Designing the Scriptures.

Today it’s in the news that President Nelson went and met with Jacinda Ardern, New Zealand’s Prime Minister. This was a little bit more interesting than just any meeting with a world leader for two reasons: (1) Ardern has been widely praised recently for her leadership, including her response to violence in her country, and (2) Ardern herself was raised in the church, but says she left the church in 2005 and currently identifies herself as agnostic.

But this post isn’t about that meeting, it’s about how we print and bind the scriptures. President Nelson made a gift to Ardern of what appears to be a very nice Deseret Book “Legacy Edition” of the Book of Mormon. It’s a nicely done hardcover edition that would look beautiful on a shelf, but it’s pretty pricey retailing around $100. Anyway, that got me thinking about what my ideal edition of the scriptures for my personal use would look like if I could design it myself.

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#BCCSundaySchool2019: “Behold, Thy King Cometh”

 

Matthew 21–23; Mark 11; Luke 19–20; John 12

These passages cover Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his cleansing of the Temple. John puts the cleansing of the temple at the beginning of Christ’s ministry; the three synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) put it toward the end. It is the inciting incident which leads the Jerusalem elite to seek Jesus’s death for Matthew, Mark, and Luke; as Mark has it, in 11:18 (KJV):

And the scribes and chief priests heard it, and sought how they might destroy him: for they feared him, because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.

How should we understand what was happening here?  The first thing to note is that the people doing business at the temple were not necessarily doing wrong, so we cannot read this story as a critique of a self-evident crime; it’s not as though these were people hanging around selling souvenirs in a sacred place.
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Dialogue Editor Search Announcement

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought has long served as the journal of record for the intellectual and cultural life of the Mormon people. Thanks to five decades of work by editors, authors, and the Board, Dialogue  continues to provide space for some of the faith’s most vibrant thinking on cultural, historical, theological, and social issues. To further this mission, we have recently completed a transition that has made all content freely available on our new website at the moment of publication and given us a more substantial internet presence with web-only content. Beginning in 2020, we will transition our production operations to the University of Illinois Press. With these actions, Dialogue will retain its status as a crucial voice in modern Mormonism. To continue this tradition, and in accordance with the journal’s transition to a new production model, Dialogue’s Board of Directors announces a search for a new editor to take control starting with the Summer 2020 issue.

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Use Your Imagination

Imagine that your worst failure, the most humiliating and traumatic episode of your life, became publicly known. Now imagine sitting in a room, expecting to talk about a topic related to Jesus or your spiritual life or a scriptural text. And imagine that, without warning (much less a private inquiry about how comfortable you would be with such a discussion), a roomful of people who claim to love you start talking about your failure, speculating about why failures such as yours happen. They adduce many sins that might cause awful things like the thing that happened to you. Of course no one asks you what actually happened, or if your experience has given you some insight. All you can do is sit there and listen to uninformed speculation about what you must have done wrong.

You would hate this. Stop doing it to people who are divorced but still brave enough to attend church. Just stop.

The Unborn

The appointment of conservative justice Bret Kavanaugh has emboldened some states to take a run at challenging Roe v. Wade by putting forward legislation to outlaw abortion that is a deliberate overreach to force the issue in front of the Supreme Court.[1] From my own conversations with fellow ward members, one reason many LDS voters chose to elect Trump in 2016 is that they, like many social conservatives, vehemently oppose abortion and would like to see the overturn of Roe v. Wade.[2] However, LDS theology is not nearly as anti-abortion as many other conservative religions. Like many other platforms, this is one where both parties’ views are potentially consistent with the church’s stance. [Read more…]

Fear Factor

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This guest post is by Heidi Naylor, who teaches English at Boise State University and writes amazing books for BCC Press on the side.

My brother Karl Beus and his wife Lisa have worked hard to help build an interfaith alliance in their Cleveland community. As good people, and as Latter-day Saints, they’ve forged relationships with the local Islamic congregation, with benefits of community and friendship for all involved. [Read more…]

Love: A Proclamation to the World

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Today’s Proclamation is courtesy of best-selling author Mette Ivie Harrison.

I proclaim to my family of Latter-day Saints today that love is the organizing principle of the universe and that it is the most important value of all previous generations, all future generations, and of this generation. The pure love of Christ is the foundation of all that we do as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It is what teaches us to find the divine in ourselves. It is what allows us to see ourselves and others more clearly. It is the only thing that enables us to become better people: kinder, more compassionate, more understanding, more expansive in our views, wiser, more learned, and more capable of serving others truly—without judgment or superiority. [Read more…]

“What Lack I Yet?”: #BCCSundaySchool2019

The readings for this lesson deal with a few different substantive topics: Marriage and divorce, the role of material wealth in a disciple’s life, prayer, soteriology (the theology of what it means to be saved and how we are saved), church leadership, children, and miraculous healing.

But if there is a unifying theme to these readings it is how Jesus’s teaching often disrupt what are often our natural or cultural beliefs about what is righteous and call us to believe and practice something that is much harder to believe, and much more demanding to practice. We naturally and culturally want to believe that we can be righteous by following the rules, and that therefore, if we just find out the right rules, we can make ourselves righteous and earn salvation or exaltation or blessings by following them.

But Jesus’s message over and over in these readings is that following the rules won’t make you righteous. Instead, if you want to become righteous you have to become a fundamentally different kind of person. The kind of person that humbles himself as a child, sells all that he has and gives it to the poor, serves others, and rather than glorying in his obedience to the commandments, begs only to be forgiven for all the ways he has failed to keep them, and follows Jesus all the way to the cross. [Read more…]

The Image Returns: a review of George Handley, AMERICAN FORK

American Fork

Thanks to friend of BCC James Egan for this thoughtful review.

Novels present unreal worlds that, despite their fictions, offer implicit visions of the reality we inhabit as readers. We sit in judgment of these visions. We expect novelists, to borrow a phrase from the literary theorist Northrop Frye, to tell us “not what happened, but happens: not what did take place, but the kind of thing that always does take place.” Consequently, as the critic James Wood writes, “Fiction moves in the shadow of doubt, knows itself to be a true lie, knows that any moment it might fail to make its case.” We know this as readers, and we get puzzled, curious, or even angry if a novel violates our sense of “what happens.” [Read more…]

The Equality Act and Religious Freedom Exemptions

This afternoon the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement opposing the proposed federal “Equality Act.”

BACKGROUND ON THE EQUALITY ACT

I read the entire Equality Act this afternoon.  The Equality Act’s principal purpose is to amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other federal civil rights provisions, to clarify that sex discrimination includes sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination.  This effort is timely.  Whether “discrimination on the basis of failure to conform with gender stereotypes” constitutes “sex discrimination”  is a question courts have wrestled with for decades.  The U.S. Supreme Court last month agreed to decide it.  Like legislatures often do, Congress is trying to solve any ambiguity surrounding the interpretation with explicit clarification. [Read more…]

Things that Aren’t Religious Freedom

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Linguistic Curiosity and Mormon Culture

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A few years ago, I found myself enmeshed in a long afternoon conversation with a linguistics professor.  His area of expertise includes analyzing changes to English wrought by internet communications.  As he opined on the etymological drift of a verb’s transitive and intransitive forms during the last twenty years, I was fascinated by his approach to grammar and language.

“It must drive you crazy to be so precise with your usage,” I remarked, “and yet be surrounded by people who use words incorrectly all the time. Do you ever feel like Henry Higgins?”

Instead of agreeing, he challenged me.  “There is no such thing as incorrect word usage,” he responded. “Rather, when I hear others use a word in a non-standard way, I ask myself: what is the cultural context and experience in which they were raised that led them to that usage?  I’ve found asking that question leads to a wealth of productive research.” [Read more…]

A Voice From the Dust: Preserving Your Kids’ Humble Offerings

Last month, the The New York Times set its sights on children’s artwork, publishing two articles on sorting out the stuff your kids bring home—”I Love Throwing My Kids’ Artwork in the Garbage While They’re Sleeping” and “How to Keep Kids’ Art From Cluttering Up Your Home“—on the same day. I’m not sure what was in the air that April day that prompted the news powerhouse to devote two parenting features to the same topic, but I’m sure that most adults who care for children can relate to the problem of dealing with the things they bring home or make. My daughter’s artistic output hasn’t been nearly as prodigious since learning how to read, but for a while the preschool was asking us to bring in more paper since it was our kid who was using most of it.

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Explainer: Tax-Exempt Salt Lake Tribune

Yesterday, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that the Salt Lake Tribune has been in serious discussions about becoming a tax-exempt newspaper.[fn1]

This is kind of a big deal. I mean, it wouldn’t be the first tax-exempt newsroom, of course. NPR, for example, has been delivering news as a tax-exempt organization since 1971. And it’s not even the first newspaper (-like organization): ProPublica, a tax-exempt investigative newsroom, has been tax-exempt for more than a decade, and Voice of San Diego, which does the same type of investigative journalism in the San Diego region, has been exempt since 2005.[fn2] WNYC’s On the Media was talking about the potential of newspapers become tax-exempt around that same time, too.[fn3]

But if this happens, the Trib would become the first legacy newspaper to switch from a for-profit model to a tax-exempt, not-for-profit model. Which raises at least two significant questions: why and how. So let’s do an Explainer! [Read more…]

Terrorism and Hospitality

In 2012, I stayed at the Taj Mumbai Hotel. I was there on business, my third stop visiting our India offices that fell under my jurisdiction. My manager assistant who was traveling with me was raised in Mumbai (which he insisted on calling Bombay, the name the city was called until 1995 when political parties changed). The hotel is a luxurious Colonialist structure (built in 1903) with 120 rooms and several high end restaurants. The reception staff proudly mentioned (for my benefit, as an American) that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had stayed there in 2009 and pointed to the place just outside the security-walled entrance where President Obama made a statement to the press. These events were noteworthy because the hotel was among locations that were attacked in 2008 by Pakistani terrorists who landed a boat a few yards from the entrance, then went on to massacre nearly 200 citizens, wounding 300 more, at 12 locations around the city. Because I had stayed in the hotel, I was intrigued about the limited release movie Hotel Mumbai that just came out, so we went a week ago last Friday. It was a haunting experience. [Read more…]

Notes on the history of the one-year wait

Today the First Presidency announced that “[w]here a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” [editorial note: see Jared Cooks comment (#2) below] I thought I would share a few notes about the history of the policy that this announcement changed.
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Under What Circumstances Does the New Marriage Policy Apply?

As Peter’s post points out, the First Presidency today announced that it has ended the policy that couples who live in countries that allow the church to perform legally binding marriages in the temple, but who are married outside the temple in a civil ceremony, must wait at least a year after their civil wedding to be married in the temple.

The First Presidency letter includes this line in the third paragraph: “Where a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” Some who have read the letter are questioning whether this implies that in places where a licensed marriage is permitted in the temple, and in situations where “parents or immediate family members” would not be excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is not authorized.

I think that would be a bad misreading of the First Presidency’s letter. The idea is that by saying one thing is true, the First Presidency is implicitly also that the converse is not true–what lawyers would call the canon of expressio unius exclusion alterius. And that may be a useful guide for interpretation in some cases, but in this case, I think it would be inconsistent with the rest of the letter to read it this way.

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Finally—No More Waiting After Civil Weddings by North American Members of the Church!

Temple sealings for members in Austria have always (well, since at least 1955) started with a civil wedding—the temple sealing is not recognised by the state, and we Mormons are a law-abiding people—followed by a temple ceremony in a (distant) temple at the couple’s earliest convenience. As near as I can tell, no one batted an eye at this arrangement or worried about the dilution of the temple sealing—it was just the way things are, rendering unto Cæsar and God that which is theirs.

Today, the First Presidency announced that members all over the world will be able to follow suit: “a civil marriage between a man and a woman will no longer necessitate waiting a year for that couple to be married (or sealed) in a temple.” (See also this article with some fascinating history from historian par excellence Ardis Parshall.) As someone who married in Austria, I think this is a good move with the potential to disentangle the sealing from the legal and lawful business, strengthening both in the process.

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Prophecy and Poetry–and Two New Books from BCC Press

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At BCC Press, we believe that the line between poetry and prophecy is vanishingly thin and not really a line at all. Nearly all of the prophets in the Bible were also poets. Read correctly, the magnificent verses of Isaiah, the profound Lamentations of Jeremiah, and the stunning rebukes of Amos and Hosea are among the ancient world’s greatest poems.

The reverse is true as well: the poets of a culture are invariably its greatest prophets. Whether it is William Blake reconciling contraries through prophetic verse, or William Butler Yeats organizing history into self-annihilating gyres, or Walt Whitman telling Americans on the eve of the Civil War that “affection shall solve the problems of freedom”–poets warn us, challenge us, and reveal new and startling truths that complicate our lives. [Read more…]

Rejoice with Me; for I Have Found My Sheep Which Was Lost”: #BCCSundaySchool2019:

Luke 12–17
John 11

The centerpiece of this week’s lesson comes in three interlinked parables about finding lost things. In the Christian tradition, the three parables have been given the titles “The Lost Sheep,” “The Lost Coin,” and “The Prodigal Son.” We need to keep in mind though, that Jesus did not name these parables–and sticking too closely to the traditional titles can cause us to focus our attention on the wrong things.

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The danger is gone

I’ve written a lot about “female ritual healing” in the last decade–frequently with Kris. I think a lot more people are aware today, than ten years ago, that women in the church regularly anointed the sick and blessed. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has published the once guarded minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, which included examples of women blessing and Joseph’s revelatory approval of the practice. Deseret Book remarkably published that minute even before the JSPP released the document. The Church Historian’s Press has published transcripts of the minutes with notes, along with many other relevant documents from the subsequent decades (The First Fifty Years, even available in the Gospel Library App). The Church History Department has published several essays that deal with the practice, including a Gospel Topics Essay and a Church History Essay. I sense no danger in discussing it. It is a different world than when Kris and I first walked into the old Archives.
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The Prophet Project: Answers to Prayer

One might, at first glance, think Elder Brook Hales’s talk “Answers to Prayer” is about…well…prayer. But it really isn’t; rather, it is about hope and the effect it can have in our lives. [Read more…]

The Mormon Creed

We are all familiar with the religious biographies of Joseph Smith, and in particular the narrations of the First Vision. It is from the latter of these that we find God’s condemnation of Christian creeds, a formal category or documents that established beliefs for the last two thousand years. Many folks have written about the anti-creedal denominations of the Antebellum period, and how the restoration fit in with that. My experience has been that Mormons have consequently taken a pejorative view of these documents, even if we haven’t really been sure what exactly they are [waves hands and mutters something about the incoherency of the trinity].
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When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

“I am the Good Shepherd” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Good_shepherd_02b_closeChrist as the Good Shepherd was one of the most common and early illustrations of the Savior in early Christian art, before the Edict of Milan in 313 AD granted religious liberty to minority groups like Christians. The image of a shepherd was a furtive, sneaky way of remembering Christ through paintings and statues without being persecuted or even executed by the Roman Empire. These images of Christ were also reminiscent of Greek depictions of Hermes Kriophoros, representing a story in which Hermes saves a city from the plague by carrying a ram on his shoulders and running around the city’s walls. In other stories of kriophoros, or “ram-bearers,” the rams are representative of sacrifice—a fitting complement to Christ’s own atoning sacrifices. Additionally, the tragic Greek hero Orpheus (who was very nearly able to resurrect his wife, Eurydice, from death, and whose own head had been able to keep singing sad, beautiful songs long after it was torn from his body) was also commonly depicted as a shepherd, playing music to birds and animals from his lyre. It’s not always easy to distinguish among these various personalities in ancient art, and it’s also possible that many pieces of art simultaneously represented a synthesis of these various stories: stories of heroism, tenderness, care, and sacrifice. [Read more…]

Christians, Mormons, and Latter-day Saints: Religious Identity and Self-Determination in Religious Movements and Institutions

Who gets to decide what my religion is? Who gets to decide what my religion is called? Who gets to decide who gets to call themselves a Mormon, or a Christian? Should the church have anything to do with those who aren’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, but who call themselves Mormons?

Something I’ve been thinking about over the past several months since President Nelson’s announcement about the name of the church is the relationship between the right of religious institutions to define themselves, and the right of individuals to choose their own religious identity. [Read more…]

The Satanic Temple: Now a Church!

Maybe you heard (or maybe you didn’t): the IRS recently recognized the Satanic Temple as a tax-exempt church.

Before you react to the news, that first sentence requires some unpacking. Specifically, we need to know what the Satanic Temple is, and we need to know what it means to be recognized as a tax-exempt church.

To the extent you’ve heard of the Satanic Temple, it’s likely in one of two contexts. They both have to do with its Baphomet statues. [Read more…]

Profile in Courage: Matt Easton

Watch this video of Matt Easton, valedictorian of the Political Science Department, giving the convocation speech for BYU graduation in the Marriott Center and announcing, “I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.” 

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Latter-day Saint Parents, Please Stop Apologizing for Your Child’s Wedding

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Emily B. grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives in Maryland, where she spends most of her time writing and teaching writing classes. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from BYU and just finished a PhD in English at the University of Georgia. She and her husband have no children but two very spoiled cats.

Last summer while attending a conference for work, I met a woman from Utah, Trudy (not her real name). It was one of those contexts where we quickly figured out that we were both members of the Church and started chatting, just making small talk. Trudy asked if I had attended this conference before, and I explained that I had meant to attend the previous year but that my sister’s wedding plans had changed, preventing me from going. She then told me all about her adult children and her son’s upcoming wedding.

“Congratulations!” I said. “That’s exciting!”
“Well…” Trudy said, grimacing a little. She sighed.

Instantly, I knew what she was about to say. It’s a sigh and grimace I’ve seen on many occasions when a Latter-day Saint parent, or perhaps even a sibling, mentions an upcoming wedding. [Read more…]

“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Matthew 18, Luke 10

The Sapiential, Constitutive, Consequential Kingdom of God

To read the Gospels is to become obsessed with a vision. And the name of the vision is “the Kingdom of God,” or, sometimes, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or just “the Kingdom.” It is the most powerful vision in any of the standard works, where it occasionally also goes by the name of “Zion.” It is the focus of nearly all of Christ’s parables, and of the vast majority of His teaching and ministry. And it remains one of the most poorly understood concepts in the churches that use His name.

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