Our liturgy of lives and deaths

WP_20130714_016I served a mission in France and Belgium. Though I have seen blessing gowns in the Church History Museum, my family has not made a tradition of the infant’s clothing. At the end of my time, I walked with my parents not far from the Grande Place of Brussels, and they found a white lace dress. It was not meant for me, but death and life sometimes intercede without expectation.

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2013 Christmas gift book guide

I’m a little late in getting this posted. I blame the 4:17 pm sunset time. And look, I wait for three years to have the Doctrine and Covenants as the topic of study, and now we are back to the Hebrew Bible. I guess this is how the rest of you felt last year. Also check out Ben’s fine recap of this year’s crop of Mormon Studies publications.

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Were church leaders “wrong”?

In the short time since the “Race and the Priesthood” section of Gospel Topics was added to lds.org, I have seen various reactions. Some people have asked if church leaders were wrong about the priesthood and temple restriction, then could they possibly be wrong about something significant today? Similarly, I have seen the syllogism rephrased for rhetorical effect: The ban was not wrong. If it were then church leaders could similarly be wrong about something today like [invoke pet topic here].

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Responses to Gospel Inquiries

I think this is a pretty big deal.

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Missionary Work

In a conversation with a friend from my ward, I made some comments regarding the current Missionary Program, based on my limited observations of the general and regional ecclesiastical bureaucracy and things on the ground. I’ll be honest in that I think that the church is struggling existentially with regards to missionary work. Church leaders clearly have the mandate to spread the gospel, but the standard methods are rooted in a culture that doesn’t exist (and hasn’t existed for over a century), at least in the US and many other countries. I think church leaders don’t know what to do (I should add that I certainly don’t, either). So it will be interesting to see how things play out.
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Open Position: MHA Executive Director

* Position Opening *
Mormon History Association
Executive Director/Business Manager

The Mormon History Association is seeking qualified applicants for the independent-contractor position(s) of Executive Director/Business Manager. The position(s) may be best filled by two people, one of whom serves primarily as Business Manager. The Executive Director/Business Manager serve as officers and members of the MHA Board of Directors. The term is for three years, may be renewed, and begins in early 2014.
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Self Reliance: A Response from My Mom

My mom read my post of a couple of days ago and sent this response to me.

Self-Reliance has been a topic for Visiting Teaching off and on for as long as I remember. The last time I was to give a lesson to the two well educated and affluent sisters whom I teach, I took the tack of being emotionally, physically and spiritually self-reliant instead of the garden/food storage track. I, who at the time felt very self-reliant, was quite confident that I could teach this principle very well.
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Self Reliance

I gave a talk similar to this yesterday.

My family left Bellevue twenty-three years ago. I now have a son who attends the same middle school that I did, when I didn’t imagine I would ever return. Every morning we drive up 148th just past my old neighborhood and then turn left on Main. We drive by the Bellevue Stake Center where [our first counselor in our bishopric]’s mom was my primary president and his dad taught me to play the clarinet. If you turn in, you will find that the back lot is bounded by a fence covered in grape vines.
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The Council of Fifty

The recent announcement that the Joseph Smith Papers will be publishing the Nauvoo Council of Fifty Minutes had history nerds celebrating, and everyone else either wondering why the nerds were ecstatic or shrugging. The Council of Fifty is an enigmatic organization, of which we have very limited knowledge and whose minutes have been extant but completely unavailable to researchers. Even in the halcyon day of Camelot no one saw the minutes and as such they remained a sort of holy grail for the disbanded knights and their followers.
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“How do you utilize the priesthood?”

I have been working on Mormon conceptions of authority, power, priesthood, and related ideas for a while. In fact I am currently wrapping up a paper on new ways to look at authority throughout church history. It was consequently with interest that I read comments by the church’s highest female ecclesiastical officers on similar topics.

On April 5, 2013 the Church Newsroom published a transcript of a conversation entitled “Top Mormon Women Leaders Provide Their Insights into Church Leadership.” In this conversation Ruth Todd, a member of the Church’s public affairs teams posed questions to RS General President Linda Burton, YW General President Elaine Dalton, and General Primary President Rosemary Wixom. I’d like to review sections that treat priesthood and draw some tentative conclusions.
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My History

A long time ago, I wrote that one of the grand narratives of Mormonism is discovery, and that knowledge often requires modifications in world-view. I’m not sure that I like the term world-view anymore, but it can be a useful short-hand. I wrote that a world-view could be imagined as a structure that incorporates points or anchors in a three dimensional space. When new points are realized a modification of the structure is sometimes required. At times this modification is simple and expansive, at others it may be violent and painful. [Read more…]

Review: JSPP, Histories, Volume 2: Assigned Histories, 1831-1847

I thought I was an outsider to begin with—fourteen years old. [Read more…]


I would to know when we started this.

I would love to know when we started this.

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

It is the privilege of all Sisters living as they should to administer the ordinances to their Sisters in sickness & the little ones in faith & humility even being careful to give God the Glory.
– Zina D. H. Young, discourse at the first Annual General Relief Society Conference, 1889

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Really old timey

Saint Phoebe, Ancient of Days

Saint Phoebe, Ancient of Days

On March 30, 1842 Joseph Smith addressed the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo. I think that his statements on that day as recorded in the official minutes are among most misunderstood statements of the Restoration:
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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 22, The Word of Wisdom: “A Principle with Promise”

Barley for what?

Barley for what?

The following is some contextual material related to the Word of Wisdom, Doctrine & Covenants 89, Revelation, February 27, 1833. As current Mormons, however, I think that it is worth noting that there are many Words of Wisdom. There is the revelation text, there is the Temple Recommend rule and then there are personal rules by which we live. E.g., the text allows for mild barley drinks, and the Temple recommend rules allow for Diet Coke. I have friends who are vegetarian because of this revelation. The Word of Wisdom is many things and they are not all the same. [UPDATE] Also check out Jed’s article just published at the Church’s Revelations in Context.
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A new reading of the “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood”

Michelangelo's Moses

Michelangelo’s Moses

What follows here is an alternate reading of the “Oath and Covenant of the Priesthood,” viz., D&C 84. I realize that this reading differs from the traditional reading. I think that this is okay, mostly because the traditional reading is different than the contextual reading. Section 84 is based on a revelation delivered on September 22, and 23, 1832, when organizational concepts such as the Aaronic and Melchizedek Priesthoods had not yet been revealed. See WVS’s extended treatment of Section 107 for more on that. I tend to think that the common reading today translates the text into a 1836-era framework of administrative priesthood. The following is a reading based on Joseph Smith’s revelations and cosmology of the Nauvoo-era. Basically it starts as a contextual reading and then shifts to a translation of the text into the Nauvoo-era cosmological priesthood. I’m not saying that this reading should be normative, but I do think it works with from the Nauvoo perspective quite well and is more egalitarian. Your mileage may vary.
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Scouting and Gay Youth in the Church

Today, the BSA’s 1,400 national delegates voted to rescind the ban on openly gay young men from participating in Scouts. According to the resolution, “Any sexual conduct, whether homosexual or heterosexual, by youth of Scouting age is contrary to the virtues of Scouting.” However, the BSA director of public affairs stated in response to a question as to wether the BSA will ask scouts about their sexual activity that “we do not ask now and will not if the resolution passes.” [ibid] The LDS Church released a response to the vote, which indicated the continued sponsorship of LDS Scouting and included the following statement:
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Review: New Perspectives in Mormon Studies

NewPerspI started really paying attention to scholarly approaches to Mormonism after I wrapped up my graduate studies in an unrelated field almost a decade ago. Since that time there have been some fairly radical institutional, demographic, and perhaps methodological shifts. In 2005 a group of scholars—some Mormon, though not all—gathered at BYU for a seminar sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities: “Joseph Smith and the Origins of Mormonism.” This was the year Rough Stone Rolling was published and when a lot more people starting paying attention to Mormonism. The proceedings have been edited and are now published and are heralded as analyzing and contributing to some of the shifts in the field.
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The Church History Library’s digital access

"Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing"

“Is it not a strange fate that we should suffer so much fear and doubt for so small a thing?”

Over the last several years, the Church History Library (CHL) has worked diligently to first make their catalog publically available on the internet, and then to make selections from its holdings similarly available. Last year I reviewed digitization efforts across the various institutions contributing to the field. One small and recent change in the CHL catalogue has made me aware of the significant progress that has been made by the Church History Department in this area.

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Gospel Doctrine Lesson 15: “Seek Ye Earnestly the Best Gifts”

Courtesy J. Kirk Richards http://art.jkirkrichards.com/

Courtesy J. Kirk Richards

“Enthusiasm” is a generally pejorative appellation that both guardians of certain orthodoxies and some historians have used to describe some particularly exciting religious phenomena. Cessationism—the idea that miracles had ceased after the confirmatory witness of the Bible—was standard American orthodoxy when Joseph Smith made his claims of angelic exchange. But angels weren’t necessary to elicit the ire of some conservatives. The populist evangelicals with their camp meetings, their jerking and feinting, shouting and quaking, were often lampooned by the more staid and proper Christians. Shakers spoke in tongues. To be sure, the Book of Mormon was a particularly extravagant rending of God’s parsimonious veil, but its words pushed the boundaries further: the ancient prophets indicted the reader. If miracles have ceased it is because faith has ceased and salvation is lost.

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The opportunity to pray

I will say here that we should give our wives and children the opportunity to pray in the family circle. There are men who think that unless they pray the Lord does not hear the prayer, and they are in the habit of doing all the praying in their families…We should ask our wives and our daughters to pray. Let them do some of the praying in the family…Brethren, do not get the idea that the Lord will not hear your wives and daughters. [n1]

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There are old Eastern folk traditions that anyone who dies during Easter week is immediately ushered to paradise. [Read more…]

“A great disservice to themselves and to their friends”

I subbed for Gospel Doctrine this week and taught lesson 6, which was similar to lesson 5, both on revelation, with long streams of proof texts. Fortunately lesson 6 also had as base texts sections 6, 8, 9. These are the revelations that cover Oliver Cowdery’s interaction with translating the book of Mormon and they are incredibly rich—fortunately more than enough to discuss in the allotted time. We dug into the sections and then reviewed the lesson’s objective of identifying various ways of receiving revelation.
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Revelations in Context (yay)

This morning Ardis broke the news of the Church’s new digital resource for approaching the texts in the Doctrine and Covenants. Revelations in Context, the name alone stirs the soul.
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Antinomianism and the Church

Antinomianism is generally an epithet signaling heresy in the broader Christian community. It has various meanings but the root idea is the proposition that if one is saved by (typically irresistible) grace, then one’s actions cannot be held to any other standard or laws. The caricature is an idea that there aren’t really any rules you need to live by once you are saved to retain that salvation. The simplified orthodox protestant response is that while that may be technically true, if you have been truly saved then you will live according to moral/divine/scriptural/secular law, because that is what saved people do. Or something.
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Doctrine & Covenants in 2013: Introduction

This Sunday begins our quadrennial Gospel Doctrine romp through the Doctrine and Covenants and Mormon History. The contributors here at By Common Consent are committing to provide weekly supplements to the lessons, with context, questions, and discussion for those interested. While we will have regular authors in the series, we will also have various experts join in the schedule. Look forward to the weekly roundup.
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2012 Christmas gift book guide

How about this: I offer some book suggestions for Christmas as usual, and we forget that this Mormon Moment business ever happened.
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Seeing the sites

I had some work in upstate New York and I used some frequent flyer miles to take my eleven year-old son. We stayed the weekend to visit, Niagra Falls, the Church Historic Sites and the Seneca Falls Historic Sites. He is a smart kid and we had a great time.

This is the time of year to do it. [Read more…]

Folk belief

In a recent post I tried to clarify a comment I had made in which I described a particular idea a “wildly popular folk belief” in Mormonism. I think that I need to flesh that clarification out a bit. [Read more…]

A “wildly popular folk belief”

The most recent edition of the Journal of Mormon History contains an article by Brian Hales entitled “’A Continuation of the Seeds’: Joseph Smith and Spirit Birth,” in which he argues that Joseph Smith taught that God and his wife created spirits through a viviparous process. Hales has done a lot of good work in bringing new sources to discussions like polygamy, but I think that this article is fundamentally flawed. I think the best thing to do is wait for W. V. Smith’s magnum opus on JS’s funeral sermons as the standard to which this article should be compared. I will say, however, that I view one of the most important flaws to be Hales’ jettisoning statements of JS’s that were consistently taught over years, and that were foundational and completely integral to his theological message when delivered (see WVS), labeling them instead as prevarications calculated to minimize controversy. Odd.

Here, I would like to discuss a small section of the article which quotes (by permission) some correspondence between Hales and I. [Read more…]