Some (more) questions for Public Affairs

BCC has been critical of Public Affairs recently. It is fair to say that emotions have sometimes run regrettably high at times but that is only because the Newsroom wields great public power in Mormonism and some of us feel frustrated when it (in our view) does so clumsily. The following is a genuine attempt to understand the place of the usually excellent Newsroom in LDS life. Answers to the following questions would be very useful.

1. What is the functional difference between a statement signed by the Brethren (e.g. a First Presidency letter) and a Newsroom release, which, we are told, seems to have the de facto approval of the same?

[Read more…]

Coming to Terms with Folk Magic in Mormon History

in the fall of the year 1827 I hear Joseph found a gold bible I take Joseph aside & he says it is true I found it 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole when the spirit says do not lay it down

(Extract from the so-called Salamander Letter) [Read more…]

Walking in Love with the Gospel Topics Essays

Here at BCC, amidst the recent interest in Joseph Smith’s seerstone (here, here, and here), we’ve also been revisiting the Gospel Topics essays (here and here). Collectively, the Church’s decision to publish pictures of the seerstone (and let’s not forget that the pictures appear in a landmark edition of the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon) and the publication of the essays all participate in an institutional trend toward transparency about the Church’s history. Although I personally applaud this trend, it admittedly also adds some complications to the already challenging project of building Zion.

The basic problem is that some members have known about most of this stuff for years, while it comes as a sometimes unpleasant surprise to others, some of whom have been taught that ideas now given the imprimatur of were anti-Mormon lies. This reality presents the urgent question of how these two groups of members (and all of the people in between) are to live together in Christian community. Sam has recently written about one approach to teaching these materials in a Church setting, and I wish to add some theological reflections to his pragmatic discussion.
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“I Beseech You, in the Bowels of Christ, Think it Possible You May Be Mistaken”


“Is it therefore infallibly agreeable to the Word of God, all that you say? I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken.”–Oliver Cromwell, letter to the general assembly of the Church of Scotland (3 August 1650)

Five years ago, I wrote a book about evolution and human cognition. This was a stretch for me, as I am a three-time English major, so I did a lot of research. It was fascinating research, which taught me a lot of important things about knowledge, human nature, cognition, and storytelling. It also taught me the single most depressing thing that I know, which is this: human reason did not evolve to help us find the truth; it evolved to help us defend positions arrived at in largely unreasonable ways. [Read more…]

Joseph’s rough stone rolls on

I-got-a-rockSomething pretty incredible occurred this week for lovers of the Book of Mormon. People will be talking about it for a long while yet. For the first time ever, the Church made available full color photographs of the entire printer’s manuscript (except for three lines which have been missing from the manuscript for a very long time). Of course, everyone’s talking about two pages out of the two-part volume’s apx. 976 pages: photographic images of the chocolate-colored stone Joseph is reported to have used for much of the Book of Mormon translation. (See Richard Bushman’s reaction here.)

During the press conference, Assistant Church Historian and Recorder Richard Turley briefly discussed the decision to publish the photographs: [Read more…]

On Seerstones

Richard Bushman is an American historian and Gouverneur Morris Professor of History emeritus at Columbia University. He is the author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling: A Cultural Biography of Mormonism’s Founder. He also serves on the general advisory board of the Joseph Smith Papers. We’re very grateful for his thoughts.

In a way the pictures of the seerstone are nothing new. We have known for a long time that Joseph found a stone that he used to discover lost objects and later to help him translate. The Urim and Thummim which has long been part of the story consisted of crystal stones, and there is the passage in D&C 130:10 about celestial beings receiving a white stone to reveal things about higher kingdoms. (Something like each missionary receiving an ipad.) This is all tucked away in corners of our memories as part of the technology of revelation. [Read more…]

Open-ended, Ongoing

(Find below a handful of loose notes from a friend of mine, David Gore, on testimony. Put them to work as you’re interested and able.)

It makes more sense to me to think about a testimony as an open-ended set of possibilities and relationships rather than a closed system of agreed-to propositions.

Another thing  we need to emphasize in testimony discourse is the way it can be alive to different degrees at different stages of our life, the fact that a testimony is more a project of development over the human lifespan than a single event or experience at any given moment. Sometimes we are bereft of God, other times things move along smoothly and we’re lighthearted and grateful for the ride.

No one of us is more than a couple of decisions here or there from losing our faith and falling away. The opposite seems to have proven to be the case in my life, too. A small decision here or there, to take up and read or to kneel down and pray, yields dividends which I never anticipate and which I don’t always have the good sense to appreciate. [Read more…]

Gospel Topics Essays Lessons: Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham

For the last several months, my ward has had monthly priesthood lessons on the Gospel Topics essays that the church has released over the last year or so. I teach in Primary, so I haven’t been to most of them. A friend taught the Race and the Priesthood essay in June, though, and invited me to his class; he did an excellent job, and it was well-received.

And then, three weeks ago, he asked if I’d teach a class. My topics? Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, Book of Mormon Translation, and Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham. (If only the class had been two Sundays later … ) [Read more…]

‘The Dam Has Broken’: Joseph Smith Papers publishes the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of Mormon

Today the Joseph Smith Papers Project released its Volume 3 in its Revelations and Translations series, which comprises the printer’s manuscript of the Book of Mormon. It is the culmination of a monumental effort, and the books themselves are gorgeous, but the real story is not the volume itself but rather what this means for Latter-day Saints and for Mormons in general. We are entering a new age of transparency and openness about Mormon history. [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…]

A Moment at Sunstone

Last week, after I spoke on a panel at Sunstone, I greeted a woman who had been in the audience of my session. As soon as I looked at her I knew we had met before and I knew I knew her well. I couldn’t remember how but I knew I had fond feelings for this woman as she hugged me tightly.

“I know you,” I said to her. [Read more…]

On Privileged Bodies: Men, the Weight of the World, and Their Stories

Originally posted at Letters from the Vineyard.

When Hannah Rosin writes about the “end of men,” it’s not hard to use her literary assist to conclude that the writing is on the wall for how men (specifically white, educated, hetero, middle class to upper class men) have lived and spoken for a long time in Western societies (not, of course, that men will cease to exist altogether). Now more than ever, human beings that do not fit the description in the above parenthesis are forming political groups, writing and publishing about their experiences and worldviews, and making their voices heard through public and shareable platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and other social media. Power structures that prioritize men’s voices and ventures are still largely intact, but they’re weakening, and where that isn’t happening, alternative structures are being constructed to replace them. [Read more…]

Personal Progress for Hamsters

We are beloved spirit hamsters of God.

The following are a few excerpts from the Personal Progress manual for Hamsters:

Faith. With a pup-bearer, grand-pup-bearer or female horde leader, discuss the qualities a hamster needs in order to teach whichever pups survive her maternal feeding frenzy to have faith and to base their decisions on gospel truths. How can these principles help you in your life today and help you prepare to be a faithful pet? [Read more…]

A trip diary and an uncharacteristic public outpouring of gratitude

My husband and I just got home from backpacking Havasupai Falls. The exhausting 20 mile round-trip trek into and out of the Grand Canyon was worth every step (even though I currently walk like the kid in Jurassic Park after he got electrocuted on the fence).

I ran out of superlatives before we even reached the water.

Descending into the canyon at sunrise

Descending into the canyon at sunrise

Tree of life

Tree of life

[Read more…]

Second-Best Solutions

Last week, Bruce Young, a professor of English at BYU, wrote a response to Richard Bushman’s recent AMA (or, more accurately, a response to Bushman as filtered through hawkgrrrl).

I’m not interested here in responding to Dr. Young’s comments.[fn1] Rather, one of his comments has been playing itself out in my head all week, and I thought I’d spin it out here for others’ thoughts.  [Read more…]

Building Up Zion with Blood and Jerusalem with Iniquity: The Moral Clarity of William Wilberforce’s Career Against Slavery

William Wilberforce by John Rising, 1790 (source:

William Wilberforce by John Rising, 1790 (source:

Nearly four months after Parliament passed its Slavery Abolition Act in August, 1833 abolishing slavery in the British Empire, thanks primarily to the decades-long political campaign of the evangelical Christian Member of Parliament William Wilberforce, Joseph Smith recorded in a revelation on December 16, 1833 in Kirtland, Ohio, that “it is not right that any man should be in bondage one to another” (Doctrine & Covenants 101:79). The Lord seems to have eagerly ratified Wilberforce’s lifelong fight against what any honest, informed observer must agree constitutes one of the greatest moral blights on humanity in the modern age: the African chattel slavery perpetrated by white Europeans and their American trading partners under the ostensible blessing of religious doctrines proclaiming the inherent inferiority of the African races and God’s supposed acquiescence in their bondage, servitude, and unspeakable abuse. Nothing condemned the professed Christianity of the day and European and American society more than this insidious and evil practice, built on such false religious justifications and the most vile commercial greed in the hearts of conspiring men. [Read more…]

Patriarchal Blessing Lineages


Sometimes here at BCC we do requests. And a reader recently asked us if we could do a post on what patriarchal blessing lineage assignments are supposed to mean. Good question–and I don’t feel confident that I have a handle on an answer. But what I can do is frame the question somewhat and then let our readers flesh things out in the comments. So here we go: [Read more…]

A Lesson in Hypocrisy

It seems to me you guys could all benefit from some HARD FACTS about hypocrisy. [Read more…]

Memo to the Newsroom: If the real leaders are away, best to keep quiet until they get back

[A few further points now added at the end of the post.]

The poor judgement exercised by some sections of Public Affairs was in evidence during the Kate Kelly affair. It has happened again, this time in the form of one of the most intemperate releases I have read coming from 15 E. South Temple Street. The Newsroom can do better than this.

Herewith some comments on the testy “Church Re-evaluating Scouting Program” statement of 27 July 2015: [Read more…]

Faith, Hope, and Clarity: Thoughts on Scholarship and Being True


So long as I pilgrimaged through the fields of reason in search of God, I could not find Him, for I was not deluded by the idea of God, neither could I take an idea for God, and it was then, as I wandered among the wastes of rationalism, that I told myself that we ought to seek no other consolation than the truth, meaning thereby reason, and yet for all that I was not comforted. But as I sank deeper and deeper into rational skepticism on the one hand and into heart’s despair on the other, the hunger for God awoke within me, and the suffocation of spirit made me feel the want of God, and with the want of Him, His reality. — Miguel de Unamuno, “Tragic Sense of Life”


Conside the following two statements:

Statement #1: I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document.

Statement #2: I do not believe that the evidence shows that the Book of Mormon is an ancient document. [Read more…]

Review: Wandering Realities by Steven Peck

Not an actual image of the author.

It’s hard to write reviews of Steven Peck’s fiction. Those who are unfamiliar with his work will probably not believe you, and those who know Peck’s writing are already fans and have little need for a review. It’s also hard to write a review because you run out of useful words: there are only so many superlatives out there. For example: Peck is the best LDS science fiction currently out there. And so it is no surprise that Wandering Realities: Mormonish Short Fiction is an immensely enjoyable and powerful collection of short fiction, one that highlights both the possibilities and inevitablities of Mormonism. I know you don’t believe me, but it’s true. [Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Contrafactuals, Lehi, History, and a Vision

In elementary logic the first steps mark out how normal (for my purposes, English) speech is used in deduction. Propositional logic discusses the ways in which complex (or compound) statements are constructed from atomic (or simple) statements. One of the ways this happens is the “conditional.” A conditional combines two statements like “the sky is blue” and “the grass is green” by connecting them with “if” and “then” as “If the sky is blue, then the grass is green.” Statements, compound or simple, such as these are thought to have a “truth value.” That is, they may be assigned one of the values, True or False. One can argue about this (and make money doing it) but I’d like to narrow the focus a bit and assume away some of the complexity.
[Read more…]

The Real Handcart Song

Exactly ten years ago I posted one Pioneer Day plea: could we please at least sing the whole original song? It’s so much better than the shortened version the majority of us American Mormons learned in Primary. A decade on, unfortunately, the plea is as timely as ever. So come along every, let’s sing! [Read more…]

The Best Defense is a…Middle-Market Newspaper Article from 2004

Prince Carl-Philip and Princess Sofia believe in binding ties.  (source)

Last month I had the pleasure of visiting Stockholm over a long weekend, and the city was positively abuzz with marriage. Sure, there was the royal wedding featuring Prince Carl Philip, Duke of Värmland, and Sofia Hellqvist that weekend, which drew much interest and caused parts of the city to be shut down for the festivities. But the ado about weddings wasn’t limited to the hustle and bustle of rubbernecking tourists and television crews in the inner city—that same day Stockholm’s famous Skansen outdoor museum hosted a drop-in wedding. A drop-in what, you say? Well, follow me like a leopard and find out: [Read more…]

Making the Desert and the Soul Blossom as the Rose: Pioneer Day in a Global Church

The Mormon Trail (source:

The Mormon Trail (source:

The historical basis for Pioneer Day celebrations is the 1847 arrival in the Salt Lake Valley of wagon trains of Mormon pioneers fleeing religious persecution in the United States. They first left their prosperous city of Nauvoo on the banks of the Mississippi River in Illinois in the Winter of 1846 and traveled a 1,300 mile route on foot and with covered wagons through the inhospitable American outback to reach an isolated desert valley on the western edge of the Rocky Mountains. Mormon pioneers from around the world continued to make this or other similarly arduous journeys of migration from their homelands in the heart of civilizations to this far flung frontier settlement throughout much of the rest of the nineteenth century. Theirs was a pioneer spirit, as evidenced not only by how they accepted their lot as refugees forced from civilization into what was, at the time, a remote, harsh, virtually uninhabitable wilderness, but also by virtue of their conversion from among many nations to the truly radical religious movement known as Mormonism, which laid claim to a Restoration of Christ’s Gospel and of all things. [Read more…]

Whale-Belly Books



As the author of a book on Job, I am occasionally expected to know something about suffering. Unfortunately, I don’t know very much. And I especially don’t know things like, “why do people have to suffer?” or “what does suffering mean?” In fact, the only important thing that I know about suffering is that it really, really sucks.  And when it happens to me or to people I love, I want it to stop happening as soon as possible. [Read more…]

Pioneer Day Family Hike (Local mini-Pilgrimage)

Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City, Utah (source:

Ensign Peak, Salt Lake City, Utah (source:

Last year the Mormon Society of St. James hosted a local “mini-pilgrimage” in Utah, hiking the last section of the Dominguez-Escalante trail, ending at the commemorative cross in Spanish Fork canyon, the farthest point north that the Spanish company ventured in 1776. [Read more…]

Pilgrimage to St. David’s Cathedral, Wales

St. Non's chapel

St. Non’s chapel

The latest pilgrimage organised by the Mormon Society of St. James was to St. Davids* in Wales. Joining the pilgrimage were BCC bloggers Ronan and Jason, Bloggernacle regular Christian, and two micro-Ronans. Herewith a report:

[Read more…]

Encountering the Visible Church on the Pilgrim Ways of Europe

From a talk given at the Education Weekend 2015 in Oxford and adapted from a book currently being wrestled into life: Between Canterbury and Salt Lake: A Christian Journey.

Sarria, Spain

Sarria, Spain

Tonight I want to tell the story of a walk, or rather a series of walks. The story begins right here in the Oxford chapel, but more on that later. [Read more…]

Coming to Ourselves

TW: Steve continues to wallow in sentimentality.

Lately I’ve been feeling some nostalgia for the Steve of yesteryear, an irritatingly earnest missionary who was was unquestionably vested in spiritual matters. What happens to us as we grow older, more distant from those innocent testimonies we used to feel? There’s an interesting passage in the Book of Mormon where the prophet Alma (Junior) is performing a reform throughout the church, a sort of revival where he calls each congregation to repentance. Speaking to the congregation in Zarahemla, he asks:

And now behold, I say unto you, my brethren, if ye have experienced a change of heart, and if ye have felt to sing the song of redeeming love, I would ask, can ye feel so now?

Many times I have found myself asking myself these same questions. Can I feel that same song of redemption inside of me that I used to feel? Where is the spiritual strength I used to have? [Read more…]


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