Reviews in Brief: The Mormoness and Mormonism and American Politics

Just because these reviews are brief and the books are small, don’t take that to mean that they aren’t weighty or worth your time. There is a lot packed into these two microtomes. [Read more…]

The Least Degree of Allowance

BYU held its first ever Rape Awareness conference this week. At the conference, representatives of BYU’s administration spoke regarding the role of the Honor Code Office with respect to both sexual offenders and victims. In the event of a report of sexual assault, the BYU police department reviews the report and then may provide that report to the Honor Code Office, depending in part upon the activities of the survivor in the event. BYU representatives reportedly made it clear that the Honor Code remains a primary rule of conduct at the university, and “we do not apologize for that.”

If this recounting is accurate, when victims of sexual violence at BYU report their attack, they potentially put their academic future at risk. If you’ve been raped while in your boyfriend’s bedroom, you’re in trouble. If you were drinking at a party and were raped, you’re in trouble. If you were fondling a partner who then raped you, you’re in trouble. There are many more Honor Code rules which may apply. The trouble is both ecclesiastical and academic. The Honor Code Office will report to and coordinate with the bishop of the student. A woman who has been sexually assaulted may find herself penalized, suspended, even expelled for the circumstances of her attack.
[Read more…]

Belgian Theodicy

God rarely infringes on the agency of any of His children by intervening against some for the relief of others. But He does ease the burdens of our afflictions and strengthen us to bear them, as He did for Alma’s people in the land of Helam (see Mosiah 24:13–15). He does not prevent all disasters, but He does answer our prayers to turn them aside, as He did with the uniquely powerful cyclone that threatened to prevent the dedication of the temple in Fiji; or He does blunt their effects, as He did with the terrorist bombing that took so many lives in the Brussels airport but only injured our four missionaries.

-Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Opposition In All Things, April 2016 General Conference [Read more…]

Oscarson: Do I Believe? #ldsconf

President Oscarson has been the Young Women’s president since 2013, and is the first female member of the Church’s Missionary Executive Council. While she was born in Utah, she has lived outside of the state for many years (notably in Sweden, Missouri, and Texas). She returned to school 35 years after her initial studies to finish her degree. President Oscarson brings a good deal of experience to the table. As YW president, she has been immensely concerned with the activity level of our youth and the statistically increasing drop off of teens as they transition to adulthood within the Church. Her view is that the influence of the “great and spacious building” is the greatest challenge our youth face today. President Oscarson is intensely focused on retaining those youth despite that influence; she rightfully notes that “To believe, we need to get the gospel from our heads into our hearts!” How, then, do we go from that state of complacent ‘knowledge’ of what is right towards an active, believing heart? [Read more…]

How I feel about #ldsconf

Some random thoughts as I get ready for Conference. It’s not that what comes out of Conference is unimportant; it is important. From the authorities of the Church we get new policies, new doctrines. The counsel from Conference is wise and often poignant. It means a lot. But Conference often feels abstract, distant to me; it is an image of authority and uniformity. It feels sometimes like a simulacrum of my faith, not my actual one that I live day to day. As such I want to think about what General Conference actually means. [Read more…]

Reminder: #ldsconf

Hey, just remember that we’re not live covering Conference, because we’re watching it (or doing something awesome). But we’re providing some more in-depth coverage as we go. If you want a live thread or live tweeting, sorry. Just watch Conference instead. You might enjoy it more that way.

Whither Big Tent Mormonism?

A quick post to start a discussion and get your thoughts.

In talking with friends about Mother In Heaven, it seemed clear that her presence in LDS doctrine is now permanent but that our liturgy and current practice just don’t know what to do with her. We don’t pray to Her, we talk of Her but we have nothing to say; we know nothing of Her except by association. But She is a compelling figure for many and the desire to work Her into a pattern of worship is there.

[Read more…]

First 50 Years of RS – Evening with the Editors

From our friends at Benchmark Books:

We are very excited to announce that Jill Mulvay Derr, Carol Cornwall Madsen, Kate Holbrook and Matthew J. Grow will be here on Wednesday, March 9th, to discuss their new book, The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: Key Documents in Latter-day Saint Women’s History (published by The Church Historian’s Press). They will be here from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.—speaking at 6:00—and will answer questions and sign books before and after that time. We hope you will be able to make that night but, if not, we can mail signed copies or hold them here at the store for pick-up. To RSVP on Facebook, click here.
[Read more…]

We Gather Together: Questions for Neil J. Young about the Religious Right

Neil J. Young is an historian and author of We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics (OUP, 2015). He graciously agreed to answer some questions about the history (and future) of Mormonism and the Religious right. [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

A few brief reviews on three recent and noteworthy books:

First is the Oxford Handbook of Mormonism (Oxford University Press: Terryl Givens, Philip Barlow, eds.). [Read more…]

The First Fifty Years of Relief Society: An Interview with the Editors

You may have heard about the new history by the Church Historian’s Press of the first 50 years of the Relief Society. Excerpts of key documents are found online as well at the Church Historian’s Press. A review will be forthcoming, but to call it a landmark history underplays the importance of the text. Kate Holbrook (a specialist in women’s history with the Church History Department) and Matt Grow (director of publications for the Church History Department), who each were major editors of the volume, were gracious enough to answer some of our questions.

What was the genesis for the volume? Was it a grassroots (or historian-roots) effort, or did the suggestion/direction come from other elements in church leadership?

The book had its genesis around the year 2000 when Jill Mulvay Derr and Carol Cornwall Madsen were professors at the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History at BYU. [Read more…]


Pilate told the people that they could choose to spare the life of either a murderer named Barabbas or Jesus of Nazareth, and they chose Barabbas. Given the same choice, Jesus, of course, would have chosen to spare Barabbas too.

To understand the reason in each case would be to understand much of what the New Testament means by saying that Jesus is the Savior, and much of what it means too by saying that, by and large, people are in bad need of being saved.

-Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures [Read more…]

The duty of those who disagree

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you disagree with a given policy of the Church. I’m picking a policy, but this hypothetical isn’t necessarily about THAT policy, it could be lots of different policies. I’m also deliberately sidestepping the policy vs doctrine vs revelation tempest, though of course in this Church you can never fully avoid that tack. Anyways: you disagree with an articulated policy of the Church. What is your duty? What should you do? Let’s run through the permutations. [Read more…]

Planted: An Interview with Patrick Mason

Patrick Mason is Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies and Associate Professor of Religion at Claremont Graduate University, and has been a scholar of religion (and Mormonism in particular) for decades. His latest book, Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, is published jointly by Deseret Book and the Maxwell Institute.

This interview will be interspersed with my own observations and review of the book, which is the sort where you buy multiple copies to share with friends and family. It’s another in the Living Faith series, which has been stellar across the board. The general approach of the series seems to be a bit of a pragmatic focus on living the gospel and cultivating a growing, thriving testimony in a modern world. Planted continues in the same format as previous books in the series: it is brief, it is fairly narrowly focused and its purpose is to reaffirm testimony. [Read more…]

Gun control

Why don’t Church leaders speak out about gun violence?

I’m asking the question. I don’t know. But I’m not aware of pronouncements from Salt Lake on the topic. Anyone know why?

Give the Gift of MoFem

We’ve reviewed Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, we’ve interviewed two of the editors, and now we’d like to give a copy away. Thanks to the generosity of the editors and Oxford University Press, we’ll be shipping a copy of Mormon Feminism to a lucky commenter. To enter, tell us who you’d give your copy to, and why. For example, I’d love to give a copy to my mother, to tell her that it has helped me begin to understand what she has been experiencing as a devout Mormon woman her entire life. And to tell her that I’m really thankful for her.

So, your turn — who would you give this book to, and why? The editors — Hanna Wheelwright, Rachel Hunt Steenblik and Joanna Brooks — will judge the entries.

Joseph Smith Papers – Journals Vol 3

The original goods

The original goods

The final volume in the Journals series of the Joseph Smith Papers project came out today. You can read more of the volume here (with better pictures and information than I can provide), but I thought a few highlights might be of worth. This is definitely the juiciest of the Journals volumes, encompassing the period from May 1843 to June 1844. Thus we have church proceedings, minutes, sermon highlights from the last year of the Prophet’s life. Ever wonder what’s in Joseph Smith’s journals about the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor? Wondered what was noted from his famous funeral sermon on April 7? Here you go. [Read more…]

One Ordinary Guy’s FAQ On Polygamy

I get a lot of questions about polygamy.  Here is my personal bent.

1.  Do Mormons believe in polygamy?

Depends on what you mean. 
[Read more…]



Paths Forward

There has been a lot of talk about the policy change and what it means for the Church and for each of us. I deplore the policy change. But guess what — I’m not going anywhere. This is my church and my people. [Read more…]

Remembrance Day, 2015

Flanders Fields

The third battle of Ypres takes place in July, 1917. The Americans are beginning to join the war. In October of that year, Wilfred Owen writes a poem and dedicates it to a war propogandist. May we never forget. [Read more…]

Possible Legal Justifications for the Policy Changes


I’ve received some emails asking about something they heard on Facebook or in the halls at Church about how the Church had to enact this policy change in order to forestall one legal result or another. The goal of this post is to raise the legal concerns I’ve heard and discuss them at a high level. This post is intended to be neutral towards the policy.

Child custody gossip

Here’s an example of what I’ve received: “I’m starting to hear speculation that the real reason behind the recent policy changes was the fear of lawsuits resulting from child custody disputes, particularly if an LDS spouse demanded full custody from a gay spouse on the grounds that their children could not be baptized while living part-time with a parent in a same-sex relationship. A blanket policy forbidding any such baptisms before the child is 18 protects the Church… Is the Church being named as a party in a child custody suit a valid concern? What would be the possible legal outcomes? And is this a plausible origin for the new policy?” [Read more…]

The Turing Test

I’m indebted to my friends for these thoughts.

Are you familiar with the Turing test? The trouble with the Turing test is that it’s a very unsatisfying test. It doesn’t seem to be able to demonstrate definitively what we would want it demonstrate.

But the other trouble is that it’s the only possible test. To decide against the Turing test as a measure for the reality of Artificial Intelligence is to decide in advance of any test or evidence that Artificial Intelligence is impossible and, thus, can never be demonstrated by way of any test or evidence.

But this is what the new church policy does. [Read more…]

Interview: Joanna Brooks and Rachel Hunt Steenblik

Joanna Brooks and Rachel Hunt Steenblik, together with Hannah Wheelwright, are the editors of Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, a wonderful new anthology of some of the most important feminist Mormon voices over the last 40 years (review forthcoming). Joanna is the author of several books and is Associate Vice President of Faculty Affairs at San Diego State University. Rachel is a writer and Ph.D. student in philosophy of religion and theology at Claremont Graduate University, and frequent contributor to The Exponent. We’re grateful for their work and their thoughtful answers.

1. Your work brings together writings from over 40 years of Mormon feminism. Of course, Mormonism is far older than that, but in looking at that 40-year time span, are there recurring themes that strike you? [Read more…]

Roundtable: Temple Prep, Part II

Part I is here. Second question for Tarik, Jana, Tracy and Steve: What are we missing in our temple prep courses? If you haven’t looked at the Endowed From On High manual, I encourage you to do so – it is the current course. What’s your opinion? What more should we be doing?

Tracy: I keep circling back to “nuts and bolts”. The temple prep class is basically a re-warmed version of the discussion and new member lessons. I’ve glanced at the lessons and they don’t seem very different than they did 8 years ago, but I’ll give it a closer reading later.

I would like them to actually go over a What to Expect… type lesson. [Read more…]

Poll: Female Healing

I’m curious as to what women feel they are currently ok doing in the Church with respect to providing blessings to others. Below is a brief poll for our female readers. I’m sure there are other permutations. [Read more…]

Roundtable: Temple Prep, Part I

A few friends of mine — Tracy McKay, Tarik LaCour, Jana Riess, and myself — had an informal email roundtable discussion about the preparation we offer our members before they go to the temple. Jana is an author and editor, posting at the Religion News Service and tweeting the Bible. Tarik is a student of philosophy, history and religion, with a personal blog here. We talked about three questions. This is the first one: What would you say to your younger self as you were about to go through the temple for the first time?

Tracy: I was 34 when I went through for the first time. I had been through the church’s Temple Prep class probably 3 times, and people had been trying to get me to go through for several years- I joined when I was 29. I just wasn’t ready for such a massive unknown commitment- and that was a huge stumbling block to me. Having people give vague testimonies about how special it was or how spiritual really didn’t tell me anything. I didn’t want to look at or read any of the websites that detailed the temple, so I relied on my friends. [Read more…]

RIP Trevor Southey

Trevor Southey passed away yesterday. Joseph-Smith-three-views-e1374478814675Southey was an artist, sculptor, Mormon, gay man, husband, ex-husband, father and a host of other adjectives. [Read more…]

Book Review: Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist by Steven Peck

The cover is intelligently designed.

I’ve previously bemoaned the difficulty in reviewing a book by Steve Peck. Thus far I’ve mostly read (and thoroughly enjoyed) his fiction, however, and so I was curious to hear that he was going to publish a collection of his non-fiction essays through the Neal A. Maxwell Institute (part of their Living Faith series). The result is Evolving Faith: Wanderings of a Mormon Biologist, a work of about 200 pages in a dozen essays. It is a shocking relief to read something of Steve’s which I can criticize. Unfortunately, these criticisms are largely ineffectual; Steve’s short book is a great addition to the already-stellar Living Faith series. Evolving Faith is a worthy whirlwind tour of the intersections of evolutionary biology, consciousness, Mormonism and environmentalism. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Prophet and the Reformer

The Prophet and the Reformer: The Letters of Brigham Young and Thomas L. Kane is a collection of letters between the famous Mormon leader and the East coast abolitionist and reformer Thomas Kane, but (perhaps to the chagrin of hard-core historians) it’s also a helpful summary of events and personalities surrounding the exodus from Nauvoo through the end of the Utah War. It’s difficult for a casual reader of history to provide a review of a collection like this, because while I have general familiarity with the time period and I am familiar with Young, Kane and several of the other people involved, I have no expertise with the source documents and no ability to say: yes, this is good history. Will that stop Steve in his review? Surely you jest. [Read more…]