A Quick Query About the Proclamation on the Family

Today, at an early morning priesthood training meeting, our stake president made reference to the Proclamation on the Family, particularly the following brief section:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

He referenced this while telling a story–which I’m pretty certain, on the basis of a couple of details he mentioned, wasn’t entirely apocryphal–about a family where the husband, insisting to his wife that they need to be “equal partners,” pushed and pushed her to apply for a better-paying job that she didn’t really want. Our SP described this as a complete misreading of the Proclamation. Which got me thinking about how he understood the “individual adaptation” part of this passage as well. [Read more…]

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describes it, “by returning to the common Tradition, by learning to read the Fathers as living masters, rather than as historical documents…[we] deepen [our] understanding of the authority by which the Church grounds her faith and morals.”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…]

Just Read This Right Now

A Honduran asylum seeker, recently released from federal detention with fellow immigrants, holds the hand of her 6-year-old daughter at a bus depot in McAllen, Texas, on June 11, 2019.Christ in the Camps,” by Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic:

“I humbly reach out to the only faction of Americans I know of who have both the ear of the administration and who care about children: my brothers and sisters in Christ who attend Evangelical churches….I ask the pastors to request of the administration that all of us–the volunteers and charitable givers of all faiths and of no faith, the army of us who are so eager to help these children–can have access to the sites. Allow us to bring cots and toothbrushes and blankets and food. Allow us to arrange for carefully screened volunteers to work shifts at the sites, to help with diapers and bedtimes and combing for lice and checking for fevers. Allow us to be there when one of these children wakes up from a nightmare or breaks down from sorrow.”

As they used to say back when blogging actually worked, read the whole thing.

On Not Going to Girls Camp

For ten years, I was this guy: the goofball priesthood leader who volunteered for Girls Camp. I promised myself and others that I’d go as long as I had daughters going to camp; since college professors don’t work much during the summer, and since the stake was always scrambling to find a few men who were able and willing to spend a whole week playing water-carrier, blessing-giver, tent-erector, and general rented-mule for over a hundred young women, it worked out well. But times change and leadership changes, and this summer, though two of our daughters are leaving tomorrow morning (one for her fourth and final year, one for her second), I won’t be going with them to spray hornets, lead hikes, play lifeguard, or contribute to some ridiculous skit at their side. Instead, since this year’s camp is taking place rather close to our city of Wichita, each ward was asked to send multiple individuals one day at a time to get a brief Girls Camp experience, and I wasn’t one our bishop picked. I kind of miss it already. [Read more…]

Michael Austin’s Enemies, and What He Says About Them

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Michael Austin (who, for the record, is an old and close friend) does not fit most people’s stereotype of a “patriot,” the sort of person would would proudly fly an American flag and attend parades on Memorial Day. After all, he’s an academic, a cosmopolitan, a liberal Democrat, a scholar of 17th-century English rhetoric, Mormon environmentalism, world literature, and the book of Job; when he wrote an earlier book about the Founding Fathers, it was entirely about how right-wing patriots completely misunderstand them. So it would be easy to assume that Michael’s attachment to the idea of “America” would be distant, contextual, and intellectual at best.

That assumption would be wrong–or mostly wrong, anyway. You’d very likely be correct about the flag and the parades. But Michael’s latest book, We Must Not Be Enemies: Restoring America’s Civic Tradition, makes it clear that his attachment to–indeed, his “belief” in–the civic idea of America is both serious and strong. As long as I’ve known the man, it surprised me to see in these pages so much genuine passion and concern over the direction of the United States at the present moment. When he takes a line from the famous closing paragraph of Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address–“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies”–as his title, he really means it: he really believes that America’s liberal democracy both provides a vital opportunity for, and levies upon us all a specific demand for, friendship. That friendship is, in his view, essential to America’s “civic tradition”; democratic legitimacy in the American state–to say nothing of good government–is impossible without it. [Read more…]

“O Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?” #BCCSundaySchool2019

The Come Follow Me manual’s resources for the week of Easter include no set reading from the New Testament. Instead, there is a broad range of scriptures referenced–mostly from Matthew, but also from Luke, John, and 1 Peter–all dealing with Jesus’s resurrection, and how the story of the resurrection, and the story of the week preceding it, are emblematic of Jesus’s power to help us overcome trials and weaknesses and sins, and even death itself. This is, of course, a vital message; one that is captured in the exultation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” [Read more…]

“We Are Responsible for Our Own Learning” #BCCSundaySchool2019

It’s a new year, and with the new year comes a whole new approach to Sunday School in the LDS Church. I’ve given the manuals–excuse me, the “resources” or “materials”–which the church has provided a part of the “Come, Follow Me” program some thought, and as I approach this first week, which fundamentally is all about “encourag[ing] class members to learn from the scriptures on their own and with their families,” as our ward’s Sunday School president, I have a couple of thoughts.

1) The sow’s ear

To begin, let’s be frank: the actual scriptural material included in the new approved Sunday School resources is thin to the point of non-existence, and pretty terrible overall. I don’t consider myself a true scriptorian (though I was fortunate enough to have been taught by a few), but I’m hardly alone–especially here, among the readership of By Common Consent–to have felt great frustration over the years at the overly simplistic and much-too-short scriptural guides produced by the church for its Sunday School classes. [Read more…]

Five Silent Nights (Plus One)

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Probably just about right now (or if not now, then within the next few hours), in Oberndorf, Austria, at Central European Standard time, many are or will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the very first time “Stille Nacht” was ever performed. The lyrics had been written a couple of years earlier by Father Joseph Mohr, while the music was composed by Franz Xaver Gruber, an organist and schoolmaster in a nearby village, for the Christmas Eve services Mohr would be conducting on December 24, 1818. Legend has it the organ was broken, and so Mohr asked for the composition to be for two solo voices, with guitar accompaniment, but the truth of that story is unknown. What is known is that John Denver was right–this song has become, very simply, “the most beloved of all Christmas carols.” Here are five versions that matter a great deal to me.

[Read more…]

Thoughts on the Evolution of Mormon Political Engagement

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University put up on their website today a forum in which different scholars were invited to opine on “The Evolution of Mormon Political Engagement.” It includes contributions from Kathleen Flake, Nate Oman, Patrick Mason, Gregory Prince, Luke Perry, and myself. I’m including below the fold my original, pre-edited piece for the Berkley Center; hopefully it will encourage readers to check out all of the contributions. As the election season comes upon us once again, while the “Mormon Moment” may be over (for now), the question of how we American Mormons think and act politically remains as interesting as ever. [Read more…]

Nature, Wisdom, Spirit, Mother

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This is an expanded and re-written version of a Mother’s Day sermon I gave in church last week, on May 13, 2018. PLEASE SEE THE NOTE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

I’m pretty certain that ever since I became old enough to wonder about matters theological, I hadn’t been all that enthused by the Mormon idea of Mother in Heaven. The Christian message which consistently spoke (and still speaks) most strongly to me was Pauline, Augustinian, and Lutheran; I took (and still take) seriously the omniscience and omnipresence of God presented through the Biblical tradition, and saw His relationship with us as profoundly grace-centered and not at all humanist. This left little room in my thinking for the discourse about Heavenly Mother that I was most familiar with, which seemed rooted in deeply literal and humanist presumptions about God’s identity, sexuality, and relationships. “In the heav’ns are parents single?/ No, the thought makes reason stare! / Truth is reason; truth eternal / Tells me I’ve a mother there“–to a great many of my fellow Mormons, for many years, the claim made in this old hymn seems both persuasive and obvious. But it wasn’t for me.

I write all that in the past tense, though, because not too long ago I read an essay which made me realize that maybe, just maybe, I’ve actually been thinking about, and perhaps even worshiping, Mother in Heaven all along. But let me work around to that. [Read more…]

The Three Trees: A Folk Tale for Good Friday

three trees[It has been five years since I last shared this story. Fortunately, like the whole story of Easter weekend itself, it never gets old.]

Once upon a time, three trees stood in a forest high on a mountain, dreaming of what they might become one day.

[Read more…]

Which City?

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 [NRSV])

All we wanderers, all we watchers, have been called: called to live in a city God has prepared for us. And moreover, at least according to some interpretations of scripture, we have been called to do more than that: we have been called to help build that city. But which city is it? [Read more…]

On Stumbling Blocks and Being Strong (Sometimes)

On Sunday, was reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and these verses jumped out at me:

Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another, but resolve instead never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of another. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. Do not let what you eat cause the ruin of one for whom Christ died….

Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble….

We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor. (Romans 14:13-15, 19-21; 15:1-2 [NRSV]) [Read more…]

The Joyful, and Mournful, Journey of Lent

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

This year my employer, Friends University, a non-denomination Christian liberal arts college in Wichita, KS, decided to develop, in conjunction with our regular chapel observances, a calendar of Lenten devotionals, and they asked for students, faculty, staff, and others to contribute. Some of those who contributed were Roman Catholic or from other high church Protestant traditions, and thus the language and rituals of Lent were familiar to them. For Mormons like me, obviously, that isn’t the case. Still, this is my contribution; hopefully it fits the spirit of the occasion well. [Read more…]

Thoughts on Friendship

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Friendship is one of the grand fundamental principles of ‘Mormonism’; [it is designed] to revolutionize and civilize the world, and cause wars and contentions to cease and men to become friends and brothers….Friendship is like Brother [Theodore] Turley in his blacksmith shop welding iron to iron; it unites the human family with its happy influence.

Or so Joseph Smith was recorded as saying on July 23, 1843. To my mind, it’s heavy doctrine–and the fact that I take his claims about friendship so seriously has been on my mind lately, for a variety of reasons. [Read more…]

“President Eyring and President Nelson expressed their appreciation to the president for the efforts by his administration to protect the religious freedom of non-Muslims.”

I may have edited the Church News blurb slightly. Feel free to correct as warranted.

Sure He’s Heavy, But Still: He’s My Brother


Hey everyone! No, no, calm down, it’s just me, your Uncle Russell. Don’t freak out; here, let me close the window behind me. Is everyone here? Great!

Now, I know your mom and dad are out, and you’re planning a special surprise party for Daniel’s 50th birthday when they return–what do you mean, how do I know? Well, I’m the author here so, duh: I’m omniscient. No, that does not mean I’ve been spying on you. Please, put down your phones. Look, I just figured this would be a good time to let you in on some secrets about your dad. [Read more…]

Mormon Scholars Take Their Brief Against Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court

This is a follow-up to a post from four months back, but we Never-Trump Mormons are a persistent bunch. (As a reader of BCC, perhaps you have noticed.) The Trump administration’s proposed travel ban–which many of us (including the three BCC-permabloggers who are co-signers of the linked amici curiae brief) believe demonstrates real discriminatory intent based on religion–will have its day before the Supreme Court this October, and when it does, a thoughtful and thoroughly Mormon argument about the dangers of religious discrimination, filed today, will be considered alongside all the other legal arguments. You can read the full brief here. This version of the brief was prepared by Nate Oman, whom Bloggernaclers need no introduction to, and Anna-Rose Mathieson, who represented the signing scholars before the Supreme Court and whom we really ought to invite to guest-blog with us here. Keep up the good fight, everyone; we are.

Trump, Scouting, my Dad, and Me

[Cross-posted to In Media Res]

I don’t know why this makes me so angry, but it does.

Maybe anger’s not the right word; I’m not angry, I don’t think. (I rarely get angry; not in my make-up, I suppose.) But I am annoyed, chagrined, bothered, upset, pissed off. And I suppose I know why too, though it’s not easy to pull it all together. [Read more…]

Amici Curiae Brief by Scholars of Mormonism Opposed to Trump’s Refugee and Immigrant Ban

There has been much commentary on President Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration and refugees in the Bloggernacle; now, that commentary–or, rather, an expertly distilled legal expression of it–has made it’s way into the courts. Today, a group of 19 scholars of Mormon history have filed a brief attacking Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from six Muslim countries in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The primary author of this brief is Nate Oman, one of the Ancient of Days in the Mormon blogging world, and a writer whose skill and insight is known to many here. Among those scholars who put their name to the brief are Michael Austin, Claudia and Richard Bushman, Kathryn Daynes, Kathleen Flake, Terryl Givens, Ardis Parshall, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and more. Read the press release announcing the filing of the brief here; feel free to read the brief, ask questions about it, and engage in the sort of argument, debate, and grammatical nitpicking for which the Bloggernacle is famous for below. (Never Trump lives!)

Last Christmas

last-christmas Last Christmas–the Christmas of 2015–was my father’s last, though there was no way any of us could have known that would be case at the time. There are probably dozens of people reading this post who could say the same. And there are many hundreds of thousands, millions actually, who can say that every Christmastime–if not about a father, then about a mother, a daughter, a son, a husband, a wife, a niece, a nephew, a old and oft-remembered teacher, or a distant and mostly-but-never-quite-entirely-forgotten friend. All these endings, all these lasts. It can really make one stop and think. [Read more…]

What I Learned from the Old Testament

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Recently a friend of mine shared a story with several of us about how he, while on vacation and with some spare time on his hands, decided to re-read some parts of the Old Testament. His strongest impression of what he read, he said, was that these were the records of a people struggling to understand what it means to no longer be God’s chosen people–or, if they were still chosen, why being chosen did not protect them from being defeated, occupied, and driven into exile, their temple desecrated and their community destroyed. He commended a reading of the Old Testament to us all, saying that it would remind us of the importance of humility, and endurance, and maintaining faith and hope even while our assumptions about the world all around us are being shattered.

(Please, no 2016 elections jokes. I’ve heard enough already. Besides, my friend is a Republican.) [Read more…]

“For We Are Here, But Little Time to Stay”

Yes, it’s been an awful year for many of us, my own family at least partly included. But, thankfully, only partly. We still have many blessings. We have each other, we still have our jobs, we still have our extended family and friends, we still have–we think, we hope, we pray–a loving God who mourns the awfulness that we endure and sometimes, just sometimes, “appoint[s] unto them that mourn in Zion…beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3). No planting lasts forever, of course–but for the moment, it’s an experience worth being grateful for. So happy Thanksgiving Day, everyone. Remember to count your blessings, one by one by one.

Spare the Rod

Remember thy congregation, which thou hast purchased of old; the rod of thine inheritance, which thou hast redeemed; this mount Zion, wherein thou hast dwelt.
–Psalm 74:2 (KJV)

At 7am on a Monday morning, I talked with Death on a mountain. [Read more…]

Dear Mormon Voters of the American West: Maybe You’re the White Horse We’ve Been Waiting For

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Just forget about the White Horse Prophecy. It’s a fun bit of Mormon folklore, but like most folklore it’s fictitious nonsense. More important is the fact that–again, like most folklore–this fictitious nonsense is revealing of, and gives us American Mormons reason to remember, what was at one time a widely shared assumption among Mormon leaders: specifically that, as Brigham Young (and John Taylor, and Harold B. Lee, and multiple others) reportedly said, “if the Constitution of the United States is to be saved at all it must be done by this people” (see, for example, Journal of Discourses 12:204, April 8, 1868).

That’s not a reference to an LDS President of the United States–not a Romney, not a Huntsman, not a Hatch, despite the weird interpretations inspired by the aforementioned ersatz prophecy. It’s not a reference to any particular person at all. Rather, that’s a reference of the Mormon people. Many of whom will be eligible to vote this November. And maybe that is where this old teaching will unexpectedly come into its own as truth. [Read more…]

Invisible Church, Immanent Community

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

In the liturgical calendar of the Christian tradition, today is Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, a day to commemorate a marvelous, mostly invisible miracle. As the story goes, the resurrected Lord had left His disciples 10 days earlier; as Ronan Head put it in a fine post just a week and a half ago, “Jesus was, in some profound way, with God and not, in bodily form at least, any longer on the earth.” But the disciples continued to meet has they had been commanded, and on Shavuot, as thousands of Jews from parts both far and near gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks, the miracle occurred. As the King James Version puts it (Acts 2:2-4):

And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting.

And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them.

And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. [Read more…]

The Passing of a Senator

bennettSenator Bob Bennett, a three-term Republican senator from Utah, passed away Wednesday evening. I never met him, and never particularly cared for his political views. But my wish to bow my head, offer condolences to his family, and wish his soul godspeed at this time isn’t simply a consequence of the vague imperative we all so often feel to speak well of the departed. The plain fact of the matter is that Bob Bennett in so many ways very clearly embodied the classic ideal of a “senator” (the original meaning of which being, quite simply, “wise old man”), and that is a thing worth high praise. [Read more…]

What Matters Endures

I’m not much of a temple guy myself, but when my tribe takes a building that was so much a part of the civil and religious topography a particular, historically meaningful place, accepts what was lost, and then rebuilds…well, it makes me happy. I see they kept the staircases, and I see Mt. Timpanogos in the Telestial Room, and it makes me happier still. Despite all that is worth complaining about, I look at this and I say: this is a good day. The Tabernacle is still there, and in a small but real way, that matters.

A Year of Hard Love

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

I’ve joked for years about being a closet Lutheran–joked about it for so long, in fact, I can’t remember when I first started doing it. I know it wasn’t because one day I read and found myself converted to the Lutheran Book of Concord or any such thing (though over the decades I have read and found myself agreeing with its contents a whole lot more than I disagree). It may go way back t my childhood, back to reading scriptures like Matthew 18:7, in the King James Version: “Woe unto the world because of offences! for it must needs be that offences come; but woe to that man by whom the offence cometh!” (A nearly identical passage can be found in Luke 17:1.) There was a terrible, yet comforting, logic to those passages as I understood them, so long ago: first, that this will be world of offenses, of horrors, of hardness, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it–and second, that God will still hold by whom those offenses, those horrors, that hardness comes accountable. This was a God, I thought, with whom you can know where you stand. [Read more…]

Ten Psalms to Remember

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Last week, continuing my slow journey through the Old Testament, I finished the Book of Psalms, aided as always by the work of Robert Alter. It was a strange, often difficult and boring, but sometimes surprising and even inspiring. If reading poetry isn’t something you normally do–and I don’t–then I suspect going straight through the entire Book of Psalms and confronting its mish-mash collection of 150 ancient works of temple liturgy, private devotion, celebratory hymns, and meditative practice isn’t an ideal beginning spot. [Read more…]