Book Review—George Handley, American Fork

In his debut novel George Handley displays the same attentive care to the color and bend of a single leaf as he does to the tempo and tenor of the human heart. The two really aren’t so different—each existing within larger webs of relationship, each displaying something of the majesty and precariousness of God.

American Fork is a book about intersections—environmental, national, personal, and theological. Aging environmentalist Zach (Zacharias) Harker enlists Chilean immigrant, artist, student, and newlywed Alba Hidalgo to create art for his book project. As a researcher who never finished his PhD, the seventy-plus-year-old Harker wants to create a tome displaying nature’s intricate interconnectivity as well as humanity’s urgent need to change our destructive behaviors which compromise the whole. “This book [we’re creating] isn’t about finding and naming plants,” he tells the young artist, “It’s about creating relationships between the reader and this place” (141). His text, alongside her art, will guide the reader to see the inseparability between humans and our environment. [Read more…]

Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]

What We Fear

I’m going to wade into the waters of the Sam Young excommunication.  Let me suggest that telling the truth about the church is not what got him excommunicated. [Read more…]

Omit the Sexual Details

The first time I heard the word “masturbation,”  I was 12 years old and sitting in my bishop’s office.

I believe we were discussing a limited use recommend for an upcoming temple trip.  I remember the bishop walking through the 1990 version of For the Strength of Youth, which used a lot of large, sexual words I did not know — like “petting” and “perversion” and “pornography.”

My bishop defined them for me.  When he realized I had no idea what he was talking about, he apologized.  He explained how due to the evils of the world, children were getting exposed to sex and having their innocence corrupted by Satan younger and younger.  As much as he hated the topic, he felt like it was his pastoral duty to make sure the youth knew what constituted sin.

[Read more…]

Isaiah Made No More Difficult than it Needs to Be (a.k.a. “The Glory of Zion Will Be a Defense”) #BCCSundaySchool2018

Isaiah 1-6

I am ordinarily very skeptical of books and articles that advertise some or another scripture “made easier.”  I think, we make the scriptures too easy already. I prefer James Faulconer’s approach in the Scriptures Made Harder series. We should not be too comfortable when reading the scriptures. They are supposed to be hard. [Read more…]

A Proverbs Acrostic For My Daughter


Kaylee McElroy only wears sensible shoes (if she has to wear shoes at all) and is passionate about pants with functional pockets (even her Sunday slacks). She has degrees in physics and electrical engineering, but has spent the last few years as a rather alarmingly domesticated mostly-stay-at-home mom.

Proverbs 31 holds a special place in my heart.  I found it using the “open the scriptures to a random page” method, and marveled at the wonderful and rare picture of a strong, capable woman. You see, I had been praying to know if I should get engaged to the man I now call my husband, and I felt a strong impression that a marriage with him would allow me to become a capable and praiseworthy wife like the woman depicted in the text. (We’re over a decade in, and I’d still call it a good choice.)

The Proverbs 31 woman is empowered and not oppressed. A while ago, I read a book that challenged my thinking of women’s place in ancient societies. Women’s Work – the First 20,000 Years discusses textile manufacture in a variety of ancient cultures.  The Bronze Age in the Near East was a time and place of relatively great freedom for women, and I was delighted to learn that the woman of Proverbs 31, while certainly idealized, was also based on historical norms. [Read more…]

New YW and RS boards include two black women, “Common Ground” LGBT inclusion advocate

Photos of three new RS and YW board members.The Newsroom announced new leadership on the Young Women and Relief Society general boards yesterday. There is plenty to celebrate here! I wish I knew more about all of the women, but I love what I see and what I know behind the scenes about some of these picks. They include two black women, and a leader in BYU’s athletics department who has been part of NCAA’s efforts to improve the experience of LGBT student-athletes at religious schools.  [Read more…]

Go and Do Likewise?


Rusty Clifton is a longtime friend of BCC.

A couple months ago I came home from work to my wife in the front yard chatting with a lady who, by all visible measures, appeared to be homeless. I had never seen this woman before, but my wife later assured me that she was known by many people in our upper-middle-class Salt Lake City neighborhood. While my natural inclination is to avoid situations that have the potential to unnecessarily add complications to my life, my wife overflows with compassion for the oppressed and downtrodden. So that evening, after determining she was clean from drugs and not dangerous, we agreed to let her stay in our basement (it’s a mother-in-law apartment we use for guests or the occasional AirBNB) until we could help her secure more permanent housing and employment. Over the course of the next week or so we did what we could to accommodate her: secure privacy, food, shower, soft bed with fresh linens, rides to housing offices/employment interviews, and a friendly home base while she worked to get herself back on her feet. [Read more…]

The God Who Snips

Here is what I checked off my bucket list today: Teach a priesthood lesson about castration and tell a room full of Mormon men that it is a procedure that God, at least metaphorically, wants them to undergo. [Read more…]


In SS today the topic was Hosea. I would like to offer two comments on the early discussion in the class (I didn’t have an opportunity to make these points in real time during the class, so I want to make them here.) [Read more…]

Let Us Worship How We May?


Bradley Burgess is a convert to the LDS Church from a mostly Anglican background. He is originally from South Africa, but has lived on the US side of the pond for the better part of a decade. He holds degrees in piano and organ performance, and is a graduate of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. A professional organist and church musician, Bradley currently serves as the full-time Associate Director of Music and Worship Arts at a large downtown Methodist Church.

In 1842, responding to a request for information about the Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith composed a letter to the editor of Chicago’s first newspaper, the Chicago Democrat. In this document—now known as the Wentworth Letter, after the newspaper’s editor, John Wentworth—Joseph spelled out some of the history of the Latter-day Saints, as well as a selection of thirteen tenants that he saw as their core beliefs. While they have since become canonized scripture, these thirteen Articles of Faith—as they would later be known collectively—were originally intended for a non-Mormon audience. Even by 1842, Latter-day Saints had become accustomed to persecution—having been forced from upstate New York to Kirtland, OH; to Independence, MO; and, by this time, to Nauvoo, IL. The often violent expulsion of the Saints from state to state was surely not far from his mind when Joseph penned the Wentworth Letter, especially the eleventh statement of belief that declares that Latter-day Saints “claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of [their] conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [1] [Read more…]

Lesson 35: God Reveals His Secrets to His Prophets #BCCSundaySchool2018

This lesson, covering (among other passages) the Book of Amos, is representative of the ways the Sunday school manual treats a topic: it offers us a few verse snippets and asks us to apply them to contemporary Mormon practice through discussion; in this case, Amos 3:7 – “Surely the LORD God will do nothing but he revealeth his secrets to his servants the prophets.”

This of course means something in terms of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today, wherein the word ‘prophet’ implies leader of the church, one who makes policy that Mormons abide by. This meaning is not necessarily antithetical to the meaning of the word in the Hebrew Bible, but taking Amos to be necessarily and completely referring to the Utah inheritors of Joseph Smith forecloses the interesting things that the Book of Amos is doing with the concept of prophecy—and understanding that cannot but enrich what Mormons mean when they say they have a prophet today. [Read more…]

Face to Face

Those of you who don’t know me may be surpirsed to learn that I’m not actually a young adult (I haven’t been one of those for decades now). But (while watching my Bears play the Packers) I decided to crash the Face to Face event this evening emanating from across from the temple in Nauvoo. Elder Cook presided and led the event; I was particularly interested to hear what historians Kate Holbrook (Sam’s favorite person on the planet) and Matt Grow would have to say. They had time to respond to nine questions. What follows are simply my raw notes, with no real attempt to try to fill them in from memory.

[Read more…]

Mormons, the Mormon Church, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints: A Spiritual Taxonomy

I am a Mormon. I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  And I am a proud part of the Mormon Church. These identities overlap, but they are not identical. I could imagine being one or two of these things without being all three. I know Mormons who are not members of any Church. And I know people who are firmly committed to the Mormon Church who have disaffiliated, or all but disaffiliated, from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Substantial overlap is not the same as equivalence. [Read more…]

Lesson 34: “I Will Betroth Thee unto Me in Righteousness” #BCCSundaySchool2018

ProfitisOsie01Lesson Objective: To appreciate and comprehend the Book of Hosea, which describes an ultimately loving, merciful, and forgiving God to the children who repent and rely on Him. [Read more…]

How a Mormon* ended up taking a Protestant religion class

*Yeah, I know.

Anyway. Back-to-school night yesterday was a two-hour marathon of filling out forms and learning about the new government policies that enter into force this year (a highlight: 4 unexcused absences over the 9 years of compulsory education carries a minimum fine of $125). In addition to the filling out the emergency contact form, signing the permission slip for administering potassium iodide in the event of a radiological emergency (Chernobyl has cast a long shadow over Central Europe) and reviewing the paperwork related to a study of children’s media and food consumption, we also had to sign up or exempt our children from religious education. And this at a public school!

See, in Austria, the legal recognition of churches and religious communities entails “the right to […] provide religious instruction in state schools” (source). Twenty organizations enjoy legal recognition, though in practice only the largest—the Catholic, Protestant and Greek Orthodox churches as well as the Islamic Religious Community in Austria—offer religious instruction at public schools, with the state picking up the tab for the personnel costs. [Read more…]

The black hole, part 3: Have we heard the last word on pornography?

Prior to the advent of the internet, free pornography was relatively difficult to come by. You had to know someone who could provide access or hope for the proverbial nudie mag in a ditch. But the world wide web brought with it both cheap and relatively anonymous mass access to pornography and headaches for the church. It turns out it was only easy to avoid the temptation of pornography when it was hard to find.
[Read more…]

Testimony Meeting Reflects Our Equality Before Christ


I don’t often bear my testimony in Church, but when I do, it’s about Christ’s love.

This last Sunday, I bore my testimony because I was struck by how beautiful the practice of fast and testimony meeting is.  I know we often crack jokes about it being “open mike Sunday,” where our fellow congregants make some of the kookiest statements.  But for me, the fact that every single member is invited to speak about faith and struggles and answers to prayers is what makes each first Sunday so refreshing.  It’s the favorite meeting of my Catholic fiancé, too, because it so starkly contrasts from high-church liturgy and Priest-perfected edicts.

I find testimony meetings beautiful because they’re so imperfect.  We talk about the Church being “true,” but what resonates as most “true” to me is the frank acknowledgment of community imperfections.  [Read more…]

Socialism and Satan’s Plan


It happened. Again. On Mormon Twitter, someone mentioned socialism, to which somebody responded that socialism was Satan’s plan. (There were a couple other responses I saw that hinted at the same thing, but didn’t explicitly say it. And maybe there were others who said something similar. It’s not like I looked for every response to the tweet.)

To which I reply: that’s not the stupidest assertion based on Mormon theology ever. But it may well be in the top ten. [Read more…]

The Testimony Trap: Does it Matter if the Church Is True?

“If I claim to possess the truth, I will be unlikely even to entertain the possibility that others may be right, or at least partly right, and I wrong, or at least partly wrong; unlikely to enter imaginatively into the world of others so as to learn to appreciate the force of their account. . . . Claims to possess the uncontestable truth aren’t always wrong, but they are always dangerous–especially when a person’s claim to possess the truth matters more to her than the truth itself.” –Miroslov Volf, The End of Memory


I’m not a relativist, moral or otherwise. I believe that some things are true and other things are false, and that it is often possible (though rarely easy) for human beings to know the difference. And I believe that the difference matters. [Read more…]

The Expanded Canon


Review of The Expanded Canon: Perspectives on Mormonism & Sacred Texts, edited by Blair G. Van Dyke, Brian D. Birch and Boyd J. Petersen (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2018). [Read more…]

Missionary Safety: Brainstorming

A recent Tribune article talked about issues with sexual assault among missionaries.

I have a lot of opinions on this. First of all, let me just say that when I was a missionary, I was as guilty as anyone for being cavalier about my safety or thinking I would be protected. I think part of that is just being young, feeling invincible. Young people often feel they are safer than they are because they don’t have life experience yet. I was also in a relatively safe place, the Canary Islands, which is basically the Hawaii of Europe. The only things that happened to me were: [Read more…]

The children of apostates and the church: An addendum

In my fairly recently published Power of Godliness, I have a chapter on the blessing of babies (and children) in the church. This was a surprising chapter for me to research and write, and it turned into a very useful lens to analyze many important aspects of church belief, practice, and teaching. Near the end of this chapter, I also have a brief section on the 2015 exclusion of children of LGBTQ parents from the liturgies of the church. I mention in passing the similarity in restriction to the children of polygamist schismatics, but didn’t take the time or space to elucidate that history. Here I’d like to flesh out that earlier restriction a bit.
[Read more…]

Conference Notice: John Whitmer Historical Association

Late registration fee starting September 1, 2018. Come and enjoy a scholarly adventure this year. Richard L. Bushman will be giving the Howard Lecture.  Register here.

Lesson 33: “Sharing the Gospel with the World” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings: Jonah and bits of Micah (2:12-13; 4:1-7, 11-13; 5:2-4, 7-8; 6:6-8; 7:18-20)

In addition to their content, these readings provide an occasion to talk about how varied (or not so varied) the Bible as a collection can be. Mormons tend not to think much about the different genres of biblical texts, nor about why such differences might matter for the practical applications we take away from the texts. Put bluntly, what happens when we read Jonah as a satire about prophets rather than as a “straight” story about a prophet? And what difference does it make that Micah repeats a few verses from Isaiah, more or less verbatim? (Or is it the other way around, and we’re assuming that the “major” prophet is the source for the “minor” one? So confusing.) [Read more…]

Can Women Matter?

An organizational chart from the New York and Erie Railroad, ca. 1855

Women don’t count in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I say this not as a critique of male Mormons’ attitudes towards women, nor as a doctrinal proposition, nor yet as the cri de coeur of a woman who has been scorned or abused by a church leader. I say it simply as a matter of bureaucratic fact.

A fully functional Mormon ward, able to administer all the requisite ordinances outside of the temple, can be constituted with exactly one woman–the bishop’s wife–because we are still sticklers about that NT “husband of one wife” standard. A branch can be constituted with no women. When deciding whether to create a new unit in any of the stakes of Zion, the only tally that matters is the number of active Melchizedek priesthood holders. [Read more…]

Who’s on First?

As we read our scriptures, something we tend not to think too much about is who’s point of view we are being given. This is called Point of View (POV) analysis, and basically there are three types. First person POV is the actor telling his own story in his own voice, using first person pronouns. Generally his perspective is limited to what he could know at the time (that is, he doesn’t comment on the movement of armies far away, for he has no way to know those details).[1] Third person perspective is when a nameless narrator recounts events in third person voice and using third person pronouns. The perspective of such a narrator could be either limited to what an observer could know in that space and moment, or it could be “omniscient,” meaning the narrator knows all aspects of the story irrespective of space and time. [Read more…]

The Mandala Sermon

I knew exactly what was going to happen–I had even seen it happen once before–so I shouldn’t have been so surprised. But I was. And shocked, and saddened, and embarrassed about feeling shocked and saddened. And then revelation happened.

This week, my university has been hosting seven Buddhist monks from the Tashi Kyil Monastery in Uttarakhan, India. As these particular monks are wont to do, they spent all week painstakingly creating a beautiful mandala out of colored sand. They finished it at about 12:00 this afternoon. And at 12:15, they destroyed it, swept it into an urn, and took the now-brown sand and dumped it in the Ohio River.

[Read more…]

Marijuana, Mormon Lobbying, and Tax Exemption

Scrolling through Twitter this morning, this tweet caught my eye:

Curious, I looked at the replies and, sure enough, the first three I read had some variation of, “Well, the Mormon church has to lose its tax exemption now, right?”[fn1] After replying to them, I decided that it would probably be easier to write an explainer than to reply to each one individually.

So: has the church risked its exemption by lobbying against the legalization of medical marijuana in Utah? Short answer: no. [Read more…]

Job and Genre: Why Poetry Is True (aka Lesson #32 “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth”) #BCCSundaySchool2018

“OK, that’s all good and stuff, but was Job a real person?”

That is the most frequent question that I have gotten from Latter-day Saints since I wrote a book about Job four years ago. This is apparently a really big concern for some people.

Here is the answer: “Probably not, and even if he was, there is no possible way that the Book of Job records an actual historical occurrence–and of all the questions that someone might ask about Job, the question of whether or not he was a real person is perhaps the least interesting and least important. Job is a poem, and poetry can be revelation and scripture as easily as journalism.”

That’s the short version of the book. Everything else is just filling in the details. What I want to do in the next few paragraphs, though, is fill in just enough of the details to fill an average 45 minute Gospel Doctrine lesson. [Read more…]