“Mission President and His Wife;” or Why Titles Matter

President, Bishop, High Priest, Priest, Mission President, Assistant to the President, Deacon, Teacher, Seventy.

Titles matter. Titles matter in the church, but only for men.

Because in the past few months, we’ve lost (or in one instance not gained) titles for women in the church.

[Read more…]

Some Personal Thoughts About the Book of Mormon as a Text

Last Sunday, I completed my march through The Book of Mormon: The Earliest Text, a version of the Book of Mormon edited by Royal Skousen. Published 10 years ago, it is employs multiple critical analysis tools to account for every textual variant found in the badly damaged original manuscript of the BoM, the printer’s manuscript, and several early printed editions as well, all with the aim of reconstructing, as much as possible, exactly what Joseph Smith recited to his scribes during those “days never to be forgotten,” as Oliver Cowdery put it, 190 years ago. I started through The Earliest Text about a year and a half ago, and it’s been a fascinating read. I’m by no means a scholar of the BoM’s historicity, but I think I’m fairly well-read in the many interpretive arguments which surround the book (which in different versions I’ve read all the way through perhaps a dozen times). Skousen’s achievement didn’t settle any of those arguments for me, but it did give me a new way to think about them–a way that I had, over the past several years, come think I could never apply to Mormon scriptures. [Read more…]

What Family History Means to People Like Me

Michelle Franzoni Thorley’s work focuses on the ancestral power to heal. She is a self-taught artist who has claimed power through embracing her Mexican-American heritage and her experiences as a LDS woman artist. Her work has been displayed at the Writ and Vision gallery, LDS Church history museum, Abravanel hall and the Springville art museum. She spoke at the Center for Latter-day Saint Art in New York City in June 2019 and at BYU family history conference in Provo Utah in October 2019. She is passionate about plants, family history, and the stories of women. Her work and words can be found on Instagram at @flora_familiar. She lives in Utah, with her spouse and three young children.

Michelle Franzoni Thorley “Family History and Temple Work”

My name is Michelle. I am a Mexican-American artist who loves genealogical healing, which is also known as family history.

I grew up as a minority in my community. My parents were divorced, I lived under the poverty level, and my hair and skin were different than all the other kids. I had a hard time dealing with a lot of sadness. I now recognize that some of the sadness I carried was generational trauma, and I have healed a lot of that pain through therapy, family history, and temple work. 

[Read more…]

HB 1 16:13

In April of this year the First Presidency repealed the captioned Handbook policy, commonly referred to by many members as the “Policy of Exclusion” (or the “PoX” for short). This was an absolutely stunning development. The Church is not in the habit of overturning policies buttressed with claims of capital R Revelation within four short years of promulgation. The Church hates to be put in the position of appearing fallible in some sense, even though our leaders are human beings and therefore our leadership is by very definition fallible. I give the Church a major fist bump for this action. Sure, it would have been better not to have promulgated the policy in the first place, and yes, i’m sure it wasn’t easy, but it was very much the right thing to do.

[Read more…]

“Making the Case for the Messiah,” Hebrews 1-6 #BCCSundaySchool 2019

Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews is one of the three New Testament books (along with Acts and Revelation) that doesn’t really fit into the GOSPELS-EPISTLES organizing scheme. It probably isn’t by Paul. It is definitely not an epistle. And it may or may not be to the Hebrews. This is why it is situated after the Pauline Epistles–which are otherwise arranged by length, longest to shortest (Hebrews is much longer than the short epistles that precede it). The early Church Fathers didn’t quite know what to do with it, but they knew it was important

[Read more…]

Your Sunday Brunch Special: Stealing a Bull Dozer

During the summer between my first and second years as a grad student, I needed money bad. I had been married for a few years and had one child. We were living in campus housing and it seemed terribly expensive. I had a car but it was dreadfully old and unreliable (the heater didn’t work, so it was a nightmare to drive in the winter. We lived pretty near campus, I had about a 2-mile walk to my office.[1] Unfortunately, I had no funding that summer and my campus job just didn’t cover our expenses. A friend at school mentioned that a large mine about 20 miles from us was hiring students for the summer and the pay scale was much higher than the campus job. We figured out that if I got hired, the money would tide us over until fall. I applied and got a job, along with another student, working at the mine truck maintenance facility. It was an astonishingly large operation where the regular crew repaired the mine trucks. These trucks were, like the mine itself, outsize monsters. The drive systems were essentially the same as railroad diesel-electric locomotives.
[Read more…]

Women Learn in Silence

This week’s Come Follow Me Sunday School Lesson includes 1 Timothy 2. It’s short. Read it here.

Ok, now I’m going to give you the gift of reading it as if you were a woman or young woman in the church who loves the scriptures and wants to find meaning therein no matter what because it’s scripture. This woman/young woman believes that the church values women highly but understands that there have been changes lately to help women and men better understand women’s roles in the church, so is feeling a bit wobbly.

[Read more…]

Testimony And Its Opposite

Earlier this year I wrote a piece about what I perceived as a lack of mourning with those who mourn in the church. It drew from some recent church issues that had troubled me deeply, and though I needed to write through them for my own sanity, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to share it or not. 

[Read more…]

BYU Studies Call for Papers on Special Evolution Issue

We are delighted to invite you to contribute to a BYU Studies Quarterly special issue on the thoughtful integration of evolution and faith. BYU Studies publishes scholarship within a restored gospel of Jesus Christ context. Submissions are invited from all scholars who seek truth “by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118), discern the harmony between revelation and research, value both academic and spiritual inquiry, and recognize that knowledge without charity is nothing (1 Cor. 13:2).
[Read more…]

God the Parent

I jettisoned Heavenly Mother a few years ago, and to be honest, I don’t miss Her. How could I? She was never real to me to begin with. When I was a young woman, I was fascinated by the idea of a Heavenly Mother, and very frustrated by my lack of information about her. But I think my desire to know more about Heavenly Mother did not stem from a desire to know God. I think that having grown up in a patriarchal religion, with an all-male power structure, where God was referred to always as “Heavenly Father,” I just wanted confirmation that women were equally important to men in the grand scheme of things, that I wouldn’t get to the afterlife and find out that I was a second-class citizen for eternity.

A few weeks ago, someone on Twitter was criticizing the idea that you can’t fully understand God’s love until you become a parent yourself. Obviously, this can be a hard thing to hear if you are not a parent (and harder if you know you are likely never to be one). I know why we speak of God as a Father (i.e., a parent). It’s a good metaphor, assuming you’ve experienced parental love on the receiving end. The god of Judaism and Christianity is a personal god, one who cares for his creations and is invested in their success/happiness/general well-being/etc. God also makes the rules. So God as a parent is a good metaphor, but like all metaphors, it has its limits. [Read more…]

Why Write (and Read!) about Church History Women?

Mcarthur Krishna is an author, artist, and friend. She, along with Bethany Brady Spalding, is the author of the Girls Who Choose God series of books.

So, the church history department conducted a survey a few years ago and asked members to name five women from church history. (No, listing “Sister Smith” five times doesn’t count.) Not surprisingly, the vast majority of members could not. Why isn’t this a surprise to me? Because neither could I! [Read more…]

Come Follow Me, A Thank You

I miss three-hour church. I really do. I would switch back in a heartbeat. But I am absolutely grateful for the new Sunday School curriculum. The manuals themselves are essentially forgettable. It is instead the framework of study that has been the blessing. As I see it, there are two overwhelming goods in the curriculum. First is that the lessons are based on large chunks of scriptural text, and not random verses from all over the place. This allows for careful reading (as a side note, read Ben’s recent post on the previous generation of curriculum development). The second is that church leaders encouraged supplemental study groups. Consequently, this is a love letter to my ward.
[Read more…]

Circumcision, Mutilation, and Conversion Therapy

In preparing for my youth Sunday School lesson this morning, a scripture jumped out and bit me in the way that they sometimes do when you read something that you have read dozens of times before but all of a sudden notice that it means something that you never suspected it meant. The scripture was in the third chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians. 

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh. (Phil. 3:2-3 NRSV)

[Read more…]

My Own Iron Rod

gc for bcc

Me at this exact Girls Camp in 2009

At 14 years old, I looked about the same that I do now, except somehow much ganglier and with a nice set of braces on my teeth. I was awkward and anxious, but funny and loyal to my friends. At this point in my life, Girls Camp was the peak of my spirituality. I loved all aspects of it: the camping, the outdoor activities, the bonding, the sisterhood, the spiritual growth. But many memories of my time at camp each summer are less sunny. I frequently experienced heat exhaustion. I was stung by a scorpion. Twice. I dealt with drama among other girls, watched as leaders became terrifyingly ill, and even peed myself once (but that’s a story for another day).

A specific experience has been weighing on my mind for the past couple of months. My third year of camp, the leaders planned a specific spiritual activity. All of the girls were gathered together and blindfolded. In groups, we were guided to a wooded area and told to hold firm to “the iron rod,” or more realistically, a long PVC pipe. We proceeded to walk along the path while our leaders aimed to tempt us off the rod. Many were laughing and saying ridiculous things. “Follow me! We’re having a party!” or “There are a bunch of cute guys over here, come with us!” However, a select few chose a softer approach.

About halfway across the rod, I heard a soft voice whisper to me “Amber, there is a rock in front of you. Take my hand and just step to the right.” Before I knew it, I was being pulled across a clearing to sit on a bench with one of my beloved leaders. Tears were streaming down both of our faces. I had messed up and I was so embarrassed. I thought I was in tune and responsible. I thought I was doing the right thing by listening to the soft voice guiding me away from an obstacle. In actuality, I had been deceived and I was ashamed.

It wasn’t until years later that I realized how gross this activity really felt. At the time I felt that I was learning an important lesson on how easily I could be led astray. In fact, I know that was the intended lesson. But I also think that intent is the problem. When young people tie shame and embarrassment to their choices, they carry that shame with them for years, and likely, their entire lives.

Being deceived is not fun. It hurts so much more when it occurs at the hand of someone you believed could be trusted. The unfortunate truth is that those we trust most tend to be the ones most likely to deceive or betray us. We are more likely to believe the people we trust. But trusting someone does not exempt us from being lied to or even merely guided in the wrong direction. The people we trust are not perfect, and we should not expect them to be. We can hope that they have our best interest at heart, but tragically we also cannot be surprised when they are wrong.

All those years ago, I subconsciously learned the lesson that my leaders were capable of deceiving me and leading me away. The soft, sweet voices are often the easiest ones to trust, but soft and sweet doesn’t necessarily mean true. I have spent the past several years trying to discern truth from deceit.

It is in our human nature to be flawed and incorrect, and that nature does not exclude leadership at any level. I am on the path of finding my own truth. Thinking critically about the truths church leaders proclaim has been liberating. By refusing to accept things at face value no matter who they come from, I have found my own direction. I strive to always be guided by love.

The Iron Rod is the Word of God. The Word of God at is very core is love. Throughout my life, I have been taught things that both foster and inhibit pure love. I am starting to recognize that I can choose to only hold onto things that foster it for me.

Becoming Christlike and learning my divine potential is tied completely to my ability to love and accept those around me, and in extension, to love and accept myself. I am learning to be comfortable forging my own path, even when that means unlearning things that soft, kind voices taught and continue to teach me that don’t help foster love in my life.

Could we Sustain the Female General Officers of the Church as Prophets, Seers, and Revelators?

This past conference, President Nelson announced additional changes to the ecclesiology of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among other things, ward young men’s presidencies are discontinued, and their functions are shifted to Bishops, who are to put more of a focus on their role as the President of the Aaronic priesthood in the ward, consistent with D&C 107 (see WVS’s excellent series for some background on the history of section 107 and how the church has applied it) and delegate more of their other responsibilities to the presidencies of the Elders Quorum and the Relief Society. Young Women’s and Relief Society (along with Primary and Sunday School) are no longer “auxiliaries” and are now referred to as “organizations,” and their presidencies are now called “ward officers,” “stake officers,” and “general officers” rather than auxiliary presidents. The Bishop still ultimately presides over the entire ward, but by eliminating the Young Men auxiliary and arguably elevating the Young Women and Relief Society organizations, this change arguably puts Young Women closer to parity with with Aaronic Priesthood, and, with the earlier elimination of ward-level High Priests Groups, it arguably puts the Relief Society closer to parity with the Elders Quorum at the ward level. [Read more…]

Seeing Jesus as a Jew

Review of Trevan G. Hatch, A Stranger in Jerusalem: Seeing Jesus as a Jew (Eugene, Oregon: WIPF & Stock, 2019) [Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Take the Grace

Nineteenth-Century England produced many greater poets than Francis Thompson and many, many better poems than “The Hound of Heaven.” But it probably didn’t produce a better metaphor for God’s grace than this now-mostly-forgotten, 182-line divine Gothic romance first published in 1890.

[Read more…]

Kind to be Cruel?

I’ve heard the following quite a bit lately: “If you really cared about LGBT people, then you’d spend your time encouraging them to repent of their sins; otherwise you are condemning them.” The corollary to this notion is that true Christian love for your fellow man can only really be expressed by constantly reminding them of their sinful nature. It’s an interesting notion, but only if one is ignorant of Job. [Read more…]

The Church of Contrition

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost.” (3 Nephi 9:20)

alex-holyoake-AravKhHABm4-unsplash

Note:  During the last few General Conferences, I’ve pondered what message my spirit most yearns to hear.  Today I’m writing out that message for others, as if I had been asked to speak during General Conference.  This writing requires a suspension of disbelief: I do not purport to actually have any authority to speak on behalf of the Church. 

I speak today to apologize.

I believe a sincere “I’m sorry” is second only to “I love you” as the most powerful sentence anyone can utter. [Read more…]

October Conference: President Nelson Announces New Temple Recommend Questions

Below you can see a comparison between the new and previous recommend questions. There are a few changes. These changes emphasize certain points and deemphasize or at least make others less specific.
[Read more…]

Women Witnesses for Ordinances

Giotto-Noli-Me-Tangere-Do-not-touch-me-

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced this morning that women can now serve as witnesses for baptisms and temple sealings.

I’m thrilled about this change.  As I wrote two years ago, the Church’s longtime refusal to let women serve as witnesses contradicted Jesus Christ’s own example of choosing women to be the first witnesses of his Resurrection.  And as co-blogger Jonathan Stapley  details, women as witnesses has long precedence in the modern Church as well.

This change matters.  It’s not just a technical hand-waving exercise.  Women witnessing our saving ordinances matter. [Read more…]

The Witness of Women: Historical Context

Today, church leaders announced [PDF] that women can now serve as official witnesses for baptisms (both in and out of the temple), and for sealings. In last few hours I have spoken to several friends and family members who were weeping at the news. This feels just and true, and I imagine that it would, regardless of the any historical antecedent. In this case, however, we know that women have been official witnesses in the past.
[Read more…]

Church Announces Change in Gender Restrictions for Ordinance Witnesses

First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Witnessing Ordinances

Early in this dispensation, the Lord instructed that “in the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:28). Consistent with this direction, members of the Church serve as witnesses when sacred ordinances of salvation and exaltation are performed.

We are pleased to announce procedural adjustments for the two individuals who serve as witnesses to baptisms and sealing ordinances. These adjustments are effective immediately in all temples and in all Church units. As invited by presiding authorities:

1. Any member holding a current temple recommend, including a limited-use recommend, may serve as a witness to a proxy baptism.

2. Any endowed member with a current temple recommend may serve as a witness to a living or proxy sealing.

3. Any baptized member of the Church, including children and youth, may serve as a witness to the baptism of a living person.

We trust that you, as individuals and families, will find great joy in your service as you help provide saving ordinances to Heavenly Father’s children.

Sincerely yours,

Russell M. Nelson
Dallin H. Oaks
Henry B. Eyring

Ego Depletion vs. Orthopraxy

A common trope among Mormons is the idea that when someone leaves the Church, they do so because they were offended or they had a desire to sin. If you ask why people leave the Church, these two answers are incredibly likely to be among the first class members cite. Rather than a deliberate smear campaign against those who have left the faith, it seems that this is a case of correlation vs. causation fallacy, the idea that when two things appear at the same time, one was the cause of the other, when in reality there are more options when two things appear in conjunction:

  • A caused B.
  • B caused A.
  • A and B were both caused by C.
  • A and B are unrelated and do not share a common cause.

Let’s take a closer look at both of these correlatives: people who’ve left the Church being “offended,” and people who’ve left no longer following the “rules” of being Mormon. [Read more…]

JWHA 2019 New York

I just returned from the annual JWHA Conference. In the past I would live blog these things, but that has just gotten too hard, so this will simply be some retrospective comments, nothing in real time and all from memory without contemporary notes.\ [Read more…]

“Roland Is Good; Oliver Is Wise”: Thoughts on Helping and Asking for Help

Roland is good, and Oliver is wise,
both these vassals men of amazing courage:
once they are armed and mounted on their horses,
they will not run, though they die for it, from battle.
Good men, these Counts, and their words full of spirit.
Traitor pagans are riding up in fury.
Said Oliver: “Roland, look – the first ones,
on top of us – and Charles is far away.
You did not think it right to sound your olifant:
if the King were here, we’d come out without losses.
–“The Song of Roland,” Stanza 87

The “Song of Roland,” composed anonymously some time in the 11th century,  is one of a handful of poems now considered national epics–works like the Aurtherian legends, El Cid, and the Nibelungenlied that helped the emerging nation-states of Europe create a future by convincing everyone that they had a common past. “The Song of Roland” is a little bit closer to history than other national epics. Its principal heroes–Roland and Charlemagne–actual existed, and the Battle of Roncevaux in 778, which the poem describes, really occurred.

[Read more…]

Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 10

We’ve been looking at some forms of ecclesiology that might be appealed to in the quest to understand female ordination in the present religious, and in particular Mormon, context. For lack of a better term I’ll call this next one Lego Ecclesiology. [You can find the whole series here.]
[Read more…]

Raspberries, Brigham City and My Parents

Last week we defrosted the freezer. Everything except a big bag of raspberries had been used up by the time the appointed day arrived. Not wanting to delay an already overdue event, we decided to dump the raspberries out into a steel mixing bowl and put them in the fridge until vague plans of doing something with them could be realized later. By that evening they were good and thawed, so I picked a couple off the top and popped them in my mouth. And although they had spent the better part of 2019 in our freezer, they were surprisingly fragrant and tasty, and I was immediately transported back to 400 East in Brigham City.

[Read more…]

Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 9

[You can find the whole series here.]
Blueprint ecclesiology is one of the arguments put forward by some denominations (including TCJCoLDS). I want to look at a couple of others that might be useful but are more friendly to possible ordination of women. I’m not trying to be exhaustive, largely because I’m sure I can’t do it or I’ve forgotten stuff that could be said.
[Read more…]

Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 8

[You can find the whole series here.]
Ecclesiology as I use it here refers to leadership structures in churches. I said last time that I wanted to explore some of these that are brought out in support of barring women from ordination, or allowing that ordination. A recently used rationale by Mormon leaders for not ordaining women has appeared also in Catholic and Protestant arguments and is particularly important in historical Mormonism. It has been called “blueprint ecclesiology.” I am not the inventor of the term, however I don’t recall where I first heard it used.
[Read more…]