Parsing the Word of Wisdom

In light of the recent Church announcement regarding the Word of Wisdom, I’m seeing a lot of chatter on Facebook where people are trying to figure out how the text of the revelation actually relates to our current interpretation and practice. So I thought it might be worthwhile to set out the text of the revelation (omitting the beginning and ending that do not contain specific prohibitions) and give you my take on them, and give you an opportunity to add your own commentary. [Read more…]

A Conversation with my Catholic Husband on the Word of Wisdom

hari-nandakumar-Ein9Zv7PXBw-unsplash

“Did you see your Church just officially banned green tea?”

“And vaping. That’s days-old news.”

“Mormon news isn’t real to me until the Washington Post covers it.”

“Fair enough. The best take I’ve seen so far is Jana Riess’s.”

“The Washington Post agrees:  they quote her. The Word of Wisdom is ‘not necessarily a slam-dunk in terms of clarity.’ That seems accurate.”

“The problem is our cultural norms surrounding the Word of Wisdom have strayed so far from its literal text that we’re all left wading through layers of shame and confusion.”

“You know what Jana or you or some other sassy Mormon feminist should do? Write a Rachel Held Evans style book: ‘A Year of Word of Wisdomhood.’ It would be hilarious.[Read more…]

The JST and the Adam Clarke Commentary

Two and a half years ago on March 16, 2017, Haley Wilson and her mentor for this research, Thomas Wayment, published “A Recently Recovered Source: Rethinking Joseph Smith’s Bible Translation,” in BYU’s Journal of Undergraduate Research, available here. This is not the research itself, but rather a precis; the actual research paper is still forthcoming. This is an exciting development, and I for one am looking forward to it eagerly. [Read more…]

Book Review: Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question

David B. Ostler
Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question
Greg Kofford Books, Salt Lake City, Utah
July 2019, xiv+183 pages, Appendix, endnotes, index.
$32.95 hardcover, $18.86 paper (Amazon), $17.99 Kindle.

Bridges is a short volume that addresses one of the issues facing most religions in many parts of the world: people dropping out. Surveys suggest that there are many reasons for what has been called “the rise of the nones” an especially pertinent phenomenon among young adults. The relevancy of that Old Time Religion seems to be in question.
[Read more…]

“Overcome Evil with Good” Romans 7–16 #BCCSundaySchool2019

1997-Toni-Morrison-cTimothy-Greenfield-Sanders-e1559142467974

Reading: Romans 7–16.

Main topics: Overcoming Evil with Good, Predestination and Adoption, Women in the Early Church

There is a scene from Toni Morrison’s Beloved that takes my breath away every time I read it, that makes me gasp and ache and weep with grief and hope. Baby Suggs, the matriarch of the community, the grandmother-prophet that leads the congregation in worship, takes her people into a clearing and prays over them. She tells the children to laugh, the men to dance, and the women to cry.

“It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offered up to them her great big heart.

“She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

“She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.”

[Read more…]

Monday Mid-Afternoon Theological Poll: Active Afterlife Edition

What do you expect to spend the majority of your time on in the celestial kingdom? Or, if you don’t think you’ll qualify, what do you think people will be doing there?


Justify your answer below

The Problem of the Default Male and All-Male Church Leadership

This past weekend I was traveling to another state for my younger brother’s wedding. We had about a 6-hour drive to and from our destination, so during part of the drive we were catching up on some back episodes of one of our favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible. One of those episodes was this one, titled Invisible Women. It was an interview with Caroline Criado Perez, the author of a book also titled Invisible Women, about the problem she calls the Default Male. [Read more…]

The Foot Shelf

About ten years ago, we were renovating our master bathroom, making the shower larger with a stone surround, and adding a big sunken garden tub (that literally has been used TWICE since we put it in, grrrr). As we discussed the options with the builder, he quoted a set amount to add a “bench” to the shower.

My husband, looking to save money perhaps, quickly said, “We don’t really need that. When do I ever sit in the shower?”

I interrupted to explain. “That’s not for sitting. I need a place to rest my foot when I shave my legs. It’s a foot shelf!” [Read more…]

On Satan’s Plan, Tax Edition

A couple days ago, I got a message from a friend, asking how I respond to people who claim that taxes are Satan’s plan. Honestly, my instinct would be to respond, “That’s stupid,” block the person on Twitter, and get on with my life.

But that doesn’t work in every circumstance. I mean, if your interlocutor is standing in the checkout line next to you, blocking isn’t really an issue. And if your interlocutor is, I don’t know, your father-in-law, calling him stupid may not be the optimal approach. (And honestly, if the person is speaking in good faith, dismissing them like that is rude and unfair.[fn1])

So how would I address a good faith assertion that taxation is Satan’s plan? Depending on the person, I’d probably take one of a couple routes: [Read more…]

Dialogue Names New Editor


The Dialogue Foundation’s Board of Directors is pleased to announce that Taylor Petrey, Associate Professor of Religion at Kalamazoo College, has been appointed the next Editor of Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought.

Petrey holds a BA in philosophy and religion from Pace University, and both an MTS  and a Th.D. degree from Harvard Divinity School in New Testament and Early Christianity. He joined the faculty of Kalamazoo College in 2010 and served as the Director of the Women, Gender, and Sexuality program from 2012 through 2016. He is currently chair of the Religion Department.

[Read more…]

The Power of God Unto Salvation #BCCSundaySchool2019

Reading: Romans 1-6.

This week has us finishing Acts and going into the epistles. This means we’re no longer going chronologically. Instead, we’re going more or less by author and more or less by topic (though each epistle jumps around a bit). It also means that we’re not really reading a story anymore, we’re reading artifacts. For the most part, we’re no longer concerned with the story, but with the teachings contained in the letters of the apostles. We’re moving from events to doctrines, and Romans is arguably the most doctrinal of all the books of the New Testament. [Read more…]

“You have been scheduled . . .”

Emily Jensen is a former BCC permablogger and friend of the blog.

“You have been scheduled to meet with XXXXX XXX for a meeting Tuesday June 18th at 7 p.m. for your ministering interview.”

“Your family has been scheduled to clean the church on Saturday, June 22nd at 8 a.m. Please meet with the XXXX family up at the church.”

Ok, hopefully this is only happening in my ward, but in case it’s not, let’s talk about the new, and dare I say, rude habit of scheduling people to do things in the church without first asking if they are even available. [Read more…]

Whence the Early Baptismal Challenges

Yes, I was this cool.

A recent talk by Elder Ballard has created a bit of a stir among returned missionaries in the Church. The talk is reported in the Church News here. He decries the practice of early baptismal challenges, claiming that Church leaders don’t know where this practice originated. The gist of his talk from the article:

“These missionaries have felt that inviting people to be baptized the very first time they meet them demonstrated the missionaries’ faith and supports their thinking that inviting people to be baptized early is what is expected,” he said. “Other missionaries have felt that an invitation to be baptized early allowed them to promptly separate the wheat from the tares. In this case, some see the baptismal invitation as a sifting tool.”

Church leaders don’t know where these practices began, but “it was never our intention to invite people to be baptized before they had learned something about the gospel, felt the Holy Ghost, and had been properly prepared to accept a lifelong commitment to follow Jesus Christ,” said President Ballard. “Our retention rates will dramatically increase when people desire to be baptized because of the spiritual experiences they are having rather than feeling pressured into being baptized by our missionaries.” – Church News article quoting E. Ballard

It’s possible someone high up in the Church has read my book (which I doubt), The Legend of Hermana Plunge, but given how common these practices have been–whether attributed to Dyer’s Challenging & Testifying Missionary or not–you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting an RM whose mission culture included these practices, whether taken to extremes like baseball baptisms or just taught to increase missionary courage (as in my mission). [Read more…]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: Sinister Sasquatch Edition

Why does Cain, of all people, get immortality?


Justify your answer below.

What I Know

Natalie Brown is a former BCC permablogger and friend of the blog. She is returning to graduate school this fall to write a dissertation on nineteenth-century writers’ experiences with home loss and displacement. 

What I Know: The Power of Narrower Testimonies

As I sat down to pen my father’s eulogy, I drew a blank. How could I say anything that could adequately capture him, bring me solace and serve the needs of a community that was mourning? Words didn’t come, and so I prayed that the Spirit would tell me what to say. My answer came later that night as I listened to family tell stories of my father. Each of us saw a part of him: the spouse, the parent, the colleague, the friend. No single person saw the whole. This is what I realized: No one can tell the story of someone else’s life. It’s an impossible task, because we carry only our own sets of experiences. Each of our stories together, however, add up to something more. If there is a silver lining to a funeral, it’s the opportunity to see those stories come together to reveal a person even larger than we know. [Read more…]

When Jack Weyland Taught Me How to Be a Christian

Over at Sunstone this week, the inimitable Andi Pitcher Davis is, inimitably, launching a year-long project in participatory performance art. It is an ingenious project, really, even for Andi, and that is saying a lot. It’s called “Books of Mormons.” Here is the official description.

[Read more…]

My Madness

One of the defining events of my life was contracting a brain disease from an encounter in Vietnam with the bacteria, Burkholderia pseudomallei. Some of you might have read my article in Dialogue describing this. The podcast “Believable” just interviewed me and my wife, Lori, about these events and how it affected our life and faith. Many of you have heard my point of view, but Lori was there watching the events unfold, and her account has never been captured before. I thought you might enjoy hearing about this event from both our perspectives.

Addendum: Defining your terms-cosmology and materiality

In a recent conversation where I wondered if something I wrote was grammatically correct (and comprehensible), the discussion turned to how sometimes defining your terms and usages goes a long way. Subsequently a friend suggested that I take a few moments to define my use of “cosmology/cosmological” and “material” in Power of Godliness, something I realize I should have done better in the book. As it happens I touched on the ideas a little bit at MHA where LaJean and I spoke about what most people call Adam-God [n1]. Anyway, it was a party. You should have been there. I opened up with a little discussion of cosmology:
[Read more…]

“A Minister and a Witness” Acts 22–28 #BCCSundaySchool2019

Saint Paul (source)

When we left Paul in Acts 21 he was in a tight spot. He had disregarded the warnings and pleas of the disciples through the Spirit (Acts 21:4), a prophet named Agabus (Acts 21:11), his travelling companions and the locals (Acts 21:12) to travel to Jerusalem to testify to the good news of God’s grace, declaring that “The will of the Lord be done.” But Paul’s efforts to show that he is no rebel but lives in conformity with the law by ritually cleansing himself at the temple go awry when he is spotted and a mob—incited by claims that Paul is teaching against the Law of Moses and defiling this holy place—drag him out of the temple, going so far as to try to kill him. The Roman authorities catch wind of the disturbance and rush to the scene. Unable to determine the facts due to the competing claims made by the crowd, the commanding officer takes Paul into custody to figure out who this man is and what is going on. In the concluding chapters of Acts covered by this lesson, Paul testifies in his defense to various audiences that range from actively hostile to indifferent to his message.

[Read more…]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: Salvific Synonym Edition

Which of the following is the best description of what the atonement does?


Justify your answer below (see what I did there?).

A Quick Query About the Proclamation on the Family

Today, at an early morning priesthood training meeting, our stake president made reference to the Proclamation on the Family, particularly the following brief section:

“By divine design, fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners. Disability, death, or other circumstances may necessitate individual adaptation.”

He referenced this while telling a story–which I’m pretty certain, on the basis of a couple of details he mentioned, wasn’t entirely apocryphal–about a family where the husband, insisting to his wife that they need to be “equal partners,” pushed and pushed her to apply for a better-paying job that she didn’t really want. Our SP described this as a complete misreading of the Proclamation. Which got me thinking about how he understood the “individual adaptation” part of this passage as well. [Read more…]

Heatwave!

Saturday I biked over to Dusty Groove, a local record store. Why? Because Dusty Groove was having its once-in-an-occasional record sale, with dozens of boxes of records ($1 each!) on its third floor.[fn1] I decided to bike rather than drive because it’s only like a mile and a half from my home and there’s limited street parking around the store. (It turned out to be a smart choice: there were dozens and dozens of people digging through cardboard boxes filled with records, all of whom had gotten there somehow.

Beyond the thousands of $1 records for sale, the store was giving out water to patrons. Why? Because Chicago, like much of the US, was in the middle of a massive heatwave. [Read more…]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: Decider Edition

What is most influential when you are making important personal decisions?


Justify your answer below.

FSY Conferences Are Coming to Town

Yesterday the Priesthood and Family Department of the Church distributed a Notice to the effect that the Church is going to start holding FSY (“For the Strength of Youth”) Conferences in the United States and Canada. Apparently this is already a thing internationally; they are just bringing the program to the domestic market. The FSY Conferences will be modeled after the EFY (“Especially for Youth”) Conferences that have long been a fixture on the BYU campus. [Read more…]

Review: Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith

Brigham Young and the Expansion of the Mormon Faith.
by Thomas G. Alexander
The Oklahoma Western Biographies Book 31, University of Oklahoma Press, 2019
xxiii + 416 pages, Bibliography, Index.
Hardcover, and ebook (Kindle).

Thomas G. Alexander is well known to readers of Latter-day Saint history. He is the author of a number important works, perhaps most prominently his Mormonism in Transition: A History of the Latter-day Saints, 1890-1930, recently republished by Greg Kofford Books in a third edition. Alexander, now retired, was a long time professor of history at Brigham Young University, and Transition was originally intended to be part of the Arrington “new church history” series when he was church historian.
[Read more…]

“The Word of God Grew and Multiplied, Acts 10-15” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Part One: Spooky Jewish Hell Dream

I do not know, and certainly cannot prove, that the “Spooky Mormon Hell Dream” number in the Book of Mormon musical is based on Peter’s remarkable dream in Acts 10:10-15. But it could have been. It is exactly the sort of image that I would use to try to convey to contemporary Latter-day Saints–dancing coffee cups and other forbidden items torturing the young Mormon with their forbiddenness and demanding to be consumed. I would probably throw in some cigarettes and beer–and maybe a Playboy or two. But you get the point. It was dream designed to confront Peter with the things that made him the most religiously uncomfortable.

[Read more…]

The Tax Roots of OD2(?)

It’s become an article of faith in some circles that the end of the racial temple and priesthood ban was motivated, at least in part, by the specter of the church losing its tax-exempt status. And that’s not just the bloggernacle, and it’s not just ex-Mormon reddit (though you can certainly find the assertion—repeatedly—on various internet fora). The same claim is made in academically rigorous places.

For example, in The Mormon Church and Blacks: A Documentary History, Harris and Bringhurst write,

Specifically, the Mormon hierarchy became concerned about potential lawsuits over their tax exemption status, particularly in light of the student protests against BYU in the late 1960s and early 1970s. They had watched very closely the Bob Jones University case, in which the IRS revoked its tax exemption status in an important 1975 ruling.

(p. 106) [Read more…]

Monday Morning Theological Poll: Canon Conundrum Edition

Does it matter if the “The Family: A Proclamation to the World” is ever canonized?


Justify your answer below.

Country Work

So I cracked open the latest BYU Studies Quarterly 58/2 (2019) and read the first article, Reid L. Neilson and Carson V. Teuscher, “Pilgrimage to Palmyra: President B.H. Roberts and the Eastern States Mission’s 1923 Commemoration of Cumorah.” B.H. Roberts was the President of the Eastern States Mission, and September 1923 was going to be the 100-ywar anniversary of Moroni’s appearance to Joseph Smith on the Hill Cumorah, and Roberts wanted to hold a big event to celebrate that milestone (which would be attended by the Church President and several Apostles). As part of the spiritual preparation, Roberts instituted a season of “country work” that summer for the missionaries. “Country work” or “country tracting” is a Mormon expression for having the missionaries leave the cities and towns in which they are stationed, walk out into the countryside, and rely on the kindness of strangers for food and lodging. This is the Mormon version of preaching the Gospel “without purse or scrip.” I find this old practice really interesting and so resolved to blog a bit about it. [Read more…]

Lesson 28 #BCCSundaySchool2019: “What Wilt Thou Have Me Do”

Acts 6 Acts 7 Acts 8 Acts 9

These chapters are crucial to understanding the development of the early Christian church and there is just no way to discuss everything in them. Moreover, the lesson manual is very brief, so consider this a supplement to the material in the manual. These chapters include the conversion story of Paul (Acts 9) and since that story is so well known, I’m not going to emphasize it. Instead, I will focus mostly on how these chapters deal with cultural differences in the Jerusalem church and what that reveals about how the early church was getting on in the period shortly after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and departure. Even so, we will barely scratch the surface, yet I hope there will be something useful for the lesson this coming Sunday. One important thing to keep in mind is that Acts, like the Gospel of Luke (they likely had the same author) was written with a great deal of hindsight. I mean, much had taken place between the time of Jesus and the composing of Acts, most importantly perhaps, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman army in 70 AD. Thus, the author is including events with a purpose: to explain through early origin stories (likely the subject of preaching during the apostolic and post-apostolic years) how the church of circa 90 AD got where it was and help explain the Christian position relative to the Empire since Luke more than the other writers of the Gospels is writing to people in a broader Roman world.
[Read more…]