Kristine Haglund, Eugene England and the Possibility of Mormon Liberalism

My most vivid memory of Eugene England goes like this: In the early 1990s, I was a teaching assistant in the BYU English Department—a position that, under certain circumstances, and only when accompanied by the professor I teaching-assisted, permitted me to enter the faculty lounge on the second floor of the old JKHB. Once when I was in these hallowed halls working on final grades for a Victorian Lit class, Gene was there doing the same with his American Lit TAs. My group was using a calculator to compute points from quizzes, tests, and papers, using attendance and participation points to raise or lower a close call. Gene was leading his TAs in prayer.

This was not a general, “please help us be sensitive to our students’ needs” kind of prayer. They were going through the class list in alphabetical order, and Gene was asking God for inspiration about every student by name. Even at BYU in the 1990s, this was a little bit strange—made even stranger by the fact that the prayers were completely sincere. Gene was not playing to a crowd. He really, genuinely wanted to know what God thought about his students’ grades.

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BYU’s New Demonstration Policy Explained

Dear students,

As you have no doubt heard, the Lord has revealed a new demonstration policy for students at His university. This policy is designed to maximize our students’ moral agency–which we define as “the ability to exercise uncompromising obedience in the face of difficult moral choices while not being gay.” There has been a lot of discussion about these new regulations, and we want to make sure that our expectations are clear. To do this, we have devised the following scenarios–each represented by a photograph that illustrates the deep gospel truths of this policy. Please keep in mind that any drawings or photographs of rule-breaking behaviors are simulations only. No student testimonies were harmed to create these scenarios.

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The Brain’s Lectionary—Something New and Beautiful at BCC Press

The Brain’s Lectionary by Elizabeth Pinborough, cover by Christian Harrison

We have a simple mission at BCC Press. We work with brilliant and creative individuals to create truth and beauty in the world that would otherwise not exist. And sometimes, we do such a good job that pride overwhelms us and we have to repent. We will be repenting a lot this week as we release Elizabeth Pinborough’s true and beautiful new collection of art and poetry, The Brain’s Lectionary: Psalms and Observations.

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Butts in the Pews(?)

Photo by Drew Murphy on Unsplash

Over the last month or so, I’ve heard from several family members and friends that their wards are trying to wind down online church. There are variations, of course, everything from announcing that there will be no more Zoom church to making the link available only to people who get approval from the bishop (presumably because of health or familial issues).

I’m not clear on whether these are ward, stake, area, or general church initiatives. But I am clear that this is a terrible idea, made more terrible because nobody has explained the underlying reasons to restrict or eliminate online church.

The most immediate reason it’s a terrible idea is the current omicron wave, which sickened as many as 1 million people Monday alone, is quickly filling up our hospitals, and is just as quickly shutting our schools.

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Paradoxical Glory—and the Start of a Great New Year for BCC Press

One of the things that makes us happy at BCC Press is poetry. Lots and lots of poetry. And that means that we are going to be really happy this year, as we are coming right out of the gate with a great book of poetry: Paradoxical Glory by Nancy Heiss. As you would expect from BCC Press, the poetry is amazing, possibly life-changing. But wait, there’s more. Along with the great poems, this is also a book of great art–drawing by Brooke Newhart accompany the poems.

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No Future Without Forgiveness: Desmond Tutu’s Big Idea

“To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. What dehumanizes you inexorably dehumanizes me. It gives people resilience, enabling them to survive and emerge still human despite all efforts to dehumanize them.

― Desmond Tutu (1931-2021), No Future Without Forgivenes

The death of a great person gives us an opportunity to reflect on the ways that their lives have touched ours. Few people impacted the 20th century as profoundly, or as positively, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu did, so I expect (and hope) to see a lot of reflections about him in the coming weeks. In writing my own I hope only to be part of a long line celebrating a wonderful life.

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Go Webb!

The JWST deploys its solar array as viewed from the launch vehicle.

Following the successful insertion of the James Webb Space Telescope into orbit just minutes ago, NASA administrator Bill Nelson cited Psalms 19:

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Merry Christmas, faithful readers!

(No) Prayers for Rain

A rare view of a rainy Embarcadero Plaza in San Francisco

I grew up in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas where praying and fasting for rain was a regular part of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Even though I have since sought out greener pastures—literally!—on the other side of the world, I still follow with interest and concern the status of the droughts in the American West, particularly in California. And so I was delighted last week when an atmospheric river brought much needed precipitation to California, Nevada and Utah.

I shared my delight with family members living in the affected regions, and much of the conversation went along predictable lines—thanks to Heavenly Father for answering prayers and sending rain and snow. But one response caught me off guard. A relative confessed to having forgotten to pray for moisture. He then concluded—and this is what surprised me—that his prayers didn’t matter since the moisture came anyway.

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Struggling with Scrupulosity

Taylor Kerby is the author of Scrupulous: My Obsessive Compulsion for God, the most recent book from BCC Press. He is an alumnus of Arizona State University and Claremont Graduate University and is working on a Ph.D. at Grand CanyonUniversity. Scrupulous is on sale for $7.49 (Paperback) and $5.99 (Kindle) through Christmas Day.

When I was a kid, I prayed constantly. At nearly all times there was a revolving appeal to God playing on loop in my head.

Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

This short prayer was always uttered as a single sentence, without punctuation, and repeated over and over and over again.

Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.
Dear Heavenly Father please forgive me for my sins in the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

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The Osmonds’ Christmas, and Ours

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

The Osmond Christmas Album came out 45 years ago today, on December 18, 1976. I’m talking the original double-LP, of course, not the corrupt CD version which cut all of Merrill’s and Jimmy’s songs and was released 15 years later. For American Mormons of a certain age, the original–all 20 tracks of it–was an essential part of the holiday canon. It generated intense discussions of Mormon-specific trivia (was Donny singing to his then-girlfriend Debbie on “This Christmas Eve”?), gave rise to heated debates about family rules (surely, because it was the Osmonds and it was the holidays, we could play “Sleigh Ride” on Sundays, couldn’t we?), and required parental intervention as arguments broke out over who was better at picking up and dropping the needle without scratching the vinyl when it came to skipping over “If Santa Were My Daddy” (which, of course, everyone did). Consider the comments your space for your own or your family’s Osmond Christmas stories. Or, if you don’t have any (or at least not any for public consumption), you can always listen to the full thing here. (Or watch the 1976 special, broadcast the day before the album was released. Man, Paul Lynde wasn’t remotely Mormon, but I think he kind of loved our tribe.)

Gearing up for OT Sunday School 2022

As 2021 draws to a close, in just a couple of weeks we will be transitioning from our 2021 CFM curriculum on the D&C to our 2022 CFM curriculum on the Old Testament. So I thought I would post a few resources and suggestions our readers might find useful as we transition from the contemporary church to ancient Israel.

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Call for Essays on Gene England

A Special Invitation

to

Family, friends, colleagues and students of

Eugene England

to submit brief personal expressions

for a proposed published collection of essays

from individuals

whose faith in and devotion to Christ

were inspired by Gene’s writing, teaching and discipleship 

Length: from 800-1500 words

Format: Microsoft Word

Deadline: April 6, 2022

Submit to: EEnglandmemories@gmail.com

Job Posting: Church History & Doctrine Professorial CFS Track

Religious Education and the Department of Church History & Doctrine at BYU

Job Title: Church History & Doctrine Professorial CFS Track
Job Classification: CFS-Professorial
Required Degree: PhD
Posting close date: January 10, 2022
Start date of this position: July 1, 2022

See here for details.

Of One Heart? The Church’s Pandemic Response

I’m curious how future generations will assess the response by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the COVID-19 pandemic. The starting point is arguably an auspicious one: at least when I think of natural disasters and personal tragedies, I think of helping hands mobilizing chainsaws and casseroles at the drop of a hat, reflecting a shared willingness to take tangible steps to help others when misfortune strikes.

Unlike most natural disasters, however, the COVID-19 pandemic is practically invisible—there are no downed trees or piles of debris to mark the areas hardest hit. Sure, streets were deserted during lockdowns in some parts of the world, and hospitals are overflowing in others, but for the most part the carnage is visible only to those most directly affected.

In my assessment, this cloak of invisibility—aided by an incubation period that separates the point of infection from the onset of disease and its consequences in time and space—has contributed to an unusual degree of politicization for a natural disaster. Instead of being perceived as something that warrants a coordinated collective response, the pandemic manifests itself as isolated individual hardship and tragedy, not something those who remain unaffected should necessarily be expected to care about. The response to the response has tended to fall along party lines, and those partisan divides can also be found among the members of the church—to the point that we may not even aspire to a united response—despite what in my view has been a balanced institutional approach to the pandemic and its impact on our communities.

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Chris Henrichsen, In Memoriam

No photo description available.

Chris Henrichsen (top right), who passed away suddenly this morning at the age of 45, was many things. A student of political theory, a democratic socialist, and a passionate defender of the legacy of John Rawls. An old-school fan of Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and other early 1980s hardcore punk acts (especially those with roots in his home stomping grounds of Washington DC). An educator who taught on the college and the high school level in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, and Maryland. A one-time Democratic candidate for Wyoming’s single seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, a failed campaign which he described to me at one point as having both completely broken him and entirely re-made him, financially and intellectually and politically, all at once. And perhaps most of all for this audience, a devout but cantankerous Mormon, always looking to situate himself (both publicly and within his own thinking and believing) in the midst of every controversy that roiled the waters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

It was these latter efforts which led him to be a inconsistent-but-always-returning mainstay of the Mormon blogging world, whether at Approaching Justice or Faith-Promoting Rumor or Times and Seasons. His history here at By Common Consent was…contentious, as Chris was never shy about fighting for what he believed to be correct, and never too embarrassed to simply walk away from a fight that he believed not be worth pursuing further. But that pugnaciousness, however visible at conferences–like the one featured above, from Kansas City in 2011–or on the blogs or over the years on social media, never characterized any discussions about his beloved wife Lyndee and their three children, Todd, Shem, and Geneva. Them he would celebrate in the most stereotypically weepy Mormon male fashion imaginable…which, perhaps, expresses the delightful paradox of Chris very well: a man of doubts and disputations and abrupt declarations, who also maintained a deeply loving domestic heart.

We are a lesser tribe for Chris’s passing. Please send your prayers and best wishes to his family, and if you have any tales of Chris’s many online adventures over the years, please share them here. Stories can be the best medicine, sometimes.

Scrupulous: A New Book from BCC Press

The newest offering from BCC Press, Taylor Kerby’s memoir Scrupulous: My Obsessive Compulsion for God treats issues that resonate with me on a very personal level. Rather than a typical marketing post, I want to share the foreword that I wrote for the book. Like Taylor Kerby, I struggled for much of my life with the anxiety disorder known as scrupulosity, which affects people from strong religious backgrounds. As an adult, I have discovered that many members of the Church suffer from this disorder without realizing it because it looks and feels a lot like the things we learned to call morality and repentance. We have made this book part of our year-end sale, and we hope that it will help start important conversations that many Latter-day Saints need to have.


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Fast and Testimony Meeting

I’d like to bear my testimony that I know God answers prayers, because I was late for [insert here] and I couldn’t find my keys. But I prayed, and then I found them.

At least one person per testimony meeting, always.

I never found my keys, and I would like to bear my testimony, too.

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“Behold the Condescension of God”

Quanta dignatio Dei! quanta Virginis excellentia! Currite, matres; currite, filiae; currite, omnes quae post Evam, et ex Eva, et parturimini cum tristitia, et parturitis. Adite virginalem thalamum, ingredimini, si potestis, pudicum sororis vestrae cubiculum.

How great the condescension of God! How great the excellence of the Virgin! Hasten, all ye mothers! And hasten, all ye daughters! Hasten, all ye who after Eve and on account of Eve, are born and give birth in sorrow! Approach the Virgin’s chamber ; enter, if you can, the modest room of your Sister
.

—Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) 

The central event of the Christmas season—the incarnation of God as a human infant born in humble circumstances to a peasant woman in an unimportant part of the great Roman Empire—is introduced in the Book of Mormon as the interpretation of a dream about a tree.

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The Church, the State (of Utah), and Welfare

On Thursday, ProPublica and the Salt Lake Tribune published a fascinating article detailing a link between Utah, the church, and welfare payments. I assume most readers here have already read it. If not, you really need to read it. Maybe before reading this post but, if not before, definitely right after.

The tl;dr of the article is this: since about 2009, Utah has underspent on its social safety net. Also, based on an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) it signed with the church, it has counted volunteer hours performed for the church in calculating how much it has spent.

Reading the article the first time, though, left me with questions. And it turns out I’m not the only one who didn’t entirely understand what was going on: on Friday, the Editorial Board of the Tribune published an unsigned op-ed, the heart of which were these three paragraphs:

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A Scientist’s Humility and Why Everyone Needs a George Kneale

This guest post is by Shawn Tucker, Professor of Art and Humanities at Elon College and author of BCC Press’s newest book Humility: A Practical Approach.

Bang! go two hundred feet in unison. She takes a step and, again, Bang! It is her first day of college. She is trying to find a seat in the huge lecture hall. Two hundred white men are already seated. They bang their feet every time she steps. They block every row. She is forced further down the lecture hall with more Bangs! She finally finds a seat. In the front row. With the three other women and a Nigerian. The white male students at Cambridge cannot keep women and minorities out of their school, but they can attempt to shame them, segregate them, intimidate them, and try to tell them they don’t belong.

These were the first experiences that Dr. Alice Stewart had in the 1920s when she began her medical training. Through her career she would face opposition. When she decided to study childhood leukemia, her project was underfunded. When the project started to find unwanted results, it was not her results that were examined. It was her character. And besides being a woman, here was the problem—she was saying that the shiny new tool that doctors were using might be killing patients. Medical professionals, of all people, don’t want to believe that they are harming others. Those doctors’ shiny new tool was x-ray machines. But Dr. Stewart, who clocked thousands of hours collecting and analyzing data, was starting to find that the huge spike in childhood leukemia was linked with fetal x-rays. Here was a woman, and a divorced woman at that, telling doctors that their marvelous x-ray machines were sickening and killing children. You can hear their collective feet go Bang! as they reject that idea.

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Mormon Boy

I get completely random songs stuck in my head all the time. Yesterday, my subconscious decided to serenade me –ad nauseum– with this gem from Girls’ Camp:

I know a Mormon boy, he is my pride and joy,
He knows most everything from Alma on down (woo!)
Someday I’ll be his wife! We’ll have eternal life!
Oh how I love that Mormon boy!

M – O – R – E – M – E – N
More men! More men! Sing it again!

We are the Mormon girls, we wear our hair in curls,
We love to sing and dance and have lots of fun (woo!)
We are the biggest flirts! We don’t wear mini skirts!
Oh, how I love my Mormon boy!

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My Christmas Posts

Now that we’re past Thanksgiving and Black Friday, a young man’s fancy (or in my case, an old man’s) turns to thoughts of Christmas. I love Christmas like Ebenezer following the nightly specters, and so I usually put up a post or two during the Christmas season on the subject of Christmas. It occurred to me that some of our newer readers might appreciate a convenient index to those prior posts of mine, so I have provided one below. Merry Christmas! (If a link doesn’t work, just do a search on the post title and it will come right

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A New Book and a Christmas Sale from BCC Press

Paperback: $12.95. $7.49 Kindle: $9.95. $5.99

Humility: A Practical Approach
Just in time for Christmas, BCC Press is deeply, profoundly humbled to bring forth our newest book: Shawn Tucker’s Humility: A Practical Approach (see what we did there?). Shawn Tucker, who professes Art and Humanities at Elon University and has written scholarly books on pride and humility and on virtue in the arts, brings oodles of scholarly cred to the topic of humility.

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How Democracies Die: A Cautionary Tale from the Book of Mormon

The world is becoming more authoritarian as non-democratic regimes become even more brazen in their repression and many  democratic governments suffer from backsliding by adopting their tactics of restricting free speech and weakening the rule of law, exacerbated by what threatens to become a “new normal” of Covid-19 restrictions.

  —The International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) 2021 Report on the Global State of Democracy

The bi-annual Global State of Democracy report released this week did not bring good news for the world. Since 1995, the Stockholm-based Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) has coordinated the efforts of the world’s democratic nations to improve representative democracy and discourage authoritarianism throughout the world.

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2021 Christmas gift book guide

Another Christmas season is upon us. Sorry for getting the list out a little late. My supply chain was constrained.

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Weasleys, Rostovs, and Mormons–Oh My!

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of the Harry Potter franchise. . . .

The Weasleys are the Mormons of the Wizarding World. This was clear to me the first time I saw a Harry Potter movie (though it didn’t come through as clearly in the books). Lots of things suggest the comparison, but the two most obvious ones are the quantity and the quality of their family life: They have lots of kids—7 in all—and they support them all on a (magical) civil servant’s salary. This means lots of hand-me-downs, used spell books, taped wands, and sack lunches. But it also means that they are fiercely loyal to each other, always know that they are loved, and always feel like they are part of a family.

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BCC Press Announces Mormonism and the Movies


BCC Press is back, just in time for Christmas, with the second installment of our Essays in Mormon Studies series. And this one has been years in the making and is gonna be amazing. Mormonism and the Movies is a collection of scholarly essays—but don’t let that fool you. They are really good essays about movies. And really, what is cooler than that?

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Dante and the Singing Sufferers of Purgatory

While we began to move in that direction,
Beati pauperes spiritu was sung
so sweetly—it cannot be told in words.
How different were these entryways from those
of Hell! For here it is with song one enters;
down there, it is with savage lamentations.

—Purgatorio, Canto XII, Allen Mandelbaum Translation

(The following post is based on an Elder’s Quorum lesson given on November 14, 2021.)

I have always liked the middle parts best: The Empire Strikes Back, The Two Towers, The Goblet of Fire. My favorite Stooge is Larry, and my favorite Brady is Jan. Middle parts tend to lack both the drama necessary to bring closure to a story and the deep explanation required to begin one. If a story doesn’t have a strong middle, then it probably isn’t a very good story.

It should be no surprise that my favorite book of Dante’s Commedia is Purgatorio, or Purgatory. Inferno is fascinating, but it is basically the Medieval Italian version of the Jerry Springer Show. We watch it because we can’t turn away from the grotesque spectacle of unfiltered human folly. And Paradiso is wonderful and serene, but who wants to read 33 cantos of serenity? Bo-ring.

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A Prophecy of Minutia

The History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Period I was the first major attempt to publish Joseph Smith’s complete history in book form as it was produced by Church Historians Willard Richards (b. 1804– d. 1854) and George A. Smith (b. 1817– d. 1875) and clerks, in longhand manuscript form (cataloged in the Church History Library as, Church Historian’s Office. History of the Church, 1839–circa 1882, CR 100 102. Hereafter I will call this work the manuscript history, or briefly, ms history). The following excerpt of the ms history will be important below. Take note of the first phrase in the second image.

MS-hist-DC87

MS-hist-DC87-pt2

Richards had done unprecedented work in Nauvoo, organizing source materials from Joseph Smith, previous Church publications and records, the reports of others, and his work had been partially serialized in the Nauvoo Times and Seasons beginning in 1840 up to the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo in 1846. That printing covered the period from 1805-ish to 1834 much of that material was published after Joseph Smith’s death. When the apostles moved to Utah, the church paper, The Deseret News (starting with November 15, 1851 issue) continued serializing the history manuscript under the direction of Richards and then Smith (a supplement appeared that collected the old Times and Seasons texts since its circulation was small and largely unavailable to new Saints (the Star had carried all the Times and Seasons printing of the ms history beginning with the Star’s June 1842 issue). Following the lead of the headquarters printings, the British Mission had their printers keep up with that and so the chronological printings in the News appeared in the Latter-Day Saints’ Millennial Star (Liverpool, England). The segments printed in the News and subsequently the Star generally reflected the manuscript history, but not always (the British printing operation was superior to the Utah printing capabilities for decades). Moreover, the manuscript history did not always accurately reflect its source documents. This post is about one of those times and why it happened.  

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I [the Lord] restore all things: D&C 121&132

Laura Brignone (PhD, MSW) is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley where she studies technology and domestic violence. Part 6 in a six-part series on the domestic violence implications of D&C 121 and 132. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 and Part 5 here.

The language D&C 132 uses to describe women’s relationship with plural marriage paints a pretty bleak picture. As we’ve discussed for the last two weeks, it may even appear to mirror, trigger or justify the abuse of women in the here and now. So what happens next? 

The section header begins to address the rhetorical challenge of D&C 132 by presenting the most uplifting interpretation of the text in summary, using a tone consistent with validations of individual worth throughout most of the scriptures. [1]

In my opinion, though, the most interesting question centers on the survivor. What happens next in her story? How does her narrative evolve? As we discuss this concept, we’re going to zoom back out and discuss abuse more generally. Throughout D&C 121 and 132 we’ve talked a lot about the theft, manipulation or coercion of a survivor’s agency through the power and control of a perpetrator of abuse. How can a survivor heal from this violence and harm — physically, emotionally and spiritually?

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