My Own Iron Rod

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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.

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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)

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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.
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Women Witnesses for Ordinances

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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.
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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.]
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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.

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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.
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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.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 7

[You can find the whole series here.]
Scripture contains the word of God, in the words of human beings. Therefore each of these texts reflects the social and intellectual milieu of the people of their times. 1 Cor 14:33-34 reads something to the effect of “In all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent. For they are not permitted to speak but should be in submission, as the Law (of Moses) also says.”[1] In the Genesis creation/fall stories, Eve is told that Adam will rule her.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 6

[You can find the whole series here.]
Continuing from the previous post, I’ll just note that Vatican II had a salutary effect on relations between scholars (at least biblical scholars) and theologians with the Roman Catholic church. Theologians/scholars have some responsibility to see that the Bishops have not opened themselves to theological danger no matter how sensitive the issues. There is a danger to any such covenant however, it arises from the far right and far left. The former see every investigation and study as a threat if it doesn’t conform to their own canonical thought, previous investment, or expression, and from the latter who scorn any serious theology or associated scholarship. Of course, everyone thinks this kind of language names those they oppose.
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Be careful what you ask for

Just a quick note that if you’re going to send someone to God to ask questions, they might not get the answers you expect. [Read more…]

“God Loveth a Cheerful Giver” (2 Corinthians 8–13) #BCCSundaySchool2019

 

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Another Paul who modified his ethos by mimicking the rhetoric of a “fool.”

Reading: 2 Corinthians 8–13

Main Topics: (1) Cheerful Giving, (2) Paul’s Fool’s Speech, (3) Thorns in the Flesh

1. Cheerful Giving

In 2 Corinthians 8–9, the Apostle Paul preaches about “cheerful” giving, emphasizing that Christ’s followers should come to the aid of others not through “exhortation” but out of their own choice:

“The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Cor. 9:6–7, NRSV)

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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 5

[You can find the whole series here.]
Modern knowledge, historical, scientific, theological, etc. is, or I think should be, part of a process that contributes toward reformation or modification of ancient (or just past) thought, yes, even doctrine. The important word here is contribute not control or dictate. No theologian, scientist, historian, etc., can formulate doctrine or perhaps a better word is teaching of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. That’s an ideal I think and it also exists in other Christian denominations. When this boundary shifts it can be unhealthy for the institution and the individual. Scholarship of various sorts has to be assessed in the wider context of a church’s life as guided by the Holy Spirit. Yes, I think God is active in the guidance of sincere supplicants, be they lay persons, Popes, bishops, Mormon or not, and of course I don’t NEED to call this out but given the theme, women who lead in some church capacity.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 4

[You can find the whole series here.]
I want to turn to theological issues now. As before, this continues to be merely my own thought process. I’m not seeking to be rigorous—I’m not going to multiply footnotes and references. That’s the hard work someone else can do. Here I’m just interested in exploring what I think and, of course, what you think as you respond in the comments.
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Monday Morning Theological Poll: Celestial Conveyance Edition

In theory, if we could do interstellar travel, could we hie to Kolob?


Justify your answer below.

Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 3

[You can find the whole series here.]
Last time I was talking about potential for scandal among a sexually egalitarian clergy. I think that danger is overblown but it certainly exists. And if the past is a predictor of the future we might expect a conservative Mormon leadership to be as draconian about possibilities of scandal, given a few actual scandals, as they have been already. For Catholics, women in the priesthood has to mean women in the seminaries, the training ground for the Catholic priesthood. If there are female priests, won’t there be female bishops, archbishops, Cardinals, a Pope (some Anglican branches allow female bishops but no archbishops)? And of course the same goes for Mormon hierarchy. An interesting example that relates to both these groups is the Community of Christ. The CoC is in doctrine perhaps more like a mainstream Protestant faith than it is LDS. They still hold the Book of Mormon as a text useful in faith though many do not believe it to be a historical one and that is not a test of faith. The CoC has had a female clergy for many years now and while it did foment dissent when it was introduced, I don’t think there has been much scandal in the close association between men and women leaders in local congregations. Though I don’t know this as a statistical certainty.
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Female Priests Among Christians and Mormons, Part 2.

[You can find the whole series here.]
In the last part, I noted some parallels between certain Christian traditions (particularly Catholicism) and Mormonism. I’m not trying to argue anything about whether Mormons are “Christians” in some technical sense and I’m not going to address that here. Last time I mentioned some social factors that play into ordination of women.

During the ERA era (you see what I did there), there were more parallels between Catholics and Mormons. How much, for example has feminism touched the lives of typical Latter-day Saint women or women in Catholic parishes? It’s not at all unusual to see a woman in a Latter-day Saint pulpit (such as they are). But how would it affect the average Catholic wife, say, never mind her husband, if she suddenly saw a woman in the church/cathedral pulpit, playing a truly leading role in the parish? How would this work in a Mormon congregation? “Welcome to our ward, I’m sister Jensen, first counselor in the bishopric. Bishop Huxley has asked that I conduct this meeting.” It was certainly the case that Mormon women were divided over the ERA but it seems like there was a large segment of Mormon women who mobilized to oppose the passage of the ERA in the Mormon Corridor. They didn’t want it, and the scary predictions about a Huxley-future, had some real traction among Mormons and Catholics alike. Today, I think there is still a wide geography-driven difference in the way Mormon women (and men) see a future female priesthood. And would John Smith feel comfortable disclosing his recent sexual peccadillo to a female bishop? What is the, can I say real world, parity here with a women confessing sin to a male bishop? Does a female priest require already some kind of economic and social equality between men and women? And how does this play out in the Global South say, or for that matter perhaps the southeastern US?
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“The Ministry of Reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 1–7) #BCCSundaySchool2019

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation
–2 Corinthians 5:18

Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians presents us with a context that is difficult to understand. There is a good reason for this: it is not Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians. It is at least his Third Letter to the Corinthians, and it may be an amalgamation of parts of his Third and Fourth Letters to the Corinthians. But we know that Paul refers to at least four letters to the Church at Corinth, and we know that only two of them appear in our scriptures. So we have to infer a lot.

Scholars today call the missing letter to the Corinthians “the Severe Letter” or “the Letter of Tears” after Paul’s description of it in 2 Cor. 2:4, “For I wrote you out of much distress and anguish of heart and with many tears.” The Severe Letter, most surmise, involved Paul chastising the Church for something that he perceived on a previous visit. The two most common contenders are the toleration of sexual immorality and the encouragement of rival Christian missionaries. Both explanations have plenty of partisans.

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Female Priests Among Christians (and Mormons), part 1.

This is a series of posts about female ordination. In it I will briefly consider some aspects of history, tradition, and scripture, various ecclesiologies, and other stuff. There are 10 parts, unless I get enthusiastic for some reason. You can find the whole series here.

First, I want to be clear that I’m not talking about a ministry of females or even female ministers. That exists already for most of the confessions out there. What I’m going to address is, for lack of a better general term, female clergy. And even this should really be parsed further among churches whose clergy go by the title of “ministers” and those whose clergy go by the title of “priest” or “bishop” and a few variations on that (say, “patriarch”).

This series relates most to churches who use the title “priest” (or some cognate) for their clergy and who are ordained to such offices. This might seem like semantics, but it is historical fact that it’s among these churches (like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Roman Catholic, or Orthodox, or some branches of the Lutheran faith, Anglicans, and some others, indeed, Mormonism had developed, by 1835, a whole mythos about church bishops and Old Testament Aaron, the first Mosaic priest Cf. final version of D&C 68) where there has been heated dispute over the issue of female leaders. After decades of discussion, Anglicans may undergo schisms over this. What is the problem about female priests over against female ministers?
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Designated Drinkers: Power, Privilege, and the Word of Wisdom

I recently had my first experience with designated drinkers–the opposite of designated drivers–who are assigned to drink heavily on behalf of someone who cannot or will not use alcohol. 

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CORRECTION: Turning our hearts

[Note: This post was written in collaboration with, and is posted by permission of Amy Tanner Thiriot.]

Earlier this month I wrote a post reflecting on Century of Black Mormons and introduced it with a short vignette about Caroline Skeen and John Butler. According to family histories, when they got married in 1831 the Skeens gave the couple two enslaved people as a wedding present. In these histories, the Butlers then freed these two individuals and converted to Mormonism. I used this rupture between generations to highlight how we choose to remember and forget. I was also wrong.
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