God of the Deluge

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Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Eight weeks before the Boston marathon, my treadmill broke. I know, big deal, right? Most runners love the outdoors and it was starting to be spring. But I am not most runners. I love indoor training and the security it provides, from pitstops to water to Netflix and no dogs. I wasn’t happy to have to run outside, and this feeling was compounded when I found I had Achilles tendinitis. But I just kept training because I had to do Boston this one year I qualified. [Read more…]

Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president. [Read more…]

PEC is Dead; Long Live the Councils

When President Nelson announced the end of “priesthood executive committee” (PEC) meetings in Priesthood Session on Saturday night, many people wondered – is this a de facto increase in women’s role in leadership?

In recent years, the Church has increased his emphasis on “councils.”   Ward councils, teaching councils, mission councils, various program councils at Church headquarters – these councils have all worked to invite further participation from women. President Oscaron’s wonderful parting talk on Saturday emphasized this point, pointing out the multitude of ways that young women could assist in furthering ward council goals. While I still wish women could lead some of these councils, their increasing participation is cause for celebration.

It’s only been three days, but today I saw the first concrete evidence that the abolishment of PEC, more than merely deleting redundant meetings, may significantly increase the leadership voices of women in practice. [Read more…]

Church Updates Abuse Policies

At the close of business today, the Church updated its advice document, “Preventing and Responding to Abuse.”  As described by the Deseret News, the major changes are the following language:

• “Members should never be encouraged to remain in a home or situation that is abusive or unsafe.”

• “When a member of a stake presidency or bishopric or another assigned leader meets with a child, youth, or woman, he or she should ask a parent or another adult to be in an adjoining room, foyer, or hall. If the person being interviewed desires, another adult may be invited to participate in the interview. Leaders should avoid all circumstances that could be misunderstood.”

• “Church leaders should never disregard a report of abuse or counsel a member not to report criminal activity to law enforcement personnel.”

• “At least two adults must be present on all church-sponsored activities attended by youth or children.”

These are important changes, and I welcome them.  (I wish they had been explicitly stated decades ago, and there’s a lot further to go, but as an initial sign of serious commitment to change, I’ll take it.)   [Read more…]

The Burden of Choosing to Believe

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Image Credit: Delphine Devos

“I envy you your faith, somedays,” an agnostic friend in college once remarked as we ate lunch in the spring sunshine.  “I wish I could have faith.”

“You can, you know.   Faith is a choice,” I urged with perhaps a touch too much missionary zeal.  “In the Book of Mormon there’s a famous sermon about how faith is like a science experiment.  If you even have just a ‘desire to believe,” and choose to act on that desire, you’ll feel God’s love, and see results.”

 

“But logic is too deeply engrained in me for that to work,” he responded.  “I’d just dismiss any positive feeling as a weird firing of brain chemicals, a manufactured emotional manipulation.  It’s not tangible or real.” [Read more…]

Lesson 10: Marriage in the Covenant #BCCSundaySchool2018

ReadingsGenesis 24 – 29.

Introduction:   I volunteered to give this lesson for BCC precisely because I’m a temple-divorced, now-engaged-to-a-Catholic Mormon woman.  The Old Testament manual instructs teachers “As you discuss the importance of eternal marriage, be sensitive to the feelings of class members who have not been married in the temple or whose parents have not been married in the temple.”  But other than that note, it doesn’t provide any practical tips about what that “sensitivity” might look like.  I hope here to provide a model for how we can use this episode in Genesis to spark discussion on how everyone can achieve more Christlike relationships, without assuming that all temple marriages are happy, nor that all non-temple marriages are miserable.

[Read more…]

On Media and “The World”

Today’s guest post comes from Rebbie Brassfield, a copywriter in Babyl — err, Los Angeles.  

So I accidentally binge-watched all seven seasons of Game of Thrones last summer, and have spent the last few months wondering how ashamed I should be. Okay but seriously, it’s made me think about media consumption, specifically the way it might affect how we see “the world.”

As a girl, I was very into the Sweet Valley High series. These are not Deseret Book fare, and they’re certainly not high brow literature, but they taught little life lessons that stuck with me in adolescence. Some of them dealt with troubling issues – I remember clearly one story in which Lila was sexually assaulted, and another where a character was involved with drugs and had to deal with the consequences. These were scary things that in my Provo community I had never been exposed to, let alone would dream of talking about with my parents. It will sound silly, but looking back I sincerely think it was a good way to be exposed to the “sins of the world.” It showed me behaviors outside my norm, and allowed me to form opinions on them. [Read more…]

Domestic Abuse Resources for Bishops

Laura Brignone Bhagwat is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence.  Her dissertation tracks a public health intervention in hospital emergency rooms meant to prevent intimate partner homicide.

On a hot summer morning last year, I sat in a small room with fifteen pastors and ministers. Coffee and pastries were tucked into a corner, and the men and women of my county’s Interfaith Coalition to End Domestic Violence were introducing themselves. At the end of introductions, the pastor facilitating the meeting asked: “What are the biggest challenges facing your congregation when it comes to domestic violence?”

The answers started flying. “The abuser is a member of our church board!” “She just keeps going back to him and I don’t know what to do.” “Women in our church are taught to be meek and submissive, so when the abuser tells them something, they think they have no options.” “Victims are often looked down on when they speak out.” “Abusers misuse scripture to justify their actions.” “Even after [theological] seminary, I just don’t feel I have the training I need to respond to this issue.” [Read more…]

How do women spiritually override bad Priesthood leadership?

Wrestling with “Women Submit” Language in Personal Scripture Study

One night a decade ago, I sat in a college dorm conducting a Sunday-night Bible study with my boyfriend.  We’d been working our way through the letters of Paul, and now were on Ephesians 5.  In that passage Paul calls for unity among the saints, and reproves various “unfruitful works of darkness” before reaching a famous passage:

Giv[e] thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;  Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.  Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. … Let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

The passage didn’t strike me as odd; it seemed to exactly track everything I’d been taught in Young Women:  follow the Priesthood.  By divine design, men are the heads of households.  A husband should love and consult with his wife, but he ultimately presides as the Priesthood Holder in the home.  I had learned that even if the husband was falling short in some way, the wife should not undermine his authority, but instead “submit” and “reverence” him even more, in order to inspire him to step up and fulfill the mantle of his Priesthood responsibility. [Read more…]

Not a Tame Lion

Mette Ivie Harrison is a regular guest here at BCC and author of many books, including The Book of Laman.

I remember years ago a religious friend of mine talked to me about her view of God. She told me that she didn’t see why God couldn’t be a woman, or a bird, or a tree. She felt God in all of those different things, because to her, God had many different aspects. For her, feeling God in every part of the world was part of her practice of worship. It enabled her to widen her spirituality. It let her find the divine in herself, as well.

At the time, I thought that was kind of hippy-dippy and just plain wrong. I actually made that judgment in my head because I felt that as a Mormon, I was very clear on who God was and wasn’t. God was a white man with a beard who looked like he did in the temple film or in other paintings I’d seen of God. God was a physical being, not a bird or a tree. He was a man, and that was all there was to it. To have the wrong idea of God was to not understand anything about the “true gospel” and meant that basically anything else you told me about your religion or your worship practice was built on a false foundation.

How times have changed. [Read more…]

Lesson 6: Noah Prepared an Ark to the Saving of His House #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Moses 8

Genesis 6-9, 11

Learning Outcomes

To understand the importance of the story of Noah and the flood.

To come away with an appreciation for the complexities of Godhood, prophethood, regularpersonhood.

Introduction

I know there are many spiritual lessons to be learned from the story of Noah and the flood, but what I really want to focus on is exactly how large the ark was, how many cubits deep the water would have been, and how the animals managed to not eat each other. [Read more…]

We Must Do Better On Violence Against Women

I am sick of Mormon women not being believed about abuse.

I can’t even count the number of first-hand accounts I’ve heard at this point, and I only started paying attention a few years ago.  Easily dozens.  Probably hundreds.

But they all go the same way.  A Mormon woman is a chaste, obedient, temple-worthy, nurturing woman.  She gets married in the temple, moves in with her brand-new husband, and desires to start her eternal family. Within mere weeks or months, it becomes obvious her husband is angry, controlling, and abusive.  He usually quotes Church authority about men presiding and women hearkening to justify the behavior.

She doesn’t like it, but she tries to accept it.  She has been taught that she must protect her temple marriage above all else.  She has been taught that her husband is the leader of the home, and she needs to respect his authority.  She has been taught that if she just prays harder, submits harder, follows traditional gender roles harder, the problems will go away.  

They don’t go away.  They get worse. [Read more…]

Axes of Church Government

Today’s guest post comes from Christian Kimball.

There is a certain amount of speculation about President Nelson. What will he do? What will he be like? How will things change with Russell M. Nelson as President of the Church?

I suggest that nobody knows, and anybody who thinks they know doesn’t. There’s a good argument that “nobody” extends to President Nelson himself. My personal experience is that being a president—being the person in charge—is different than any previous experience and changes people in unexpected ways. The record is clear that being president of the Church, even after decades of full-time Church leadership and responsibility, changes people in unexpected ways.[1] In addition, I firmly believe and have witnessed that the issues that come to the table are often more important than the attitudes and beliefs that come to the job.  [Read more…]

Lesson 2: God Knew Abraham #BCCSundaySchool2018

Readings

Abraham 3, Moses 4:1-4

Learning Outcomes

By the end of class, class members will be able to

  1. Describe strategies for profitably reading Abraham.
  2. Evaluate what it means that God knew us before we were born.

Introduction

Eight years ago, I was sitting in a Sunday School class in Chicago with my daughter in my lap. I was probably half paying attention to the lesson, when suddenly the discussion started getting heated. People were arguing that we definitely, most certainly don’t believe in predestination. We’re foreordination people! Then others would pipe in that they didn’t see any substantive difference between predestination and foreordination. [Read more…]

The Psychology of the Good Samaritan

O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? (Micah 6:8).

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While attending a legal ethics seminar last Saturday, I surprisingly had the most spiritual moment of my year.  A speaker there relayed the story of From Jerusalem to Jericho, an (apparently famous, but I had never heard of it) psychology study from 1973.  (A more readable journalistic summary is here.)  The authors specialized in research regarding what conditions prompt bystanders to help ailing strangers, rather than to ignore them.

The set-up was simple. At Princeton Theological Seminary, 40 theology students were assigned to prepare lectures as part of a final exam.  The exam occurred in a tight time frame: in 15-minute increments, instructors told individual students they needed to either leisurely wend their way across campus, or rush across campus, in order to make it to the building where their graded lecture would be recorded.  Half of the students were specifically assigned to speak on the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

But the lecture wasn’t the real test.  The real test was that as they darted across campus, each student would encounter a sick and distressed man, lying in their path. [Read more…]

On Constructive Deconstruction

I love demolition videos. The punctuation of explosions; the half-second silence before buildings crumble. They’re more fascinating than fireworks on the Fourth of July. Seriously. Just watch a greatest hits reel. Tell me these aren’t amazing.

[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…]

Baptism, Resurrection, and Women Witnesses

Mormon-landia is abuzz today with the news (broken by This Week in Mormons) that youth can now more fully participate in baptisms for the dead on youth temple trips.  Specifically, Priests (age 16+) can now perform and witness temple baptisms, just like they already perform and witness live baptisms.  And young women (age 12-18) can perform any baptistry assignment (i.e. logistics, temple clothing, towels) currently done by adult women.   Previously, all of these functions could only be performed by endowed members.

There is much to celebrate here.  I fully support increased responsibility and participation in the workings of the church for our incredible youth.  Hopefully, these additional spiritual and service opportunities will help all youth feel closer to Christ and strengthen their faith.  This change also reduces the burden on finding sufficient adults to officiate youth temple trips, hopefully increasing the total number of opportunities to perform baptisms.  In addition, it may help those young women who are uncomfortable being baptized while on their periods (despite temple pronunciations that this is permitted), feel more comfortable having an awkward-question-free opportunity to serve.

And yet.  This policy change was a major missed opportunity to increase the spiritual role of young women in the Church.  [Read more…]

Harmony and Unison in the Church

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Thanks to my interfaith romance, most weeks I attend both Mormon and Catholic services.  Lately, I’ve been musing on each faith’s church music.

Mormon Sacrament Meetings are simple: someone plays the piano or organ, while the congregation sings three or four hymns from a 30-year old hymnbook.  All parts — Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass — tend to be well-represented.  Occasionally there’s a special musical number by the choir or an amateur musician.  On the margins, music leaders and priesthood leaders bicker about brass instruments, non-Hymn performances, and overly “fancy” arrangements.

Catholic Masses are similar.  The congregation sings four or five hymns together throughout the service; the accompaniment is usually piano or organ.  A large segment of the service is dedicated to call-and-response chants and singing – reciting the Lord’s Prayer, begging Christ for mercy.   The music is often performed by volunteers and amateur choirs, but its common for bigger and wealthier parishes to have professional musical staff.    [Read more…]

What if Beehives Passed the Sacrament Too?

I can still remember turning 12. At least the church parts of it. After I turned 12, my dad ordained me to the Aaronic priesthood, and then I got to pass the sacrament.

And I continued to pass it for the next two years.[fn1]

Passing the sacrament was an important part of my development as a Mormon. It provided me with a tangible connection to the church. My participation in the church stopped being passive, the receipt of knowledge and culture, and started being, well, participatory. I felt a certain amount of pride, a certain amount of responsibility, and even a certain amount of ownership over my church experience. I remember intricately figuring out who would go where, negotiating the pews to make sure that everybody got the sacrament, watching the priests, waiting for them to stand up so I could return my tray.

And lately I’ve been thinking, what if Beehives passed the sacrament, too? [Read more…]

LDS Institutional Priorities

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The Church cannot be all things to all people.

That’s just a fact – a fact born of the realities of membership, resources, and structure.

For some, admitting the Church’s limitations may border on heresy.  But for me, it lends a forgiving perspective.  Sure, I quibble with the Church’s choices around the margins, but I accept that overall the choices are intentional, and intended to establish priorities within the four-fold mission of the Church.   [Read more…]

God’s Bureaucracy

In the never-ending saga of seeking permission from the Vatican to marry my fiancé, I recently had an exasperating meeting with a Priest.  At one point I asked whether there was anything more I could do to speed up the Catholic marriage-paperwork processes – for example, could my fiancé and I complete the Catholic marital counseling requirement in parallel while we await Vatican approval?

The Priest said no.  The two sets of paperwork must follow in serial, even though that will delay our marriage by (at least) an extra six months.  Those were The Rules.  Then, with an admirable level of sincerity regarding Vatican bureaucracy, he offered this counsel.  “Consider this a blessing,” he said.  “Both of you have had failed marriages before, so this extra time is a gift from God to grow together, pray together, and be sure that you are ready to undertake the serious commitment that is the Sacrament of Marriage.” [Read more…]

Succession Crisis by the Numbers: What Would You Do?

I was recently discussing the 1844 LDS Succession Crisis with some fellow bloggers. Although as a second gen Mormon I have no pioneer ancestors, I do sometimes wonder what I would have done had I been there. The Mormon Succession Crisis was truly unplanned, resulting in confusion, bad feelings, and schism.  If you had been in Nauvoo in 1844, which faction would you have followed? [Read more…]

Two Temple Worker Restrictions Removed

Several years ago I discovered three weird restrictions on temple service.  Often, while I was attending the temple, the workers mentioned they needed help; they invited the patrons to pray and talk to their stake to seek out temple worker callings. Several friends of mine felt inspired to follow through.  They met the basic qualifications – devout Mormons, in good health, without records of Church discipline.  But they were denied. [Read more…]

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness: Why a Temple? Why Sacraments?

Terryl Givens gave the following talk in my Provo ward yesterday. I couldn’t pass up the chance to ask Professor Givens if I could post it as part of our occasional “Sunday Sermons” series, and he graciously accepted.

I had a long conversation a few days ago with a much beloved daughter. We were talking about a family dear to us, of whom the last of the children just made an exit from the church. I asked what she thought the common thread to their stories might be. She said it wasn’t what I often hear to be the culprit: different accounts of the First vision, or Joseph’s seer stone, or horses in the Book of Mormon — or even polygamy or social policy. No, it was something much more fundamental. She said, the whole framework of the Restored Gospel — especially the emphasis on temples and ordinances — just doesn’t seem meaningful to many of her generation. So much structure, so many rules, so many seemingly empty rituals and ordinances. She then noted that as she was preparing her lesson for Young Women on sacraments and ordinances, she too struggled to find a convincing language, a resonant rationale. “Authority” and “obedience” don’t hold the same sway with generations who have not grown up with an almost innate deference to such concepts because, as Richard Rohr notes, they never experienced the framework of stable certainties and widely accepted verities. As the poet Robinson Jeffers noted wistfully, “O happy Homer! Taking the stars and the gods for granted.”[1] [Read more…]

A helpful guide to understanding the source of inspiration

As we all know, true revelation comes to both the heart and mind and teaches of Christ. And yet, our ability to rationalize frequently renders us incapable or unwilling to discern such revelation. On occasion, people ask how to know the difference between divine revelation or inspiration and the wayward desires of our own heart. It is no easy task. Or, at least, it wasn’t prior to today. [Read more…]

And There Was No Sick Among Them

“And remember in all things the poor and the needy, the sick and the afflicted, for he that doeth not these things, the same is not my disciple.”  D&C 52:40

I remember the day – 10 years ago this month –  I first realized that government-sponsored healthcare might not be inherently evil.

A British friend and I were engaged in an impromptu debate on social policy.  I started lecturing him on the defects of British healthcare compared to true red-state and Mormon principles of self-reliance.  Any form of welfare, especially government-sponsored healthcare, perpetuated a cycle of dependence.  If an individual legitimately needed help, family, friends, and nonprofits should step in.  Government involvement was wasteful, anti-capitalistic, and coercive –  it could never heal society.

He offered a pithy response: “I can think of nothing more barbaric about America than that you let people die because they can’t afford healthcare.”

“Barbaric” hit me with a jolt. What an absurd word!  And yet, one with truth. [Read more…]

Refugees in The Book of Mormon: Ancient Light for a Modern Crisis

By Alicia Alba[1] (ed. Mel Henderson)

refugee: noun. ref· u· gee \ˌre-fyu̇-ˈjē\ An individual seeking refuge or asylum; especially: an individual who flees for safety (as from war), usually to a foreign country.

The Book of Mormon begins with a refugee story: Lehi was a wealthy landowner in ancient Jerusalem at a time of social and political unrest. Among the first things we learn is that Lehi was a good man who tried to share what he knew—but enemies emerged in his own community, men who “sought his life, that they might take it away” (1 Ne. 1:20). Lehi and his family were forced to flee. [Read more…]

The blessings of the priesthood

On Sunday my younger son, age 14, was ordained a teacher in the Aaronic priesthood. His older brother, who has been a priest for about six months, performed the ordination. It was my husband’s idea; when he was a priest, he had ordained his younger brother as a teacher. It’s not uncommon for teenage priests to perform what ordinances they’re authorized to do—e.g. baptism—for their younger siblings, even when there’s a priesthood-holding father in the picture; I think most families want their boys to take advantage of such opportunities. In my husband’s case, there was no father in the home; his mother had been widowed more than a decade earlier. Ordaining his brother had been a memorable experience for him, and he wanted our son to have the same chance.

Our 16-year-old did very well. I could tell that he was a little nervous, but he gave his brother a very nice blessing. (More importantly, he didn’t screw anything up and have to repeat it, as so often happens with stuff like sacrament prayers. Not that my son has ever screwed up a sacrament prayer!) Afterward, as we walked out of the bishop’s office, my husband turned to our older son and said, “I can honestly say that that was better than doing it myself.” That was a thing I had wondered about. There will be plenty of opportunities for a young man to exercise his priesthood throughout his life; a father only has so many kids and so many such milestones. But there is a different kind of satisfaction in witnessing your child take on adult responsibilities. [Read more…]

We Should REALLY Argue More at Church

Image resultI hope I will be forgiven for co-opting Sam Brunson’s excellent post and title (found here), but I wanted to investigate the WHY a little bit more. Ardis points out that debate used to be a staple at church (at least for the men of the YMMIA) during the early part of the 20th century. We also know that in the earliest days of the church, the School of the Prophets was known for hearty discussion and debate (as well as tobacco spitting and smoking). Based on my own memories, growing up in the church in the 70s and 80s, church classes used to involve more debate than they have in my advancing years. That could be the nature of the ward I grew up in, but I suspect that it’s a byproduct of the calcification of correlation that has continued since its introduction. The church–like every organization–becomes more bureaucratic with growth, not less. I’ll explain what I mean. [Read more…]