On my mission, whenever I would read about the angel asking Nephi “knowest thou the condescension of God?” in 1 Nephi 11:16, I would kind of smirk to myself and think, “No” (which as a 19-year old kid I thought was hilarious). The fact was I didn’t even know what the word “condescension” meant, much less grasp the concept intended by “condescension of God.” I was only beginning to come to a sense of curiosity about the scriptures, but for some reason my curiosity didn’t really extend to this expression. And somehow I’ve gone all these years without really giving that expression a second thought. But in preparing for Sunday’s lesson I of course read the passage once again, and decided perhaps it is finally time that I try to get a handle on what the angel is trying to show Nephi here. [Read more…]

Financing the Book of Mormon


One of the gifts Santa brought me was Michael Hubbard MacKay and Gerrit J. Dirmaat, From Darkness unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon (Provo: BYU Religious Studies Center, 2015). I had asked the old guy for this book with the thought that it would help me in preparing my introductory lesson this coming Sunday, in which I wanted to focus on the production and publication of the book. That meant I had to read it quickly, but it was an easy read and I just finished it yesterday. [Read more…]

Worshiping the Same God

Larycia Hawkins

Wheaton College associate professor Larycia Hawkins Phd., center, is greeted with applause from supporters as she begins her remarks during a news conference Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Chicago. Hawkins, a Christian teaching political science at the private evangelical school west of Chicago, was put on leave Tuesday. In recent days, she began wearing a hijab, the headscarf worn by some Muslim women, to counter what she called the “vitriolic” rhetoric against Muslims in recent weeks. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Here at BCC we’re all about celebrating Advent. Well, I’ve got a different kind of Advent story for you. [Read more…]

Would You Have Converted to the Faith?


I have heard of wards where legacy Mormons are considered sort of royalty and converts are treated as sort of second class members. I hope we can all agree that such distinctions should not exist at all, but if we were going to draw that kind of distinction among our people, my own inclination would be to do it precisely the other way around. I have a tendency to view converts as the top of the food chain, not the bottom. [Read more…]

Were I Ever to Leave the Church…

The recent explosion of commentary on the new Handbook policies at some point put me in a reflective mood, in which I pondered, in a fairly abstract way, what it would be like to actually leave the Church. Let me hasten to clarify that such pondering did not crystallize into an actual resolution to that end; rather, it led to some personal musings on the subject. Although I’m not actually leaving any time soon, even to engage in abstract pondering about such a matter was a completely unprecedented  experience for me. [Read more…]

Endureth or Resisteth?


This coming Sunday I’ll be teaching Lesson 42 on James. As I reviewed the lesson manual, I was intrigued by this additional teaching idea:

[Read more…]

Correlation and the Preference for Bright-Line Rules

One of the Church’s greatest problems of the 20th century was its substantial growth. We went from being a small, peculiar sect hunkered down in the Great Basin to becoming a world-wide church, far-flung with different cultures and languages, and we did it very quickly. The Church’s overarching response to that problem was Correlation. Largely independent auxiliaries were streamlined under priesthood lines, things were simplified, extraneous things were jettisoned. We sometimes lament the things we have lost with Correlation, but at this late date there is simply no turning back the clock, it is a fait accompli. [Read more…]

Notes on Special Education

We have a terrific coterie of LDS lawyers in Chicago, and some of us occasionally get together under the auspices of the J. Reuben Clark Law Society for lunch and a speaker or presentation or something. Yesterday about ten of us went to the offices of Equip for Equality (the Illinois protection and advocacy system for people with disabilities) for a continuing legal education presentation on special education law. This was not something any of us needed for our actual practices, although a couple of those in attendance have children with special needs and thus had a personal interest in the subject. But as lawyers we often get asked questions about all sorts of things at church, and it’s nice to know a bit about the big picture of issues like this. I personally was interested mainly because I have a younger brother who is autistic (although he’s long out of high school), and also from my friend and coblogger Tracy M. talking about these things with respect to her own experiences. There is no way I can replicate the full presentation here, so I’ll just hit a few of the high points. [Read more…]

Did Paul’s Companions Hear the Voice?


Today I taught lesson 38 on Acts 21-28. We basically did a close reading of chapters 21 and 22, tracing the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, his return to Jerusalem, his report of his mission to James (the Lord’s brother) and the elders, their concern that Paul is perceived as not requiring that Jewish Christians live the Law of Moses (Gentile Christians already being excused from such observance by the Jerusalem Decree), and their proposal that Paul accompany four men who were completing a nazirite vow to the temple and participate in the purification rites with them so the Jews could see with their own eyes that Paul was observant. I can see what the leadership was thinking, and it may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it didn’t work (and I mean, not at all). Paul was recognized in the temple, which led to an immediate riot, and Paul would have been killed on the spot had the Roman authorities not intervened. He requests an opportunity to speak to the assembled Jews, which he is given, and thus makes the first of four defense speeches in this reading (the others being before Festus, the Sanhedrin, and Herod Agrippa II). [Read more…]

Polygamy and Baptism Policy


So I’m watching Sister Wives as I type this. One of the daughters is named Madison; she has only intermittently appeared on the show recently because she’s away attending school at Utah State. She has been very clear that she is not going to live polygamy. A recent tangential story arc in the show was that she had decided to be baptized LDS. That was the plan. (Good for her, I thought.) She just reported to her moms that she got two phone calls, including from the mission president, that they’re not going to let her get baptized. Apparently they had wanted her to publicly denounce her family, and of course she wouldn’t do that. She can keep attending church if she wants to but she can’t get baptized. They told her they hope she’ll “reconsider” the Church “when her family isn’t so much in the public eye.” They hope she’s not “bitter” about it. [Read more…]

Adam, Eve and the Order of Creation


One of my blog mates recently called my attention to this quote from President Nelson in the Sunday morning session of General Conference:

We know that the culminating act of all Creation was the creation of woman!11

11 “All the purposes of the world and all that was in the world would be brought to naught without woman—a keystone in the priesthood arch of creation.” (Russell M. Nelson, “Lessons from Eve,” Ensign, Nov. 1987, 87.) “Eve became God’s final creation, the grand summation of all the marvelous work that had gone before.” (Gordon B. Hinckley, “The Women in our lives,” Ensign, Oct. 2004, 83.)

I found this statement quite fascinating. Let me try to explain why. [Read more…]

#ldsconf: An Apostle Experiences Shabbat


Back in the late Jurassic when I was an undergrad at BYU, I remember reading an article about a religion professor who put on a Seder meal for some of his students. He gave specifically LDS interpretations of much of the symbolism, and at the time I recall thinking, “Oh, how cool, I wish I could have been there.” Not long after that, however, a letter to the editor appeared in the Daily Universe from a young Jewish woman who was upset that this symbolism was being given an interpretation foreign to that of her own religious tradition. I had to admit I simply hadn’t thought of it from that perspective, and I could understand why she was upset. This was long before I had heard of the concept of cultural appropriation in religion, but looking back on it I can see that was an example of this phenomenon. [Read more…]

JWHA Independence 2015

I really didn’t get a vacation this year. Work has just been too hectic, which is good in that it means I still have a job, but which makes it difficult to get away. I missed MHA, and also missed my usual early August trip to Utah. So I started to eyeball the John Whitmer Historical Association Conference in Independence as a way to help make up for all my hard work earlier in the year. Plus I have a new car (a Mazda 3–a thing of beauty) and I wanted to take it out on a road trip. So I made the arrangements, and here I am at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Independence, Missouri. I hope the Second Coming comes while I’m here so it will save me the trip. [Read more…]



There is a Latin verb, trare, which means “to cross over, beyond, to the other side.” The participial form of that verb would be trans, and that became a preposition in its own right, meaning “across,” a usage that has become common in English formations. One of the ways we use that preposition is in the words transgender and transexual, denoting or relating to a person whose self-identity does not conform unambiguously to conventional notions of male or female gender. [Read more…]

Coming to Terms with Folk Magic in Mormon History

in the fall of the year 1827 I hear Joseph found a gold bible I take Joseph aside & he says it is true I found it 4 years ago with my stone but only just got it because of the enchantment the old spirit come to me 3 times in the same dream & says dig up the gold but when I take it up the next morning the spirit transfigured himself from a white salamander in the bottom of the hole & struck me 3 times & held the treasure & would not let me have it because I lay it down to cover over the hole when the spirit says do not lay it down

(Extract from the so-called Salamander Letter) [Read more…]

Patriarchal Blessing Lineages


Sometimes here at BCC we do requests. And a reader recently asked us if we could do a post on what patriarchal blessing lineage assignments are supposed to mean. Good question–and I don’t feel confident that I have a handle on an answer. But what I can do is frame the question somewhat and then let our readers flesh things out in the comments. So here we go: [Read more…]

A Feminine Insight to Gethsemane


Today was NT lesson 25 on Gethsemane. There wasn’t much in the way of scriptural text assigned; the whole focus of the lesson was on the prayer in the garden (the parallel texts in Matthew, Mark and Luke were all assigned readings). [Read more…]

Legalization of Polygamy?


One of the common arguments against gay marriage was the slippery slope argument. If we allow gay marriage, the next stop is surely polygamy, to be followed by cats and dogs living together, people marrying their toasters, and so forth. The recent attempt by Nathan Collier of Montana to get a marriage license for a second contemporaneous marriage (inspired by the Roberts dissent in the SCOTUS decision) seems to point to an imminent fulfillment of this fear, that polygamy will follow hot in the steps of gay marriage and become legalized. [Read more…]

Youth Conference


When I was a teenager, Especially for Youth was not even a twinkle in someone’s eye yet. For me the big annual Church event was our stake’s Youth Conference. [Read more…]

A Port in a Storm

Sister Missionaries

Our (nominally Spanish speaking) sister missionaries just came by. (They’ve never been to our house, and although I of course have seen them at Church I’ve never really talked to them before.) I opened the door and welcomed them in, and they got this deer in the headlights look and asked if my wife was home. When I was a missionary that was not a thing, but fortunately for all concerned she was indeed home, just in the other room. [Read more…]

My Little White Lie

So a couple of months ago one of my best friends happened to be in DeKalb, Illinois, the town where we both grew up, and eating at a local Mexican restaurant called Rosita’s. And it occurred to him that there are still a lot of people we went to high school with that are local to the area, and he wondered whether if he sent up a bat signal would people get together for an evening of food, drinks and conversation? So he picked yesterday, Friday May 29th, and shot off the flare, which is to say he posted an open invitation to our high school classmates on our class Facebook page. He even offered to pick up the drink tab. The actual event was last night, and about a dozen of us ended up having a very pleasant evening together. It kind of unwittingly turned into a fascinating social experiment, because that particular set of people probably never would have gotten together while we were actually in high school 39 years ago (our 40th anniversary reunion will be next year). But now which side of town you grew up on or which middle school you went to or which group you hung with didn’t seem to really matter all that much anymore. Just having gone to the same high school together now seemed like an ample stake on which to tether our shared life experiences. [Read more…]

You Missed the Teenagers!

Two vignettes illustrating what is arguably our best shot to keep our youth actively engaged in the faith: [Read more…]

Called to Teach


In my post O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion I mentioned in the comments that I had conveyed the gist of that post (to the effect that the herald of Isaiah 40:9 may have been a woman) to my GD class and that the idea was well received. A commenter then asked the following question:

Thought-provoking post, thanks! It leads me to ask, though, for those of you who are discussing the Divine Council and the gender of heralds during your SS classes, how much do you ever adhere to the GD manual? I’m still trying to get my class situated with basic historical context, but it usually involves major deviation from the stated lesson objectives and I’m starting to question the value spiritually.

I gave a short response in that thread, but I’d like to take a shot at a longer explanation here. [Read more…]

Potemkin Villages #ldsconf


President Uchtdorf (aka the Silver Fox) began his remarks during the Priesthood Session with the following:

[Read more…]

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography


Review of Michael Hicks, The Mormon Tabernacle Choir: A Biography (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2015). 210 pages with Notes and an Index. Part of the Music in American Life series.

Michael has been posting teasers from his book manuscript for many months now, and so when my volume finally arrived in the mail my interest had been fully piqued and I consumed it in just two days. [Read more…]

Sometimes Less Is More


My family moved to DeKalb, Illinois, where I would grow up, when my father got a job at Northern Illinois University as a professor of education. That was in 1965, and I was six about to turn seven. Every year for vacation we would drive to Layton to visit my maternal grandparents and other relatives. [Read more…]

The Power of Personal Stories When Giving Talks


Today was ward conference, and as is typical in ward conference sacrament meeting, we had two speakers: the bishop and the stake president. Both of their talks were excellent, and they both happened to do the same thing in such a way that I thought there was a lesson there for good public speaking that I commented on at the beginning of my Sunday School class. [Read more…]

MHA at 50


The Mormon History Association was founded at a meeting in San Francisco in 1965. For those of you with math skillz, that means that this year (2015) is the 50-year anniversary of the MHA. And to celebrate, Vol. 41 No. 1 (2015) of the Journal of Mormon History is a special issue in honor of the anniversary, guest edited by Spencer Fluhman and Doug Alder. My intention here is to give a brief synopsis of this special issue and then to offer some reflections of my own experience with MHA. [Read more…]

Religion of a Different Color


Review of W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 335 pages, with Notes and an Index. [Read more…]

A Home Teaching Visit

On Sunday afternoon I went to visit a woman I home teach. I went by myself. The guy who had been going with me couldn’t do it anymore. My actual companion isn’t anxious to do it, and the logistics of trying to organize a visit that way make it so it would hardly ever happen, and this woman very much wants and needs to be visited. So a couple of months ago I asked her if she would mind if I just came over myself, and she was perfectly fine with that. She’s 83 years old. At church in the morning she had asked me whether I was still her home teacher (because I had missed January), so I figured, oops, I had better get on it. We arranged a time after church to meet at her home. [Read more…]