Dear Membership Software People

Please make sure that the membership software prompts a ward clerk to ask recently-married women about their preference for their surname. It’s 2014. [Read more...]

Are Mormons Too Trusting?

I send you as sheep among wolves. Or in this case a lone wolf among sheep.

“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.”  Shakespeare  wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well.  Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment?  Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person? [Read more...]

Some Thoughts on the Role of Men in the Church

…wrote no one, ever.

QED

Child Sacrifice at Carthage

In my article “On Elkenah as Canaanite El” I made an argument for understanding the idolatrous god “Elkenah” from the Book of Abraham as the Canaanite deity El. Part of my argument was linguistic, suggesting that the -kenah element of the name could = Canaan. This looks counterintuitive at first, but the usage in cuneiform texts from Tell El Amarna and Bogazkoy demonstrates that the second n in Hebrew kena’an is an affixational morpheme, not part of the name itself. So while letters originating in Canaan itself (Tyre and Byblos) use the second n, those originating in Syria or Mesopotamia do not (resulting in the normalized form kinahh-). I also point to sources that report that Phoenicia was formerly called Chna (Greek chi-nu-alpha), which appears to represent a continuity with the earlier cuneiform form of the name. [Read more...]

The Tale of a Mission, 40 Years Later

Craig Harline, a BYU professor of European history and fairly prolific author (by my standards, anyway) as well as the presenter of a speech on how religions and cultures change that every informed person ought to listen to, has written a beautiful, hilarious, and haunting book. Titled Way Below the Angels: The Pretty Clearly Troubled but Not Even Close to Tragic Confessions of a Real Live Mormon Missionary, you may have caught a couple of glimpses of it a while ago on Times and Seasons. It is a mission memoir, one that Harline states he’d wanted to write for many years, but didn’t really feel like he could until nearly 40 years had passed since his mid-70s sojourn in the short-lived Belgium Antwerp Mission (opened in 1975, closed in 1982, later re-opened as part of the Belgium/Netherlands Mission). The reflective wisdom and writing skill which he’s developed over those decades is very much on display in this book; it’s the best, most thoughtful, funniest and truest recreation of missionary life–especially the internal life of a missionary–that I’ve ever read. [Read more...]

Come watch a panel discussion about the relevance of scripture Wednesday in Provo

If you haven’t had a chance yet to dig in to the new books from Adam Miller (Letters to a Young Mormon) Joe Spencer (For Zion: A Theology of Hope) or David Bokovoy (Authoring the Old Testament) you have a perfect chance this week to become more familiar with their authors. On Wednesday night, ZION’S BOOKS in Provo is hosting a roundtable discussion featuring Miller, Spencer, and Bokovoy. Each author will deliver a brief lecture on the relevance of scripture followed by an audience Q&A. Janiece Johnson (BYU-Idaho) will moderate the discussion. You can pick up copies of their books and get autographs and enjoy some free light refreshments and give me a hard time for using this blog post for promotional purposes.

But if I were you, I’d want to know about this, too. So would this guy: [Read more...]

Die Boek van Mormon Revisited

A little over two years ago I did a post titled “Die Boek van Mormon” in which I reacted to a story from John Pontius about how one Felix Mynhardt translated the Book of Mormon into the Afrikaans language. The story recounted as a faith promoting aspect of this that he translated the text from English first into Ancient Egyptian, and then from there into Afrikaans, and the text was obviously an Egyptian document, or something like that. I took the view that that was ridiculous, that no linguist worth his salt would actually approach a translation project that way, that there would be no virtue or benefit to creating an intermediate translation like that rather than just translating directly from the English ur-text into Afrikaans. [Read more...]

Cyberbullying and “Gospel Revenge” in the Kingdom

This morning my day was ruined by the shock of learning that some Mormons, apparently drunk with Schadenfreude at Kate Kelly’s excommunication and wanting to exact some kind of Gospel revenge, have created a Facebook page called Ordain Women Exposed, the content of which essentially amounts to traditional internet abuse — cyberbullying — of Kate Kelly in particular and, collaterally, of anyone who supports or perhaps shares some of the concerns of the Ordain Women group. [Read more...]

Mormon Lectionary Project: Joseph Smith

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Mormon Lectionary Project

Scriptures: Numbers 11:29; Psalms 105:1–4; James 1:5; Doctrine and Covenants 88:63.

Collect: We thank thee, O God, for the Prophet Joseph Smith Jr., who opened the heavens with his simple faith, and opens our minds that we should do likewise. Grant us, therefore, grace in Christ, that we may ask of thee, seek, and knock, as Joseph did, in faith believing that we may receive through the liberality of thy Holy Spirit, Amen.

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“Joseph Smith’s First Vision” by Walter Rane

Joseph Smith

Late in the afternoon on this date, exactly 170 years ago, a mob stormed the second story chamber of the small jail at Carthage, Illinois, and killed Joseph Smith Jr., the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his older brother Hyrum. John Taylor, who was also present and wounded in the attack, eulogized him in print shortly afterwards: [Read more...]

“Meet the Mormons”

The UK’s Channel 4 aired a documentary last night called “Meet the Mormons” which followed the life of a British missionary on the streets of Leeds. I haven’t yet watched it, and if I do, I’ll say something more. In the meantime, here are some Press reviews: [Read more...]

Balm in Gilead

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Farther along than the church

Farther ahead than I am, at any rate.

Clayton Christensen is cited in a recent article, and his thoughts (as always) are interesting and provocative. First, though, it is important to note that he has publicly clarified the purported citation in the piece, as found on his Facebook wall and elsewhere: [Read more...]

Excommunicated

. . . our determination is that you be excommunicated for conduct contrary to the laws and order of the Church.

Defining Doctrine

In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.

These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.”  [Read more...]

Music for Sunday

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Judicial Fairness

The parallels between the church disciplinary process we have seen unfolding in the media and justice reform efforts ongoing worldwide have been striking to me.  I believe that a comparison between international standards of judicial fairness and the church disciplinary hearing system is fair and warranted in adding nuance to this discussion.  While I recognize that the church is a different organization than a sovereign nation with police power, in both cases fundamental considerations of fairness color the perceived legitimacy of outcomes.  Membership in the church is voluntary, but we do not treat it with a relaxed and voluntary attitude that would accompany membership in a country club.  Children raised in the church are trained with every family scripture study, prayer, family home evening, and trip to primary that the reality of church membership is the reality of eternities with eternal consequences.  Gaining a testimony of gospel truth is a lifelong exercise in loyalty and commitment.  Most importantly, scriptures teach that the worth of souls is great in the eyes of God.  People matter, and the institution matters to its people—perhaps more so than any other institution or affiliation in their lives.  This is not a casual, blasé hobby.  The process may technically be voluntary, but that voluntariness is hugely mitigated by the personal testimony and loyalty of the participant.  Further, the church treats disciplinary hearings with a “court-like” approach.  Participants are summoned based on confession or evidence gathering.  The Church Handbook of Instructions contains both substantive charges and procedural guidelines.  Participants act as either advocates for the summoned, or advocates against them, and ultimately the decision of the bishop or stake president is subject to appeal.  There is an intention to create some elements of court procedure.  Because of this, I think it is at least informative to consider international standards of judicial fairness when thinking about the process of church courts. [Read more...]

To the Church and to Ordain Women

By Mathew and Ronan, BCC Bloggers

The Problem

As is now well known, the leader of the Ordain Women movement, Kate Kelly, has been called before a disciplinary council. There has been much speculation about what role the church’s senior leadership played in the decision to convene the council. The church’s newsroom has issued an official statement that says in part that “[d]ecisions are made by local leaders and not directed or coordinated by Church headquarters.”  While it may be entirely proper to leave the  final “decisions” to those church leaders who know her best, we feel that church headquarters can still play a positive mediating role in a case that already has and will continue to have church-wide ramifications. [Read more...]

Official Loving The Body Of Christ Template Post

As part of an on-going effort to introduce more efficiency to the bloggernacle, below is a template for your next Kate Kelly blog post. Thank me by donating here. You’ll feel better–I promise.

I am a believing, faithful latter-day saint who takes seriously the teachings and doctrines of the church. When I first heard about OW, my initial reaction was one of [joy][disappointment]. I have been a member my entire life and have never thought women were treated as [equals][second-class citizens] within the church. There are [few][many] chances for women to act as leaders and provide meaningful input that is truly listened to. The recent addition of photographs of some of our female leaders in the conference center serves to underscore the [limited][important] leadership opportunities available to women in the church. [Read more...]

Meanwhile in Iraq . . .

image1One of the most haunting books I have read recently is William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain in which he describes and experiences the decline of Christianity in the Middle East. What makes it so arresting is that he wrote the book in 1997; the dire situation he describes has only deteriorated in the years since. Headlines such as “Christians take flight in Mosul” add to the gloom. We are fast reaching the point when Christianity may die out in much of its homeland outside of a few monasteries and expat churches. Turkish nationalism, Zionism, and Islamic fundamentalism are killing it. The irony is that one of the best guarantors of Christianity in the region has been secular pan-Arab nationalism, the dismantling of which has been the project of the (Christian) West for the last decade. Here is the salient statistic: “The percentage of Christians in the Middle East was just 5% of the total population as of 2010 — down from 10% in 1900. ” A million Christian Iraqis have fled their homeland since 2003, many to Syria where, if they live under ISIS rule, life is going to look increasingly grim. The plight of all people in the Middle East is certainly a tragedy, but if even Christians in the West cannot muster any concern for their fellow believers, all hope is lost. For that reason, I support the Pledge of Solidarity and Call to Action on Behalf of Christians and Other Small Religious Communities in Egypt, Iraq and Syria. More importantly, please consider asking your elected leaders to support it.

Knocking at the Gate

Michael Austin is Provost, Vice President for Academic Affairs, and Professor of English at Newman University in Wichita, Kansas, a member of the Dialogue Board of Directors, and a friend of the blog.

“CHRISTIANA began to knock . . . she knocked and knocked again. But instead of any that answered, they all thought that they heard as if a dog came barking upon them. A dog, and a great one too; and this made the women and children afraid. Nor durst they for awhile to knock any more, for fear the mastiff should fly upon them. . . . . Knock they durst not, for fear of the dog; go back they durst not, for fear that the keeper of that gate should espy them as they so went, and should be offended with them. At last they thought of knocking again, and knocked more vehemently than they did at the first. Then said the keeper of the gate, “Who is there?

—John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II

Even by the standards of 1678, the first volume of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is hostile to women. When the hero, Christian, discovers that he is among the elect, he turns his back on his wife and sets out to find salvation on his own. Though The Pilgrim’s Progress book went on to become the bestselling book of the century (and of the next two centuries after that), readers expressed great dismay over the fate of Christian’s wife. [Read more...]

Could you not watch with me one hour?

“Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26.36-41)

Just past 10pm on Friday night my step-father passed away. [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...]

Things My Father Taught Me (by accident)

My dad taught me a lot of things on purpose–of all the roles fathers play, I think the role of teacher was the one he was most comfortable in. But he also taught me a lot of lessons that I’m pretty sure he didn’t realize he was giving at the time. Here is a partial list: [Read more...]

Trinity Sunday

MLP

MLP

Mormon Lectionary Project

Trinity Sunday, Year A

Gen. 1:1-2:4a (NRSV); Psalm 8 (KJV); 2 Corinthians 13:11-13 (NRSV); Matthew 28:16-20 (NRSV); 1 Nephi 11:6; Alma 34:37-38D&C 20:21-28

The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who as the Father and the Son, aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, appeared to thy servant Joseph Smith, jr.: grant that we may be one with each other, and one with thee, as you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God forever and ever.

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What to expect when you’re expecting (to be excommunicated)

Judgment Day

This is another one of those posts where you come up with the title before you actually have anything to say. But here’s a few random thoughts. [Read more...]

There is a time to dance, and other lessons from the scriptures

The other day my thirteen-year-old son was demonstrating some of the sweet moves he learned in his P.E. class, which ended the school year with a unit on dancing. (I was fortunate enough to serve as his partner, and I have to say that while he may not be the most graceful dancer, he is pretty good at leading.) Once he had demonstrated his proficiency in swing, the bossa nova, and, I dunno, maybe the foxtrot, he and his older sister reminisced about the folk dance they each had to learn in the sixth grade, which I said looked suspiciously like the chicken dance. [Read more...]

This will have no effect on Internet Mormonism. It’s much worse than that.

I dearly hope we can yet step back from the brink, but assuming Kate Kelly and John Dehlin are excommunicated, I predict it will have no effect on Internet Mormonism. There will be anguish, bickering, and loads of clicks, but the world of Internet Mormonism will go on unchanged. The Bloggernacle vs “Nothing Wavering” vs anti-Mormon lines were etched in stone long ago; we’ve long since self-sorted into a stable system, and that system isn’t going anywhere. Neither will there be much of a chilling effect, because there is simply no way the church can discipline every blogger, and it’s not going to happen. But don’t call me a Pollyanna. My prediction is that the outcome will be much, much worse than the loss we would suffer if Internet Mormonism were damaged in some way.

Instead, the outcome will be great damage to bricks-and-mortar Mormonism.  [Read more...]

Martyr

“If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.”

(Obi-Wan to Darth Vader in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope)

[Read more...]

Emmeline Pankhurst

Emmeline_Pankhurst_I_croppedThe campaign for women’s suffrage is one of those things, like abolition or civil rights, that makes you wonder why on earth anyone opposed it. And yet many women and men suffered, and sometimes even died, to secure something which everyone now takes for granted. This serves as a reminder that our current moral and political certainties may one day be disowned by our grandchildren.

Emmeline Pankhurst was the doyenne of the movement in England. She died on June 14, 1928 and so it seems appropriate for the Mormon Lectionary Project to mark her death this weekend.

Her speech in Hartford, Connecticut on November 13, 1913 is a remarkable thing. The rhetoric is both simple and devastating:

“Suppose the men of Hartford had a grievance, and they laid that grievance before their legislature, and the legislature obstinately refused to listen to them, or to remove their grievance, what would be the proper and the constitutional and the practical way of getting their grievance removed? Well, it is perfectly obvious at the next general election the men of Hartford would turn out that legislature and elect a new one.

“But let the men of Hartford imagine that they were not in the position of being voters at all, that they were governed without their consent being obtained, that the legislature turned an absolutely deaf ear to their demands, what would the men of Hartford do then? They couldn’t vote the legislature out. They would have to choose; they would have to make a choice of two evils: they would either have to submit indefinitely to an unjust state of affairs, or they would have to rise up and adopt some of the antiquated means by which men in the past got their grievances remedied.”

[Read more...]

On Excommunication

In 1971, Roman Catholic theologian Hans Küng published his Infallible? An Inquiry in which he declared his opposition to the doctrine of papal infallibility. This represented a very vocal apostasy from a core Catholic doctrine by a man who occupied an influential position as professor of Catholic theology at Tübingen. Küng was not excommunicated but was stripped of his missio canonica, the licence to teach as a Roman Catholic theologian. He was able to remain at the university as professor of ecumenical theology, however.

In 1983, the Code of Canon Law revised its statement on excommunication: no longer did it sever someone from the Church. Excommunicated Catholics are still Catholics. At no point does it cancel the sacraments — Catholics readmitted into communion are not required to be re-baptised, which is impossible anyway, given the Catholic theology of baptism. Of course, in Küng’s case this was all moot anyway. Despite his heresy, he was not excommunicated.

I point this out for two reasons. First, to remind readers that excommunication in a Mormon setting is the nuclear bomb of Christian excommunications in that it cancels the saving power of the sacraments. When you have the beating of the Catholics in the severity of your censures, it should give you pause. Second, excommunication for heresy is a rare thing in Christianity today. I do not mean to suggest that Mormonism needs to follow Catholicism in its modes of discipline, just that we should recognise the incredible significance of what is being proposed when we speak of excommunication.

[Read more...]

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