The Genius of Councils

Patrick Mason is one of our newest Dialogue guests. He may or may not be related to one of our permabloggers.

Priesthood organization isn’t a very sexy topic. I mean, who really gets excited about the reorganization of the Quorums of the Seventy? When BCC readers get all starry-eyed about Joseph Smith, it’s usually for his metaphysics, or his radical challenge to individualism and market capitalism, or something along those lines. The architecture of priesthood government? Yawn. Somebody wake me up with a little King Follett Discourse (or KFD, as the kids say). [Read more…]

Sit-in at BYU’s JFSB Quad

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Demonstrators, April 4, 2007, BYU

Here’s a shot of today’s demonstration/sit-in/protest at BYU. By my rough estimate, there were about 250 students and faculty participating at any one time, with a total count during the 2 hours of 700-800 (not counting passers-by).

Some of the signs hoisted by the participants were:
“One Nation under…..Surveillance.”
“That’s Ok, I didn’t need my civil rights anyway.”
“Cheney should go to…..BYU.”
“You Lied [under large photo of Cheney] — They Died [with large photo of Bush made up of 1″ photos of what may have been servicemen and women].”
“Enter to Learn, Go Forth to Torture.” [Read more…]

RFK at BYU in 1968


As bloggers have pointed out in the recent discussions over the prospect of Vice-President Cheney speaking at BYU, Senator Robert F. Kennedy spoke at BYU on March 27, 1968. [Read more…]

Making your life’s story credible

A friend recently told me that her autobiography lies irretrievably scattered throughout the world in the multitude of personal letters she has written to loved ones and friends. Personal letters are, of course, a kind of autobiography, and they are invaluable when it comes to writing a formal account of a person’s life. For reasons I do not entirely understand, I began to save a carbon copy of all my letters, invariably written on a typewriter, immediately upon returning from my mission in 1957. It used to amaze me that mother-in-law would promptly answer any personal letter she received and thereupon drop it into the waste basket. Somehow it seemed unnatural to me to destroy the record of her friends and loved one’s lives so callously. [Read more…]

Maori, Mormons, and Metagenealogy

In December, my family had the chance to spend several weeks with my sister-in-law and her family, who, fortuitously, happen to live in New Zealand.

Aside from the usual daily chores (sea-kayaking, snorkeling for kina, fishing for snapper, collecting and cooking shellfish, cavorting in the waves, hiking, bone-carving, photography…), one of the activities we enjoyed most was visiting Maori historical and cultural sites.

Imagine my surprise when I kicked up a post-tour conversation with a Maori guide about the Treaty of Waitangi and heard him tell of how some 19th century Maori drew theological support for bloody resistance to British rule from a belief that the Maori were Israelites, and that the Old Testament provided those Maori both hope and permission for a violent uprising against their perceived oppressors.

Since returning home, I’ve researched some of my NZ blind spots so I’ll be better prepared next trip (for example, I couldn’t prepare sea urchin roe so that it was consistently excellent, and I obviously hadn’t absorbed lesson 18 of the 1937 LDS Junior Genealogical Class manual, titled “Maori Traditions and Genealogies,” and I couldn’t have answered that lesson’s question #9, “Can you show that the natives of New Zealand are also of the covenant people of Israel?”). [Read more…]

Translating Correctly

A young man gave a talk in our Sacrament Meeting that was a first for me, in that instead of using scriptures and written notes, he used his PDA. He said he had come to appreciate the Old Testament, as he discovered how New Testament writers (he focused on Paul especially) had drawn from the Old Testament, particularly the Psalms. He was using his hand-held devise to track himself from one testament to the other, showing how a phrase in Paul had its match somewhere in the Old Testament. My thoughts strayed from his presentation to wonder if he was using a computer program that would search and match phrases for him, and then to think about problems of translation. [Read more…]

Celebrating those who serve

This morning my Relief Society president and I bought goodies to fill Christmas baskets for many in need in our ward. At her suggestion, we also bought for some of those who particularly generously serve other ward members all year long. My husband and I have usually given a homemade thank you gift to the bishop at Christmas, but my RS president really has the right idea. We don’t say enough thank yous to the workhorses of the ward. So, along with my wish for the merriest of Christmases to you all, I send the suggestion you or your wards might say a special thanks to the givers this week.

Milk and Meat

Two articles in the latest, Winter 2006, Dialogue dovetail nicely. Writing of the Church in Japan today, Jiro Numano treats challenges of cultural paradox and of historical information on the internet. He argues that the fact that only 25,000 of 120,000 Japanese members are active can be traced in part to the dissonance resulting from comparisons of official and online Mormon histories. Numano’s article is posted on the Dialogue website,

Challenged for printing 2 historically groundbreaking Dialogue articles, David John Buerger’s on second anointings and D. Michael Quinn’s on post-manifesto polygamous marriages, Jack Newell’s Personal Voices essay, unfortunately not available on our website, sets forth the criteria he and Linda used for publication when they edited Dialogue. They were three: “(1) Is the evidence unimpeachable? (2) Is the interpretation responsible? and (3) Is the issue important to a rounded understanding of the Mormon experience? [Read more…]

Relief Society Musings

Jana comes to BCC as a special guest representing Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

What happens when the good, the bad, and the ugly are one and the same?

Yesterday in Relief Society, we had a special visit from two newish missionaries in our ward. The more senior elder opened by thanking us women for our marvelous goodness, which was certainly a sweet thing to say. The trouble, of course, is that he has never even met me. And the more he talked, the less good and charitable I felt. The lowest point was when he praised the new sister missionaries who were sitting in the front row, telling us what wonderful sisters they were, and how committed to the gospel. All very sweet and noble. But as I sat there watching the sister missionaries, their eyes demurely downcast to the floor, I wondered how we had come to this: we had two living, breathing, and reportedly wonderful sister missionaries right there in Relief Society, but they opened not their mouths. Instead, the floor belonged to two younger men who lauded all us sisters sight unseen, placing us on a pedestal so high that I found us utterly unrecognizable.

Contrast this to what happened twenty minutes later, when the RS teacher reached deep into her soul and produced a lesson that was so raw and emotionally powerful that it was actually painful to hear. [Read more…]

A call for stories and poems

I hope it isn’t inappropriate to ask visitors to By Common Consent to recommend to their friends who write fiction and poetry to consider submitting their work to Dialogue. An interdisciplinary journal, Dialogue has always been open to fiction and poetry. However, it has done so with some irregularity, owing, perhaps, to a dearth of submissions. During my editorship, we have published stories and poems with considerable consistency. Unfortunately, we have not had as large an inventory of them as I could wish for. [Read more…]

Could We Serve More?

It has often struck me (Kathleen from Dialogue) how willing the people in my ward are to participate in service projects. The best attended Enrichment Meetings are the ones to assemble whatever hygiene kit ,back-to-school kit for needy kids project, or food bank drive, that comes down the pike. Through an Interfaith Council our stake participates in a program that provides meals and a place to sleep for homeless men. Our church never hosts the sleeping arrangements, but whenever it is our ward’s turn to provide dinner, lunch, and breakfast for these men, it’s an easy sell for the sister in charge. Considering service more broadly, it seems as though all my Salt Lake nieces and nephews have gone to Africa or South America to help out in a orphanage for a month, or gone with somebody to Tibet or Mongolia or some other far away place to deliver medical equipment that some church member has managed to collect. I know Young Men and Young Women leaders are always looking for ways to involve the kids in meaningful service. [Read more…]

A Letter to the Editor from the One Mighty and Strong

It is to be noted that Dialogue receives fewer letters to the editor than it formerly did. Is that because we have gone totally stuffy, as some notable frequenters of Mormon weblogs have claimed? Or is it that blogging drains off the kind of energy that used to go into writing letters to the editor? I could hold to the latter explanation more easily if the blogging opportunities on Dialogue’s own website had an abundant clientele. Ironically, the Dialogue website now offers a letters section where you can post responses to the most recent issues of the journal in a blog format. Unfortunately, user statistics are light. Exactly three persons have posted letters for the spring 2006 issue, two for the summer issue; and two for the fall issue. However, numbers alone don’t tell the entire story. [Read more…]

Safety Valves

This is Kathleen from Dialogue. I would like to address the topic of the safety valve sins and modest heresies. [Read more…]

Elder Ballard’s “O Be Wise”

Elder Ballard’s October Conference address deserves careful thought and implementation. He counseled us to be innovative in service, adding that “to innovate does not necessarily mean to expand; very often it means to simplify.” And he suggested we make greater use of the phone, emails and snail mail to minimize meetings. [Read more…]

Doing some good in the world

I made the following remarks at a dinner celebrating Dialogue’s fortieth anniversary, held in Salt Lake City on September 22, 2006.

I consider it one of the signal honors of my life to serve as editor of this distinguished journal. I undertook the task knowing it would be a great challenge. I had no notion of doing more that leaving its tradition intact when I am through with my designated five years of service. That remains my ambition. I hope I have met the challenge so far. I recognize how completely dependent I am on others. I am deeply grateful for the indispensable contribution of my fellow workers on the editorial and production teams and for the support and encouragement of the members of Dialogue’s board of directors. Clearly, I am a part of a cooperative effort. My purpose is to be guided by collective rather than my private values. For one thing, I am appointed by Dialogue’s board of directors. Once a year, they exclude me from a half hour session of a board meeting to discuss my performance. For another thing, not only do I depend enormously on my subordinate editors and production workers but also on the expert reviewers who voluntarily referee submissions. Finally, all of us, the board of directors, the editorial team, our expert reviewers, and I myself try hard to judge what our readers value. Dialogue has a constituency. I judge that Dialogue’s subscribers share many of my personal biases–but by no means all of them. The goal is to appeal to a variety of interests, both liberal and conservative, without offending deeply felt taboos. In an attempt to achieve this balance, I have assumed a caution and conservatism as editor quite unlike what I will call the brash, friendly irreverence I often display in my essays and speeches. [Read more…]

Keeping up with fashion in editorial matters

Scholarly controversies, like sartorial fashions, have a way of becoming quickly passe, as I am reminded by a group of articles which Dialogue has posted on the e-Papers section of Dialogue Paperless. I am thinking particularly of the three articles posted there on chiasmus in the Book of Mormon, which you can view if you like by going to and following the icons. We have had zero comments on these three articles, indicative of a general indifference to the topic. I would be interested to know how readers of this blog would vote if they were on an editorial board making a decision whether to publish a piece on chiasmus. [Read more…]

Why I Stay

Friday I spoke on Sunstone’s “Why I Stay” panel. At the risk of condensing so brutally that I render my comments illogical, I share here a very brief summary in hopes of enticing you to add why you who stay in the church do stay. Reasons others go are familiar: leadership and policy issues (political issues, official barriers to serious scholarship, excommunications, etc.) and lack of intellectual or spiritual stimulation (read boredom), for example. I stay though I share many of the complaints of those who go. [Read more…]

Not Polygamy Again!

A couple of months ago I (Kathleen from Dialogue) spoke to some younger women in my ward about polygamy. This was in a non-official setting. They were curious. One said, “There is nothing about polygamy on” She grew up thinking polygamy was a way of providing for the widows. [Read more…]


August_2006_1921 Eugenics Congress 400 px1

Around the turn of the twentieth century, a eugenics movement developed in the U.S. (and elsewhere) –a formal movement complete with societies, annual congresses, lecture circuits, and multiple journals or magazines. Eugenics was considered the science of selective human breeding, and the express objective of the movement was “betterment of the race.” This was to be achieved through public policy initiatives (including marriage, sterilization and anti-immigration laws) and encouragement of private reproductive choices through public relations measures such as sermon competitions and “fittest family” and “better baby” contests. [Read more…]

Michael Quinn on the First Vision

I would like to let visitors to By Common Consent know that a major article by Michael Quinn has been posted on the E-Papers section of Dialogue Paperless. Quinn brings a fresh perspective to the discussion of the “First Vision,” providing evidence that there is good reason to believe that the vision occurred at the time and in the circumstances that Joseph Smith claimed. This article, writes Quinn, “provides new ways of understanding Joseph’s narrative, analyzes previously neglected issues/data, and establishes a basis for perceiving in detail what the teenage boy experienced in the religious revivalism that led to his first theophany.” (D. Michael Quinn, “Joseph Smith’s Experience of a Methodist ‘Camp-Meeting’ in 1820.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. Dialogue Paperless. E-Paper # 3 (July 12, 2006) The article is accompanied by a blog where readers who wish to engage in a detailed or technical discussion of the article may enter comments.

I would also be interested in comments on By Common Consent. Some scholars feel that the First Vision is a worn-out topic, a debate brought to a condition of stalemate between unbelieving scholars on the one hand and by believing scholars on the other. After reading Quinn’s article, I can’t agree. It seems to me that at a minimum, Quinn has re-invigorated the topic. It also strikes me that the piece is very much a faith-promoting article.

Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons — UPDATED

We who blog under Dialogue’s tent are in a somewhat awkward position. On the one hand, we blog to share our passion for Dialogue The Journal and under its umbrella and, on the other, we quite necessarily share our own opinions. We’ve all come to care about you and your opinions and enjoy our conversations with you in the same way you care about and enjoy each other. We personally like being a small part of your community. But Dialogue the institution’s mission is to further dialogue, not to take sides in any cause but our own. Dialogue is governed by one belief: that dialogue is good because we are most likely to learn the truth in a free and open exchange of ideas. [Read more…]

Why you should subscribe to BYU Studies

Stirling Adams, a member of the Dialogue board of directors, is one of BCC’s regular guest Dialogue bloggers.

June_2006_45-1 cover1The latest issue of BYU Studies (45:1) just came out. After my initial glance at the cover art (by Brian Kershisnik) and the table of contents (which includes Givens’ “’Lightning Out of Heaven’: Joseph Smith and the Forging of Community,” and David Paulsen’s “Are Christians Mormon? Reassessing Joseph Smith’s Theology”) I’m excited to dive into the text.

Before moving to Utah, I had little sense of the academic focus or past content of BYU Studies. I’ve now been a subscriber for several years, and have used its archive for research on many subjects. I’m confident that whatever your area of interest in Mormon studies, odds are there are multiple, useful, BYU Studies articles exploring the topic. If you doubt, test that assertion. Go to the search option at, or to the BYU library on-line BYU Studies archive, and search on your topic. As examples, two ongoing interests I have are Latin American Mormon Studies, and the intersection of ichthyology and Mormon history. BYU Studies is a main source of quality works exploring those topics (though I’d certainly like to see more on the piscine practices of the peculiar people). [Read more…]

Candid Comments from the Editor of Dialogue

When I was asked several months ago to prepare an abstract of a speech I had been invited to deliver, I wrote that editing Dialogue had mellowed my liberal Mormon bias and made me more tolerant of the bias of others regarding topics about Mormonism. “I find myself equally at peace,” I wrote in the abstract –with the liberal Mormon who believes you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine, the Mormon apologist who defends the faith by citing only the positive evidence, the anti-Mormon who regards Mormonism as a dangerous perversion of authentic Christianity, and the secular humanist who approaches Mormon studies with the objective eye of a naturalist. I admire and respect them all.” [Read more…]

Translated correctly

Jana Riess comes to us as one of the regular Dialogue participants.

Recently on the AML (Association of Mormon Letters) list, there’s been an interesting discussion of Bible translations, including the merits and demerits of the King James Version. My own feeling is that the KJV, however magnificent its language, is not always the best translation to help us understand the scriptures. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with it. I wish we Mormons would get out more. [Read more…]

Free Agency in the Bathtub

This is Kathleen from Dialogue. A young woman teaching in Relief Society mentioned that sometimes when she is trying to get her reluctant twin sons into the bath tub she distracts them by offering them a choice: “Would you like to play with? The red duck or the blue duck? The frogman or the bathtub chalk?” She pointed out that these are really false choices, because the boys have no choice about the issue at hand: the bath. Similarly she offers them choices about what clothes to wear when there is really no choice about getting dressed. She said what she is doing is like Satan’s plan. I suppose it is, if you think Satan’s plan is to make us think we have choices when we don’t, as opposed to offering no choices, period. I think her analogy is more like predestination, which would say everything we think we are choosing to do will have no final effect on where we will end up. [Read more…]

A Christian by Yearning

Levi speaks on his upcoming book Rascal by Nature, A Christian by Yearning, A Mormon Autobiography at the University of Utah tomorrow, April 11. You Utahns still have time to make plans to see him. [Read more…]

Conference Report (Immigration)

Saints from around the world convened on Temple Square yesterday, and here’s my report of the conference proceedings–of two immigration bills before the U.S. Congress. I’ll summarize some of the public policy April_2006_statute of liberty jig 239 pix 4  pieces gone supernovachoices offered by the proposed changes, then end with these questions:

Do LDS scripture and teachings inform your/my/our attitudes towards U.S. immigration policy, and, should they?

But first, here are some notes on the context in which we find ourselves:

  • Through the mid 20th century, U.S. laws regarding who could immigrate to the U.S. (and who could become a citizen) were racially restrictive, with a judicially and legislatively expressed goal of shaping the U.S. populace to be “white.” As one of various instances of this, in 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act preventing Chinese from immigrating here. As another, in 1921, Congress established a temporary quota system expressly designed “to confine immigration as much as possible to western and northern European stock”; this quota system was made permanent in the National Origin Act of 1924 (these quotas were ended in 1965).
  • The U.S. response to the presence of large numbers of illegal immigrants has been varied. In the early 1930s, we [Read more…]

Thinking about Easter

This year Easter is April 16. In our ward, there will be a musical number, flowers on the podium, and a couple of talks to mark the occasion. It will not be surprising if the lessons in the auxiliaries and Sunday School go on with the pre-set lesson schedule and make no mention of the holiday (holy day). It would be a big surprise if talks the week before Easter made reference to Palm Sunday. There will be no mention made of Good Friday, and most Mormons wouldn’t understand a reference to Maundy Thursday. [Read more…]

What is Joseph Smith’s Enoch?

Few scriptural puzzles challenge us as does Enoch. Now that the Old Testament and the Pearl of Great Price are again front and center, I would love to know how you analyze the problems and what you think of Joseph’s Enoch. [Read more…]

Eating Meat

This is Kathleen from Dialogue writing. I was trolling through some Dialogue magazines looking for information about the Word of Wisdom and found this in the opening paragraph of an article by Thomas G. Alexander. (“The Word of Wisdom: From Principle to Requirement, ” 14, No. 3 [Fall 1981] 78 – 87). In May of 1898 the First Presidency and the Twelve were discussing the Word of Wisdom. One member read from the 12th volume of the Journal of Discourses where Brigham Young seems to support the idea that the Word of Wisdom is a commandment. “Lorenzo Snow, then President of the Council of Twelve agreed, saying that he believed the Word of Wisdom was a commandment and that it should be carried out to the letter. In doing so, he said, members should be taught to refrain from eating meat except in dire necessity, because Joseph Smith had taught that animals have spirits.” Wilford Woodruff agreed the Word of Wisdom is a commandment, but thinks no action should be taken except that “members should be taught to refrain from meat.” (p. 78) [Read more…]