Why Jesus’s two great commandments can’t be at odds with each other

The New Testament offers strong evidence that the two great commandments are inseparable. Here’s the story:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35–40)

Jesus responds to the lawyer’s attempt to trip him up by referencing the most widely-known excerpt from the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 6, or the Shema, the prayer recited morning and evening by practicing Jews to this day.

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Introducing the New Testament (or: How I wish CFM began)

“We are Surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses” by Brenda K. Robinson.

Strangely, this year’s Come Follow Me materials lack a general introduction to the New Testament. It’s useful at the outset of a year of study to take a mile-high view. So here’s a hypothetical lesson outline.

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Depression, anxiety, and promises of healing

I’ve experienced depression and generalized anxiety for as long as I can remember. It comes and goes and sometimes I’m not really aware I’m experiencing it until the clouds start to lift and I suddenly realize the sun feels good on my skin again, surprised at the revelation that I hadn’t been feeling it for a while.

When I started elementary school I was also diagnosed with ADD (now more commonly called ADHD, although the diagnostic labels overall could use some improvement). With all good intentions my parents decided to hold off on getting me medication for those conditions. Until my thirteenth year or thereabouts when I started junior high school and the increased organizational load became unbearable.

My mom tells a story that I can’t recall happening. I’m arriving home from school. I’m frazzled. I’m being asked about homework—again, and I take a multi-subject folder out of my backpack. I accidentally drop it on the floor. A flock of papers from 7 classes (was it 7?) burst forth and scatter to the four winds. I break down in tears.

That was the moment she decided it was time for me to know about my diagnosis and to see if medication could help.

[Read more…]

When there’s love at home

June 5, 2022 in Salt Lake City. Photo by Austen Diamond

Robert George is in a difficult spot. As co-founder of the National Organization for Marriage, opposing same-sex relationships has been a major focus of his public intellectual work even while the tide has been shifting in the United States—polls show more and more people approve of gay marriage. A record high 70% support it today according to the latest Gallup poll. Even Latter-day Saints follow this trajectory, with support doubling in the past decade.

I’m not optimistic enough to think the battle is over. America’s political makeup ensures that for the foreseeable future an increasing minority will have outsized influence on all kinds of things, from abortion rights to the contents of elementary school libraries. George seeks allies among conservative religious groups to keep his hope alive, that the state can be used to discourage and even prevent queer relationships from flourishing. George seeks allies to further his cause, including among Latter-day Saints. One recent think piece of his can be found at the unofficial LDS publication Public Square.

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White nationalism meets Mormonism on Twitter (again)

BYU Professor Hank Smith made some minor waves on Twitter this week when he approvingly retweeted a thread that connected Mormonism with white nationalist ideology and bizarre conspiracy theories.

Thankfully, a few hours later Smith retracted his endorsement of the thread, explaining he hadn’t read it all the way through. But it’s worth digging into because much of it will fly under the radar of people who aren’t familiar with alt-right theories in the United States, which are gaining a foothold among some Twitter-using church members.

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A surprising thing the ‘Book of Red’ says about blue hats

Sodom and Gomorrah took center stage last week in the churchwide seminary curriculum. The teacher’s manual specifically identifies the “very grievous sin” which caused God to destroy the city as “homosexual behavior,” saying it was “widely accepted and practiced among the inhabitants.” The lesson briefly lists “other sins” identified by a later prophet—Ezekiel—including pride, idleness, and oppression of the poor and needy. But the rest of the lesson is spent on sections including “The Law of Chastity,” “Doctrinal Truths That Help Us Understand Why Homosexual Behavior Is a Serious Sin,” and “Sexual Purity.”

It’s a good idea to talk to your kids about this if they’re in seminary. It offers a great opportunity to think about the importance of reading scripture in context.

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Revise and resubmit

I’ve been thinking about the way that many religious words accumulate baggage. Over time they automatically evoke certain moods. They become weighed down by definitions and experiences and feelings to the point that they basically lose their power.

Take the word “repentance” for example. When you read or hear that word, stop and pay close attention to how your body reacts. What thoughts come to mind? Is it a positive feeling? People who’ve been wounded by religion might feel really tense. Their fight or flight response is triggered. It begins to open drawers full of painful memories. It might smell stuffy and stale. It might even seem merely quaint.

For other people, the word is so familiar that it’s lost its ability to provoke or challenge. It might slip right past the consciousness of religious people who think of themselves as devout, like they already know everything it means. They’ve mastered it. They know how to describe its process using a few simple “r” letter words.

In either case, I think the word “repentance” becomes worse than useless. It evokes pain or contempt on the one hand and self-satisfied hypocrisy on the other. I think it can be helpful to rethink old ideas using new terms.

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When you want your integrity and faith at the same time

Back in 2013 I created the Maxwell Institute Podcast with an eye toward constructive or “positive” apologetics. Instead of listing concerns and then giving responses or rebuttals, the show exhibited characteristics like intellectual charity, curiosity, and a faithful seeking style of confidence as opposed to dogmatic certainty.

The show’s style ran against the grain of much that had come before it at the Maxwell Institute and in church productions more broadly, and against the grain of what some church members and some leaders would be comfortable with, although it always stayed within the bounds of appropriate orthodoxy. It was, at the end of the day, a church production. But I believed it could appeal to a wide variety of church members across the culture war divide of conservative/liberal. I know for certain the audience had some very progressive and some very conservative appreciative listeners.

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3 quotes I like better than the musket stuff

When I worked at BYU’s Neal A. Maxwell Institute I was aware of Elder Maxwell’s musket analogy that Elder Holland recently borrowed. The Institute had been tasked with fortifying the faith of Latter-day Saints, which includes apologetics, or defending the faith, so we spent a lot of time thinking about it. I helped cultivate a style of apologetics that exhibited charity, curiosity, flexibility, and strength.

Not everyone was satisfied. Elder Maxwell was often cited as calling for more aggression with his metaphors about muskets and slam dunks. But in all my time at the Institute those analogies didn’t resonate with me. I was more drawn to this counsel from then-Elder Henry B. Eyring, who called the one of the Institute’s predecessors (FARMS) to a undertake a ceasefire back in 1994:

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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…]

Book Review—Courage To Be You, by Gail Miller

I’m Larry’s wife.”

That’s how Gail Miller constantly introduced herself during the mid-eighties as Larry H. Miller’s business was on the rise. His name was plastered on successful car dealerships. He’d saved the Utah Jazz basketball team. He’d expand to movie theaters and baseball teams. Through it all, he’d frequently relied on his wife Gail’s input; she was even a partner in the business. But as a stay-at-home mom with no formal higher education she noticed how seldom she referred to herself, her interests, her desires. And in not referring to them, she began to forget what they were.

“I was living in a shadow that grew every single day…I felt completely invisible,” she writes in the candid new book Courage to Be You (149-150). [Read more…]

Let’s talk about the remarkable Psalms #BCCSundaySchool2018

The 104th Psalm is an arresting remix of Genesis 1, making it one of the earliest examples of hip-hop on record.1 As the King James Version has it:

Bless the Lord, O my soul. O Lord my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty.

Who coverest thyself with light as with a garment: who stretchest out the heavens like a curtain…

Here we see God appearing with the grandeur of a king, donning his royal robe in preparation for his work of creation—”don” is the term Robert Alter uses in his translation:

LORD, my God, You are very great.
Grandeur and glory you don.
Wrapped in light like a cloak,
stretching out heavens like a tent-cloth.2

This psalm heavily samples from the creation account where God said “Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good…And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of heaven to divide the day from the night…” (Genesis 1:3–4, 14).

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Confessing God’s hand in all things

My three-year-old son loudly announced that the incense smelled “yucky” just as the priest walked by, censer swinging from chains, bells jingling. And the priest smiled.

I recently finished reading a book by religious studies scholar Robert Orsi, who once suggested that “if it doesn’t offer you the opportunity to taste something, lick something, kiss something, or put something into your mouth, it’s not a religion.” I’m sure he’d have included “smell something” in this list had he been thinking about it. One of the things I enjoy most about attending Eastern Orthodox Pascha each year with my family is the way it engages the body—sight, sound, touch, and yes, smell. While the LDS Church is my home, these occasional pilgrimages help renew my faith.  [Read more…]

On the State of Mormon Book Reviewing–a guest post from Professor Warren G. Harding, Mervin Peake Online University of the Arts and Science

BCC received the following guest post, delivered via the US Postal Service and re-typed by several former BCC permabloggers, from Professor Warren G. Harding last week. Dr. Harding is the R. L. Stine Chair of Esoteric Literature at Mervin Peake Online University of the Arts and Science.

Your correspondent was pleased to receive recently a clipping from the latest issue of Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought: a review of Kattrim G. Mender’s master’s thesis, “Gilda Trillim: Shepherdess of Rats.” Your Mormon people might like to know that Mender’s thesis caused much controversy within the university on the eve of our latest accreditation review. (Results pending.) Mender’s very acceptance as a student at MPOUAS raised red flags throughout the faculty, considering his having previously flunked out of a small university none of us had heard of in Rexburg, Idaho. [Read more…]

The blue jacket

There’s a blue jacket hanging in our entryway closet. I’ve owned it for twenty-one years. I’ve worn it maybe twice. It’s neither attractive or ugly and it would fit me well enough. But I don’t wear it, and I’m not sure when (or if) I ever will again.

I’m not going to get rid of it. Not yet, anyway, even though it’s a source of emotional pain. If I spend more than a second thinking about that jacket I start to feel a pointed grief begin to collect right down in my actual guts, pressure rising, until I slam the lid shut.  [Read more…]

BCC Press and priestcraft!

Scrooge-McDuck-Money-BinIt isn’t uncommon for people who sell LDS-directed products to be accused of priestcraft. As an employee of the church (through Brigham Young University) I’ve spent some time thinking about the implications of priestcraft, considering the nature of my job and source of my salary. Check out my thoughts and then please share yours. [Read more…]

“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head”—Gathering resources against racism

Suppose you wanted to teach a Sunday school lesson on the Word of Wisdom. If you perform a search at LDS.org you’ll find a long list of ready-to-go full lesson outlines. Suppose you wanted to give a talk warning about pornography. A search there will yield a long list of conference addresses from which you could draw. But suppose you wanted to teach a lesson on racism. It gets a lot more difficult.

Why? And what can be done? [Read more…]

Happy Birthday, James Baldwin

jamesbaldwinToday is the anniversary of the birth of James Baldwin, one of my favorite writers.
His technique is masterful, and it matches the depth of his insight—a rare combination in an author, I think. I’ll be forever indebted to Baldwin for helping me better understand what it means to be a white person like me in America. He did this by writing and speaking about how he felt and experienced life as a black man in America. Here’s one way he described why he became a writer:
I wanted to prevent myself from becoming merely a Negro writer. I wanted to find out in what way the specialness of my experience could be made to connect me with other people instead of dividing me from them.

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Lesson 28: “O God, Where Art Thou?” #DandC2017

Doctrine & Covenants 121, 122

In preparation for this lesson I enjoyed reading Justin Bray’s Revelations in Context essay, “Within the Walls of Liberty Jail.” Especially useful are the links to images of the letter the sections are drawn from, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project folks. People love seeing the documents.

I began this lesson with B.H. Roberts’s eloquent description of Liberty Jail as the temple-prison. [Read more…]

Using or abusing dystopian fiction

burnbookLike a lot of people, I spent some time leading up to and following the recent American presidential election reading some dystopian fiction in my spare time. I’ll recommend a few titles at the end of this post. But first, this morning I read K. E. Colombini’s provocative First Things post about dysfic. In a nutshell, Colombini raises the specter of technology and its corrupting influence on our lives, the way it crowds out classic literature and other influences that no longer refine our culture. [Read more…]

Troubling the old stories with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich recently published one of the best books ever written about nineteenth-century Mormonism. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s called A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835 to 1870. The folks at Juvenile Instructor are hosting an online book club this summer; it begins later this week.

Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Ulrich on the Maxwell Institute Podcast, where I ask her about how she paints a fuller, richer, grittier and more complex portrait of the early church: [Read more…]

Great children’s books for International Women’s Day (and every day)

Name three prominent scientists who aren’t men.

I don’t remember where I encountered this question, but it found me wanting a few years ago. Why was it so easy to rattle off the names of men (Einstein, Stephen Hawking, Watson and Crick) but not women? My mind’s hero filenames stashed away from various science fairs, book reports, and TV specialsseems fully stocked with men. I’m playing catch-up now.

I want a greater variety of heroes to populate my kids’ subconscious than what I had growing up. Here are some recommendations that I’ve enjoyed as much as my kids. Please add your own in the comments. [Read more…]

My daughter’s Christmas talk (or, how to help a 4-year-old speak in Primary)

wise-man-starMy daughter was asked to give a little talk on Sunday. Her assigned topic was “the birth of Jesus, and the second coming.” Strange combo for a four year old. My wife came up with a great strategy for helping with these talks. [Read more…]

I see you


The boy wanted to try on my glasses

“Thy watchmen shall lift up the voice; with the voice together shall they sing; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord shall bring again Zion.” (Mosiah 12.22)

My son is almost two years old. We play a game when I’m getting him dressed to keep him from trying to roll away. I take my time as I pull his shirt over his head, leaving his eyes covered, asking “Where’s Dorian?” He’s surprisingly patient with this game. Eventually, as his turtle head emerges, his eyes invariably lock onto mine like magnets and he laughs. He’s found again.

It’s a common phenomenon—little children seem to believe they can’t be seen when their own eyes are covered. Psychologists have explained this as egocentrism. A child can’t yet view the world through any other perspective than their own. If they can’t see, nobody can. This is how I’ve thought of Dorian’s game until this morning. [Read more…]

Catharsis and empathy in David Bazan’s “Dark Sacred Night”

bazan_darksacrednight1400_1024x1024At first glance, David Bazan might seem as unlikely an artist to release a Christmas album as Neil Diamond, not least of all because neither are Christian. Religion seems to have played a very small role—if at all—in Diamond’s career, whereas Christianity has been a central theme in Bazan’s discography from his Pedro the Lion days to his present solo work. But Bazan “broke up” with Christianity in 2009 when he released his album “Curse Your Branches.” Why a holiday album now? [Read more…]

Book Review: Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty

enns-sin-of-certaintyThe Sin of Certainty is a confessional book about how biblical scholar Peter Enns came to understand “belief” and “faith” less in terms of facts and knowledge, and more in terms of trust and love. Many Christians, Enns says, place being “correct” about God at the center of faith, which sets them on a shaky foundation that sometimes results in crisis and loss of that very belief. Enns speaks from personal experience here. He’s encountered what he calls “uh-oh moments,” times when what he thought he knew no longer seemed viable in the least. Such moments may be God’s way of inviting us to a more nuanced, closer relationship, breaking down the barriers of certainty in order to let faith flourish within our messy human lives:

I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up entirely, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to me that the journey is at an end but that I am still on it” (154). [Read more…]

A few more white guys talking about Black Lives Matter

The Deseret News just published a column by Ralph Hancock, a Harvard-trained BYU professor of political science. Hancock suggests black people in America would be better off if they could learn to see the world through his white male eyes. “Black stories matter,” the headline says, and the substance of the piece is that the biggest problems facing black people are ultimately their own fault, or at least the solution to their problems are chiefly in their hands.  [Read more…]

For the church in Russia, sustaining doesn’t mean agreeing


His wife, Kristen


Her husband, Blair

My wife served in the Russia, St. Petersburg mission. Her body left Russia but her heart stayed there. We had the chance to visit a few years ago and it was an amazing trip. Without her connection to Russia through the church I’m sure I never would have visited, and I never would have experienced the heft of that incredible country.

Now our missionaries in Russia are facing new restrictions due to a new anti-terrorism law Vladimir Putin recently signed. From the Deseret News:

The law creates a broad definition for missionary work, and will restrict any such activity if it is not undertaken by individuals who are affiliated with registered organizations. Additionally, the locations where such work can unfold would be restricted to houses of worship and other related religious sites, critics claim.

[Read more…]

Impaled on history like a butterfly

James Baldwin, Distinguished Visiting Professor

James Baldwin

Another black man in America was shot and killed by police yesterday. I involuntarily witnessed the slaying just before turning off the bedside lamp last night because it showed up in my Twitter feed, a video already playing, and I knew how it would end but couldn’t stop watching and couldn’t sleep and felt sick and felt angry. I personally know too few people of color intimately enough to reach out to them directly for solace. And really, it would be pretty unfair of me to do that anyway. So I go to James Baldwin, an African American novelist, essayist, playwright, poet, and social critic who was an incredible and thoughtful writer, and who died in the eighties.

I picked up his 1965 piece, “The White Man’s Guilt.” [Read more…]

None of us with perfect knowledge, or all of us with love

calvin-susieFrom the Church’s new Doctrinal Mastery materials on “Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge“:

Invite a student to read aloud the following account shared by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for how a young woman acted in faith when faced with a challenging situation:

“Recently, I spoke with a Laurel from the United States. I quote from her email:

“‘This past year some of my friends on Facebook began posting their position on marriage. Many favored same-sex marriage, and several LDS youth indicated they “liked” the postings. I made no comment.

“‘I decided to declare my belief in traditional marriage in a thoughtful way.

“‘With my profile picture, I added the caption “I believe in marriage between a man and a woman.” Almost instantly I started receiving messages. “You are selfish.” “You are judgmental.” One compared me to a slave owner. And I received this post from a great friend who is a strong member of the Church: “You need to catch up with the times. Things are changing and so should you.”

“‘I did not fight back,’ she said, ‘but I did not take my statement down.’

“She concludes: ‘Sometimes, as President Monson said, “You have to stand alone.”

*   *   *

A different version of her experience might read something like this: [Read more…]