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:

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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]

[Read more…]

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. 

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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?  

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

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.

[Read more…]

Unbaptized children, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and covenant renewal

For as long as I can remember, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper has largely been framed in the church as a renewal of baptismal covenants. When my family was young I avoided giving my infants the bread and water as they were passed down the pews, but I wasn’t particularly scrupulous, and when they were old enough to want to participate, they did.  My memory is that many people my age and younger have wondered and argued whether having children wait until they are baptized before eating and drinking the sacramental emblems was preferable.  So here is my ask: have you or other family members chosen not to have your unbaptized children participate in the Lord’s Supper? If so, why? And how did it work out for your family?

Praying that All My Kids Would Serve Missions and Marry in the Temple

 BCC welcomes Holly Miller, who will be publishing a series of articles about LDS missions. Holly earned an MA in Religious Studies and an MM in Classical Piano. She is an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, raised in Utah, living with her family in New Zealand. Email: imagine.inspire.inquire@gmail.com

This is the story of a 20-year prayer experiment.

It started in 1993 in the MTC with Sr. Bean.

As I walked out of class one day, my idol-teacher, Sr Bean, asked if I’d hang back for a second.

I admired Sr Bean the way a kid sister admires a wise and glamorous older sister.  I can still picture the brown flush of the leather cross-over shoes she wore. I got a matching pair when I got home from my mission. I remember the way she’d set her jaw when she got serious, the skin on her cheekbones, and her stories.

Earlier that day in class, I had shared a scripture about praying with real intent. I had made a case for the idea that rattling off memorized phrases while praying is useless.

After class that day, in this rare, intimate exchange with Sr Bean – the only time it was just the two of us – Sr Bean told me that her family had a tradition of ending every prayer in the exact same way. They ended every prayer by praying that they would all “go on missions and get married in the temple.” She said that all 8 (?) of the kids in that family repeated that memorized prayer from the time they were little until the time they left home, over every meal and at every family prayer. 

She said, “If there ever was a phrase that was rattled off without thinking, that would have been it. But, guess what happened? We grew up, and all 8 of us went on missions and got married in the temple.” 

This is the moment my 20-year prayer experiment was conceived.

[Read more…]

Book Reviews. Anthea Butler, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. Matthew L. Harris, Watchman on the Tower: Ezra Taft Benson and the Making of the Mormon Right.

I’ve had these two books in the queue for a while, Butler’s book by anticipation, Harris’s book by procrastination. They deserve separate posts but I want to get them off my to-do list. Butler’s book is not specifically directed toward Latter-day Saints (she does mention Mormons on a few occasions I believe but it is just in passing) but Harris’s book, if read in tandem with it, will, I think, show that Butler’s work is quite relevant to a Latter-day Saint audience. Both are available as audio books and their format lends itself this medium if you enjoy that.

White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America

Anthea Butler (Associate Professor of Religion, University of Pennsylvania)

Copyright 2021, The University of North Carolina Press

Amazon: hardcover $21.60. Kindle: $9.00. Audible audio book $12.24.

First, Butler. This is a short book, and it serves the purpose of the author: come to grips with a very broad issue but without leaving behind the mainstream reader. Scholars can read with profit however. I did. Racism in the evangelical American world has a long history. In some ways it extends back to the Reformation. But Butler begins with the nineteenth-century and the role of religion in the question of slavery, its support of the Peculiar Institution in the South especially in the Age of Jackson and in Reconstruction. The details of that story can be found in other specialized tomes but Butler does an excellent job of showing what happened in brief and how the racism of the antebellum world found its way into the twentieth century. Mormonism partook of much of that racism and it showed in church doctrines/speech/policies about race from the beginning (Blacks as descended from Cain, curse of Canaan, etc., etc.).

[Read more…]

BCC Press Mother’s Day Sale

Here at BCC Press, we love mothers. And days. And, of course Mother’s Day. And we are pretty sure that a BCC Press book will be the perfect gift for all of the mothers in your life, be they literal or metaphorical. We’ve got you covered.

[Read more…]

Incorporated

There are few things that people antagonistic to the church can pejoratively say to induce in me a harder eye roll than the church is a corporation—shortened to LDS Inc for the feckless. A little more than a decade ago it became popular in some corners to assert that there was no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that there was merely a trademark and copyright owned by one of two corporations: The Corporation of the Presiding Bishop, and the Corporation of the President—both “corporations sole,” meaning that they are “owned” (Dun, dun, dun) by single individuals. There is no church, they say, and there hasn’t been since the early twentieth century. Of course this line of reasoning is silly.

[Read more…]

On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B

Whether dealing with monkeys, rats, or human beings, it is hardly controversial to state that most organisms seek information concerning what activities are rewarded, and then seek to do (or at least pretend to do) those things, often to the virtual exclusion of activities not rewarded. . . . Nevertheless, numerous examples exist of reward systems that are fouled up in that behaviors which are rewarded are those which the rewarder is trying to discourage, while the behavior he desires is not being rewarded at all. –Steven Kerr

There are not many business management articles that I would consider “classics,” and there is perhaps only one that I would be tempted to call “indispensable”: Steven Kerr’s excellent 1975 article, “On the Folly of Rewarding A, While Hoping for B.” Nearly everything important about the article can be derived from the title: human institutions have a habit of rewarding one thing while expecting another. And this is dumb. Everything else is just examples.

[Read more…]

A Q&A with Jenny Reeder, author of First, the Emma Smith biography

EmmaJenny Reeder is an historian with the Church History Department of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She has a PhD in American history from George Mason University, and is the co-editor, co-author, and contributor to several important volumes, including, The Witness of Women, At the Pulpit, The First Fifty Yearsand Women and Mormonism: Historical and Contemporary PerspectivesDeseret Book recently released her biography, First: The Life and Faith of Emma SmithShe has graciously answered a few questions for us.

[Read more…]

Two Reflections on Korihor

“And this Anti-Christ, whose name was Korihor, (and the law could have no hold upon him) began to preach unto the people that there should be no Christ.”Alma 30:12

Korihor was the third of three people in the Book of Mormon explicitly designated as an “anti-Christ.” And probably everybody reading this knows the rough outline of Korihor’s life and death: he shows up in Zarahemla about 75 B.C. and preaches that there will be no Christ. The Nephites (we’re told) have no law against a person’s belief but, notwithstanding its putative religious freedom, Korihor eventually ends up on trial in front of Alma, the chief priest of the people, and the chief judge.

Korihor continues to deny the coming Christ, asks for a sign, and is struck dumb. He confesses in writing that he was deceived by the devil, asks that the curse be removed, and Alma declines. Korihor ends up panhandling until he’strampled to death by the Zoramites (themselves a group of religious dissenters). The life and death of Korihor end up being a didactic morality tale, wrapped up comfortably by editor and narrator Mormon.

[Read more…]

The Charisma of Community

“In the last days it will be that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.”
(NRSV: Acts 2:17, quoting Joel 2:28)

Visions are exciting. As a college student, my favorite aspect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was our fulfillment of Joel’s prophesy. The heavens had opened! The Book of Mormon had been unearthed as scripture! The gospel was Restored! Prophets again walked the Earth! What a time to be alive — when Jesus Christ’s Second Coming was imminent!

I loved religious fervor. I particularly loved to read primary sources from the Second Great Awakening. To me, Joseph Smith‘s visions were part of God’s wave of religious revivals. Contemporary visionaries like Peter Cartwright and Antoinette Brown Blackwell couldn’t help but also be awash in spiritual power.

[Read more…]

The Joseph Smith Papers: Documents, Volume 12. March-July 1843

We are nearing the end of the Documents series of the Joseph Smith Papers with three more volumes in various stages of production. At the end of his life, Joseph Smith produced, approved, or simply “touched” many more documents than in earlier years, hence the shortness of the period for this volume—but it is packed with pivotal paper. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had expanded to tens of thousands and Joseph Smith was in the center of its growth in many ways. Here are a few of the items represented in Documents, Volume 12. [Read more…]

On Secondary Source Infuence in the JST

ON SECONDARY SOURCE INFLUENCE IN THE JST

Kevin Barney

    Now that I have completed my informal blog commentary on the JST of Acts through Revelation, I feel as though I need to go back and say a few words on the topic of possible secondary source influence on the JST. I dealt with that issue to some extent in my formal article on 1 Corinthians in Dialogue. There I identified what struck me as four plausible secondary sources (the Clarke Commentary, Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, and the Campbell and Coverdale translations). When I did my first blog commentary (on 2 Corinthians) I didn’t bother with the two translations, as I saw no indication in 1 Corinthians that either of those was an influence on Joseph. Rather I just checked Clarke and Wesley and didn’t see any obvious influences from those sources there. Then when I did Galatians at the last minute I think I did a quick scan of Clarke only (not Wesley) and didn’t see anything. After that I decided to just put the issue up on Camilla Kimball’s proverbial shelf for another day; secondary source influence was rather tangential to what I was doing. But now that I have finished the commentary I feel the need to revisit this topic in general terms.

[Read more…]

Going Callingless

A few months ago I made a decision. I will not be accepting any more church callings. I am currently Executive Secretary, and my plan was to continue until the Bishop was released, and then not accept any new callings. His five-year anniversary is coming up this fall, so I assumed it would happen then. But our stake was reorganized on Sunday, and he was called into the new stake presidency as a counselor, so that accelerated things a bit. Below is the text I sent him after the conference on Sunday:

[Read more…]

On the JST of the Gospels

 COMMENTARY ON JOSEPH SMITH’S REVISION OF THE PERICOPE “PETER’S CONFESSION” IN THE FOUR GOSPELS

Kevin Barney

Introduction

    Having completed my informal commentary on the JST of Acts through Revelation, I knew I wasn’t going to take on the Gospels, which would be a massive task. They are long books, and almost every verse is modified in some way, and that was just way more than I was willing to bite off and chew. But I have to admit that I was curious about what I might find there. So I decided to do just a small demonstration project; I would pick a single pericope and then compare that pericope in each of the Gospels. I chose Peter’s confession of Christ almost at random; the only non-random thing about it is I wanted one that had parallel text in all four Gospels. Immediately below I give the parallel texts of this pericope in all four Gospels followed by my commentary.

[Read more…]

You Can’t Listen to Women If They Aren’t Invited to Speak

“Sincerely asking for and listening to the thoughts and concerns voiced by women is vital in life, in marriage, and in building the kingdom of God.”*

This quote was given by Elder Neil L. Andersen during the Saturday Afternoon Session**, which, ironically, had no women’s voices included. No prayers, no speakers. Nothing.

In total for the April General Conference, two women gave talks: outgoing Primary President Joy Jones and Relief Society Counselor Reyna Aburto. And one woman, Relief Society Counselor Sharon Eubank, gave the closing prayer to the final session of conference, surprising me, because I wondered if we were going back to the 1970s where women were not allowed to give prayers in mixed-sex meetings.

[Read more…]