Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
[Read more…]

Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

Exhausted Heaven

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

Sometimes Mormons joke about the reality of what heaven looks like, especially for women.  I suspect this is doctrine that the institutional church may be turning away from (like the doctrine of ruling planets that makes us just look really weird to other Christians), but the idea that heaven will just be a continuation of all the work women do now is, well, exhausting.  In heaven, women will have billions and billions of children, as if gestation happens there as it does here on earth.  Women will continue to do visiting teaching (at least that’s what my last Relief Society President said).  They will continue to make a lovely home for their husbands and their already birthed children, grandchildren, and so on.  There will be no rest or respite in heaven, at least not for women. [Read more…]

“Thy Faith Hath Made Thee Whole” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Readings:   Matthew 8-9; Mark 2-5

Whenever I read the Gospels, I’m amazed all over again by the layers of wisdom in each and every 3-verse vignette of Christ’s teachings, parables, and actions.  This week the Come Follow Me manual asks us to cover 6 chapters worth of them.  That’s difficult to do in a single blog post.  But after reading everything repeatedly, I’ve chosen to focus this week’s discussion on two patterns: how Christ heals, and how Christ responds to criticism.

These six chapters cover a core segment of Christ’s miracles and ministry – healing illnesses, forgiving sins, casting out devils, condemning hypocrites, preaching goodness.  This is the mission Christ called us, as Christians, to continue.  I hope we all can use this lesson to reflect, perhaps somewhat uncomfortably, on how our actions align with Christ’s injunction to believers. [Read more…]

Women with Minor Children can now Serve as Temple Ordinance Workers

A year and a half ago, I wrote about changes to the weird restrictions on temple ordinance workers.   Specifically, I explained that longstanding church policy forbade divorcees within five years, single men over 31, and women with minor children from serving as ordinance workers.   (The same individuals were permitted to “volunteer” for temple shifts, just not perform ordinances.)

In August 2017 the Church removed the restrictions on divorcees and single adult men.  Today, the Church removed the restrictions on mothers.  I am thrilled for the thousands upon thousands of women this blesses.

Equity and Justice in Church Courts

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Seminary students are currently studying lesson 107, which covers D&C 102 as an exploration of the church courts.  D&C 102 provides the handbook for our actual Church Handbooks.  It outlines the whys and hows church courts are set up (at least for men) and declares “In the Church of Jesus Christ, disciplinary councils are to be conducted according to equity and justice.”

Equity and justice.

Yet the church’s spiritual judiciary system does not involve women at any level, unless they are on trial.  [Read more…]

My Valentine to the Church

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It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’ve felt inspired to take a moment and write some reflections on my gratitude and love for the Church.

My last few weeks have sparked a renewed joy in the gospel.  Two years ago I left my cluster of friends in the one and only true ward (thanks California!).  Ever since, I’ve felt a little aloof from the heart of Mormonism.   Yet recently, my Sabbath experience has been refreshed as a delight.

The new two-hour block and Come Follow Me curriculum seems to have galvanized my ward — gospel doctrine discussions have increased in thoughtfulness; Relief Society lessons have increased in vulnerability.  I’ve heard raw and inspiring commentary from the pulpit during Sacrament Meeting; slightly shorter talks have focused the content on Christ.  My family created a listserv to discuss the Book of Mormon; my friend circle Mormon Studies book clubs are going strong.  An intimate discussion on the temple overflowed with wisdom and hope.  I love the emphasis on ministering and the ways I’ve begun connecting with every individual in my ministering circle.  Then last Sunday, I had a conversation with my Bishop that embodied the best of pastoral care.

When the body of Christ is healthy, it is truly divine. [Read more…]

A Faithful Shift Toward Evolution

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Robert Lawrence was once a free-range kid in Utah. He spent a couple years learning from wonderful people in Guatemala and later moved to Arizona where he spent a lot of time in the lab with viruses. He is now a science writer and research developer living in Binghamton, New York, with his wife and toddler. You can connect with him and find more of his work at: www.robertlawrencephd.com

BYU students are more accepting of Darwin’s ideas than they used to be, according to a new study. [Read more…]

“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 2)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1Luke 3John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.

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“Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” #BCCSundaySchool2019 (Part 1)

Come Follow Me Manual Recommended Readings:  Matthew 3 (quoting Isaiah 40); Mark 1; Luke 3; John 1.

Upfront Note:  In preparing my BCC Sunday School lesson this week, I realized my content was divided into two major chunks — one whimsical about Godspell, and one academic about the history of baptism.  For ease of use and commentary, I’m publishing them as two separate back-to-back posts.  Part 2 is here.

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The God Who Stoops

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In discussing the advance of women’s rights, Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often remarked that when we set women on a pedestal, we actually lock them in a cage.

I’ve been wondering lately whether the same could be said about God.  (And even more so, Heavenly Mother.)  When we consign our Heavenly Parents to a throne of glory in the distant heavens, we’re actually locking them behind human constructs of divinity.  We’re building a wall of checkpoints and purity standards, then barring all we deem unholy or unclean from approaching their mercy.

Our all-to-common vision of God on a celestial pedestal gets it all backwards. To borrow a phrase from Rachel Held Evans’s latest book Inspired: our God stoops. [Read more…]

John 1: “We Have Found the Messiah”#BCCSundaySchool2019

High Christology and Discipleship in the Gospel according to John

This week’s BCC Gospel Doctrine lesson was written by Eric Huntsman, Professor of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University. Eric has written multiple books on the New Testament, including Good Tidings of Great Joy, God So Loved the World, and The Miracles of Jesus. Last month, he published a book-length study of discipleship in the Gospel of John, Becoming the Beloved Disciple (see our review here). We are beyond thrilled (and a little bit verklempt) that Eric has agreed to share his expertise with us and our readers as we study the opening chapter of John’s gospel this week. Footnotes for this post are located on a separate page and can be accessed through the provided links or by clicking here.

The assignment for this week’s lesson is the first reading that we have had from the Fourth Gospel, the account of Jesus’ ministry and mission traditionally attributed to John the Son of Zebedee, one of the Twelve and one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Before discussing chapter 1, which comprises the Prologue of this Gospel, we will first consider a few points concerning the Gospel’s authorship, composition, audience, stated purpose, and structure.  Hopefully this background will be useful in future lessons that include passages from the Gospel of John.

[Read more…]

Luke 1: Women, Wombs, and the Feminine Divine

Karen D. Austin teaches composition courses at University of Evansville and gerontology courses at Southern Indiana University. She’s on staff at Segullah as a writer and social media maven. She also maintains a blog The Generation Above Me about healthy aging and supporting older adults. She sometimes slings food at the other sentient beings in her home, but mainly she keeps house by moving towers of books and papers from one room to another.

Let me preface my post with a little context. Michael spent some time preparing commentary for the BCC Gospel Doctrine Lesson and discovered that, after introducing Matthew, he didn’t have any time or word count for the assigned reading from Luke. I was astonished. I told him, “Well, then I’ll just have to write something because you cannot leave out the women who are most central to the birth of Christ.” [Read more…]

Our Spiritual Relationship with Language

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

Someone once asked how I could have prepared better for the temple. My response was bluntly honest: Nothing anyone said or taught me could have altered my initial experience, because the words I found inside the temple felt wrong.

Those words have now changed. Whether something more than words has changed is debatable. Over the past twenty-four hours, I have heard people say that nothing has changed and others that everything has changed. I’m with those who think everything has changed, because for me it has. That’s because I am a woman who learns primarily through words.
[Read more…]

Rethinking Worthiness

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Remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.

For, behold, the Lord your Redeemer suffered death in the flesh; wherefore he suffered the pain of all men, that all men might repent and come unto him. (D&C 18:10)

I learned an important truth this year: the worth of souls bears no relationship to a soul’s “worthiness.”

A year ago I left the corporate world to pursue my civil rights lawyer dream.  One aspect of my new work is fighting for Muslims’ right to follow the pillars of Islam in prison.  My first visit to prison will forever stand as one of the most spiritual days of my life.  I met with humble men who frankly admitted their mistakes, implored God to grant them the mercy to improve, and asked for an opportunity to practice their faith in peace.  They sought to better the religious experience not just for themselves, but for all of their brothers and sisters.  Sitting with them, I glimpsed the depth of God’s abundant love.

I may have been physically sitting with convicted criminals behind seven layers of lockdown security, but spiritually I stood with angels on hallowed ground.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God.  (Romans 8:38).  Prisons that day became my temples.  For I was in prison, and ye visited me.  (Matthew 25:36). [Read more…]

New Church Videos Explain the Temple to the General Public

joe-cook-780015-unsplashThe Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just published a glossy series of 90-second explanations of our core temple practices.

I’m amazed at how much demystifying content these videos succeed in outlining in less than seven minutes of total video time.

Here are the highlights.

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Mormon-splaining the Word of Wisdom

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It’s holiday party season!  Which means your friends and coworkers, in joyful and relaxed environments, may foist upon you cocktails, wines, and dessert bar coffee.

You’re all experts now at saying “no thank you.”  You’ve read my summer guide for professional Mormons navigating “coffee breaks” and “happy hours.”  There I explained that in the vast majority of circumstances, no one will notice or care that you’re not imbibing coffee or alcohol.

Sometimes, though — especially with amiable colleagues and jokester friends who know you’re a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — the religious dimensions of your teetotaler ways might surface.  You can sidestep the topic if you want.  But you don’t have to!

Let’s take a common scenario.  Over brunch, a colleague might make an offhand remark while stirring her latte.  “Mormons aren’t allowed to have caffeine, right?  I don’t know how you survive.”

You could say “that’s essentially correct.”  Or you could dangle a half-answer as bait.

“Technically, the Mormon prohibition is not on caffeine.” [Read more…]

LDS Identity’s Effect on Mental Health

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Rebekah Perkins Crawford is a visiting professor in Social and Public Health at Ohio University. She has a PhD in Health Communication.

The recent tragic suicide of a BYU student has prompted conversations about the relationship between religiosity and mental health, about whether Latter-day Saints have a problem with suicide, and, if we do, what our response should be.

Experts (especially at BYU) have consistently claimed that LDS religious practice is positively associated with mental health.  Such claims are based on studies that average difference, homogenize experience, and oversimplify a complex issue.  [Read more…]

And in His name all oppression shall cease

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This post started as a reaction to President Dallin H. Oaks’s commentary on religious freedom published Tuesday in the Deseret News.  It morphed into a Christmastime commentary on social justice.  It still dissects Oaks’s words, but that’s relegated to the very end. 

Born into humble circumstances.  Trained as a carpenter.  Rejected as a prophet.  Crucified as a rabble-rouser because he dared speak truth to both secular and religious oppressive power.  Jesus Christ is my model of an activist. [Read more…]

Repent Ye, for Climate Change is at Hand?

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I’ve always accepted the scientific consensus surrounding carbon emissions, greenhouse gasses, the ozone layer, and climate change.  But for a long time I elected to not care.

Why?  Because I bought into the folk doctrines that God created the Earth’s resources to be used, that a global temperature rise of 1-2 degrees over 100 years isn’t material,  and in any event, Christ’s imminent Second Coming would renew the Earth and fix everything before disaster struck.

As a religious studies student in college, I once wrote a paper on Isaac Newton’s eschatological prediction that the Second Coming would happen in 2060.  Thereafter in casual conversation, I used the 2060 date to support my religious opinion that climate change would never matter.   (“The worst predictions don’t even start until 2100 — Jesus will have come back well before then!”)  One afternoon at the Indiana University LDS Institute, I tried that line on a Ph.D. student studying ecology.  Our resulting discussion did not end well for me. [Read more…]

Why I’m Marrying in a Catholic Basilica

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With the Vatican’s approval, I’m marrying my Catholic fiancé in St. Mary’s Basilica in Old Town Alexandria this Saturday.  Yay!  I’m so excited to celebrate true love, surrounded by my family and friends.

Some of those family and friends are a little befuddled.  As a former hyper-devoted Mormon, I can see the confusion in their eyes, the unstated curiosity about why I’m not marrying in the temple.  Only a few have ventured to ask the question directly.

I believe it is important to give an honest answer.  This is my story. [Read more…]

Where Can I Turn for Support? abuse.lds.org

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.

Abuse is the neglect or mistreatment of others (such as a child or spouse, the elderly, the disabled, or anyone else) in such a way that causes physical, emotional, or sexual harm. It goes against the teachings of the Savior. The Lord condemns abusive behavior in any form. 

‘The Church’s position is that abuse cannot be tolerated in any form’ (Handbook 1: Stake Presidents and Bishops [2010], 17.3.2). Abuse violates the laws of God and may also be a violation of the laws of society. The Lord expects us to do all we can to prevent abuse and to protect and help those who have been victims of abuse. No one is expected to endure abusive behavior.

At 12:05 yesterday, I was driving to lunch when a message from a friend popped up on my phone. It consisted of six exclamation points (“!!!!!!”) and the text “abuse.lds.org.” Within 15 seconds I’d pulled over and clicked on the link. [Read more…]

Women Don’t Cast Sustaining Votes?

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My sister Cheryl called me this morning, annoyed at a procedure her Indiana stake just used to call a new counselor in her Stake Presidency.   An old counselor had moved and been released between Stake Conferences, so the new one was called and sustained during an interim Stake Priesthood meeting.

“This isn’t like an Elders Quorum President,” Cheryl mused.  “A Stake Counselor doesn’t just serve men in his quorum, he has stewardship over the entire stake.  But he can be set apart without a single woman knowing about the calling or sustaining him?” [Read more…]

President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism. [Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

[Read more…]

Thanks, Elder Holland

Holland Yesterday

Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

Required Training

On Monday, I got an email from HR reminding me that, as part of the school’s Harassment Prevention & Business Skills initiative, I needed to complete an online Sexual Harassment for Employees course.

I did it that same day, largely because if I don’t get to a work email almost immediately, it can slip out of my mind. And I prefer not to forget to do things that are required for my employment.

The training was basically a series of videos essentially aimed at letting us know what constitutes sexual harassment, with the dual purpose of ensuring that (1) if we’re harassed, we understand our rights and what we can and should do about it, and (2) we don’t do things that constitute sexual harassment. After watching the videos, I had to take a short multiple choice quiz to pass the course. All in all, it took something less than half an hour to complete. [Read more…]