Lesson 39: “How Beautiful Upon the Mountains” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1920px-Antonio_Balestra_-_Prophet_Isaiah.jpgLesson Objective: To seek a “teacher’s tongue” and an “open ear.” To be moved to our feet in spreading a message of peace.

Scriptures:Isaiah 50–53; Mosiah 14–15 [Read more…]

President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism. [Read more…]

What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

[Read more…]

Call for Applications – 2019 Mormon Theology Seminar

The Sixth Annual Summer Seminar on Mormon Theology
“Given Thee by My Spirit: Reading D&C 25”
Union Theological Seminary, New York City
June 16–June 29, 2019

Sponsored by the Mormon Theology Seminar
in partnership with
The Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship
& the Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University

In the summer of 2019, the Mormon Theology Seminar, in partnership with Brigham Young University’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute and Wheatley Institution, will sponsor a summer seminar for graduate students and faculty devoted to reading Doctrine and Covenants 25. The seminar will be hosted at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, from June 16 through June 29, 2019. Travel arrangements, housing, and a $1000 stipend will be provided for admitted participants. The seminar will be led by Joseph M. Spencer and Rosalynde Welch. [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

Two Quick Things Related to the Freedom From Religion Foundation

A quick announcement, and a quick related link:

I’ve been blogging about the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s suit challenging the parsonage allowance for several years, both here and at Surly Subgroup (and, at least once, at Times and Seasons). And, a week from Wednesday, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear oral arguments in the case. Right here in Chicago! Which means you know where I’ll be Wednesday, Oct. 24, at 9:30 am.

And, in anticipation of the case, Professor Anthony Kreis and I are going to do a preview of the case. This Wednesday at noon, here at the Loyola University Chicago law school. If you’re in the Chicagoland area, please feel free to come. The discussion will be great, and there’ll be pizza! (If you’re interested in coming, I’m attaching the official announcement at the bottom of this post; please RSVP here so we have a rough count of how much pizza to order.) [Read more…]

The 60-Minute Sacrament Meeting: An opportunity to build a new Christ-centered worship service.

The change about two-hour church that has attracted the most attention is the elimination of the “third hour” and the alternating classes for the “second hour.” Kevin’s post yesterday discusses some of the logistics of these changes. But as I’ve read through the October 6, 2018 first presidency letter and enclosure, one part that has caught my attention is the potential to use this change to radically re-work sacrament meetings. [Read more…]

Notes on Two-Hour Church

I spent last weekend with a childhood friend doing Nauvoo. So I learned of the announcement of two-hour church in the Browning gun shop, from a senior missionary with an earbud in his ear listening to Conference. The rumors have been around for years, but now the long promised day has finally come. Hallelujah! [Read more…]

DeKalb

DeKalb

In 1965 when I was six going on seven, my father got a job as a professor of education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL, two hours due west of Chicago. So I grew up there, from second grade through high school. For decades I have lived just an hour east of DeKalb, and my MIL still lives there, so I go back to visit often, most recently a week ago yesterday as a fellow DeKalbian and I made our way to spend a weekend in Nauvoo.[1]

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Movie Review: Jane and Emma

Some topics of Church history are so ugly, so complex and so fraught with conflicting priorities that they seem impossible to talk about in meaningful ways. Racism in the Church is one of those topics. Polygamy is another. Each attempt to examine these topics is like performing an autopsy on a live patient, each little dissection an injury. How, then, can we address these matters, because it is both morally crucial and communally necessary to know ourselves and see as we were then and are now? Melissa Leilani Larson (screenplay, story), Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes (story) believe that the medium of film, the dramatization of historical characters, can bring us closer to an understanding that is both sensitive and sensible. Jane and Emma is their work, a film that portrays the intersecting lives of the freshly-widowed Emma Smith and Jane Manning, a black woman seeking her spiritual birthright among the Mormons of Nauvoo. While the film is not perfect, it represents the best on-screen attempt to capture the complexity of Nauvoo and the staggering internal conflicts these women faced. [Read more…]

Mormon Obedience: On Disregarding the Prophet’s Preferences

On Sunday morning, President Nelson dedicated his full full talk to shutting down the use of Mormon and other nicknames for the church. This seems to be something he feels passionate about, and something that has been weighing on his mind for a long time. He went so far as to assert that Jesus is offended if we use, or allow others to use, nicknames for the church, and at least intimates that the use of nicknames represents both a victory for Satan and disregard for the Atonement.

So what are we, as faithful members of the church, to do with this? We absolutely have to take it seriously.

But that raises the question of what taking it seriously means. And I believe that this is a tougher question that it appears at first blush. Because taking it seriously isn’t (necessarily) the same as obeying. To take it seriously requires that we engaged, spiritually and intellectually, with what Pres. Nelson has said. [Read more…]

Hello, My Name Matters

Screen Shot 2018-10-10 at 10.26.19 AMWhat’s in a name? If you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, you know that names are important. Aside from the current focus on jettisoning Mormon (so long, two years of my life spent working for the Church on the “I’m a Mormon” campaign!) in favor of the more ponderous official name of the church, we have a pretty mixed bag of focus and dismissal of names, and the preferences around those names. Take a look with me… [Read more…]

Review: McDannell’s Sister Saints

Colleen McDannell, has been the Sterling McMurrin Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Utah for several decades now. Mormonism has popped up in chapters in her widely circulated Heaven: A History, Material Christianity, and in a few articles. For the most part she has concentrated on other topics. This month, however, Oxford University Press is publishing McDannell’s overview of Mormon women’s history since the winding down of Polygamy. Do not make the mistake of thinking this isn’t the central history of the church.

Colleen McDannell, Sister Saints: Mormon Women since the End of Polygamy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 291 pp., $29.95.

[Read more…]

Lesson 38: “Beside Me There Is No Saviour” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Reading: Isaiah 40-49

These chapters are a flashpoint for several reasons, most having to do with context. Scholars generally see Isaiah 40 as the beginning of “Deutero-Isaiah,” because whereas (most of) the earlier chapters of Isaiah assume a location in 8th century BCE Judah, chapter 40 depicts God returning to Jerusalem and its temple after a long absence, and chapters 44 and 45 explicitly name Cyrus (ca. 600-530 BCE), founder of the Persian Empire. For this reason and others, scholars therefore associate these chapters with the exilic or post-exilic period.

These scholarly conclusions have resulted in pushback from some LDS teachers, though. The familiar version of the argument that I’ve heard is that “scholars don’t believe in prophecy,” which implicitly or explicitly equates “prophecy” with “the ability to see the future” by doing such things as naming Cyrus before he was born. Mormon investment in this argument derives from the fact that the Book of Mormon quotes from Deutero-Isaiah, which means that Book of Mormon historicity rests in part on these chapters’ having already been written ca. 600 BCE, before the exile.

In my view, however, texts that try to call Israel to keep worshiping Yahweh as God even though Yahweh apparently didn’t prevent the destruction of the temple or the exile should count as pretty darn prophetic, especially given that predicting the future is a pretty narrow subset of what Hebrew prophets do. I bring this up because class members are likely to have varying degrees of familiarity with these issues, and good teachers should try to be aware of the kinds of questions and objections students might make, even if they’re not voiced. Sunday School that doesn’t attend to the actual needs and concerns of class members is a waste of everyone’s time. [Read more…]

Research Grants for Global Mormon Studies

The Mormon Studies program at Claremont Graduate University is funding research grants for people studying global Mormonism.

While they will be accepting proposals for the next few months, they will be giving preference to proposals received by the end of October.  Their hope is to see significant progress on funded projects by April 2019.  They are interested in helping to fund projects that are already underway, as well as new projects.

Please see the call for proposals here (https://mormonstudies.cgu.edu/center-global-mormon-studies/claremont-mormon-studies-research-grant/)  and contact Caroline Kline if you have any questions.

Browser plugin replaces word “Mormon,” to block victories for Satan

Following the announcement by President Nelson that use of the common nickname for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and its people was “a major victory for Satan,” I thought it would be helpful for Mormons members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to have a way to avoid participating in wins for the devil. I’ve made a Chrome browser extension that replaces all instances of the word “Mormon” on a web page with [VICTORY FOR 😈]. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

Is it such a fast that I have chosen?

You may have heard that President Nelson asked the youth of the church back in June to take a seven day “fast” from social media, and that he repeated the same counsel (but for ten days) was to the women of the church during conference. I’ve taken breaks from social media in the past, but I always thought of it more as a “Sabbath” rather than a “fast”: a time to disconnect from worldly influences, to re-connect with the real world of creation and with the Spirit of God, and to reset and renew ourselves.

This post is an attempt to think about some of the implications of casting this social media break as a “fast.” Fasting has important implications, both inward looking and outward looking. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

[Read more…]

Hepeating the Covenant Path

Benjamin Keogh is in the final throes of a masters in Theology at the University of Glasgow, currently writing his dissertation on conceptions of atonement in Johann Arndt and Immanuel Kant. A native of Scotland, he and his wife have three kids who are looking forward to “daddy’s big essay” being completed.

Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

First Presidency on Coming Schedule Changes in Church Meetings

Just released letter from the First Presidency on Sunday Meeting Schedule beginning January 2019. Thoughts?
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Revelation and name change

I recently chatted with Patrick Mason, Shelby Lamar and Morgan McKeown on the Mormonism Magnified podcast from Claremont University about the recent efforts by President Nelson to use the official name of the church more consistently. I believe President Nelson has displayed a greater tendency to invoke revelatory language than any other president of the Church in the last hundred years. His presidency will be an interesting topic for study by historians.

I recommend listening to the discussion. You can download the podcast by searching “Mormonism Magnified” on iTunes, Spotify, or Stitcher, or here on their website:
http://www.mormonismmagnified.com/2018/10/03/episode3/. I am curious as to both the short and long term effects of President Nelson’s tenure and rhetoric. I strongly suspect that his style will greatly impact not only future presidents of the Church, but local leaders as well.

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can’t Lose

[Note:  This post is ridiculously full of spoilers for a show that has been off the air for seven years.  Consider yourself both warned and encouraged to watch.]

I’ve loved the show Friday Night Lights since I first watched it years ago.  I liked the family drama, the well-written characters, the springy beauty of Connie Britton’s hair.  It was a good show.  Recently, I started re-watching to wind down before bed and discovered a new show.  This time around, with my new foster parent eyes, Friday Night Lights was a love letter full of hope and encouragement, portraying flawed people who put their own needs aside to love, serve, and advocate for troubled kids.  It was soul balm that I needed.   [Read more…]

Making Stories Sacred

9781641700498The word “consecrate” has a special resonance for Latter-day Saints. The Law of Consecration was once the basis of our social order, and we believe that it will one day be the order of Zion, or the Kingdom of God. To consecrate, from the Latin consecrare, means to make sacred. Anything can be consecrated because everything can be made to serve God. We can consecrate our time, our talents, or treasures, or suffering, and, perhaps most importantly, our stories. [Read more…]

When Religious Tax Accommodations Are Inconsistent

On Wednesday, October 24, the Seventh Circuit is going to hear arguments in the appeal of Gaylor v. Mnuchin. I’ve written about this parsonage allowance case a number of times in the past (see here and here for examples), but as a quick summary: section 107(2) of the Code says that “ministers of the gospel” don’t have to include rental allowances in gross income. Several years ago, the Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged this parsonage allowance on the grounds that it violated the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. They won in the district court, but the Seventh Circuit found that the plaintiffs didn’t have standing to challenge the provision.

The Seventh Circuit also suggested, in a footnote, that if they claimed a parsonage allowance and the IRS rejected their claim, they might have standing. So they did, the IRS did, and the district court again found the provision unconstitutional. And now the Seventh Circuit will weigh in (again).

As a side note, this provision (as well as a bunch of others) made their way into God and the IRS, the book I wrote that was recently published about tax accommodations of religious individuals. The fundamental purpose of the book was to illustrate the ad hoc nature of religious accommodations in the tax law, and develop a framework that could provide some consistency as Congress and the IRS consider providing these accommodations. [Read more…]

Dissecting Problematic Marriage/Abuse Rhetoric

Dear Elder Holland,

We need to talk about today’s Facebook post.

I love that you and Pat have such an amazing marriage.  I love your folksy and relatable advice about laughing at mistakes, and being quick to forgive, and remaining committed to conflict resolution and a long-term vision of happiness.

I appreciate, too, that amidst the cheerful marriage advice you throw in an exception: “I realize there may be an abusive or violent situation giving a legitimate reason to get out of a marriage.”  I have long noticed, and appreciated, that you are consistent in condemning verbal, emotional, physical, and sexual abuse and recognizing that exception.

It is out of respect for your advocacy that I am writing.  Because your next sentence, no matter how well-intentioned, will be destructive to many abuse victims:  “When there is a legitimate exception, you’ll know, your priesthood leaders will know, and God will know.” [Read more…]

Gödel, Einstein, Smith part 2: Troubles with the Constitution

Gödel about 10 years before this story I think.

Eight years ago I wrote a post here about the mathematician, physicist, logician, philosopher, Kurt Gödel (1906-1978). I can’t remember exactly why I did this except that it had some relationship to Gödel’s belief in ghosts/evil spirits and that’s tangentially Mormon I suppose. This time, there is also a tangential reason to blog about the man again because it’s about the Constitution of the United States, a topic of interest in Mormonism since its founding days. Anyway, I noticed recently that the long-rumored story of Gödel’s application for US citizenship found more historical support. One of the participants in the episode, Oskar Morgenstern, left a memo on the incident and this was made public a few years ago. I’ve collected a number of stories about Gödel over the years but this one never had a solid basis in fact as far as I could tell. Now it does.
[Read more…]

Misreading Scriptures the Right Way

The strong reader, whose readings will matter to others as well as to himself, is thus placed in the dilemmas of the revisionist, who wishes to find his own original relation to truth, whether in texts or in reality (which he treats as texts anyway), but also wishes to open received texts to his own sufferings, or what he wants to call the suffering of history.–Harold Bloom, A Map of Misreading

 

Americans tend to approach two documents–the Bible and the Constitution–as self-interpreting units of meaning that neither require nor permit interpretation. These are privileged textual entities that mean what they say and say what they mean, and all anybody needs to do is figure out exactly what their authors meant by every word so we can download the right meaning directly into our brains and live our lives accordingly.

Treating the Constitution this way gives us the curious legal doctrine of “originalism,” which is fashionable for jurists to talk about in Senate hearings but has never actually been practiced in any meaningful way by confirmed judges. Treating the Bible this way gives us the religious doctrine of fundamentalism, which is at the center the Evangelical Protestant tradition–and, allowing for an expanded scriptural canon, the Latter-day Saint tradition as well. [Read more…]