How to (currently) find the Gospel Topics Essays (and Topics!)

A lot of digital ink gets spilled on recent Gospel Topics essays about race, polygamy, the First Vision, Mormon scripture, etc. The Gospel Topics page itself is occasionally updated without public announcement. News of the more sensational pieces spreads via back-channel whispers followed by blog post and Facebook discussions and perhaps a Peggy Fletcher-Stack article or two. Some people have been frustrated that many church members are likely unaware of the Gospel Topics because they haven’t been highlighted in General Conference or in letters to local leadership. Newer church curriculum materials call direct attention to the essays, though. At the same time, they aren’t featured obviously on the home page of lds.org, but you can find them currently in the menu options under “Scriptures and Study>Learn More”:

gospeltopicmenu [Read more…]

The Church Will Not Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status

Do I seriously have to say this? Again? Look, Obergefell does not mark the end of churches’ tax-exempt status. It’s just not going to happen.

I thought I’d put this bit of end-of-days hand-wringing to bed here, but apparently I didn’t do a good enough job, because it’s still out there, even in Mormon circles (most credibly repeated by Gene Schaerr, who included loss of church tax-exempt status as one of the potential consequences of of the Obergefell decision).

I don’t know Schaerr personally; I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s an excellent appellate litigator. But appellate litigation is not tax practice, and does not generally provide any insight into the tax law. And Schaerr apparently doesn’t have any significant insight into the law of tax-exempt entities.  [Read more…]

Same sex sealings, God’s law, and Volition

I’ve been thinking about a discussion several weeks ago, about the fate of  marital relationships after death. Some people are (quite understandably) worried that the current system of temple sealings means post-mortal polygamy, despite a lack of real teachings around the matter. My answer, which I admit is a bit of a cop-out, was that I cannot conceive of a God or a heaven in which people are plunged into polygamous relationships against their will. It would not be just for God to condition heaven on such an involuntary family bond. In other words, volition matters.

I think volition matters a lot in the gospel plan. It matters, I think, in matters of human sexuality as well. [Read more…]

Intertemporal Mormonism

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

The last couple days, I’ve been thinking about intertemporality in the church. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we see the value of current revelation vis-à-vis both past and future revelation.

Partly, I think, this interests me as an expansion of my professional interests. In my world, we think a lot about the time value of money. In a nutshell, the time value of money holds that, as long as you can earn a positive rate of interest, a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a year from now, so if you have a choice between earning a dollar today and earning a dollar in a year, you should choose the dollar today.[fn1] [Read more…]

Why I Use Other Bible Translations in Gospel Doctrine

I routinely give some version of this spiel both when I teach Gospel Doctrine and in the hallway conversations that follow. Several friends have suggested that I blog it, so here goes. I’m aiming for brevity rather than thoroughness, since the point of the spiel is to give people in class who might be wondering why I tend not to use the KJV a short and accessible argument explaining my reasons. Even though we’re currently doing the New Testament, I’ll also include my bit on the Old. [Read more…]

Obergefell impact on church members, by the numbers

This is a post examining the number of members living in jurisdictions where the legal status of marriage changed due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Among members of the church in the U.S., Obergefell triggered celebration from some, angst from others, and plenty of Facebook conflict between the two. It also triggered an unusual, highly visible step by the brethren: sending a letter to all U.S. bishops, accompanied by lengthy member education talking points, to be read to all teen and adult members of the church. The impending reading of the letter unleashed a wave of concern among members at variance with the church’s position, questions about whether to attend or skip, and worry about emotional harm to LGBTQ members. The primary message of the letter is that a change in the nation’s laws does not affect church doctrine, to correct any notion some might have had that Obergefell would cause or force a change.
[Read more…]

Prophecy and Martyrdom: Jan Hus

The notion of a “prophetic witness and martyr,” as the Episcopal Lectionary styles Jan Hus, resonates deeply with Mormonism, which reveres Joseph Smith for having “sealed his mission and his works with his own blood.” That prophetic witnesses often become martyrs indicates just how dangerous such figures are, how threatening to established orders and comfortable hierarchies. Hus, like Smith, developed considerable authority and social capital within certain circles while arousing significant animosity from others. Prophetic practice seems threatening precisely because it is powerful, hinting at the possibility of a world turned upside down.
[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…]

Legalization of Polygamy?

polygamy-is-still-illegal1

One of the common arguments against gay marriage was the slippery slope argument. If we allow gay marriage, the next stop is surely polygamy, to be followed by cats and dogs living together, people marrying their toasters, and so forth. The recent attempt by Nathan Collier of Montana to get a marriage license for a second contemporaneous marriage (inspired by the Roberts dissent in the SCOTUS decision) seems to point to an imminent fulfillment of this fear, that polygamy will follow hot in the steps of gay marriage and become legalized. [Read more…]

Love the Banker, but Hate the Bank: A Plea for Tolerance and Understanding for Our Brothers and Sisters Involved in Usury

interior_dante_divinecomedy_inf_15_155

Homosexuality, as we all know, is the sin next to banking. [Read more…]

Tax Exemption, Post-Obergefell

… will look a lot like tax exemption, pre-Obergefell.

There’s been a lot of Sturm und Drang recently over what will happen to the tax exemptions of churches and religiously-affiliated schools that oppose same-sex marriage. The specter of loss of exemption has been bandied about, not just by tax-illiterate bloggers, but by major media sources. (Heck, I looked at the question prior to the decision.)

So could the church or BYU lose its tax exemption as a result of their policies on homosexuality?  [Read more…]

Church Autonomy and Taxes in Austria

Today is the deadline for filing an electronic tax return here in Austria, but you’d hardly know it because most tax payers, i.e., employed persons, are not required to file at all: declaring and withholding income and social security taxes are employer responsibilities. As a result, most people don’t file a return; if they do, it is to claim one or several of a limited number of deductions. If members of the Church bother to do it, they will be able to deduct a portion of their tithing—currently capped at EUR 400/year—and that’s about it as far as charitable contributions to the Church are concerned. But fifteen years ago, a local member of the Church blazed the way for an additional deduction related to missionary service.

[Read more…]

13 things I want my children to know

From a sacrament meeting talk given on Father’s Day.

1. You can support any football you want and retain your father’s favour . . . bar one: Liverpool F.C., a.k.a. the RS. [Read more…]

Secularism Won, and it’s a Good Thing Too

You’ve probably heard by now that the Supreme Court last Friday struck down state bans on same-sex marriage, granting same-sex couples the right to marry in all 50 states. This is completely true. And you may also have heard that this represents a victory of something called “secularism” over something called “religious freedom.” This is completely false.

It is not wrong to say that secularism won. It most certainly did. But secularism did not, and cannot win victories “over” religious freedom for the simple fact that secularism is the same thing as religious freedom. For the freedom to worship according the the dictates of one’s own conscience can only exist in any meaningful way in a secular society. [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…]

Amazing Grace

On a day when many will say “secularism” is winning (both those who think that is a bad thing, and those who think that is a good thing), we have an absolutely overwhelming demonstration of the power of God and the power of shared religion:

[Read more…]

Defending Our Foundations

There's a sad story about a Nauvoo temple guard accidentally shooting someone. I hope that person didn't die, the record doesn't say. However, the "defend at all costs" mentality fits what I'm trying to get at here.

There’s a sad story about a Nauvoo temple guard accidentally shooting someone. I hope that person didn’t die, the record doesn’t say. However, the “defend at all costs” mentality fits what I’m trying to get at here.

There is a note at the front of the new Institute manual “Foundations of the Restoration” that says “Comments and corrections are appreciated.” I’m going to take that seriously here. There are some things to recommend this new Institute manual, namely the frequent use of the Gospel Topics Essays and the question “How can we improve what we say about women in the Church to reflect the true significance of their contributions?” within the Relief Society chapter.  And this good reminder after the question “What does it mean to you that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is  ‘the only true and living church’ on the earth? (Before students respond, you may  want to remind them that this doctrine is not intended to mean we should feel superior to others.)”

However there are a few things that stand out of which I will take umbrage. Besides the aforementioned Relief Society chapter, there is so little, too little, practically nothing that I saw wherein women were mentioned or quoted until page 39 (first mention of a woman by name is the infamous Mrs. Hubble story). And then after that, few and far between. Ironically, this manual does not take  that “how can we improve what we say about women” question seriously. This lack of women’s voices should not happen in a 2015 manual of the church.

But more to the point of this post. I found the framework of many of the chapters, especially the ones dealing with the more “controversial” aspects of church history to be roundly negative in tone. Almost like the writers felt like they needed to over-defend aspects of church history before bringing up the issue.

Our college students deserve so much better. This framework teaches them to be afraid of our church history in a brace-yourself-fashion that is not going to be helpful in the long run. Let me show you what I’m talking about with cherry-picked examples from the new manual (note: all bolding is directly from the manual):
[Read more…]

Opening Prayers, Ranked

Hi guys! It’s been awhile since we last ranked something. I’m starting to feel the itch. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGUgFU1Yx4E

Before we get underway, do we have any volunteers to say opening prayer?

As always, these rankings are authoritative.
[Read more…]

Trek, Mobs, and Spiritual Escalation

The version of this post I originally drafted in my head was going to be easy: I’d describe a trek activity (mob attack—more on that in a minute) that, in spite of its being clearly inappropriate, seems to be gaining currency. Then I’d have a poll, asking you what you thought about it, with lighthearted, smart-alecky answers. The end.

The post would have been good for a couple laughs and, hopefully, an icebreaker if you were on a trek committee and somebody suggested said mob attack.  [Read more…]

Best. Church. Book. Ever.

Picture

“Through our great books we may reenact [the] miracle of creation, which brings light and  progress and understanding and pleasure into our minds and hearts.”–Sterling W. Sill, The Majesty of Books

When I was growing up in the ‘70s and early ‘80s, Church books were a big thing in our house. We lived in Oklahoma, so there weren’t many other Mormons, and there wasn’t an Internet, so we didn’t have Blogs, Facebook, or Amazon. Books from Deseret and Bookcraft, and inspirational tapes from Covenant, were one of our main sources of connection to the mother ship.

We got Church books in several ways. I supposed some people ordered them through the mail and waited a month to get them, but we never did. The local Seventies usually ran a small bookstore out of somebody’s garage, and we got some books and tapes that way. But mainly, we went to Utah every other year or so and hit the Deseret Bookstore. It’s what we saved up for. [Read more…]

If Not, Why Not?

charlestonDid anyone have prayers in Church meetings yesterday that focused on or even mentioned last week’s terrorist attack on black worshippers in Charleston? In Sacrament Meeting or in the opening or closing prayers in any of the classes such as Sunday School, Relief Society, or Priesthood Meetings? If not, why not?

For several years now, at least, I’ve been troubled by and wondering why we don’t pray for the “big things” in our Church meetings. Every Sunday, numerous prayers are offered during our Church services. Opening and closing prayers in Sacrament Meeting, opening and closing prayers in Sunday School classes (many wards having multiple adult Gospel Doctrine Sunday School classes running at the same time because of the number of adults in the ward needing to attend), opening and closing prayers in Relief Society and Priesthood Meetings. In this case, if most Mormons in the United States attended wards yesterday in which nary a word was mentioned, in the numerous prayers offered, about the tragedy — for the victims of the Charleston terrorist attack, for peace or healing locally and nationally, for justice, or even for mercy for the lost soul of the white supremacist terrorist who explained the reasons for his calculated attack as white supremacy, a belief in segregation, and a hatred for black people — then why not? [Read more…]

What makes the ‘foolish virgins’ foolish?

We know the story of the 10 virgins. A group of young women were waiting for the bridegroom. Five had brought oil with them and five had not. The bridal party was delayed and so the bridesmaids slept. In the middle of the night, the bridal party arrives and, as the bridesmaids prepare their lamps, the foolish young women asked the wise young women to borrow some of their oil. The wise young women did not share their oil and so the foolish young women left to buy some more but while they were gone the bridal party arrived and those who were ready went inside the house. When the bridesmaids returned the Lord would not let them into the celebrations. All this is well known. But, the parable does not necessarily answer why the ‘foolish virgins’ were, in fact, foolish. We commonly assume the young women were foolish because they did not bring enough oil but there might be another possibility. [Read more…]

Climate Change, The Pope, and a Call to Zion

Two weeks ago I attended a conference in Claremont California, called the Seizing the Alternative Conference. Sixteen hundred scientists, theologians and philosophers gathered to explore the question of how to best respond to the ecological changes the earth is experiencing due to climate change. These people were among the world’s top researchers, thinkers, writers, ethicists, and others concerned about how best to respond to what scientists are calling the Anthropocene–a geological era dominated by the influence of humans who are changing the fundamental ecology of Earth. At BYU we just had a semester long series of climate change talks, sponsored by BYU’s Environmental Ethics Initiative and the Kennedy Center for International Studies. Every week we brought in scientists from around the country to talk about their research on different aspects of global warming. This was a nice setup for my participation at Claremont. The conference was a call to action for the spiritual and intellectual communities to more clearly communicate what’s happening to the planet. However, a concise statement of much of what we discussed is framed in the Pope’s recent encyclical on climate change. [Read more…]

“Christ & Antichrist” Conference Program, NYC, 6/20

Seminar-Sunstone“Christ & Antichrist: Reading Jacob 7″
The Second Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology

9:00–9:15, Adam Miller, Opening Remarks

9:15–10:00, Sharon Harris, “Priest of the Temple and Guardian of the Plates: Jacob and Two Covenants”

10:00–10:45, Kim Berkey, “I Had Requested It: A Theology of Prayer in Jacob 7″

10:45–11:00, Break

11:00–11:45, Jacob Rennaker, “Divine Dream Time: The Hope and Hazard of Revelation”

11:45–12:30, Adam Miller, “Reading Signs or Repeating Symptoms”

12:30–2:00, Lunch

2:00–2:45, Jana Riess, “There Came a Man: Sherem and the Inversion of the Prophetic Tradition”

2:45–3:30, Joseph Spencer, “Weeping for Zion”

3:30–3:45, Break

3:45–4:30, Jenny Webb, “The Flesh and the Family: Jacob 7 as a Site for Sealing”

4:30–5:15, Jeremy Walker, “To Destroy Us Continually: Time and the Katechon in Jacob 7″

[Read more…]

Congrats! You have an all male panel! #allmalepanel

The #allmalepanel Tumblr was started in February 2015 by Finnish feminist researcher and artist Dr. Saara Särmä, 40, whose dissertation was on Internet parody images and memes.[1] Särmä dissertated (or dissed, for short) on the marginalization of women in academia, claiming that some of her colleagues were passed over or outright dismissed as serious thinkers because of their gender.

Why the David Hasselhoff button?

“The Hoff is just simply Hoffsome,” Särmä says. “As a kid who grew up in the 80s watching the Knight Rider, I have a fondness for the Hoff, also he’s the epitome of a white masculinity, isn’t he?”

Indeed. [Read more…]

Trouble of the World

We pray for our sisters and brothers killed in Charleston and for their families and friends. May God hasten the day when we beat our swords into ploughshares.

Muhammad

538px-Muhammad_Salat.svgThere is perhaps no historical figure whose legacy is more energetically contested today than that of Muhammad, the messenger and prophet of Islam. Born in the Arabian city of Mecca in A.D. 570, as a young man in his twenties he began to proclaim a message of renewal and unity among his people. Gathered in the Qur’an, his revelations announce that God (Allah) is one, and that there is a true Way (din) for his people to worship him as a community (ummah). It is the way of submission or surrender (Islam) to God. Muhammad called the Jews, the Christians, and the polytheists of his day to unite in the simple faith of Adam, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus—all of whom recognized and worshipped one Lord through prayer, through fasting, and by caring for those in need. The revelations of the Qur’an repeatedly enjoin these basic acts of devotion upon all humanity and warn of the spiritual perils of unbelief and of living in a state of resistance to God and His righteous command (‘amr). A day of resurrection and judgement is promised in which those who have done good will see that good returned to them, and those who have done evil will suffer the consequences.

Muhammad’s message of one God beside whom there was no other was violently resisted by the powerful, polytheistic majority of Meccan society. He and his small band of followers were attacked from the outset and were finally forced to flee Mecca to save their lives. But Muhammad found new supporters while in exile and over time drew greater numbers to his movement such that he was finally able to overcome the Meccan opposition. He returned to his hometown, cleansed the Kaaba of its idols, dedicated it to the worship of the one God, and united all of the Arabian tribes under a resounding affirmation: “There is no god but God!”

[Read more…]

Job Search: Executive Director of the Mormon History Association

The Mormon History Association is seeking qualified applicants for the independent-contractor position of Executive Director. The Executive Director serves as an officer and member of the MHA Board of Directors. The term is for three years with an annual review and may be renewed. The job is a substantial one, with some variability in workload over the course of the year. Compensation negotiable and commensurate with experience. We seek an energetic person with a commitment to the importance of Mormon history. Duties include the following:
[Read more…]

Tradition and Innovation: Maurice Duruflé

Much as the future is, by definition, leaving the past behind, the past finds its ways to linger on. Life layers us with habits of mind—some good, some bad—that not only color our choices but also shape our sense of what choices we even have. The limits of the future are laid, it seems, only by our bounded imaginations. Might we not leave the past behind too precipitously, though? Mormon writes with regret about the youth who forgot the traditions of their fathers, as taught by King Benjamin, and yet Jesus frequently criticized those who “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” A great difficulty, therefore, lies in discerning which of our traditions to carry with us into the future and which to leave behind. [Read more…]

Noticing Things

Pieter_Bruegel_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_Icarus

I do not know of a better combination of myth, art, and literature than W.H. Auden’s “Museè de Beaux Arts” (1938)—a poetic meditation on Pieter Breugel’s sixteenth century painting, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, which is itself a stunning reinterpretation of an ancient Greek myth. The original myth was about many things, such as daring greatly, following instructions, disobeying parents, and invading the realms of the gods. Both the painting and the poem are more focused. They are about the human failure to notice stuff. [Read more…]

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