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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Thursday

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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NT Translation and Mormon-bait

I’ve been reading Hart’s recent translation of the New Testament this year, and have found it really quite illuminating. He concludes his volume with a “Scientific Postscript on Translation” that explains some of his more non-traditional renderings. Frankly, it seems like it is Mormon-bait, though it clearly isn’t. Hart generally renders things literally, and happily sloughs off post-Augustinian (and really, post-Reformation) theological tropes. The scholarly shade he casts is fun to read, even if it is tempered by his affiliation (he is Eastern Orthodox). I thought I would share some of my thoughts on the intersection of his translation and our tradition, with the caveat that I have no particular expertise in ancient languages or biblical criticism.
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Notes on the history of missionary correspondence

I decided to look through some of the old missionary handbooks in my library to see if there were any antecedents to the no-phone-home policy that I experienced as a missionary. Beyond a few interesting bits that I had overlooked in the past (missionaries in the 1920s were required to have eight hours of missionary work a day, starting at 9:00 am), there was some material that is relevant, albeit far from comprehensive.
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Research is not the answer?

In the past couple of weeks the Church News reported on two different and prominent instances of church leaders teaching that researching church history is not the solution to questions about church history. My first thought after seeing the second was “retrenchment,” to invoke sociologist Armand Mauss’s piercing analysis. And as a researcher in church history, I must say I felt a twinge of disappointment. It may be that my impulse is correct, but after some reflection, it seems to me that there is more going on.
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Book of Mormon Geography

Recently the good folks at lds.org have been updating the “Gospel Topics” section, as well as rolling out a slew of “Church History Topics” in conjunction with Saints. The latter has some really remarkable content (see, for example, the entry on “Masonry“). Today, however, I wanted to share some historical bits relating to the new gospel topics entry on “Book of Mormon Geography” that people have been chatting about on the internets.
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Do ordinances change? Part 2

On June 11, 1843 Joseph Smith preached a sermon at the Temple stand in Nauvoo. From the History of the Church version of his words, we have the pithy phrase that “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed.” [n1] This was included in the Teachings of the President manual a couple years back, and I’ve seen a few folks wave this about lately to show how the church is bull crap, neener, neener, neener. [Deep breath]
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Do ordinances change?

Yes, the short answer is yes. But there is a lot to say beyond that. In the last week I have seen a few people point to statements by various church leaders that ordinances [n1] are unchanged from the foundation of the world (insinuating that older ways of doing things are perhaps superior–fundilicious). The thing is, these are the same church leaders that presided over some of the largest changes in our ordinances. Anyway, here is a brief summary of some of the major shifts in just the first five ordinances revealed in the Restoration. Other liturgies experienced perhaps larger changes, but that isn’t the point. All but the last ritual below find anchoring in Moroni’s ecclesiastical and liturgical missives. They are introduced to the church with Joseph Smith’s Articles and Covenants (D&C 20) by way of Oliver Cowdery’s Articles of the Church of Christ.
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Age Changes for Youth Progression and Ordination

This morning The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints sent a digital letter to church members and leaders announcing changes in the advancement of youth through the ecclesiastical and ministry structures of the church. Before this announcement, children and youth graduated from Primary (the children’s ministry program) and their respective classes (young women) and ecclesiastical quorums (young men) on their twelfth, fourteenth, and sixteenth birthdays. Today’s announcement indicates that beginning in January 2019, youth will now graduate and advance through their organizations as cohorts at the new year, similar to a school class (you don’t go from sophomore to junior on your birthday). Moreover eleven-year-olds will begin to receive temple recommends for proxy baptisms in January as part of their advancements.
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“Matron” and other ecclesiastical offices held by women

A couple of weeks ago I received an email with a question from an individual living in Italy. She had observed that “temple matron” had been rendered quite differently between languages, and she wondered what the history of that term was. She was quite correct, and the history is interesting.
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