Not making fun of other religions

The newsroom just released (or re-released as I’ve seen parts of it before) a video “Explaining How Members Can Defend Their Religious Freedom.” As I was watching it, specifically the quote below, I became a bit uncomfortable:

Why? Well just a few months ago, in May 2015, Elder Robbins of the Seventy gave the CES Devotional. In it, he says this: [Read more…]

Who Can Say Something New?

Who can say something new?

Is Mormon theology, as an academic project, possible for Mormons committed to the primacy of revelation and prophetic leadership?

It depends on what you mean by new.

Who can say something new for Mormonism?

Only those called by God and sustained by the common consent of the church. No Mormon theologian, as a scholar, should ever attempt to speak for Mormonism.

But this is not the question at stake in scholarship. The question at stake in scholarship is this:

Who can say something new about Mormonism?

The answer to this question is very different. Anyone willing to pay enough attention to make an observation can say something new about Mormonism. [Read more…]

Mormons in a Post-Obergefell World

A few thoughts I’ve had about living in a post-Obergefell world:

The first thing: the decision, on a practical level, doesn’t change anything for most of us. It certainly doesn’t for me. And I don’t say that because I’m straight. I live in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was instituted legislatively over a year ago. The only substantive difference Obergefell makes in Illinois is that couples who marry here don’t stop being married when they move to Indiana. And, as Cynthia pointed out, the vast majority of Mormons are in a similar boat: most of us (in the U.S., anyway) live in places where same-sex marriage was just as legal on June 25 as it was on June 26[Read more…]

Sing Praises to God: William Byrd

Ammon’s rapturous speech at the end of his mission famously climaxes with the phrase “I cannot say the smallest part which I feel,” but it also includes two references to singing: an opening call to “sing [God’s] praise” and a statement that the Lamanite converts have been “brought to sing redeeming love.” When joy breaks upon the shoals of language, music still remains to express it, and indeed there may be no other way to give full voice to the power of redeeming love. William Byrd, perhaps the greatest of Tudor composers, understood the capacity for music to express joy, as in today’s psalm, which invites us to “shout to God with loud songs of joy, but also in this setting of words from the 81st psalm:

[Read more…]

Youth Sunday School lesson help for July: Ordinances and Covenants

2009 Inauguration of Barack ObamaI thought it could be helpful to others to post a few resources for how I approached this month’s topic, Ordinances and Covenants. I want to both normalize Mormon high church liturgy, and also highlight what is unique and special about our approach. (If you aren’t sure what those words mean, feel no shame because we don’t use them in our day-to-day, though they do nicely describe us. Click the words for simple definitions.) To do this, I showed a series of videos of formal oaths taken in secular contexts.
[Read more…]

Overlooked “Gospel Topics” topic: “Gospel Learning”

While I was looking at the Gospel Topics Essays a while back I noticed a link that says “Seek learning, even by study and also by faith, which led me to a short Gospel Topic called “Gospel Learning.” This Topic seems geared to help contextualize the Gospel Topics Essays for people who are unsettled by them. (See here for the difference between Gospel Topics Essays and Gospel Topics.) As usual, this Topic is unsigned, but at least part of it (the airplane analogy) borrows from Elder Marcus B. Nash’s 2012 General Conference address.

gospeltopicoldeducation

The 2012 Gospel Topic piece on “Education” from lds.org

[Read more…]

A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane

gethseman

Today was NT lesson 25 on Gethsemane. There wasn’t much in the way of scriptural text assigned; the whole focus of the lesson was on the prayer in the garden (the parallel texts in Matthew, Mark and Luke were all assigned readings). [Read more…]

Welcome, Welcome Sabbath Morning

image

To poach from a friend, this is a vignette of the sweetness of Mormon life.

[Read more…]

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…]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 11,224 other followers