A Footnote to the Extermination Order

Missouri Executive Order 44, commonly known as the Mormon Extermination Order, includes this text: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.” The Order was rescinded in 1976, but prior to that time it was common for Mormons to wryly observe that it was legal for Missourians to kill Mormons on the street. Was that really true? Uh, no.

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Review: Blythe’s Terrible Revolution

A number of years ago, I wrote about the church culture of my youth: “I was born in 1976, the same year that President Kimball spoke with some measure of pride in General Conference about the “garden fever” that had infected many of the Saints. The church leaders of this period were raised when the Mormon culture region had primarily an agriculture-based economy (the farm-raised missionary remains legendary). Still, there is clearly more than a fear that the children of Zion be deprived home-canned peaches in President Kimball’s words.” We gardened like champs. We had food storage in case of emergency, but we were more proto-foodies (homemade bread and freezer jam, yes please) than end-time waiters. I remember the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We never did bomb drills at school, though, and we soon saw the fruits of glastnost. When employment brought my family to the Kansas City area in the early-1990s, we made jokes about “the gatherers”—fringe believers drawn to the area, and who were generally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

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Another BCC Press Sunstone Sale–All Ebooks $4.99. Are we nuts?

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In case you missed the memo, BCC Press has developed a new web site and unveiled it at this year’s all-online Sunstone Sumposium. You have already seen Bob Rees’s book that we launched today as part of this grand unveiling. By Common Consent. And you know that we are selling all books by Sunstone Symposium speakers for 25% off.

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BCC Press Is Thrilled to Announce: A New Book by Bob Rees and a Sunstone Sale

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By Common Consent is thrilled to announce our newest book–and our fourth book of the year to celebrate and examine the Book of Mormon. We lead off the first half of the year with The Book of Mormon for the Least of These by Fatimeh Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming, which has gone on to become our of the top-selling volumes in BCC Press history. We also published Mette Harrison’s book The Women’s Book of Mormon and Michael Austin’s Buried Treasures. We are proud to announce the capstone of our Year of the Book of Mormon with Robert A. Rees’s A New Witness to the World. (Kindle version here).

A New Witness to the World, which has been years in the making, contains thirteen essays by one of Mormonism’s most distinguished scholars. Bob Rees has been active in Mormon Studies for nearly sixty years. He was one of the Founding Parents of Dialogue and the journal’s second editor. During all of this time, Bob has been studying both the Book of Mormon and the religion it created, andd he has done so with the fine eye of a literary critic and the precision of an expert scholar.

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Rep. John Lewis and Religious Freedom

Yesterday and today, the late Representative John Lewis is lying in state at the Capitol. Thousands of people lined up to pay respects to the Congressman yesterday and I’d be surprised if thousands more don’t today.

They may know Rep. Lewis from his days as a Freedom Rider, fighting for racial justice. They may know him from the graphic novels about his civil rights career. They may know him from his 40-ish years representing constituents as an elected official.

I was reminded that Rep. Lewis was a deeply religious man and advocate of religious freedom last week when I got a call from Amy Lee Rosen, a reporter for Law360. She was doing a story about tax bills sponsored by Rep. Lewis.

One of the bills Rep. Lewis sponsored? H.R. 4169: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

I was familiar with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act; I wrote about it in chapter 4 of my book. [Read more…]

What Does Pioneer Day Mean in 2020?

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Back when I lived in Utah, I found it obnoxious when other out-of-staters would dismiss Pioneer Day out of hand as uncool and irrelevant (as most Utah things are, according to most other Americans). As a student of culture, the idea of belittling a tradition like Pioneer Day for easy “cool points” seemed unproductive and counter to my training to take history and community seriously. However, this doesn’t remove the need for critique and engagement, especially with one’s own cultural inheritance. For anyone who wasn’t on this train before, 2020 has given us a host of opportunities to critically engage with the act of memorializing: who gets remembered and celebrated? Whose stories are left untold? What political consequences do these choices have?

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Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life. [Read more…]

A Deep Dive into the “Flyover Books”

On page 72 of the Maxwell Institute’s newest Brief Theological Introductions book, Sharon Harris writes a passage that will forever change the way I read the “itty-bitty books” of Enos, Jerom, and Omni. Speaking of the common charge that Jarom just wasn’t as invested in keeping the record as his ancestors were, Harris counters:

Rather than seeing them as a lag or a slowdown in the narrative of spirituality among Lehi and Sariah’s descendants, perhaps we have more in common with them than we realize. It has now been over a century since a revelation was received that was added to the Doctrine and Covenants. Would we say of our day, however, that revelation has ceased? Of course not. In many ways it feels as though revelation continues to increase within the church. But if people 2,500 years from now were to look back, with one narrow selection of records with which to draw their conclusions, would it look as though revelation was booming in the early twenty-first century? Perhaps not (72-73).

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A Q&A with the editors of Producing Ancient Scripture

Two of the editors of the recently published Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity fielded some questions about the project. I was a participant in the original seminar from which this project grew. My work ended out going a different direction, but I have been anxiously waiting for this volume ever since. Giddy even, you might say. If you use the coupon “MHA2020” at the linked site, it will save you $10 off the paperback.

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Melody and Twila (and peggy)–How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

By now the whole world knows that the Schuyler Sisters were the hottest—and coolest—female siblings in America. The operative word here is “were,” since, as of today, we have a new reigning matriarchy–the Newey Sisters. Today, By Common Consent Press is pleased to announce the publication of An Imperfect Roundness by Melody Newey Johnson, and Sylvia by Twila Newey. How lucky we are to be alive right now. And wait ’till you get a load of Peggy.

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The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow

“Do business properly and orderly as the men so that the history of the same may be handed down to future generations of the daughters of Zion.” – ERS to the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Relief Society, March 3, 1869.

I have spent a lot of time in the documents of the restoration—journals, sermon reports, correspondence, meeting minutes. The things that often get public attention are items such as church leader diaries that document the activities and opinions of themselves and other church leaders. They are important, but there is something I love far more.

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Toward a Humble Church

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A decade ago, I sat despondent in Relief Society during a lesson on humility. Law school exams were fast approaching and I felt overwhelmed. An arbitrary system was about to base 100% of my grades on half-day tests. Regardless of my objective mastery of the material, the system was designed to force competition against my smart and talented peers. I would be graded on a strict curve. Those grades would then be aggregated to assign my relative class rank. Without a sufficiently high class rank employers would flick my resume into the recycle bin. My future career was at stake. The legal job market was deep in a recession. I feared failure, and that my student loans would never be repaid.

I sighed and decided to interpret the lesson as a chastisement. I needed to repent and learn humility. I needed to learn “a modest or low view of my own importance.” [Read more…]

How to reactivate people

After reading this week about some stake presidencies sending form letters to folks in an effort to keep them active, I got to thinking about what really would work to keep people active in the Church and what sort of approaches would work. Here are some thoughts that represent my personal findings after being involved on the periphery of reactivation efforts over the years. I hope you don’t mind these ramblings, which are mostly to spur discussion and are not meant as a final declaration on the topic of church activity. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Newly available shorthand transcriptions of nineteenth-century sermon texts

More than a few Latter-day Saints grew up in homes with one complete shelf full with the Journal of Discourses (preference of course for the black and gold volumes over those crappy blue ones). Missionaries through the years have variously been baffled and intrigued by snippets from them. Hardly anyone has actually read anything from them, though I know a couple of non-professionals who have made it through completely.

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Journal of Mormon History, July 2020 Issue Synopsis.

Vol. 46, no. 3 of JMH recently arrived in my mailbox. It has some fine articles and I thought I might preview them for you in hopes that you’ll pick up the issue and have a look. It is available by subscription in hard copy, or electronically and is a benefit of membership in the Mormon History Association. There are four articles in the issue, an essay, a notice of a document and a book review.
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Our Own Vines and Our Own Fig Trees: a Post-Independence Day, Post-Hamilton-Watching Sermon

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Like plenty of other Americans (and, given likely demographics, probably in particular like plenty of readers of this blog), my family and I watched the musical Hamilton over the July 4th weekend. Our second-oldest daughter, who was home to join us yesterday, had actually seen the show in 2016 on Broadway; for the rest of us, as familiar as we were with the music, watching the show was a new experience–and it was a lovely one, a wonderfully funny and dramatic, visually and aurally compelling, and historically challenging (in more ways than one), piece of filmed theater. It was three hours very well spent. [Read more…]

July 4th, Amulek Day, and a Mighty Change of Heart

Lori Thompson Forsyth is a long-time New Englander, a part-time aspirational Spaniard, and a current resident of Utah Valley. She edits manuscripts for BCC Press and blogs at lorinotes.wordpress.com.

Brianna Santellan, Unsplash. 

Through the past several weeks of mourning and protests, as our national attention has turned once again to the power that systemic racism holds over many aspects of our communities, a passage from Alma chapter 10 has been running through my mind. It provides guidance as I ponder how to respond to the outpouring of emotions I see on the news and in the streets. It may even have some bearing on the ways in which we, as Latter-day Saints, could commemorate the Fourth of July, which I’m beginning to think of as Amulek Day.

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The KJV in the BoM

Review of Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part Five: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University Studies, 2019).

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Internet Videos, The Second Coming, and Conspiracy Theory

Recently, a YouTube video called “7 Year Tribulation in the SEVENTH Seal Timeline” has become extremely popular. There’s no way to know whether most or all of its more than half million viewers are LDS or not, but it’s targeted directly at Church members. The video uses LDS scripture, cites Church leaders and publications, and makes a case for the Second Coming happening most likely in 2024 but no later than 2033.

Of course, there have been no shortage of millennial prophecies both inside and outside of the Church, but those willing to specify dates with the precision of this video producer are few and far between. There are a number of reasons why people might avoid being so bold as to offer precise dates.
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Sunday Sermon: “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More”

Gonna lay down my burden / Down by the riverside / Ain’t gonna study war no more. Refrain to “Down by the Riverside”

A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules.–Machiavelli, The Prince, Chapter 14

Last week, for reasons that will matter only to me, I listened to more than a hundred versions of “Down by the Riverside.” The classic spiritual traces back to before the Civil War. First published in 1918, it has been recorded by just about every artist I have ever considered important: Mahalia JacksonSister Rosetta Tharpe, and Lois Armstrong, certainly, but also Elvis PresleyPete Segar, and RaffiPeter, Paul, and Mary did the hippie version, and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did the respectable conservative recording. And who could forget Papa Bue’s Viking Jazzband’s classic take on the classic?

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In Defense of Iconoclasm

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I hate statues.

Not just Confederate statues.  Not just slave trader statues.  All statues.  Queens.  Presidents.  Generals.  Prophets.  Take them all down.

No person should be a permanent symbol of public adoration.  And that’s what statues are:  they freeze people in faux-perfect time.  If commissioned during a leader’s lifetime, they’re often exaggerated ego trips.  If created after death, they’re expensive icons to a fabricated mythology.  Statues celebrate wealth, conquest, or other worldly success while implying perfection and eliding flaws.  Pedestals are cages.  I hate them. [Read more…]

Faculty Demographics at BYU

A couple weeks ago, President Nelson issued a joint statement with the NAACP condemning racial injustice. Toward the end of that statement, they said:

We likewise call on government, business, and educational leaders at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.

(Emphasis mine.) It occurred to me that, while at BYU-P, very few of my professors were people of color. (It’s been a couple decades, so my memory isn’t perfect, but as best I can remember, I had two Brazilian professors, which is probably the closest I came.) I wondered what BYU faculty looks like today.

It isn’t pretty.  [Read more…]

Can One Good Apple Unspoil the Whole Bunch? Thoughts on Healing the Church and the Nation

Bad apples are in the news again. This often happens when we have a national debate over the behavior of individualswho can be assigned to a category. “Bad apple” theory is the most common way to push back against  “systemic problem” theory. [Read more…]

Last chance to shop before Father’s Day

Mother’s Day was not a big deal in my house when I was growing up. This is most likely because my father didn’t teach us kids to observe it, and my mother was too much of a martyr to insist upon it. As a result, I don’t expect a great deal for Mother’s Day myself, although I am fortunate enough to have a husband who ensures that I don’t have to cook or do the dishes on that day. Sometimes my kids make me cards. I appreciate all of this because it’s nice, but the nicest thing about Mother’s Day this year was not having to go to church and listen to some bullcrap about how important women are. That may be the only good thing about 2020 so far. [Read more…]

Mormonism and the Moral Imagination

Robert Bennett is Professor of English at Montana State University. He is the author of Pill (Bloomsbury Object Lessons) and the co-editor of Deconstructing Brad Pitt (Bloomsbury).

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”—1 Corinthians 13:11

Our country is undergoing a long overdue moral reckoning with its ongoing history of racism. Not since the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s has race so dramatically occupied the center stage of our national discourse, and the nation’s collective cry for racial equality is rapidly approaching another “I Have a Dream” moment. Only this time we have a more somber national refrain: “I can’t breathe.” These tragic last words of George Floyd have galvanized our nation to demand greater racial justice and accountability.

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Who’s on the Lord’s Side, Who?

I have been thinking a lot about the Book of Jonah, these last few months, as everyone has become a prophet of various sorts of physical, financial, or psychic doom.

Art: Peter Speier

We know the first part of Jonah’s story well—being commanded to go to Nineveh, trying to avoid his vocation, being caught in the storm, swallowed by the fish, praying, being spat out to have another go at keeping God’s commandment to him. It’s the second part of the story I’ve been thinking about lately. [Read more…]

A Quick Note

This is for all of you out there who feel forced to choose between a racist god and a racist prophet in order to explain the priesthood ban. Even if God was a racist god (which he isn’t), the prophet being racist would still be racist. Doing the will of a racist doesn’t absolve you of responsibility for what you do. So, you’re actually just deciding if you think God is racist. He isn’t. There you go.

Look at a Snake and Live (or Maybe Just Wear a Mask)

The story of Moses and the Brazen Serpent is one of the most fascinating narratives in the standard works. I say this because the same story is referenced in three different scriptures, and each time it is invoked to demonstrate a different set of principles.

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On Masks

A couple weeks ago, I was going to write a quick fun post asking whether, in a post-pandemic world, the church would start letting people wear masks to church Halloween parties.[fn1] After all, in the phased resumption of sacrament meeting, members can be encouraged to wear facemasks. And if at sacrament meeting, why not at Halloween?

To write the post, I did a quick Google search to see if the internet had any explanation of the origins of the church’s ban on masks. And you know what? If you Google “mormon no masks,” you get a lot of hits about the church’s mask-making activities and, right at the top, Elder Cook’s 2012 BYUI devotional titled, of all things, “Don’t Wear Masks.” [Read more…]