2018 Preach My Gospel edition

This week the church released a new edition of Preach My Gospel. I have a fondness for this document as when it was first released, a young missionary serving in my ward stood up and testified of his gratitude that missionaries were now going to be able to follow the spirit. My wife and I looked at each other and almost in unison said, “That was what was wrong with our missions!”

I haven’t read through the entire new document, but my quick look showed new changes galore. Unsurprisingly, it has been updated with more recent GA quotes. President Oaks’ 2014 sermon on women and the priesthood shows how female priesthood authority is becoming catechismal:
[Read more…]

Defending the Temple and Priesthood Restriction as God’s Will

The idea that church leaders—Church Presidents, who we sustain as Prophets—could be spectacularly wrong and deny millions of people access to the covenant path of the gospel because they were black is terrifying to many of us. We have invested so totally in the bureaucracy of church leadership as to have completely conflated the calling of Church President and role of “prophet,” obliterating any linguistic distinction: “Follow the Prophet, he knows the way!” Confronted with the possibility that such leaders were so catastrophically wrong, we have been willing to invent ideas to save the framework even if it means repeating the errors of our past.
[Read more…]

“No known records exist”: The fallacy of racial restriction origins

In a well-meaning Ensign article commemorating the end of the Mormon Temple and Priesthood restriction against Black people, an unattributed author makes a pernicious claim about the origin of the restriction. I do not think the author was lying. The author was repeating a fallacy that has been growing in circulation for years, but is nevertheless wrong. And if the author was even remotely aware of recent years’ scholarship, then the author is engaging in prevarication.

[Read more…]

Blessings

This past general conference was…fun. Change is generally exciting. Even though our stake still hasn’t reorganized the various Elders’ quorums yet, “Ministering” is on the move. Ecclesiology is fun for me, so as an observer as well as practitioner, I’m having a good time of this. However, perhaps the most interesting bit of conference to me was President Nelson’s concluding remarks at the Priesthood Session on liturgy:
[Read more…]

Review: Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington

Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless doves. Matthew 10:16

I didn’t know Leonard Arrington. I never met him. I have met several of the people who worked with him in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. And among them is one who I consider the dearest of friends. We have had Leonard’s Adventures of a Church Historian, a chatty memoir, and Lavina Fielding Anderson’s biography of the historian years (1972-1982), Doves and Serpents. The latter, Lavina explains in the front-matter, was derived largely from Arrington’s copious journal. [Read more…]

You say you want a revolution (ecclesiology edition)

Both the quorum structures that we have had for many decades and “Priesthood Home Teaching” as we have experienced them were implemented as part of the Priesthood Correlation movement during the 1960s and 1970s. This was the progressive reform movement championed by Harold B. Lee and both the quorum/group structure of the Melchizedek Priesthood and Home Teaching were central pillars to this new church structure. But all living things change.
[Read more…]

Relief Society Birthday

We celebrated Relief Society’s Birthday in our ward yesterday. It isn’t exactly obvious to a lot of people why we would do that. Same with the Restoration of the Aaronic priesthood commemoration, I guess. In an effort to help new members and others contextualize exactly why we were celebrating, I offer the short description below:
[Read more…]

When the General Relief Society President blessed a lonely pregnant woman

I have recently spoken at several events related to the release of my book, The Power of Godliness. I have opened with several different anecdotes that highlight tensions that I hope I resolve in my work. One of my favorite stories is that of a pregnant woman who received a blessing from a prominent Relief Society leader; a story that also opens my chapter on healing and authority (ch 4). I’d like to describe the processes of reconstructing that story.

[Read more…]

Liturgy, authority, and gender: Wasatch events the week of Feb 19

Next week I’ll be in Utah and in conjunction with the release of The Power of Godliness, with Oxford University Press, I’ll be participating in three public events hosted along the Wasatch Front. Come join us. Each event will cover different material in a different format, and each of the events is being sponsored by excellent groups that support Mormon scholarship.

First the publisher’s blurb:

The Power of Godliness is a key work to understand Mormon conceptions of priesthood, authority, and gender. With in-depth research and never previously used documents, Jonathan Stapley explores the rituals of ordination, temple “sealings,” baby blessings, healing, and cunning-folk traditions. In doing so, he demonstrates that Mormon liturgy includes a much larger and more complex set of ritualized acts of worship than the specific rites of initiation, instruction, and sealing that take place within the temple walls.

[Read more…]

Saints

An accessible history, written for a general audience yet informed by the best critical scholarship. Stories of the Saints simultaneously translated into dozens of languages, and incorporating the voices of women and men. Not shying away from difficult issues, “root beer” notwithstanding, Saints will be published serially in the Ensign/Liahona and in four contiguous volumes.
[Read more…]

Q&A with Foundational Texts of Mormonism editors

In the next couple of months Oxford University Press is publishing Foundational Texts of Mormonism. An important edited volume for any scholarship on Mormon history, the volume has chapters from folks like Richard Bushman, and Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and BCC regular Bill Smith. The editors have kindly answered a few questions about the project for us. Also, OUP’s annual holiday sale extends into mid-January. They are offering 50% off many books, including Foundational Texts of Mormonism. Enter the code HOLIDAY17 to preorder this book for half price ($74.00 >> $37.00). This offer ends January 12, so if you want this book in your library now is the time to order.

[Read more…]

Who’ll Be a Witness for My Lord?

This week the Church announced changes to the proxy-baptism liturgy, one of which I’d like to focus on: witnesses. Before last week, the baptismal liturgy included two Melchizedek priesthood officers standing by, observing, and certifying that the ritual was performed in accordance to the prescribed form. The introduction of formal witnesses to the liturgy is unclear, but my sense is that is related to Joseph Smith’s letters (now canonized in D&C 127 and 128): [Read more…]

2017 Christmas Gift Book Guide

Well, despite Relief Society and Priesthood moving to GenCon talks for three out of four weeks, we can collectively appreciate that they have resisted the impulse towards entirely topic-based lessons for Sunday School. 2018 is time for the Hebrew Bible, or at least topical lessons at least tangentially related to the Hebrew Bible. Fortunately, there is a lot more to read than the Sunday School lesson manual. [Read more…]

The William Clayton Diaries?

Yesterday, the good folks at the LDS Church History Library announced that the Church Historian’s Press would be publishing the William Clayton diaries. Mormon History Nerds united in celebratory meme-making. I imagine that most Mormons when faced with this news would likely shrug. The news of new Missionary interview questions and smartphone proselytizing has way more traction. I dusted off the appendix I included in my review of Joseph Smith Papers, Journals, Volume 2 (and yes having a review appendix is absurd, but I still think it was a solid review), and have updated it with info from the intervening half decade.
[Read more…]

JSPP, Documents, Volume 6: Initial Thoughts

I got a copy of D6 this weekend, and burned through it. Basically a solid reading of all the intros, careful readings of all the minutes, and documents not in the JS Letterbooks, and skimming everything else.  Special emphasis on the sermons.  And honestly superlatives fail.
  [Read more…]

Nauvoo era(ish) succession

A friend asked me about succession after the Gospel Doctrine lesson and wondered if I could help find more detail about what was going on. So just thinking about the immediate years after JS’s death I responded as follows:

When JS died it was not obvious who would run the church. It was not something that was provided for in the Doctrine and Covenants, for example. It was pretty clear that JS wanted Hyrum, and then Samuel Smith to lead the church after him, but Hyrum died with JS, and Samuel died soon after.

The main “factions” were:
[Read more…]

Plans of Salvation

It seems like everyone is familiar with those diagrams with various circles that explain Mormon cosmology, and which outline the progression of the human soul through eternity (do an image search for “plan of salvation” for some beauties). I thought it would be fun to sketch out the Plans of Salvation for various sources.
[Read more…]

Lesson 18: “Establish … a House of God” #DandC2017

Sorry this is a little late.
[Read more…]

Lesson 15: “Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts” #DandC2017

Purpose
To help class members identify gifts of the Spirit, seek to obtain them, and use them to serve others. [grin]

The early Restoration, anchored by the Book of Mormon, was essentially an anti-cessationist protest. Moroni is archetypal, but not anomalous. Not only does he riff on Paul’s litany of spiritual gifts, he goes on to say that if miracles have ceased and angels aren’t around, it is because people have lost faith in Christ, and it is there had been no redemption. I don’t want to spoil my book, but next time you read the Book of Mormon, take note of what it says about the Power of God. [Read more…]

Lesson 13: “This Generation Shall Have My Word through You” #DandC2017

Goal: “To help class members appreciate the Prophet Joseph Smith’s role in bringing forth the word of the Lord in this dispensation.” The Lesson has two main emphases: translation and the story behind the Book of Commandments. Both are interesting. Let’s start with translation.
[Read more…]

175 Years of Relief Society

Lesson 11: “The Field Is White Already to Harvest” #DandC2017

This lesson includes a slew of sections—all pretty similar. And some we may be quite familiar with. Let’s take for example Section 4. I understand that many mission presidents ask that their missionaries to memorize it. Here is a fundamental question:
[Read more…]

Lesson 10: “This Is My Voice unto All” #DandC2017

All right. This is a really fun one. The primary text is the revelation to Emma Smith calling her an “Elect Lady.” Let’s dig in.
[Read more…]

Review: At the Pulpit

A proposition: As women have composed the majority of church members, we cannot comprehend the church without accounting for the voices and experiences of women.
[Read more…]

The Restoration

I delivered something similar to this to my ward a couple of weeks ago.

Some years ago I took [my son] with me while working in upstate New York. We visited Seneca Falls, Fayette, and Palmyra. I was delighted that some of the history nerdiness that saturates our household had permeated him as demonstrated by his cheerful responses to the missionaries and his piercing questions. I keep my favorite memory of those days from the Grandin printing office. After walking through the exhibits demonstrating the publication methods of the Book of Mormon, the missionaries directed us to a hanging copy of “Moroni’s Promise.” One sister earnestly explained it to [my son] and asked if he had ever followed its exhortation. “No,” he responded, and the missionary’s eyes flashed with the opportunity. “I don’t need to.” And I leaned over and whispered that I didn’t either. I was grateful at that moment that my son had learned that there is more than one story associated with that scripture.
[Read more…]

Lesson 8: The Restoration of the Priesthood #DandC2017

The restoration of the priesthood can be somewhat difficult to approach because there have been so many layers of re-reading. For example, we often say that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood and later Peter, James, and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood. The thing is, those terms and their meanings didn’t exist for another five or six years after the events occurred.
[Read more…]

Lesson 7: “The First Principles and Ordinances of the Gospel” #DandC2017

We believe that through the atonement of Christ all mankind may be saved by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel. We believe that these ordinances are 1st, Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; 2d, Repentance; 3d, Baptism by immersion for the remission of sins; 4th, Laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost.

– Joseph Smith, the Wentworth Letter, 1842

[Read more…]

Lesson 5: “This Is the Spirit of Revelation” #DandC2017

This is a really interesting set of revelations we have to discuss. They are primarily the responses to Oliver Cowdery’s efforts to help translate the Book of Mormon (D&C 6, 8, and 9). The lesson manual includes a link to a helpful write-up on “Oliver Cowdery’s Gift” from Revelations in Context. There are a lot of things to talk about here, but I’d like to focus on one particular narrative.
[Read more…]

Lesson 2: “Behold, I Am Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World” #DandC2017

At the dawn of the restoration, there were three primary views of the Atonement that swirled around Joseph Smith’s family and other early Mormon believers. [Read more…]

Lesson 1: Introduction to the Doctrine and Covenants #DandC2017

I don’t feel educated enough to truly appreciate the Hebrew Bible. The New Testament is probably the most poignant scripture for me.  It calls me to a deep and severe repentance, while filling me with hope.  The Book of Mormon gives me Alma 7, what I believe is Mormonism’s greatest gift to Christianity—an empathetic atonement.  It is a powerful call to Christ.  But, the Doctrine and Covenants is the door to something wholly different—an exploration of the mechanics of religion and its making. Because we have so many of the documents and so much of the context within reach, we can truly witness the restoration. On the one hand it is a book of revelation texts with little if any context or story.  On the other it is an invitation to find it.  It takes work, but there has never been in the history of the Restoration a better time to do this work.  This process makes simple stories complicated, but it consequently makes them more real.

[Read more…]