LIVE FROM SALT LAKE, IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT!!!

So the church just announced that they were reinstating the Saturday evening session of General Conference. To be honest, I had kind of forgotten that they ever got rid of the Saturday evening session of General Conference, probably because it happened, like, six weeks ago, and that’s ancient history for my middle-aged brain. But now that they mentioned it, I did recall them announcing they would discontinue the Saturday evening session now that every session was available for viewing on the internet because what’s the point of having a Priesthood session if it can’t be a secret from the ladies, amirite?  

The difference between the new Saturday evening session and the old Saturday evening session is that this new Saturday Night Conference will not be geared toward any particular group of church members, such as priesthood holders or birthing people 8 & up. (Was it okay that I said “birthing people”? Am I just trolling now? Signs point to yes.) It will just be another opportunity for “more gospel topics to be taught” and “more general leaders to address the conference.” Because if there’s anything people who’ve just sat through four hours of gospel teaching want more than another two hours of gospel teaching, I don’t know what it is.

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Signs of a True Church

Infuriating. Intriguing.

Why did I find this sign intriguing, even endearing, when I saw it on a church in the Cook Islands last week … but would find it frustrating if I saw it on my LDS church building back at home? 

Why would I feel a sense of loss if this church in the Cook Islands decided to be more inclusive and modern but cringe when my own church gives any indication of non-inclusivity or traditionalism?

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Why LDS Women Turn to the Media

Natalie Brown holds a PhD in English and Comparative Literature from Columbia University. She is currently guest editing an issue on the role of homes and houses in LDS culture for Irreantum, the literary journal of the Association for Mormon Letters. She encourages anyone interested in this topic to read the issue-specific guidelines and submit by July 31.

This is not a post about the content of the July 21 New York Times article on women’s garments, though in full disclosure I privately wrote the Distribution Center with similar complaints years ago and found them highly responsive. This is a post on why I believe we have seen, and will continue to see, many LDS women turn to the media or to outside organizations in order to voice their complaints, despite the fact that the Church (and I suspect most members) would prefer to resolve concerns internally rather than through a mainstream media that has often sensationalized the Church, its members, and its underwear. The short answer, of course, is that there is no effective channel for most members’ voices to be heard when working within the Church.

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A Non-Believer’s Benediction for Cumorah, and Other Things

Mormonism’s Sci-Fi Swan Song | The Point Magazine

A little less than two weeks ago, the church broadcast a Hill Cumorah Commemorative Devotional, acknowledging that the Hill Cumorah Pageant was no more, and celebrating its legacy. However, for better or worse that commemorative devotional was very much a product of the contemporary church–not the church in which creative, inventive, deeply devout, culturally oblivious, and definitely slightly crazy Mormons came up with the pageant, and kept it going, over the decades. I never saw the Hill Cumorah Pageant live (shout out for the Manti Pageant, however, my personal favorite!). Andrew Kay, a non-Mormon writer and a native of the Hill Cumorah region of New York, did see it however–saw it in 2019, in fact, in what turned out to be its final performance. The essay he has crafted about the experience, and what he has thought about it since–“Mormonism’s Sci-Fi Swan Song“–is the finest essay I have read about our church and our culture in many years. Using the pageant as a lens, Kay sees the American Mormonism that was–but isn’t so much anymore–whole: devout, campy, decent, rich, insular, plainspoken, charitable, practical, kind of racist, kind of sexist, and really very weird. It is a deeply compassionate essay, one that captures the vagaries of a genuine, comprehensive belief in a society where belief is mostly compartmentalized into discreet boxes for the sake of the believer and the non-believer alike. Here’s a taste: [Read more…]

Fathers, Friendship, and Holding onto Your Platoon (or Not)

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This old Cal Grondahl cartoon, from many years ago, has been on my mind for while:

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Notes on the Priesthood and Temple Ban

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Your own planet

Last week, a friend posted on facebook that the Gospel Topic Essay “Becoming Like God” was no longer live on the church’s website (though the Gospel Library App still had it). The link was broken or forwarded to a different page. I could tell by the subsequent discussion that people were talking about this elsewhere, as various screen shots of the sort that one copies and shares instead of getting your own were circulating. In particular people were pointing to a church newsroom piece that talked about how the church doesn’t teach that we get our own planet. Cue handwringing that the church is abandoning its cherished beliefs, or that retrenchment has led to ditching that particular essay, or that we are trying to appease Protestants by ditching the essay. Sometimes, however, a broken link is a just a broken link. But even if it weren’t, sometimes our beliefs change, and sometimes they should.

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HIPAA and the Church

Just to be clear, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”)[fn1] does not prevent your bishop from asking you about your vaccination status. It doesn’t prevent your ward from doing contact tracing and informing people who attended church that someone had Covid at a meeting you attended. It doesn’t prevent the ward from asking (or requiring) attendees to wear masks.[fn2]

And look, I guess it’s fair to be a little scared. HIPAA does provide that a “person who knowingly and in violation of this part … discloses individually identifiable health information to another person[] shall be punished” with fines and potential imprisonment.

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Social Justice Sunday School

A guest post from Christina Taber-Kewene

My husband of twenty years gazes back at me from across our cafe table with tears welling in his eyes. 

“I just don’t know that I can go back.” 

Framed, limited edition print reproduction of Banned Books by Joel Penkman.
The original artwork is painted in egg tempera.

What began as questions and concerns as we evolved in our understanding of queer rights has grown into a pain that is eviscerating him. Our son is gay. Theologically and pragmatically, this means there is no place for him on the Mormon covenant path. The hetero supremacy of the church is wrong. We feel that. We know that. The pandemic provided space for us to spend a year away from church attendance, but with pressure from leadership mounting, and the pull of my husband’s role in the bishopric, a decision is imminent. 

“If we leave, we will never return. You should consider that,” I nudge back, gently. “Are you sure this is what you want for our family?” 

[Read more…]

Mormon Men Write Their Own Script

[part 7 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

The organizers of the I’m a Mormon campaign produced inspirational videos about women who didn’t fit the mold of the traditional Mormon woman. One of the campaign’s authors stated that the videos were meant to show that “Mormon women write their own script.” 

Some LDS women reacted with confusion and a sense of betrayal. Neylan McBaine, one of the creators, captured this confusion by quoting a letter received by their marketing team

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Thank you for your honesty. Seriously.

I am an old mom. Not by Mormon standards, but by legitimate biological standards. I am simultaneously dealing with kindergarten orientation and arthritis. My friends are starting to firm up their retirement plans, and I am firming up an understanding of how much string cheese and gogurt I currently have in the fridge. I have to use my big brain to outsmart my five year old, because if he decided to bolt, there is NO WAY I could catch him. I am an old mom.

While there are some obvious joint- and exhaustion-related drawbacks to this situation, there are glorious rewards too. I get lots of hand me downs from friends who have moved on to other stages of life–stages that don’t involve elaborate bedtime routines and occasional potty-training regression. I’ve never bought a bike for my kid, and occasionally, amazon packages just show up from friends with notes that say “this (toy/book/crafting kit) saved me when my kids were his age.”

While I’m so incredibly grateful for this kind of material generosity, I’m mostly grateful for their brutal and searing honesty. Old mom honesty has saved my sanity, and kept me from throwing in the towel. Thanks old friends.

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Lessons from Zurch

“Zurch” = an affectionate nickname for online church meetings, a mashup of “zoom” and “church,” despite the fact that most of us didn’t use Zoom for church meetings. (My ward used YouTube Live, which I guess would make it “yurch” or maybe “yute-lurch,” but I like zurch better.)

I’m not going to lie to you, kids. I did not miss getting up early, putting on uncomfortable clothes, and going to church every Sunday. From March 2020 to August 2020, our ward didn’t even have an online version of sacrament meeting, which was just fine with me. No offense to sacrament meeting, but I just didn’t miss it. Of course, I had the privilege of being able to take the sacrament at home, which made most of, if not all, the difference. Our ward began limited in-person sacrament meetings shortly after it started broadcasting them. Due to the size of our ward, we started out in six groups, which meant you were able to attend sacrament meeting every six weeks. As state restrictions lifted, our groups got bigger and individual sacrament attendance more frequent, but when we weren’t attending in-person, my husband and I woke up to watch the 9:00 a.m. broadcast. Well, my husband woke up at 9:00 a.m. I usually woke up around 9:12-9:14 a.m. The kids never woke up for any of it, but we had our home-sacrament in the afternoon. It was not a hardship, by any stretch of the imagination.

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Returning to Physical Church?

I’m curious where folks are at as regards returning to physical church. I haven’t set foot in our building since the pandemic began. I’m now fully vaxed, but still feeling hesitant. I have to admit that remote church has a strong convenience factor.

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The Child Tax Credit and You

The American Rescue Plan, signed by President Biden in March, includes a lot of things. For many U.S. readers of this blog, perhaps the most notable and salient is that it increased the child tax credit and, starting next month, will send monthly checks for a portion of the credit to taxpayers.

I wrote about the details over on the Surly Subgroup, but wanted to highlight a couple things about it for a specifically Mormon audience. It isn’t, of course, particular to Mormons but, falling birthrates[fn1] notwithstanding, we still tend to have (marginally) more children than the average American. Which means that the child tax credit, and its prepayment, are going to be relevant to many of us.

Of course, to understand what’s going on, we need to answer a couple questions.

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Option A or Option B: Coming Home Early from an LDS Mission

[part 6 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

photo source

A few months ago, when it seemed that you were the most unhappy and when you first started considering coming home, our branch president asked how you were doing. 

I know that disappointing our branch president and your little sisters were two of your main reasons for staying on your mission. So I thought you’d be interested in the conversation we had about you:

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Some Comments on the Possibilities for Mormon Socialism, or Communalism, at the Present Time

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

1) First things first: obviously, there isn’t any real world possibility for the (re-)emergence of Mormon socialism, or communalism, at the present time. [Read more…]

Believing in the Big Lie

Almost exactly a month ago, the Public Religion Research Institute released a survey looking at partisan and religious belief in the lie that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

To be clear, the assertion that the election was stolen is stupid. The only basis for the assertion is that people can formulate the concept in a (grammatically) coherent way. Donald Trump’s attorneys had dozens of opportunities to assert that there was something illegal about the election in court but were unable to convince judges of any political persuasion. State Attorneys General support the fairness of the election. The Big Lie is, precisely, a lie.

And who believes it? According to the PRRI survey, 61% of white Evangelical Christians. But not that far behind them?

Mormons. Forty-six percent of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (in the United States) mostly or completely agree that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump.

This represents an existential threat to the future of Mormonism.

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Book Review: David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall Be Saved

Peter Munk earned his undergraduate degree in History from the University of Utah and J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law School. He practices law in Atlanta, Georgia, where he lives with his wife and five daughters.

On the night of November 23, 1998, Bill Weise—a Protestant Christian—had an out-of-body experience. Weise found himself in a prison cell. It was hot—very hot. And Weise was joined by two horrifying beasts. One beast flayed Weise’s flesh with its clawed hand, while the other threw him across the cell. The beasts tortured Weise against the droning screams of “billions” of fellow inmates, wailing in agony as demonic creatures subjected them to similar horrific acts. The duration of Weise and every other inhabitant’s suffering? Not a life sentence. Not two life sentences. Not a trillion life sentences. But eternity.

As you have probably guessed, Weise was describing hell—the place where most Christians (albeit not necessarily in such vivid and sadistic detail) think some combination of “bad” people and non-believers go when they die. Weise recounted his experience in a 2006 book, 23 Minutes in Hell. And lest you think Weise is a complete outlier in the Christian community, 23 Minutes in Hell spent three weeks on the New York Times Best Seller list for paperback nonfiction. Weise parlayed his book’s success into a church speaking tour and was able to leave his career to enter the ministry full-time in 2007.[1]

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The Problem with APs – and all Equal Partnerships – on the Mission: A Satire

-A Satire-

[Part 5 in an ongoing series about LDS Missions and Missionary Work]

photo source

“And what are you training [missionaries] to do? To go home; to be a husband or wife…”

President Bonnie H. Cordon, General Young Women President, in an interview announcing the new role of sister training leaders (STLs).1

“Mama, don’t let your babies grow up to be APs.”

-a country song I heard one time, I think. 

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Queer Mormon Theology: An Introduction

It’s Pride Month, and BCC Press could not be prouder to announce our most recent amazing book: Queer Mormon Thelogy: An Introduction by Blaire Ostler.

This is the kind of book that BCC Press was born for: a bold, daring, important book that says the sorts of things that nobody else is willing to say. The book starts with the premise that Mormon theology is inherently queer and always has been and, therefore, better suited than most religious traditions to embrace and celebrate the queerness of the individuals who, collectively, constitute the Kingdom of God.

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On Textual Restoration in the JST

ON TEXTUAL RESTORATIONS IN THE JST

Kevin Barney

I have spent over 25 years of my adult life teaching in Church classrooms. Accordingly, I have heard many hundreds, probably thousands, of student comments in class based on the JST. And in something approaching 100% of those cases, the person making the comment simply assumes that the JST was restoring the original text (albeit in English as opposed to the original language). In most cases that is not even close to an accurate assumption. But I can’t really blame these students; the Church in its official curriculum doesn’t come out and explain to average members what kinds of things the JST usually represents; members are largely on their own in trying to figure out the JST. And while there are some good books on the subject, the average member does not read that kind of material.

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To a Young Missionary in a Disobedient Mission, Part 2

[This article is Part 4 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionary work]

author as a missionary in Germany

You asked what I thought about the podcasts that you’ve found during all of your downtime. I’ve listened to these podcasts in the past because, as you said, it is nice to hear people bringing stuff out in the open that you don’t get a chance to talk about at church. I was intrigued, and I understand why you would be as well.

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To a Young Missionary in a Disobedient Mission, Part 1

[part 3 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionaries]

author as a young missionary in Germany

I am mourning the loss of the mission experience I thought you’d have. 

Imagine having a kid someday that you love more than you can put into words, and that kid has been looking forward to the Hillary Challenge all his life because you told him it would be tough-but-awesome. Your kid knows your Hillary highlights; he’s seen your pictures and heard your stories. He’s seen his older brothers’ pictures and heard their stories, as well.

While growing up, your kid prepares for Hillary, a multi-year commitment to get fit, learn to run in the mountains in all types of weather, navigate, bike, paddle, and carry a pack, and then he chooses to try out for the team. You anticipate the good stuff that’s about to happen.

And then imagine that Hillary turns out to be nothing like the epic Hillary environment that you’d been telling your kid about since he was little. What if the Hillary squad wasn’t tough-but-awesome at all, but loose, mutinous, slack?  

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Stumbling Blocks: On Remembering the Poor, the Disfavored and Condemned

The entrance to a nondescript apartment building is tucked between a sports betting lounge and a newspaper shop on a busy but unremarkable street. The sidewalk is crowded with scaffolding and construction materials; a neighbouring building is getting a new facade. Just to the right of the front steps is a brass plaque set into the sidewalk and engraved with four names: Karl Stein, Bruno Kleinrock, Cornelia Kleinrock and Susanne Kleinrock. Also included are their birthdays and a brief summary of their fates:

  • deported 1942 to Riga;
  • fate unknown;
  • deported 1943 from Malines [Belgium] to Auschwitz;
  • deported 1943 from Malines to Auschwitz.

Karl, Cornelia and Susanne were murdered in Auschwitz and, although it is not known for sure, it is likely that Bruno was too. They were Jews, and the plaque marks the address of their home in Vienna prior to their forced removal.

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The Archdefenders of the Nuclear Family: Sailing over the Cliff with the Ragtop Down?

Source: screenshot from here

An official publication of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints recently printed an editorial entitled “A fence at the top or an ambulance at the bottom?” in which emeritus General Authority Seventy and former Sunday School general president Elder Tad R. Callister expresses the hope that his readers would be “archdefenders of the nuclear family and God’s moral values” and weighs in on the importance we ought to attach to “the essentiality of the family unit to the well-being of society”:

If you were asked, “What is the greatest challenge facing our nation today?” how would you respond? The economy, national security, immigration, gun control, poverty, racism, crime, pandemics, climate change? While each of these is a valid concern and deserves attention, I do not believe that any of them strikes at the heart of our greatest challenge — a return to family and moral values. To put our prime focus on other challenges is to strike at the leaves, not the root, of the problem. It is, as some have noted, to put an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff rather than a fence at the top.

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The Story of the Lost Sheep, Revisted

[A guest post from Glen Henshaw, a husband, a father, an engineer, a lover and raiser of animals, and a longtime reader of the blog.]

We found this lamb, named Pearl, hiding under a bank of the creek that runs along the back of our property one morning last week. This is the near bank, which means she could not be seen from our side of the creek – we had to wade the creek or jump the bank to see her. Pearl was not making a sound, and it took some careful counting to realize she was missing, and some careful searching to find her.

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About Critical Race Theory

Yesterday morning, my wife came upstairs and told me that NPR had a story about taxes. She also mentioned that it would probably annoy me. (She gets me.) But I decided to turn it on just to see who would be guesting.

One of the guests was Professor Dorothy Brown. Prof. Brown is a friend and a mentor, so I left it on and I’m glad I did. The episode of 1A focused on the racial wealth gap and, to my interests, the place of the federal income tax in causing and exacerbating the wealth gap.

That the tax law treats Black and white taxpayers different isn’t immediately obvious. After all, it’s written in race-neutral language (or, better, it doesn’t mention race at all). And, in fact, it has taken at least two decades of pioneering work by Prof. Brown (and others) to highlight the ways in which the tax law, while facially neutral, has a disparate impact that benefits white taxpayers and harms Black and brown taxpayers.[fn1]

Figuring out ways in which the tax law affects Black taxpayers differently from the ways it affects white taxpayers is no easy task, though. Among other things, the IRS doesn’t collect taxpayers’ races. So Prof. Brown’s research truly requires detective work.

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What Do We Mean When We Say that the Scriptures Are True?

The walls of Jericho fall downBible story from the book of Joshua chapter 6 verse 20. From an original woodcut published in 1860 by George Wigland LeipzigArists Julius Schnorr (d. 1872)

I can remember the exact moment that I decided that the Bible was true. It was about ten years ago, while I was reading The Bible Unearthed by Israel Finkelstein and Neil Asher Silberman, encountering for the first tie the wealth of archaeological evidence that neither the Exodus from Egypt nor the conquest of Canaan ever occured. Rather, the evidence suggests, the YHWH cult emerged from within the native Canaanite population, grew to dominate the society, and then created a martial history for itself to give significance to the movement.

I cannot express the relief that I felt when I read these arguments. By that time, I had concluded that the Bible could not be true if the stories of conquest and genocide were historically accurate. I could not accept that the god of Deuteronomy, Joshua, and Judges–a god who favors one race of people over another and does not merely tolerate, but affirmatively commands, genocidal slaughter. I simply could not accept such a being as my loving and merciful father.

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On Walls, Stones, Slings, and Olive Wood: A plea for peace for the Holy Land

Two boys walk down a street in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 2000. Photo credit: Becky Roesler

Dr. Rebecca Roesler is a Professor of Violin and Music Education at Brigham Young University–Idaho. She received a PhD in Music and Human Learning from the University of Texas at Austin, and Bachelors and Masters degrees from Brigham Young University. Becky has presented at national conferences in music education, and at the Mormon Studies Association, the Book of Mormon Studies Association, and she has published in Dialogue. Her latest publication in Psychology of Music presents her research in collaborative problem-solving within music ensembles.

I stare across my living room at the olive wood sculpture I purchased from Omar over two decades ago. I am still captured by its swirling, circling, compressed topographical lines, the tightness of the grain. I believe no wood on earth quite matches olive wood in beauty and complexity. It appears as tortured as its land of origin, home to people and peoples living on top of one another, tightly, in conflict, each claiming the same hill as theirs. Their history, their identity, their religion. Even if this wood is as old as some olive trees can be, it would have seen few lasting periods of human peace in its lifetime. 

I was lucky. When I was there, it appeared peaceful. Jubilant, even.

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Dear Missionaries: 5 Tips for Working With Members Like Me

 

Part 2 in an ongoing series about LDS missions and missionaries.

photo source

Dear Missionaries,

It takes skill and courage to insert yourself into other people’s lives in a respectful way, a helpful way. When you come from a different culture and a different generation, it’s easy to misstep. 

I live in a secular, Westernized country: New Zealand. Most of my friends know very little about religion. They have rarely stepped inside a church or mosque or opened a book of scripture.

My secular friends perceive religion the way it shows up in the news and TV scripts, as fundamentalist and radical. They are wary of people who take religion too seriously. But they know me, and so they are cautiously willing to meet you. 

Although your good-heartedness will carry the day without any help from me, I’m offering you a few tips for making the most of our time together.

1-CALL ME “HOLLY” 

When you teach my friends, refer to me in the same way that I introduce myself to you. Call me the same thing that my friends call me.  

A doctor named Stella1 came to my house a couple of days ago to meet with you (sisters). You called me “Sister Jones” and referred to my partner as “President Jones.”    

Using Stella’s first name – but my last name – felt out of balance. Also, my church title would have appeared formal and unfamiliar to my houseguest and friend.

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