Sunday Sermon: Zion Shall Be Redeemed Through Justice, not Judgment

This is a story about, among other things, how reading the Bible in different translations can open up vistas that the church-approved King James Version closes down—not by being wrong or inaccurate, but by being more than 400 years old in a language, and a culture, that continue to change.

It is also a story about how slight changes in meaning can have huge implications for how we understand both God and our responsibility to each other.

But mostly it is a story about Zion and how we are supposed to make it.

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2020 Handbook: The Lord’s Supper and the Right Hand

This week church leaders directed the release of the new general handbook of instructions (2020 v. 11/19). Among the updates are its public and digital-only availability (previously only sections were public). There have been several discussions about changes from the last iteration of the handbook. Here, I will be digging into one specifically: instructions for members to take the Lord’s Supper (generally “the sacrament”) with their right hand.
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When Faith to Heal Lands You in Prison

One Sunday last September a 13-year-old girl with pancreatitis was feeling worse than usual and laid down. Her parents prayed and fasted that she would return to health, anointing her with oil and laying their hands on her for healing. By Tuesday she was dead, the victim of a chronic—but treatable—condition that had ravaged her 160 cm tall frame over many weeks until it weighed only 30 kg (BMI 11.7).

Last week an Austrian court sentenced the parents to five years in prison for neglect of a minor resulting in death. The jury deadlocked on the charge of murder by omission. The state prosecutor appealed the decision and plans to seek a harsher sentence.

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New Handbook: Evolution of Church Liturgy and Authority

Who performs rituals in our liturgy, and what authority they invoke is at the heart, not only of our lived religion, but integral in the construction of our cosmos. It is part of how we structure the worlds in which we live. It has also been a perennial interest for me. Today, a new handbook of instructions was released, with a number of changes. Besides a throwback to the JFS-era idea of taking the sacrament with your right hand (perhaps I’ll do a follow-up post on that idea), there is an important change in the instruction on home dedication.
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Henceforth I have called you friends

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When I think about my lifelong relationship with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it has long felt like obedience to a stern father figure.

That’s how the Church is structured. Our Bishop is where we’re supposed to turn if familial support falls short. The Bishop, in turn, holds keys of the Priesthood which report up in strict hierarchical order to Stakes, Area Seventies, Apostles, and the Prophet. [Read more…]

Traditions of Their [Mothers]: Girls Should Be Passing the Sacrament

A little over two years ago, I wrote a post explaining that our current rule that only priesthood holders can pass the sacrament has no basis in scripture. D&C 20:58 explicitly says that teachers and deacons lack the authority to “administer the sacrament”; ergo, if we allow teachers and deacons to prepare and pass the sacrament, those things must not be part of the administration of the sacrament.

And if they’re not, then the Handbook’s requirement that only “[d]eacons, teachers, priests, and Melchizedek Priesthood holders may pass the sacrament” is based, not on scripture, but on tradition. Now, tradition is certainly not always a bad thing, but the Book of Mormon warns us that tradition can potentially impede our ability to know and understand God. I think that’s doubly true when the tradition actively harms a person or group of people by, for example, not allowing them to participate and serve fully in our religious community. [Read more…]

Book Review: The Book of Mormon for the Least of These

by Nancy Ross

Editor’s note: This review of our most recent BCC Press book, The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, was published yesterday on the Exponent II Blog. Normally we wold just link to it, but we liked it so much we asked if we could cross post it to BCC.  

Abstract book cover for the book "The Book of Mormon For the Least of These: 1 Nephi - Word of Mormon by Fatimah Salleh with Margaret Olsen Hemming."
The Book of Mormon For the Least of These: 1 Nephi – Word of Mormon by Fatimah Salleh with Margaret Olsen Hemming

I devoted a good chunk of my life to reading and re-reading the Book of Mormon. My preferred method in my adult life was to read it very quickly, following a schedule I’d worked out when President Gordon B. Hinckley issued his challenge for LDS church members to read the book in 100 days. I enjoyed my Book of Mormon binge reads and the text grew with me as I worked my way through the church milestones of adult life.

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Presidents’ Day Questions for Ralph Hancock

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Ralph Hancock, a political theorist at Brigham Young University, is a fairly notorious figure in certain tiny Mormon slivers of the internet. I never took a class from him when I was a student at BYU, but I’ve interacted with him, in person and online, dozens of times over the decades; we’re friendly, if not necessarily close friends. Recently, Hancock made waves with a piece he published in the Deseret News, arguing, in reference to the recent impeachment vote, that Utah Republican Senator Mike Lee, who voted, along with every other Republican save one, to find President Trump not guilty of the impeachment charges, had acted like a true statesman; Mitt Romney, the only Republican senator who voted to convict Trump, had not. This is a position I disagree with, as I’ve made clear already. So this President’s Day, I’d like to pose some questions for Ralph–not with any illusion that anyone’s mind will be changed by voicing such questions, but because I honestly want to understand just what it is he’s claiming about American statesmanship circa 2020, and why. [Read more…]

A Home Is the Material Manifestation of an Unconditional Responsibility

Opening Remarks to the Eighth Annual Evansville Student Symposium on Homelessness, University of Southern Indiana, February 17, 2020

I am deeply touched and impressed when I look out at this room full of students from our city’s three great institutions of higher education—students studying medicine, nursing, education, social work, and many other fields—and realize that you are all here to address a serious social issue in our community as part of your education. It gives me hope.

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Mental Illness, Discipleship, and Mourning with Those that Mourn

img_9464Breanne loves hiking and biking and traveling, and never expected to share the dark secrets of her struggle with mental illness with the world. But after nearly two years of promptings, she finally gave a talk in sacrament meeting in her ward about it. So many people requested a copy that she realized it might also be helpful to others outside of her ward. The text below is adapted from that talk.

When I was growing up, King Benjamin’s exhortation to “consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God,” who are “blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual,” confused me. I did everything I could to keep the commandments of God, but I didn’t feel happy or blessed. My state of unhappiness seemed like a permanent condition, with only fleeting moments of happiness. I didn’t know then that my family’s long history of genetic depression had also afflicted me. I didn’t even know that my family had a long history of depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses. It was simply not talked about back then. 

We don’t even talk about mental illness much now. But today, I’d like to change that, even if just for a minute. [Read more…]

The Tear in the Narrative

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Daniel Chaffin is an Assistant Professor of Management at the University of Nebraska Kearney. He is a former bishop and loves backpacking, pickleball and is an aspiring foodie.

It was the day of my dissertation defense. I dressed in my best suit and strode into the Brick University Building early in the morning. I have always been an above average student – not remarkable, but above average and I felt cautiously optimistic. I had done my homework and prepared strategically. I sent multiple drafts of the dissertation proposal to my chair and my final draft to my committee, refined and perfected my PowerPoint slides, and brought food. As it was customary for a PhD student to feed his committee, both physically and intellectually, I was not going to disappoint on either front. I brought fruit, juice, coffee; I even brought spinach quiche. While there were some technical challenges as I skyped in an offsite committee member, it was nothing I couldn’t handle. [Read more…]

Because this is a thing now apparently…

There is a person trolling away on the internet, attempting to make the case that being racist and being LGBTQ are morally equivalent. They are not. If this question doesn’t interest you, good, but you probably won’t enjoy the rest of this blog post.
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2 Nephi 12

I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out the JST, but in this BoM year the thought occurred to me that I’ve never really spent much time looking at how the BOM modifies biblical quotation text. So to dip my toes in this I copied Isaiah 2 into a Word document, made a new version, then copied in 2 Nephi 12, and then ran a comparison. I found the results interesting, so thought I’d share just a few examples of what I found here. Deletions will be italicized, additions in bold. [Read more…]

Nephi’s Abdication: Failure and Hope.

When Lehi dies, his dream–the dream of his children living in unity and peace in a promised land that God gave them–essentially dies with him. And it is Nephi, whom Lehi and God had ordained as a ruler and teacher over the family, that bears the weight the death of Lehi’s dream for his family. That weight may explain the rather dramatic shift in Nephi’s record, after Lehi’s death, away from the visionary, faith-filled Nephi of first Nephi, and toward the nearly absent Nephi of most of second Nephi. [Read more…]

An Open Letter to Republican Senators: You Must Stand Up for Mitt

To Senator Todd Young and Mike Braun of Indiana and the other Republican members of the United States Senate

Dear Senators,

Here is something that I wish I were making up, but I am not.

Yesterday, Jerry Falwell Jr., an American Evangelical leader and president of Liberty University, appeared on Fox News to discuss Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict and remove President Trump. Senator Romney, as you know, cited his personal religious faith as a reason that he could not be false to his oath to uphold impartial justice, and he believed that the evidence pointed clearly to the President’s guilt. He did not criticize the religious faith of anybody who came to a different conclusion.

Mr. Falwell said two things that disturbed me greatly and that represent ideas now common in conservative circles. Both, I believe, warrant a response from you as Senator Romney’s colleagues.

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Religious Liberty and Joseph Smith in Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Benjamin Park’s Kingdom of Nauvoo: The Rise and Fall of a Religious Empire on the American Frontier is going to be released in two weeks. You should buy it and read it. It’s a first-rate work of Mormon history–the best book about this era I’ve read since Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling–and if it doesn’t quite become the work of intellectual history that I think Park sensed writing the story of Joseph Smith and the Council of Fifty could become, it’s not for lack of trying. Park takes up the many radical threads–political, economic, racial, and sexual–which were part of Smith’s final, and greatest, effort to establish his vision of a distinct community, and weaves them together into a compelling, fascinating tale. And now that Park has provided an interpretation of Smith’s kingdom-building which no previous historian was capable of–with the minutes of the secretive Council of Fifty only finally being made public in 2016–early Mormonism will likely soon find itself occupying a new and even more important conceptual place in the never-ending academic arguments about American democracy, religion, liberalism, and pluralism. Nerds like me who delight in such arguments will keep coming back to Park’s work as a foundational treatment, and we’ll be rewarded for doing so by Park’s delightful read. [Read more…]

How Picky Are You When the Pickings Are Slim?

I recently visited a neighboring country where the church has a presence substantial enough to warrant a temple but where human resources are nonetheless stretched thin.

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Thanks, Mitt

McKay Coppins on Senator Mitt Romney’s vote to convict President Trump on one article of impeachment, the only Republican to do so:

“Romney’s vote will do little to reorient the political landscape. The president’s acquittal has been all but certain for weeks, as Republicans have circled the wagons to protect Trump. But the Utahan’s sharp indictment ensures that at least one dissenting voice from within the president’s party will be on the record—and Romney seems to believe history will vindicate his decision.” [Read more…]

*Separation IS the Curse: An Urgent Re-reading of 2 Nephi 5:21

Over the last few weeks, Latter-day Saints have had an intense and necessary discussion with ourselves about what Laman’s curse in the Book of Mormon was not: it was not dark skin, it was not wild savagery, and it was absolutely, unequivocally not the origin of any racial phenotypes that still exist today. 

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Hips Don’t Lie

I’m not a football fan. Like, I’m super not into it. I’m so not into it, I don’t even think I fully understood how points were scored until I was nearly graduating from college. I’m still a little unclear on the role of the kicker. I played in the Powderpuff game in high school, and I attended some high school games, but I don’t even think our home team ever won a single game. It was hard to get jazzed about a sport my home town was so bad at. As a result, I’m not a Superbowl watcher. But I have enjoyed watching many of the halftime shows (Prince, obviously, among others).

When I awoke this morning, it was to a Mormon pearl-clutching Twitter controversy about this half-time show. Here’s an example:

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An Brief Post About a Complicated Topic

Today I attended a local ecumenical Christian conference here in Wichita, KS. While there, Fr. Stephen Freeman, an Orthodox archpriest, gave a wonderful plenary address–ranging from deep philosophy to pastoral counsel–on boundaries, the other, and shame. At one point, while making the point that everything that exists is, and should be, bounded in some sense or another, he suggested that even in the perfect unity of the Trinity (what we Mormons tend to call the Godhead), there must be a “no,” a limit, or else everything collapses into one, and love of another becomes impossible. This made me think of two things. The first was 2 Nephi 2:11. The second was: was Father Freeman going off on this own here, or was this the correct Orthodox understanding of God? [Read more…]

And He Gave Some Pastors

I wrote this a long time ago, but didn’t post it then because I knew it would embarrass Clayton. I’m heartbroken that he can’t be embarrassed today.
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I once had a bishop whom I loved, and who loved me. I thought I was very special to him, but I’ve since learned that most of my friends in the ward thought they were particularly beloved as well.

Once, the day after my visiting teacher and I had talked about Alma 5, about receiving Christ’s image in your countenance, I happened to see the bishop across the street, at a distance of a couple of hundred yards. Unbidden, but also undramatically, came the thought “Oh, that’s what it looks like.” There was nothing spectacular I could point to, no special light emanating from his face, no transformation of his physical features (indeed, the best description I’ve ever heard of his physical aspect was from a friend speaking in Sacrament Meeting, who said that the bishop looked like a very large and exceptionally distinguished auto mechanic. It seems about right, and he laughed heartily, so I think it’s ok to repeat it). He just looked kind, and that kindness somehow overwhelmed every other impression one might have had. [Read more…]

Introducing The Book of Mormon for the Least of These

Today, BCC Press is tickled pinkish to be launching The Book of Mormon for the Least of These, by Fatimah Salleh with Margaret Olsen Hemming. This is a downright remarkable book of learned theology, active reading, social justice, and, above all, deep fatih. The following post is by the authors.

The strength and beauty of a holy text is that it can be read again and again, with different and new understandings and insights revealed every time. A holy text is not exhausted by a single interpretation; it compels readers to return and review, reexamine, and reinterpret. The Bible has withstood millenia of innumberable methods of understanding: orthodox, liberal, academic, literary, feminist, etc. The Book of Mormon has certainly experienced readers examining it from various points of view, including through history, literature, and orthodoxy. But a close reading of the complete book as scripture that has messages about oppression, inequality, and other issues of social justice has not been available until now. This book, the first in a trilogy, is a social justice exegesis of the first third of the Book of Mormon, from 1 Nephi to the Words of Mormon.

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When the Roads Part

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Jaxon Washburn is a friend of BCC and student at Arizona State University.

“Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  -The Gospel According to Matthew

Every so often, I experience a combination of impressions and emotions that swirl in such a way to produce a distinct state of mind, but I feel unable to describe them with a single word. Sonder falls in this category. [Read more…]

Parenting, faith and vomit

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Rachel Allred lives in California and loves her husband, her two young kids, and ice cream (not necessarily in that order).  She generally tries to make the world a more empathetic place.

I read Carolyn’s post on being terrified about having kids at 4am.  I turned to BCC to help me stay awake just over halfway through my two-year-old’s five-hour vomiting marathon (20+ times). Fortunately he only woke up his baby sister twice.  I’m responding to that post in bits and pieces while I’m home with that two-year-old and missing an important work deadline.* [Read more…]

Author-Attributed Manuals

For virtually my entire life, Church manuals have been anonymously written, produced by committees, reviewed extensively by the correlation process, and churned out for various church classes.  In 1980, I think it was, John Sorenson called me to my first post-mission calling, as Elders’ Quorum Instructor. That manual was just such a nameless production. I remember that John told me it was a “personal study guide,” and that I should not follow it slavishly but do more in our classes. Every manual I’ve used in the Church since that time has been similar: nameless and highly correlated. I think we may have used an author-attributed book for the church history year of seminary, which would have been some time between 1972 and 1976, but for me personally that was it.

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What I Wish My Prophet Would Say

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Kenneth Merrill graduated from BYU with a degree in Philosophy and now works as a cinematographer in Los Angeles, CA. He’s married, with two boys, and in his spare time he likes to play music, rock climb, practice sleight of hand, and read/write—but mostly he just ends up staring at glowing screens.

It was a warm summer day in Long Island City, an area of Queens just across the river from Manhattan. My companion and I were on our way to an appointment in the Queens Bridge Projects when we stopped to talk to two older ladies on their way back home from the grocery store.

“Hi, I’m Elder Merrill, and we’re out here to tell people that we have a living prophet on this earth today. Would you be interested in hearing more about that?”

With frightening directness, one of the women turned to me and asked, “Oh really, a prophet? What’s he been prophesying lately?”

I probably stood slack-jawed for a decent 5 seconds before the next words tumbled uncontrollably out of my mouth:

“Drugs are bad.” [Read more…]

What to Do with that Embarassing Mistake in the Manual? Try BCC Press

You have probably heard by now that the printed edition of this year’s Come Follow Me manual contains an embarassing, and controversial error that, Peggy Fletcher Stack reports in a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune, “could set back progress that the Utah-basesd faith has made on the issue of racism in the past few years–and alienate people of color.”

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A Place to Belong

I read A Place to Belong this weekend. I understand why it was written and marketed to women. Not only does it make fiscal sense for the publisher, but the editors were, I believe, correct that the women of the church need this volume. But here is the thing: the men of the church need it more. We need to listen to and internalize the experiences of women and be changed by it.

I am not the same person I was twenty years ago—the year I graduated, got married, and started graduate school. Thankfully. A large part of that change is due to the experiences and relationships that followed because of those events. A large part is also because of people, a number of whom wrote chapters for A Place to Belong, who I have come to know and love. Conversations over meals, sharing and reacting to our writing, and disorientation from trying to see through a foreign perspective.

I’m largely an unfinished project—I’m not unfrequently uncomfortable. But I believe that this is essential to the project. If you are male, pick up a copy of A Place to Belong and read it. And if you can’t empathize with every author, then try to change.

Christ’s Hands

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Elle Mae is a queer Mormon feminist who recently gave this talk in her ward.

In a BYU devotional by Dean Carolina Nunez titled “Loving Our Neighbors,” she said: 

Loving our neighbor requires getting close to our neighbor and giving of ourselves. In Spanish, the term for “love of neighbor” is amor al prójimo, or “love of the one who is in proximity.” The term prójimo connotes a physical closeness and personal touch that neighbor simply fails to capture for me. We follow the good Samaritan’s example not by abstractly loving from afar but by truly connecting and spending time with each other, by genuinely giving of ourselves. This is not always easy: getting close often involves sacrifice and discomfort. It can be awkward, time consuming, and emotionally draining. Surely the Samaritan had other plans for his day, but he stopped to love someone who needed him.

Genuinely giving of ourselves cannot be done just because we want to “be righteous” we have to be vulnerable enough to love those around us without a reward in mind or box to check. Opening our hearts to people is part of building Zion. Our love can’t be conditional on certain outcomes. [Read more…]