BYU Studies is looking for a new senior editor!

BYU Studies is looking for someone with both academic editing and professional marketing or business experience. The job is posted at under staff and administrative jobs, and the job number is 93452:

The senior editor at BYU Studies is committed to publishing impeccable scholarship that is informed by the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. She or he has a creative vision for making the scholarship published in BYU Studies both more relevant to and more accessible to well educated but non-specialist readers. The successful applicant will assist the editor in chief and the editorial director in publishing. They will also possess the ability to manage growth initiatives designed to exponentially increase awareness of BYU Studies content. The senior editor is capable and comfortable discussing scholarship in a variety of disciplines, managing student editors, editing journals, working with digital humanities, and implementing marketing principles. This position requires the candidate to work with students, staff, editorial board members, scholars, contractors, printers, and the media.

Digital prayer roll

Today the church newsroom announced that members are now able to submit names online to be included on the temple prayer rolls. Next week functionality will be added to the Member Tools app to allow members to submit names from it. I remember coming across examples of nineteenth century Saints submitting names to temple prayer rolls by letter and telegram, and it appears that this was in place from the first temple of the Utah era.

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Complicating sermon texts

One of the most important developments in the last fifteen years in the study of Mormon History and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an increase in critical approaches to sources, particularly towards sermons of church leaders. [Read more…]

Review: Blythe’s Terrible Revolution

A number of years ago, I wrote about the church culture of my youth: “I was born in 1976, the same year that President Kimball spoke with some measure of pride in General Conference about the “garden fever” that had infected many of the Saints. The church leaders of this period were raised when the Mormon culture region had primarily an agriculture-based economy (the farm-raised missionary remains legendary). Still, there is clearly more than a fear that the children of Zion be deprived home-canned peaches in President Kimball’s words.” We gardened like champs. We had food storage in case of emergency, but we were more proto-foodies (homemade bread and freezer jam, yes please) than end-time waiters. I remember the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We never did bomb drills at school, though, and we soon saw the fruits of glastnost. When employment brought my family to the Kansas City area in the early-1990s, we made jokes about “the gatherers”—fringe believers drawn to the area, and who were generally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

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A Q&A with the editors of Producing Ancient Scripture

Two of the editors of the recently published Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity fielded some questions about the project. I was a participant in the original seminar from which this project grew. My work ended out going a different direction, but I have been anxiously waiting for this volume ever since. Giddy even, you might say. If you use the coupon “MHA2020” at the linked site, it will save you $10 off the paperback.

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The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow

“Do business properly and orderly as the men so that the history of the same may be handed down to future generations of the daughters of Zion.” – ERS to the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Relief Society, March 3, 1869.

I have spent a lot of time in the documents of the restoration—journals, sermon reports, correspondence, meeting minutes. The things that often get public attention are items such as church leader diaries that document the activities and opinions of themselves and other church leaders. They are important, but there is something I love far more.

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Newly available shorthand transcriptions of nineteenth-century sermon texts

More than a few Latter-day Saints grew up in homes with one complete shelf full with the Journal of Discourses (preference of course for the black and gold volumes over those crappy blue ones). Missionaries through the years have variously been baffled and intrigued by snippets from them. Hardly anyone has actually read anything from them, though I know a couple of non-professionals who have made it through completely.

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Notes on the revised missionary dress standards for elders

Today the church newsroom announced new clothing standards for the missions. On an area-by-area basis missionaries may variously wear blue shirts, and go without the tie. As we are wont to do, let look at how some of this has changed over time.

Here is an advertisement in the February 1900 Young Woman’s Journal. It looks like they are trying to branch out, as missionaries buy less of them.

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Temple Closures and Church Practice

I ate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper in my home with my family, and then again in the home of a friend who is in what we all see as a high risk demographic. We are making arrangements with the ward to have weekly Sunday sermons by ward members available on demand each week, and one interactive adult class by telepresence (for now, rotating through RS, EQ, and SS). The youth will be trying to interact virtually throughout the week. My regularly Book of Mormon discussion group will also shift online. My sense is that this will be the new normal for quite some time. I’m grateful for the hard work of everyone who is trying to find creative ways to meet the needs of our community. Our temple practice is, however, not so easily adjusted.
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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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A Place to Belong

I read A Place to Belong this weekend. I understand why it was written and marketed to women. Not only does it make fiscal sense for the publisher, but the editors were, I believe, correct that the women of the church need this volume. But here is the thing: the men of the church need it more. We need to listen to and internalize the experiences of women and be changed by it.

I am not the same person I was twenty years ago—the year I graduated, got married, and started graduate school. Thankfully. A large part of that change is due to the experiences and relationships that followed because of those events. A large part is also because of people, a number of whom wrote chapters for A Place to Belong, who I have come to know and love. Conversations over meals, sharing and reacting to our writing, and disorientation from trying to see through a foreign perspective.

I’m largely an unfinished project—I’m not unfrequently uncomfortable. But I believe that this is essential to the project. If you are male, pick up a copy of A Place to Belong and read it. And if you can’t empathize with every author, then try to change.

“Unwed Pregnancy” and Agency

In June of 2002, local leaders received a letter from the First Presidency to be read in high priests group, elders quorum, and Relief Society meetings. This document outlined the church’s policy on “Adoption and Unwed Parents.” [n1]
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Review: Brunson’s God and the IRS

I don’t frequently write about the intersection of religion and US taxation, but when I do, I, like a lot of people recently, point to Sam Brunson. There was no surprise when accusations of malfeasance against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints broke, that professionals of all sorts turned to Sam for his reasoned and perspicacious analysis. He is the expert, and last year Cambridge University Press published his monograph.
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A Response to Hales on “Spirit Birth”

I’ve known Brian Hales for a while now. He is a talented and dedicated researcher and author. We both work on history outside of our day jobs, and our interests overlap in a few areas. He is a good guy and I consider him a friend. At a recent conference where as a part of my presentation I had tangentially mentioned Joseph Smith’s documented teaching that God did not create human spirits, Brian and I chatted. He asked why I hadn’t responded to his JMH article arguing that JS actually did teach spirit creation AKA “spirit birth.” I generally don’t like to do this sort of public critique, but he asked and I do think I owe it to him. What follows is fairly long, and somewhat technical response.
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2019 Christmas gift book guide

There were a lot of books published this year. Good ones. But first, not included in this list are Book of Mormon related volumes in anticipation of the new curriculum. For that, see my list from earlier this week, which includes lots of book ideas. If you are in SLC area, swing by Benchmark and support your local bookseller. I hope everyone does indeed have a merry Christmas.
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2020 Book of Mormon supplemental readings

About a month ago I described the group I have met with this year to study the New Testament. Along with a regular Bible reading, we have generally included a chapter or two from Raymond Brown’s An Introduction to the New Testament. I would definitely recommend this volume for anyone doing something similar. It can be a little dense, but it consistently is helpful. As we look forward to next year’s study of the Book of Mormon (and in anticipation of my annual Christmas book list), I have started to think about what, if anything, will match the utility and perspicacity of Brown. I’d appreciate any thoughts and pointers of where to go.
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New Missionary Handbook

Last week, the church announced the publication of a new handbook for missionaries, Missionary Standards for Disciples of Jesus Christ. Gone is the “White Bible” of yore. I kept one in my shirt pocket for my entire mission. I’m not exactly sure why. The new one is too big (and too blue) for that, so that is at least one change. Substantively, though, this is a really great update, and includes skads of advice I want my kids to take to heart. Also the art is pretty good.
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Come Follow Me, A Thank You

I miss three-hour church. I really do. I would switch back in a heartbeat. But I am absolutely grateful for the new Sunday School curriculum. The manuals themselves are essentially forgettable. It is instead the framework of study that has been the blessing. As I see it, there are two overwhelming goods in the curriculum. First is that the lessons are based on large chunks of scriptural text, and not random verses from all over the place. This allows for careful reading (as a side note, read Ben’s recent post on the previous generation of curriculum development). The second is that church leaders encouraged supplemental study groups. Consequently, this is a love letter to my ward.
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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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CORRECTION: Turning our hearts

[Note: This post was written in collaboration with, and is posted by permission of Amy Tanner Thiriot.]

Earlier this month I wrote a post reflecting on Century of Black Mormons and introduced it with a short vignette about Caroline Skeen and John Butler. According to family histories, when they got married in 1831 the Skeens gave the couple two enslaved people as a wedding present. In these histories, the Butlers then freed these two individuals and converted to Mormonism. I used this rupture between generations to highlight how we choose to remember and forget. I was also wrong.
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Turning our hearts: Century of Black Mormons

Some of the first of my relatives to join the church were a couple who lived on the Tennessee-Kentucky border. When they got married in 1831, relatives gave them two enslaved people as a present. Almost immediately and well before they had listened to the missionaries’ message, they released these people. I have taken pride in that. I could imagine that these were the type of people that found resonance with the gospel and moved to Missouri to help establish an egalitarian society, only to be crushed by the political and social reality of the time. I generally have ignored their parents, the enslavers; I’ve excluded them from my story.
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Words of Wisdom, or is it Word of Wisdoms?

There is that perennial argument about the Book of Mormon, which is usually settled by someone eventually stating emphatically that it is “copies of the Book of Mormon.” But the Word of Wisdom is somewhat different, because it is more like variant editions. I think much of the anxious hand-wringing over our dietary constraints would be sidestepped if we acknowledge that there are many Words of Wisdom.
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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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Notes on the history of the one-year wait

Today the First Presidency announced that “[w]here a licensed marriage is not permitted in the temple, or when a temple marriage would cause parents or immediate family members to feel excluded, a civil ceremony followed by a temple sealing is authorized.” [editorial note: see Jared Cooks comment (#2) below] I thought I would share a few notes about the history of the policy that this announcement changed.
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The danger is gone

I’ve written a lot about “female ritual healing” in the last decade–frequently with Kris. I think a lot more people are aware today, than ten years ago, that women in the church regularly anointed the sick and blessed. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has published the once guarded minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, which included examples of women blessing and Joseph’s revelatory approval of the practice. Deseret Book remarkably published that minute even before the JSPP released the document. The Church Historian’s Press has published transcripts of the minutes with notes, along with many other relevant documents from the subsequent decades (The First Fifty Years, even available in the Gospel Library App). The Church History Department has published several essays that deal with the practice, including a Gospel Topics Essay and a Church History Essay. I sense no danger in discussing it. It is a different world than when Kris and I first walked into the old Archives.
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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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If you look at our archives, today is a day when I revisit the liturgies associated with it. This is a post from some years ago, that reads different to me with the death of my father earlier this year.

There are old Eastern folk traditions that anyone who dies during Easter week is immediately ushered to paradise. The formal Orthodox funeral liturgy is in fact dramatically altered for those who die on Easter and before Thomas Sunday. “[L]ittle of the chanting which is ordinarily part of the office is retained. This is out of respect for the greatness and dignity of the resplendent feast of the Resurrection, which is a feast of joy and not lamentation. As we shall all rise in Christ, in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, through this same resurrection of Christ the dead pass from the afflictions of this world to joy and happiness, and the church proclaims this in the hymns of the resurrection.”[n1]
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Sanka and change

Look. I have no insight into what will be discussed in General Conference next week. Licking my finger and testing the wind, I’d say gender topics are likely on the docket. We’ll find out soon enough, regardless. But people are talking about the Word of Wisdom, which I do find interesting. I’ve met more than one church member who feels like the world of their strict upbringing, which proscribed all caffeinated beverages, is now in some way being betrayed by our casual libations. The thing is, though, these childhoods were just as much moments of transition as anything we see today.

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A note on presiding

I was recently reading one locality’s Stake Relief Society minutes of a bygone era, and noticed that, as we do in our weekly ward bulletins today, the various secretaries often noted who presided and who conducted the various meetings. Entirely unsurprisingly, these individuals were women, even if priesthood officers were present. I’ve read a lot of Relief Society minutes, but don’t know that I had ever previously asked myself about this practice. In fact, not having attended Stake Relief Society Conference (except as an occasional workshop presenter), I didn’t know whether this was still the case. A quick check with my wife suggests that it is no longer.
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