If Jane Austen Wrote the Book of Mormon

Where are our marriage prospects in this godforsaken wilderness?

I was considering a post on the Book of Mormon & the Bechdel test when it occurred to me that Gospel Doctrine class is kind of like a book club.[1]  Which got me thinking how much better, and perhaps with more vocal women in it (as well as a few more humorously identified human foibles), the Book of Mormon would be if Jane Austen had written it. [Read more…]

The Image of the Mothering God

I gave this talk in my ward today.

As a man tasked with speaking on Mother’s Day, I feel that my job is to “look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen,”[1] in the sense that I have to testify of things that I have grown up not knowing how to see, but which I believe are true. So, I begin in gratitude for the women in my life who have taught me to see, although for my part it is still through a glass, darkly.

In the first creation account in Genesis we read: “So God created humankind in his image, / in the image of God he created them; / male and female he created them.”[2] One question that this passage immediately raises is what it means for women to be created in the image of an apparently male God. On Mother’s Day, this question seems worth pondering. Can we think Lorenzo Snow’s couplet—“As man now is, God once was; / As God now is, man may become”—beyond the ostensibly universally-human “man” and toward something specifically feminine? In Mormon terms, if we cannot imagine exalted womanhood, I do not think that we can imagine women fully human. I have friends—faithful churchgoers 51 weeks out of the year—who stay home on Mother’s Day because they see the version of motherhood presented in our discourse as too cramped and narrow for their experience. Perhaps there are women in our own ward who make a similar choice (if you know one, go knock on her door and give her a hug, or a fist bump, or whatever seems right). Our talk of “angel mothers” seems exalted, but is it really “image of God” material? My friends’ experience suggests not.

Why does this matter? When asked about the greatest commandment in the law, Jesus answered: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’”[3] If we collectively do not know what it means for women to be created in the image of God, can any of us—female or male—truly see the image of God in ourselves, enough to love ourselves as we ought? Are we then loving our neighbors in impoverished ways? Is our love of God, however ample it may be, only half of what it could be?

[Read more…]

No Man is “Trash”

Angry? You bet. Tyler Glenn’s latest song and video boil with rage. Glenn, a gay man and former missionary, was embraced by the church for his advocacy in building the inclusivity bridge. That is, until the LDS church’s November 5th policy change regarding homosexuals—a change that codified those in same-gender marriages as apostates, required their excommunication, and forbade the baptism of their children under certain conditions. The policy change hit him hard, like a gut punch, he says. Feeling himself betrayed, denigrated, and literally dismissed over his sexual orientation, Glenn took a hard look at less-visited areas of Mormonism and decided he could no longer believe. The release of “Trash” depicts a stunning reversal of attitude toward his faith heritage. [Read more…]

Rape and The Miracle of Forgiveness

Today’s Guest Post is by Chris Kimball.

Although nobody accuses me, every time the (now out-of-print) The Miracle of Forgiveness comes up, I cringe and feel guilty. It’s really not my work and I know that. But the author is my grandfather Spencer Kimball and somehow I feel responsible in a vague but troubling way.

Rape is a difficult and touchy subject, yet I want to contribute to the discussion. I offer this as my personal opinion (I certainly cannot and would never claim to channel Spencer Kimball.) [Read more…]

Mormon Mysticism and #ldsconf

Given the way that Mormonism often seems to privilege certainty, I was intrigued to notice hints of mysticism in several of Saturday’s talks. The vein of mysticism I’m talking about involves apophatic or negative theology, which means defining things by what they are not rather than what they are. Such theology draws attention to the limits of human understanding and encourages ascetic practices, often centered on prayer, designed to bring worshipers toward experiences of the divine that transcend rational description—or at least the usual categories of certainty. Mystics are people who experience God’s “dazzling darkness” in this way.
[Read more…]

Abide with Me — Thoughts on Staying

Christian Harrison generously agreed to respond to Sam’s post. Christian is a longtime friend of the blog, an urban enthusiast, a professional storyteller, and a man of faith—a practicing member of the Church. He’s also gay.

Whether it’s some progressive acquaintance calling me an Uncle Tom or Elder Bednar insisting that I don’t exist, I must admit that I’ve had no shortage of chances to wonder, lately, why I stay.

Why do I lend material support to an organization dead-set on erasing me and countless other queer members? Why do I stay when my very presence defies the wishes of so many of my coreligionists—members of the flock who want so desperately to run off the sheep with different wool? Can’t I see that I’m unwelcome? Can’t I see that God’s love is a tough love—that His love isn’t universal? Why? Why? Why…
[Read more…]

The Best of All Possible Worlds

I remember once, as a teenager, asking my dad how he stayed in the church back when the church wouldn’t allow black members to hold the priesthood or attend the temple. I was probably 16 or 17, because I’m pretty sure I was driving. I don’t think I was asking an accusatory question, though I was 16 or 17, so who knows. And I don’t remember how my dad responded.

I do remember, though, that his response was complicated, both a bearing of testimony and an acknowledgement that the pre-1978 racial policies of the church were bad. It was messier than the black and white world a teenager craves. [Read more…]

The Book of Mormon and the Bechdel Test

Speak up, but don’t talk too much.

When I was in 5th grade, our class was going to put on a classroom play: an abbreviated version of A Christmas Carol.  When I looked at the script, there was only one female part, that of Fezziwig’s wife, and she only had two brainless lines.  I figured that must mean all the parts were open, so I decided to audition for the part of Scrooge, which had a meaty fifty lines, plenty of scene-chewing grumpiness, and even a crying scene.  I borrowed my grandfather’s hat and shirt, and I explained to the teacher that since none of the girl parts were remotely interesting in this play, casting should be open to all comers for all parts.  She agreed with me, and I got the part! [1]

The Bechdel test [2] is used to identify gender bias in movies and literature, but it applies to any narrative story.   [Read more…]

What’s Missing from the Historic Beehive House Tours? History.

Oh, did someone important live here?

An interesting article in the Salt Lake Tribune last week reminded me of a post I did a few years ago about a non-member review of Kirtland.  Kirtland is an interesting historical site because some of the attractions are run by the LDS church, and some are run by the Community of Christ.  In my experience, both tour guides were very knowledgeable, but the key difference was that the LDS tour guides persisted in inserting “spiritual” experiences into the tour such as invitations for spontaneous hymn singing, testimony bearing or (whew!) moments of silence.  Yet, the senior couple who took us through the site was very knowledgeable about the history of the site.  They had clearly done their homework.

By contrast, the article in the Tribune was about a recent visitor to the Beehive House (Brigham Young’s SLC home) who had questions about her family’s connection to Brigham Young. [Read more…]

Passive-aggressive presiding post

20020For consideration of the Church Magazine Committee:

“Julie, wake up! It’s time for scriptures and morning prayers!”

Julie stared blearily at the clock and sighed. Already 6 a.m.? Her mom’s voice came again from downstairs, “Now!”

Julie shrugged out of her blankets, salvaging one to wrap around her and made her way downstairs. Her siblings sat sloppily eating their cereal and her dad rushed in to grab some toast.

“Honey?” Her mother said to her dad as he slathered the homemade jam across the top. [Read more…]

Meeting Elder and Sister Renlund #ldsconf

Screenshot 2015-10-21 at 3.53.09 PMThe 2015 November Ensign is shooting towards homes across Mormondom and inside there are the normal makings of a conference issue, which is mostly made up of the talks. What deviates, of course, is the inclusion of the leadership changes and with that one finds handy biographies starting on page 135 of the three new apostles as well as six additional biographies (including the presidency of the seventy changes, presiding bishopric changes and the new counselor in the Sunday School).

Why does this matter? It’s interesting to meet these new leaders, see what they’ve been up to in their lives, and for the most part, eight of those biographies follow the formula of most one-page biographies we’ve read in the magazines for years: a short testimony or a testimony-building anecdote about their lives to catch interest, followed by basic biographical information of where they were born and raised and educated, then marriage and sometimes an extra sentence about their wives, and church service throughout the world that prepared them for their calling today.

renludg1fThere is one amazing exception. One that made me say “whoa, I didn’t know I was craving this type of biography.” And that is Elder Dale G. Renlund’s biography. Because you not only get a biographical glimpse into his life, but his wife Ruth is in the very first paragraph and pretty much by his side, metaphorically (and from what I read, in actuality) throughout the biography. It’s a wonderful rhetorical use of bringing these women into spotlight along with their husbands. It matches what needs to happen as these women are just as invested as their husbands into these callings if not as visible. Sister Ruth Renlund is portrayed as a real and active partner by his side. I just love it. [Read more…]

Authenticity: Will the Real Me Please Stand Up?

It’s a common claim among participants of Mormon internet groups that people feel they cannot be themselves at church or can’t say what they think for fear of being ostracized.  They feel they are discouraged from being honest or authentic, that they would be rejected if they disagreed with the party line or articulated a non-conforming viewpoint.  Certainly many examples have been given of individuals who were viewed suspiciously for sharing unpopular opinions openly.  These are complaints that they feel they must be inauthentic to be accepted. [Read more…]

It’s a Process

Naomi Watkins is the cofounder of Aspiring Mormon Women, a non-profit organization that supports and encourages Latter-Day Saint women’s professional and educational pursuits. Currently, she works as an instructional coach in a Title I high school in the Salt Lake City area, charged with improving teachers’ literacy instruction and students’ literacy skills. She earned her B.A. in English Education from Brigham Young University, a M.Ed. in Language and Literacy from Arizona State University, and a Ph.D. in Teaching and Learning with a literacy emphasis from the University of Utah.

Since my teens, I had wanted to serve a mission, and knowing that a mission was a worthy path, I submitted my mission papers a few months before my 21st birthday. I didn’t bother asking the Lord if a mission was for me. Serving a mission was a righteous desire, so why would He say no?

One week after submitting my mission papers, and with some prodding from my parents, I decided to finally ask the Lord if a mission was indeed my next step, and I received a pretty strong “No” as an answer. I felt that this answer had to be wrong, and so I asked Him again, and I received the same no answer. How could the Lord tell me no? I knew that I would be a stellar missionary, and I was more than willing and able to serve. I had sincere intentions; I wanted to serve a mission—and not because I had nothing better to do or wasn’t yet married. I was confused and hurt and angry. How could the Lord not want my service and sacrifice? How could He refuse me? [Read more…]

Uchtdorf at the Women’s Session: Something for Everyone #ldsconf

The silver fox is my animal spirit guide at General Conference.

Pres. Uchtdorf, aka the “Silver Fox” as he is known in my ward and probably everywhere else, hit yet another home run in the Women’s Session, batting clean up for the three female speakers.  He opens with:

Today, I too have a story to share. I invite you to listen with the Spirit. The Holy Ghost will help you to find the message for you in this parable.

He shares the story of an 11 year old girl named Eva who did not want to go to live with her Great-Aunt Rose.   [Read more…]

Rules & Relationships

It is common for westerners in India to be amazed at the utter chaos and yet the seemingly laissez-faire attitude of the Indian drivers.  One of our Indian drivers remarked about the traffic:  “In India, nothing is impossible because I-M-Possible.”  He chortled over his cleverness, and repeated that saying many times in our nine day trip. [Read more…]

Manufactured Prejudice

Last year, a commenter stated that in his stake at a recent meeting with a Q&A session with a general authority, two of the seven questions asked were how to get youth to accept the church’s stance on homosexuality. [1]  This is a question that I have wondered about myself as a mother of teens who likewise don’t agree that homosexuality is the dire threat the church portrays. They have been consistently taught in school that being gay is innate and acceptable, that gay kids should be treated with respect, and that bullying will not be tolerated and is morally wrong. [2]  As a result of the world in which they live, they do not inherently feel homosexuality is shameful, and they have friends in school who openly self-identify as gay.  This is a pretty big change from the era in which I was raised and an even bigger change from when older generations were raised. [Read more…]

Survey on Marital Quality and Belief Changes

A topic often under discussion in the bloggernacle is how to navigate marriages when one spouse experiences a change in belief.  If this describes your marriage, please follow the link to participate.  Eligibility requirements are below.

https://iu.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6tYdXEwogQ9PKK1

[Read more…]

Mormons in a Post-Obergefell World

A few thoughts I’ve had about living in a post-Obergefell world:

The first thing: the decision, on a practical level, doesn’t change anything for most of us. It certainly doesn’t for me. And I don’t say that because I’m straight. I live in Illinois, where same-sex marriage was instituted legislatively over a year ago. The only substantive difference Obergefell makes in Illinois is that couples who marry here don’t stop being married when they move to Indiana. And, as Cynthia pointed out, the vast majority of Mormons are in a similar boat: most of us (in the U.S., anyway) live in places where same-sex marriage was just as legal on June 25 as it was on June 26[Read more…]

The Church Will Not Lose Its Tax-Exempt Status

Do I seriously have to say this? Again? Look, Obergefell does not mark the end of churches’ tax-exempt status. It’s just not going to happen.

I thought I’d put this bit of end-of-days hand-wringing to bed here, but apparently I didn’t do a good enough job, because it’s still out there, even in Mormon circles (most credibly repeated by Gene Schaerr, who included loss of church tax-exempt status as one of the potential consequences of of the Obergefell decision).

I don’t know Schaerr personally; I’ve heard through the grapevine that he’s an excellent appellate litigator. But appellate litigation is not tax practice, and does not generally provide any insight into the tax law. And Schaerr apparently doesn’t have any significant insight into the law of tax-exempt entities.  [Read more…]

Intertemporal Mormonism

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

J. Wellington Wimpy understood the time value of money

The last couple days, I’ve been thinking about intertemporality in the church. In particular, I’ve been thinking about how we see the value of current revelation vis-à-vis both past and future revelation.

Partly, I think, this interests me as an expansion of my professional interests. In my world, we think a lot about the time value of money. In a nutshell, the time value of money holds that, as long as you can earn a positive rate of interest, a dollar today is more valuable than a dollar a year from now, so if you have a choice between earning a dollar today and earning a dollar in a year, you should choose the dollar today.[fn1] [Read more…]

Tax Exemption, Post-Obergefell

… will look a lot like tax exemption, pre-Obergefell.

There’s been a lot of Sturm und Drang recently over what will happen to the tax exemptions of churches and religiously-affiliated schools that oppose same-sex marriage. The specter of loss of exemption has been bandied about, not just by tax-illiterate bloggers, but by major media sources. (Heck, I looked at the question prior to the decision.)

So could the church or BYU lose its tax exemption as a result of their policies on homosexuality?  [Read more…]

The Women’s Pull

Some of our groups had only 4 girls, and the carts had metal on them and were very heavy.

Our stake just completed its first ever Pioneer Trek activity.  In our fast & testimony meeting this weekend, most of the speakers talked about their experiences as leaders or participants.  I would have thought these contrived experiences wouldn’t be as touching as they were, but some of their experiences were moving and instructive. [Read more…]

Recap of “Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom”

Audio recordings of talks from the symposium are available here, with video of Clayton Christensen’s plenary here. Symposium organizers Matt Bowman and Sharon Harris share their thoughts below in a mock interview. We are glad to welcome them once again as guests at BCC.

On May 16, we held a symposium in New York City. Called “Of One Body: The State of Mormon Singledom.” It was designed not as a typical Mormon singles conference (planned to encourage flirting and courtship), but as a serious discussion about the growing numbers of single Mormons and the falling rates of marriage within Mormonism. Both of these trends reflect broad patterns in American culture, but we wanted to discuss what they mean for Mormons in particular. We invited a number of speakers: In the introduction Matt Bowman outlined these demographic trends and talked about the meaning of the title (drawn from the apostle Paul). Sharon Harris discussed the history of singles wards. Clayton Christensen offered thoughts on how we think about the place of single people in the Church. A panel of those in leadership callings gave their perspectives on working with single people in their flock. Jennifer Finlayson-Fife talked about the law of chastity and how singles of a wide variety of ages grapple with it, and Kristine Haglund delivered a closing homily on the place of single people in the body of Christ. We are grateful to the Manhattan stake for its sponsorship.
[Read more…]

Unforced Errors

When I first got married, my wife had ideas about teaching me to play tennis. Actually, that isn’t true. I had ideas about my wife teaching me to play tennis. It was a sport she enjoyed and something that we could do together. She was a little skeptical but willing. It was, of course, a disaster. The first problem was that I’d never been all that serious about the game. As I told her before we started, I played tennis like I didn’t play baseball; everything went over the fence. Initially, this wasn’t a problem as I was willing to run after all the errant balls and she was willing to stand around and watch me. But this eventually grew boring and she decided it would be useful to help me with my swing. So she stood by me, modeled the swing, and bounced the ball to me so I could hit it. I was very fast on the trigger, hoping to impress her, I suppose. I swung around quick and caught her hand with my racket. She cried out, I went to her and apologized, she shook it off after a moment and decided to try again. She started to bounce the ball and, sure I knew what I was doing, I swung again and immediately wacked her hand again. Afterwards, she wasn’t angry with me, but she has never stepped onto a tennis court with me again. [Read more…]

Obergefell and BYU’s Tax Exemption

On April 28, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Obergefell v. Hodges, which challenged both the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage and of states’ nonrecognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.

By the end of June, the Justices will have decided and we’ll know the constitutional status of same-sex marriage bans in the United States. But that doesn’t mean all questions will be resolved; in fact, an exchange between Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Alito, and Solicitor General Verrilli piqued the interest of a lot of people, especially those invested in religious educational institutions.  [Read more…]

Mother Jesus

Although Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1417) was the greatest of the medieval English mystics, we know little of her life. At about age 30 she was cured of mortal illness through a vision she experienced while gazing at a cross brought by the priest who had come to administer last rites. By the 1390s she was a well-known anchorite (a person bound by vow to sacred confinement) at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich.

We know her primarily through her book of Showings, which makes her the first identifiable female author in English literature. This book exists in two forms: a shorter one recording what she called “the revelations of divine love” and a longer one that expands and meditates upon these experiences.

Although, as with many of our own spiritual experiences, Julian’s first vision seems to have come unbidden, she was exemplary in showing us what riches can come of meditating upon what the Lord has taught us. In this way she provokes us to love and good deeds, giving us confidence to enter (and re-enter) the sanctuaries of our own hearts. [Read more…]

Book Review: Sarah Coakley, “God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay ‘On the Trinity'”

Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (Cambridge University Press, 2013). Amazon Indiebound

Why should Mormons read (or even care about) a work of Anglican systematic theology about the Trinity, a doctrine in which we are prone to saying we do not believe? (But which we enjoy probing around here: see J. Stapley’s recent post, which links to several earlier Trinitarian BCC musings—get this—by three men, including me.)

Here’s why: some of the most urgent theological questions currently occupying Mormonism have to do with gender and the divine. Not only has the Ordain Women movement raised (once again) the issue of women’s ordination, but people are asking questions about Heavenly Mother (see the “Connecting to Heavenly Mother” series at FMH, or the Heavenly Mother category at the Exponent II blog), with some wondering whether she can be separated from earlier teachings about Adam-God and polygamy. A recent review of Terryl Givens’s Wrestling with the Angel drew attention to the ways that our theology (along with Givens’s account of it) struggles to make sense of gender or even to find a place for women. In sum, although many members of the Church (female and male) do seem satisfied with present teachings and practices around gender, a growing minority can’t help butting up uncomfortably against questions about how women fit into the economy of heaven. [Read more…]

Defending the family by exploring changing gender roles

Recently, at the General Women’s Session of April Conference, several talks where given on the theme of “defending the family.” There have been a number of responses to this session already (including two very good ones here at BCC), so we can safely say that this is a topic that has been covered. So, why bother talking about it some more? Because I think that I have found, hiding inside President Bonnie Oscarson’s talk, a message regarding marriage and family that is practically progressive in its outlook. [Read more…]

The Genesis Fall Stories #ldsconf

In his conference talk, Elder Holland set out to preach Jesus as one who can save us from the Fall. I was very grateful to hear such a sermon on Easter Sunday. To make his point about Jesus, Elder Holland insisted on the need to believe in a literal Adam and Eve who fell in the Garden of Eden so that Jesus could become, as Paul would have him, a second Adam who brings life after the first brought death. I’m not going to argue about whether we need to take the story of Adam and Eve literally or not (even though I don’t think we do); rather, I aim to show how Genesis offers a second perspective on the Fall, one in addition to the familiar story of Adam and Eve. [Read more…]

Sis. Burton’s Boy Crazy Talk #ldsconf

Finally!  A talk about something I love:  men.  As a person who has sometimes struggled with opposite sex attraction, I can relate.  In The Sound of Music, the Baroness von Whatsername wisely said there was nothing more attractive to a man than a woman who was in love with him, so right now, Sis. Burton is looking pretty good. [Read more…]

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