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…]

Police Beat Roundtable XXVII

To protect or whatever

The 27th installation of our ongoing look at that most charming column of the Daily Universe. Previous installments can be read here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Steve Evans: We’re back! And I need to warn you guys that I’m going to be interspersing some lyrics from #Hamiltunes

GST: I don’t know what that is.

Steve: KEN DOES! All right. Let’s get this Spruce Goose off the ground. I call Police Beat my Spruce Goose because I collect my urine in empty milk bottles, just like Howard Hughes. Just FYI.

Ken Jennings: show me all the blueprints
show me ALL the blueprints
show me all the BLUEprints

[Read more…]

Listening and Revelation (#ldsconf ?)

Yesterday, after Elder Lawrence’s talk, I took his advice and said a prayer. I asked, “what is stopping me from progressing?”

The answer came quite clearly: “you should stop being such a horse’s ass.” [Read more…]

The Maternal Nature of Divinity (Elder Holland) #ldsconf

James Olsen has put together a very good compilation of statements on Heavenly Mother, which are central to the message here.

What kind of mortal love can make you feel, once you have a child, that your life is never, ever your own again? Maternal love has to be divine. There is no other explanation for it.

I add my testimony, such as it is, to Elder Holland’s: that the love of parents for their children is one of the surest signs of God working within us. [Read more…]

Review: “Not Just Good, But Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship Between Man and Woman”

Ecce Libro

In November 2014, religious leaders from around the world attended an interfaith colloquium sponsored and held in the Vatican entitled, The Complementarity of Man and Woman, or the Humanum Colloquium. The conference made headlines at the time for its ecumenical nature: Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Evangelical Christians and even *gasp* Mormonism was represented. Now the main talks of Humanum have been assembled in a volume named after the title of Pope Francis’ address: Not Just Good, But Beautiful: The Complementary Relationship Between Man and Woman.

I highly recommend the book. [Read more…]

‘The Heavens Are Opened’: The Church History Museum Re-Opens

Hyrum Smith's sunglasses. Groovy.

Hyrum Smith’s sunglasses. Groovy.

A little over a year ago, the Church History Museum shut down for renovations. The renovations were sorely needed; some exhibits were run down, the museum itself was a bit dated. Today the museum re-opened and the new exhibit, The Heavens Are Opened, is the centerpiece. It was worth the wait. The revamped Church History Museum is a very fine collection of materials and artifacts from our past, presented in a manner that is both engaging and spiritually uplifting. [Read more…]


I agree with Mike’s post — there are some things the Lord just leaves up to us to solve in our discretion. In other words, the Lord trusts us to make decisions (at least, some decisions – there are some where He deigns to give us His explicit direction). But I have a beef. [Read more…]

Rest in peace, Elder Scott

A wonderful, gentle man is dead. Richard G. Scott was 86. [Read more…]

Harry Reid at UVa

We would like to make our viewers aware of a significant event at the University of Virginia next weekend. Under the auspices of the Mormon Studies chair, the University is sponsoring the first of the Joseph Smith lectures on religious liberty. The initial speaker will be Senator Harry Reid, Senate Democratic Leader. The lecture will be held on Saturday September 26 at 2:00 p.m. in the University of Virginia’s Newcomb Hall Theater. Parking is available in the Bookstore garage immediately behind Newcomb Hall.

The conversation will be comprised largely of questions from the audience. [Read more…]

I Have A Question: Picking a Stake President

Our semi-regular feature at BCC, in which Scott and Steve answer questions from our readers and then Rank stuff. Have a question you want us to answer? Send us an email!

First question!

How does a stake president get picked?

Well, see they’ve got this smooth, brown stone… [Read more…]