difference between an 18 year old boy and a 19 year old boy — both are teenagers still, both usually as green as can be. On paper it’s a wash. [Read more…]
I cannot, in good conscience, recommend that my gay friends investigate the church. [Read more…]
Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.
This covers much the same material as the last lesson, historically and thematically. The emphasis continues to be on Oliver Cowdery’s experiences translating the Book of Mormon and, specifically, his attempts to recognize the spirit of revelation in his own life. While the emphasis of last week’s lesson was more on preparing yourself to receive revelation, this week’s lesson has more to do with recognizing what on earth is going on when it happens.
First of all, go to the new Revelations in Context resource at lds.org and read the article by Jeffrey Cannon on Oliver Cowdery’s Gift. While you are hopping around, go to Robin Jensen’s post on last week’s lesson and read that as well. Now return to this post and feel bad; I’m neither as knowledgeable, nor as good a writer as those guys. Oh well.
If there is one message to take from all of the sections being covered this week (and last week) it is this: revelation is not easy work. [Read more…]
I was recently listening to the Mormon Stories podcast with Ralph Hancock. I haven’t really been enjoying it, because I don’t really enjoy listening to either Brother Hancock or Brother Dehlin (for varied reasons) and my irritation with both frequently spikes into fantasies about throwing my mp3 player across the room. I’m sure that if I sat down with either in a room alone I would get along with them just fine (in fact, I did meet Dehlin in a social setting once and he was nice and soft-spoken). But their public personas frequently get under my skin and, whenever I do listen, I frequently wonder why I’m listening, when I could obviously do it all much better.
This is, of course, it’s own sort of fantasy. [Read more…]
I called 2011 “The Year of the Mormon,” and I’m standing by that designation, but what a year we’ve had since then! As the Mormon Moment gets on its bike and rides into the sunset, it’s worth looking back at some of the high points and low points of 2012. Here are my own selections, in no particular order:
Title: The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith
Author: Joanna Brooks
Publisher: Self published (but not for long…)
Rumor has it Joanna Brooks’s self-published memoir, The Book of Mormon Girl has been picked up by Free Press/Simon & Schuster for national publication this August with an expanded chapter-and-a-half. We’ve seen a lot of chatter about her book online recently, so I thought I’d venture a review. I hope you’ll excuse my decision to kick things off with an observation based on personal experience. (The Book of Mormon Girl is, after all, a personal memoir!) My own undergraduate years were spent writing and editing articles for a variety of small Utah newspapers. I remember how daunting it felt to be assigned an article on a subject I knew next-to-nothing about, like computer animation, mechanical engineering, or say, feminism. Oh, how comforting to a journalist is that friendly, articulate insider willing to endure the inane questions of—and likely later misrepresentation by—the stammering cub reporter! [Read more…]
My ward got the new “For the Strength of Youth” pamphlets today. Not really pamphlets, though, as the new version is well over 6K words. The counsel inside is wide-ranging, and as I was reading through it this morning, I wondered what a word cloud of the text would look like—which words are most used in FTSOY? Here’s what I found:
The cloud supports my opinion that the booklet is wide-ranging, as there are lots of different ideas and topics represented, but the biggest words aren’t tied to them. And it might just be me, but I think the word cloud conveys an impression of “warning” language. Do you agree? Which words are more frequent than you’d have thought? Which would you have expected to be more prominent?
“This study guide is designed as a companion to your study of the Book of Mormon. It is divided into numbered sections that correspond with the lessons in the Book of Mormon Gospel Doctrine course. Each section provides the week’s reading assignment and questions to enhance your study. You may use these questions to improve personal application of the scriptures and to prepare to make meaningful contributions to class discussions.
“You share with your Gospel Doctrine teacher the responsibility to help the class be successful. The Lord has said that teachers need to “preach … by the Spirit of truth” and that those who receive “the word of truth” should “receive it by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:17, 19). Come to class prepared to contribute insights, ask questions, share appropriate experiences, bear testimony, and listen attentively to the teacher and the other class members. When you have studied the reading assignments and pondered the questions in this study guide, you will be better prepared to experience the fulfillment of the Lord’s words when He said, “He that preacheth and he that receiveth, understand one another, and both are edified and rejoice together” (D&C 50:22).”
I only half listened to the Gospel Doctrine teacher as she read this from the Book of Mormon Class Member Study Guide on Sunday, so engrossed was I in preparing my notes (via mobile phone and tablet, both which sat on my lap) gathered from the Bloggernacle and lds.org.
[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…]
What a wild year it’s been. Never has Mormonism been so culturally relevant, and never has the undulating curve of popular opinion shifted so wildly, so quickly. As the year draws to a close, I think we’re safe in naming 2011 “The Year of the Mormon.” The BCC permas have picked out a few reasons why:
Talk delivered in my ward recently.
In considering the meanings of baptism, I want to reflect on several interrelated elements, including baptism as washing clean, baptism as death and resurrection, and baptism as adoption.
First, though, some history. [Read more…]
I have some continuing interest in antebellum American sermon culture and this post examines some legacies of early Mormonism on the topic of sermons. Protestants of the era inherited an ongoing question over the status of the pulpit. Where do sermons fit into the rule of faith? The issue was most touchy in the more severe “Bible Alone” strains of Protestantism and one can see the same concern in Protestant debates over creedal statements and confessions or the likes of the Book of Common Prayer. On the other hand, even though the early Latter-day Saints were liberals regarding “revelation,” the relationship between pulpit and scripture in Mormonism was a curious one and bore a resemblance to that cautious calculus surrounding the subject among conservative Protestants.
[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…]