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

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…]

The sun arises

After the meeting my son came into the bedroom and picked up the small electric guitar his grandparents had purchased for him. [Read more…]


A number of weeks ago I sat in the dining room of an inn some miles outside of London. The meal was excellent–rabbit and wild mushroom pie, goose fat roasted potatoes, and sticky toffee pudding for desert. I ate with a close friend and associate. It was a perfect evening to have been disrupted by another group of businessmen, one of whom was American; his accent was obvious, but so too the uncanny capacity to speak an order of magnitude louder than is required.
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On perseverance

In a recent conversation about the perseverance extended through the Mormon temple liturgy, I thought it would be helpful to broaden the discussion. In doing so I’m going to quote from my article on adoption, and you will find all the footnotes there. I also recognize that these are issues that have been wrestled with in the 170 years or so since the Saints left Nauvoo, and Church leaders from different generations have interpreted the material differently. I’d like to step back to Joseph Smith, however, and those who built the foundational liturgy.
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Review: JSPP, Histories, Volume 1: Joseph Smith Histories, 1832-1844

Behold, there shall be a record kept among you.

These are words of revelation to which all those interested in the human past muster a resounding amen, Latter-day Saint and non-Mormon alike. The process of heeding that call in the early Church of Christ started and restarted in fits of optimism. Because of the records that were eventually kept, the project of Joseph Smith’s institutional history was ultimately finished, though more than a decade after his death. Most interested observers of Mormonism have approached this history through B.H. Roberts’ edited version, published and republished as the History of the Church (sometimes called the “Documentary History of the Church” in the twentieth-century literature because of its documentary structure). However, there are more histories than one, and more pure.

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Review: The Beginning of Better Days

I am a believing Latter-day Saint, but I generally review books that approach Mormonism from an academic perspective. In turn, I approach them as a scholar. I don’t have the volition to critique works of a devotional nature. However, a forthcoming title from Deseret Book has combined devotion and aspects of Mormon history that are deeply meaningful to me as both a believer and a scholar. In this review I have collapsed those identities.
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Genealogy and temple practice, ca. 1942

A couple months ago, I wrote up a brief post describing and contextualizing modern Mormon temple sealing practice. I recently came across a letter from 1942 describing new policies for temple work, which by today’s standards are still quite restrictive (1). I thought it was interesting as I hadn’t realized the practice of naming family heirs, who were responsible for all temple work for a given convert or convert couple was maintained this late (I still have a lot of work to do on the 20th century).
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Digitization: What you want

Or, where’d you get your information from huh?

Non-Mormon researchers are frequently shocked by things like the total sales of the Joseph Smith Papers Project’s volumes. Comparable papers editions sell frequently in the hundreds, whereas the first Journals volume of the JSPP sold scores of thousands. Now, I realize that the vast majority of those volumes are destined to reside as trophies on Latter-day Saint bookshelves, unread. However Mormons clearly have an interest in history that drives feats of strength that would be absurd to believers in other traditions. Voici, the digitization of published and manuscript (or holograph) materials. Various institutions have, over the last decade, digitized a shocking amount of material, an oeuvre that has, for example, allowed me to research and publish in Mormon history when I otherwise would not have been able.

Inspired by WVS’s recent post, I’d like to evaluate aspects of the various digitization efforts. Basically, I’m Anubis, this is my scale, and I just happen to have the feather of Ma’at. Things that are important:

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Addenda: Female Healing: Lorenzo Snow

In continuing with the series, I would like to discuss a document that relates to Kris’s and my coauthored article, “Female Ritual Healing in Mormonism.” This was a project that took more than half a decade to finish, but as I mentioned at the JI, once you start looking, references are ubiquitous and I have located now well over a hundred additional documents since publishing, which relate to the topic.

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Addenda: Adoption: Complex eternal family

In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight a document relating to my article, “Adoptive Sealing Ritual in Mormonism.” One of the arguments I present in this paper is that Wilford Woodruff’s 1894 revelation on adoptive sealing rituals resulted in “a shift away from micromanaging eternal relationships to a position of aspiration—a belief that a just God will ensure that no blessings are kept from the faithful.” (117) I’m convinced that this 1894 revelation is the single most important contributor to current Mormon beliefs regarding eternal families and the blessings of heaven.

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Addenda: Last rites: Bodies, or an urban/rural disparity

In continuing with my addenda project, I’d like to highlight an advertisement from the 1900 Utah State Gazetteer and Business Directory: (1)

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