Search Results for: godliness

Roundtable on The Power of Godliness, Part III

Jonathan Stapley’s new book is only 129 pages of text, but it feels much longer. This is not, thankfully, because the prose slogs. Rather it is one of those books that makes every word count. There is no fluff here, only finely sanded insight after insight, with all coarse surface and redundancy polished away. Stapley’s strengths are twofold. First, his archival work is unparalleled. For every assertion he has an anecdote. He meticulously marks fine nuances in opinion among his subjects, and those subjects are as frequently obscure figures like Steven Markham, John Steele, or Margaret Anderton as they are more familiar Mormons like Joseph F. Smith or Zina D.H. Young. His attention to such figures is essential to his second strength: the deep pattern of his argument. The process of producing the Mormon liturgy in all its parts and rituals, he argues, was and often remains the collision between the planned and the inadvertent.

Mormon leaders—be they Joseph Smith or Joseph F. Smith or Eliza Snow—conceived or introduced new rites, like a ceremony to seal a couple together. Mormons balked, or reinterpreted them. Mormons began dedicating their graves or their homes; Mormon leaders scrambled to catch up and codify a ceremony already happening. Through this messiness, Stapley argues, not only have Mormons generated a liturgy, but—because, as he rightly notes, liturgy is a powerful route by which worshipers conceive of the cosmos—they have gradually altered the ways they conceive of what it means to be a Mormon in the universe. [Read more…]

Roundtable on The Power of Godliness, Part II

The next installment of our discussion on Stapley’s book comes from Taylor Petrey. Taylor is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College, with research interests in the body, gender, and sexuality in antiquity and the formation of Jewish and Christian identity in the ancient world.
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Stapley’s The Power of Godliness has cracked the code on Mormon discourse about priesthood. This book brings so much clarity to a complex topic that has confounded outsiders and insiders to the Mormon tradition alike. The key that unlocks the mystery is Stapley’s historical analysis revealing two different ways Mormons have used the term “priesthood” and two different conceptual universes behind them. Sometimes overlapping and sometimes diverging, these two different meanings of priesthood are based in notions of church order that date to different periods in Joseph Smith, Jr.’s prophetic ministry. Rather than harmonizing Mormon history or Mormon thought under a single rubric or organizing principle, Stapley points to a foundational tension in Mormonism that holds immense explanatory value. [Read more…]

The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology

BCC’s very own J. Stapley has published a remarkable book. So we are going to remark upon it. At length.

We’ll kick off our roundtable discussion with a post from Hannah Jung, a graduate student in history at Brandeis University and expert in Mormon women’s history.
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Jonathan Stapley takes ritual seriously. His book The Power of Godliness looks at what rituals do for the people that perform them. “By tracing the development of the rituals and attempting to ascertain the work they have accomplished,” Stapley tells us, “the Mormon universe, with its complex priesthoods, authorities, and powers, becomes comprehensible.” (2) Or, more simply, his book asks what Mormons have meant when they have invoked the term “priesthood” and how they imagined themselves in relation to it. This process has changed over time: “instead of viewing priesthood as channeling the power of God, church leaders began to describe the priesthood as the power of God.” (12) Stapley frames his analysis by discussing two different notions of priesthood: ecclesiastical and cosmological. Ecclesiastical priesthood refers to the ordination of Mormon men to different offices in the Church hierarchy. Cosmological priesthood is an idea developed gradually by Joseph Smith and reflected in the temple liturgy in the temple. Although the ritual practices inside the temple have not fundamentally changed, Stapley asserts that the cosmological priesthood that undergirded the temple liturgy is no longer recognizable to contemporary Latter-day Saints. The Power of Godliness is, therefore, a project of historical recovery. He is successful: Stapley has laid a foundation for new conversations and questions about priesthood and religious power for years to come. [Read more…]

Gospel Doctrine Lesson 25: Priesthood: “The Power of Godliness”

[Notes, commentary, and questions for LDS Sunday School teachers using the ‘Doctrine & Covenants and Church History’ manual. Feel free to share your thoughts or ideas regarding the lesson in the comments.]

“Priesthood” in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a primary boundary marker, perhaps the central boundary marker if one includes its origin stories, between Mormonism and antebellum American Protestantism. If there is one primary heresy qua Protestantism in Mormonism, it is the dispensing of grace via authoritatively performed sacraments. Most Latter-day Saints see this as the “Power of Godliness” and via Joseph Smith have an extensive protological sacramental soteriology. Their Protestant brothers and sisters were—and perhaps are yet in some cases—filled with the fear of prelate tyranny by such claims (shucks, being a BYU professor, I know some Mormons who feel the same–academic freedom anyone?!?). These claims also entailed communal living enterprises, breach of the sacrosanct canonical wall, a little bit (that a hundred years later had turned into a lot) of Methodist salvific pessimism and eventually the mysterious secret rites of temple Mormonism. Burrrrr, they said.
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Can One Good Apple Unspoil the Whole Bunch? Thoughts on Healing the Church and the Nation

Bad apples are in the news again. This often happens when we have a national debate over the behavior of individualswho can be assigned to a category. “Bad apple” theory is the most common way to push back against  “systemic problem” theory. [Read more…]

2020 Handbook: The Lord’s Supper and the Right Hand

This week church leaders directed the release of the new general handbook of instructions (2020 v. 11/19). Among the updates are its public and digital-only availability (previously only sections were public). There have been several discussions about changes from the last iteration of the handbook. Here, I will be digging into one specifically: instructions for members to take the Lord’s Supper (generally “the sacrament”) with their right hand.
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New Handbook: Evolution of Church Liturgy and Authority

Who performs rituals in our liturgy, and what authority they invoke is at the heart, not only of our lived religion, but integral in the construction of our cosmos. It is part of how we structure the worlds in which we live. It has also been a perennial interest for me. Today, a new handbook of instructions was released, with a number of changes. Besides a throwback to the JFS-era idea of taking the sacrament with your right hand (perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post on that idea), there is an important change in the instruction on home dedication.
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“Rejoice With Joy Unspeakable and Full of Glory,” 1 and 2 Peter #BCCSundaySchool2019

I misread the calendar and did not post this last week. I apologize that it’s late, but I hope it may be useful to some.

I. 1 Peter

Peter’s first epistle has some of the most interesting and some of the most misunderstood passages in the new testament. And we’ll look at those passages, but in my view, the more interesting and more overlooked thing to look at is the overall themes and structure of Peter’s first letter.[1] It’s a short letter, but it is dense, and it refers in just a few words or lines to complex ideas that take up whole chapters in Paul’s letters. [Read more…]

The Witness of Women: Historical Context

Today, church leaders announced [PDF] that women can now serve as official witnesses for baptisms (both in and out of the temple), and for sealings. In last few hours I have spoken to several friends and family members who were weeping at the news. This feels just and true, and I imagine that it would, regardless of the any historical antecedent. In this case, however, we know that women have been official witnesses in the past.
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“The Ministry of Reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 1–7) #BCCSundaySchool2019

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation
–2 Corinthians 5:18

Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians presents us with a context that is difficult to understand. There is a good reason for this: it is not Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. It is at least his Third Letter to the Corinthians, and it may be an amalgamation of parts of his Third and Fourth Letters to the Corinthians. But we know that Paul refers to at least four letters to the Church at Corinth, and we know that only two of them appear in our scriptures. So we have to infer a lot.

Scholars today call the missing letter to the Corinthians “the Severe Letter” or “the Letter of Tears” after Paul’s description of it in 2 Cor. 2:4, “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears.” The Severe Letter, most surmise, involved Paul chastising the Church for something that he perceived on a previous visit. The two most common contenders are the toleration of sexual immorality and the encouragement of rival Christian missionaries. Both explanations have plenty of partisans.

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The Power of God Unto Salvation #BCCSundaySchool2019

Reading: Romans 1-6.

This week has us finishing Acts and going into the epistles. This means we’re no longer going chronologically. Instead, we’re going more or less by author and more or less by topic (though each epistle jumps around a bit). It also means that we’re not really reading a story anymore, we’re reading artifacts. For the most part, we’re no longer concerned with the story, but with the teachings contained in the letters of the apostles. We’re moving from events to doctrines, and Romans is arguably the most doctrinal of all the books of the New Testament. [Read more…]

Addendum: Defining your terms-cosmology and materiality

In a recent conversation where I wondered if something I wrote was grammatically correct (and comprehensible), the discussion turned to how sometimes defining your terms and usages goes a long way. Subsequently a friend suggested that I take a few moments to define my use of “cosmology/cosmological” and “material” in Power of Godliness, something I realize I should have done better in the book. As it happens I touched on the ideas a little bit at MHA where LaJean and I spoke about what most people call Adam-God [n1]. Anyway, it was a party. You should have been there. I opened up with a little discussion of cosmology:
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Where Does “Restoration Christian” Authority End, and “Mormon Christian” Authority Begin?

[I recently was invited to speak about Mormonism and authority at local ecumenical Christian conference here in Wichita, sponsored by the Eighth Day Institute during their annual “Florovsky-Newman Week.” I’ve done stuff with Eighth Day a few times before, but this was a real challenge, talking about Joseph Smith and the Mormon doctrine of apostasy in front of a mostly Catholic and Orthodox audience. The following is an expansion of my comments.]

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The question of “secularism” in the (formerly?) Christian world today is often expressed as one of authority. It is one thing to place one’s faith in the existence, teachings, and salvific promises of Jesus Christ, but another thing entirely to trust that one is in an “authorized” relationship with Him. The guiding assumption of this conference, grounded as it is in the legacies of John Henry Newman and Georges Florovsky, is that such confidence is to be found by orienting oneself–whatever that may mean–to the Church Fathers. As the conference’s own announcement describes it, “by returning to the common Tradition, by learning to read the Fathers as living masters, rather than as historical documents…[we] deepen [our] understanding of the authority by which the Church grounds her faith and morals.” [Read more…]

The Mormon Creed

We are all familiar with the religious biographies of Joseph Smith, and in particular the narrations of the First Vision. It is from the latter of these that we find God’s condemnation of Christian creeds, a formal category or documents that established beliefs for the last two thousand years. Many folks have written about the anti-creedal denominations of the Antebellum period, and how the restoration fit in with that. My experience has been that Mormons have consequently taken a pejorative view of these documents, even if we haven’t really been sure what exactly they are [waves hands and mutters something about the incoherency of the trinity].
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2018 Christmas Gift Book Guide

2019 may be the start of a golden age of home learning for Latter-day Saints. Or in a couple of decades we will look back on three hour church with reverent fondness for all that structured pedagogy. Regardless of whether you will read them or simply adorn your shelves with them, here are this year’s recommendations for Christmas gift books.
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God’s Name is Dangerous to Hold in Your Lips

This is a post about what President Nelson’s counsel to use the church’s full name challenges us as church members to do.

However you feel about his declaration that using “Mormon” was a victory for Satan and an offense to God, there are lots of other places where that conversation has happened and is still happening. I don’t want to replicate that here. I want to focus on the core of his message: that the church’s formal name is important because it is connected to taking upon ourselves the name of Christ. President Nelson’s counsel to speak Jesus’s name more often may be both dangerous and rewarding, because God’s name is not to be taken lightly, and doing it will require us to either receive the spirit through repentance and faith in Christ and his grace, or condemn ourselves by using his name in vain. [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.
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The Unfinished Endowment

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Cory B. Jensen is a longtime temple worker and author of Completing Your Endowment, which traces the history of the endowment.

In May of 1842, Joseph Smith first introduced the temple endowment to nine men in the room above his Red Brick Store. Over the next eighteen months, Joseph continued to add to this basic endowment. He introduced separate prayer circle meetings, sealing for time and eternity of a husband and wife, and a capstone two-part ritual sometimes referred to as the second endowment or second anointing. By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph had endowed about thirty-seven men and thirty-two women.

Unfortunately, Joseph never had the completed Nauvoo temple to work with and he left Brigham Young a charge to complete the work. Brigham Young recalled: “Bro. Joseph turned to me and said: ‘Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct.” [1] [Read more…]

“No known records exist”: The fallacy of racial restriction origins

In a well-meaning Ensign article commemorating the end of the Mormon Temple and Priesthood restriction against Black people, an unattributed author makes a pernicious claim about the origin of the restriction. I do not think the author was lying. The author was repeating a fallacy that has been growing in circulation for years, but is nevertheless wrong. And if the author was even remotely aware of recent years’ scholarship, then the author is engaging in prevarication.

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Blessings

This past general conference was…fun. Change is generally exciting. Even though our stake still hasn’t reorganized the various Elders’ quorums yet, “Ministering” is on the move. Ecclesiology is fun for me, so as an observer as well as practitioner, I’m having a good time of this. However, perhaps the most interesting bit of conference to me was President Nelson’s concluding remarks at the Priesthood Session on liturgy:
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Saint Mary the Protectress

Gold-plated spires of Lavra's main church.

Cathedral at Lavra

I recently returned from a business trip to Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine, including two days of just being a tourist. My tour guide was Olga, a well-informed host overflowing with love for her city and country. One of the most impressive places I visited with Olga was Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра in Ukrainian and Киeво-Печерская лавра in Russian). More like a small city than just a church, it is a historical center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and includes a magnificent cathedral, smaller (though still magnificent!) churches, an active seminary, monastery housing, and a historical underground cave monastery containing relics of saints.  [Read more…]

Baptism for the Dead, A Momentary Memoir

The other day, I participated as a proxy for a dead relative in a baptism (actually a confirmation). As I was sitting there, hands were laid on my head and I experienced a bit of proxy deja vu. In my mind’s eye I observed the intense feelings among early Latter-day Saints of mid-August 1840 as Joseph Smith announced that those Saints could be baptized for their dead ancestors. Weeks later, people began to go to the Mississippi and men were baptized for dead grandparents, women for a beloved deceased brother or parent. It was joyous. In the few moments that I sat experiencing my proxy position for three long-dead men in turn, I thought through Smith’s acts here. I don’t know precisely where his logic/inspiration was tipped over to surety. He knew the Pauline text certainly.[1] But what else played into this? A clue about one of those things is represented in his one prewritten sermon, delivered at the October conference the same year. In that sermon he lays out a new and rather extraordinary idea. It may be his most profound instruction ever, since it links to things like sealing, polygamy, temple ritual, priesthood, sacraments, and so forth. I imagined myself sitting there in that conference, listening to his clerk, Robert Thompson, read that sermon (Joseph composed the sermon at Thompson’s elbow and one other man in the room later remarked that he felt God’s presence more powerfully than at any other time in his life as they worked through that composition). Its content was wide-ranging and feels a bit odd to me now as I reread it but it was a turning point.
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Joseph Smith’s Statement on “The Fundamental Principles of Our Religion.” Part II: The Significance of Willard Richards’ 1853 Revisions.

This is part two of my look at the textual history of Joseph Smith’s oft-quoted statement on “the fundamental principles of our religion.” In the first part, I tried to find the original source of the statement in the Elders’ Journal in 1838, and then traced it through three revisions as it was collected in Willard Richards’ Manuscript History of the Church in late 1843, published in the Deseret News in 1853, and then published again in B.H. Roberts’ History of the Church in 1905. As I noted, the statement was later published again in Joseph Fielding Smith’s 1938 Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith and the church’s 2007 Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith, but these later publications did not further revise Roberts’ revised text. Roberts’ revision became the standard text quoted by church leaders and members in the 20th century and that tradition continues to this day, with the exception of Elder Ballard, who quoted the original Elder’s Journal text in his October 2014 Conference address.

In this part, we’re going to look at the significance of the revisions. [Read more…]

When the General Relief Society President blessed a lonely pregnant woman

I have recently spoken at several events related to the release of my book, The Power of Godliness. I have opened with several different anecdotes that highlight tensions that I hope I resolve in my work. One of my favorite stories is that of a pregnant woman who received a blessing from a prominent Relief Society leader; a story that also opens my chapter on healing and authority (ch 4). I’d like to describe the processes of reconstructing that story.

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Liturgy, authority, and gender: Wasatch events the week of Feb 19

Next week I’ll be in Utah and in conjunction with the release of The Power of Godliness, with Oxford University Press, I’ll be participating in three public events hosted along the Wasatch Front. Come join us. Each event will cover different material in a different format, and each of the events is being sponsored by excellent groups that support Mormon scholarship.

First the publisher’s blurb:

The Power of Godliness is a key work to understand Mormon conceptions of priesthood, authority, and gender. With in-depth research and never previously used documents, Jonathan Stapley explores the rituals of ordination, temple “sealings,” baby blessings, healing, and cunning-folk traditions. In doing so, he demonstrates that Mormon liturgy includes a much larger and more complex set of ritualized acts of worship than the specific rites of initiation, instruction, and sealing that take place within the temple walls.

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Movies Are Not Poop Cookies

Emma Croft grew up near Seattle and is currently studying English and creative writing at Brigham Young University. She enjoys traveling, cooking delicious things, hosting book club meetings, and brainstorming ways to make the LDS community more welcoming to those who struggle to find their place in the church. She spends much of her time writing personal essays, conducting research on early Book of Mormon usage, and helping students improve their writing.

I watched my first rated-R movie as a sophomore in high school. It all started when my World History teacher offered extra credit to any student who stayed after school to watch Defiance, a 2008 film about a group of Russian rebels who banded together to kill Nazis in the forest. It sounded great, but I figured out pretty quickly that choosing to watch it would mean ignoring what I had learned in church for as long as I could remember: no rated-R movies, at all, under any circumstances.bcc

I was torn. I needed the extra credit. I also made sure to carefully pore over the “parental advisory” section on IMDb and ultimately decided that the “5 uses of f—k” and several scenes of graphic wartime violence couldn’t mar my spirituality any more than an average day existing in a high school. After talking with my parents, I believed that watching the movie would provide an overall positive experience with valuable payoff, even if it felt immoral. Learning that any “ungodly” content would destroy a film’s value and cause the viewer irreparable harm left me with the impression that—on some level—I was sinning. [Read more…]

Who’ll Be a Witness for My Lord?

This week the Church announced changes to the proxy-baptism liturgy, one of which I’d like to focus on: witnesses. Before last week, the baptismal liturgy included two Melchizedek priesthood officers standing by, observing, and certifying that the ritual was performed in accordance to the prescribed form. The introduction of formal witnesses to the liturgy is unclear, but my sense is that is related to Joseph Smith’s letters (now canonized in D&C 127 and 128): [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

2017 Christmas Gift Book Guide

Well, despite Relief Society and Priesthood moving to GenCon talks for three out of four weeks, we can collectively appreciate that they have resisted the impulse towards entirely topic-based lessons for Sunday School. 2018 is time for the Hebrew Bible, or at least topical lessons at least tangentially related to the Hebrew Bible. Fortunately, there is a lot more to read than the Sunday School lesson manual. [Read more…]

Lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood #DandC2017

The restoration of the priesthood can be somewhat difficult to approach because there have been so many layers of re-reading. For example, we often say that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and later Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. The thing is, those terms and their meanings didn’t exist for another five or six years after the events occurred.
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