The danger is gone

I’ve written a lot about “female ritual healing” in the last decade–frequently with Kris. I think a lot more people are aware today, than ten years ago, that women in the church regularly anointed the sick and blessed. The Joseph Smith Papers Project has published the once guarded minutes of the Female Relief Society of Nauvoo, which included examples of women blessing and Joseph’s revelatory approval of the practice. Deseret Book remarkably published that minute even before the JSPP released the document. The Church Historian’s Press has published transcripts of the minutes with notes, along with many other relevant documents from the subsequent decades (The First Fifty Years, even available in the Gospel Library App). The Church History Department has published several essays that deal with the practice, including a Gospel Topics Essay and a Church History Essay. I sense no danger in discussing it. It is a different world than when Kris and I first walked into the old Archives.
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The Prophet Project: Answers to Prayer

One might, at first glance, think Elder Brook Hales’s talk “Answers to Prayer” is about…well…prayer. But it really isn’t; rather, it is about hope and the effect it can have in our lives. [Read more…]

The Mormon Creed

We are all familiar with the religious biographies of Joseph Smith, and in particular the narrations of the First Vision. It is from the latter of these that we find God’s condemnation of Christian creeds, a formal category or documents that established beliefs for the last two thousand years. Many folks have written about the anti-creedal denominations of the Antebellum period, and how the restoration fit in with that. My experience has been that Mormons have consequently taken a pejorative view of these documents, even if we haven’t really been sure what exactly they are [waves hands and mutters something about the incoherency of the trinity].
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When in Romans

We’ve been getting a lot of online discussion lately as a result of the legalistic view of the gospel that’s been presented in General Conference, and particularly the introduction of a new term: qualification. The term may be new, but this is the same Mormon discussion we’ve been having since the get-go: grace vs. works. Mormons have a tough time comprehending grace as a gift, assuming that works are necessary to “qualify” for God’s grace, which leads to checklists of actions required to qualify, worthiness interviews to ensure we have done the things on the checklist, and at least doing the mental calculus to see if we’ve done enough, and sometimes just for personal gratification, noting that others have not done what we deem is “enough.” As a faith tradition, we are very works-focused. The idea that our puny efforts matter at all in the grand scheme of things is because we care so very much about no unclean thing entering, and we’re willing to tackle them personally at the Pearly Gates to prevent it. [Read more…]

“I am the Good Shepherd” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Good_shepherd_02b_closeChrist as the Good Shepherd was one of the most common and early illustrations of the Savior in early Christian art, before the Edict of Milan in 313 AD granted religious liberty to minority groups like Christians. The image of a shepherd was a furtive, sneaky way of remembering Christ through paintings and statues without being persecuted or even executed by the Roman Empire. These images of Christ were also reminiscent of Greek depictions of Hermes Kriophoros, representing a story in which Hermes saves a city from the plague by carrying a ram on his shoulders and running around the city’s walls. In other stories of kriophoros, or “ram-bearers,” the rams are representative of sacrifice—a fitting complement to Christ’s own atoning sacrifices. Additionally, the tragic Greek hero Orpheus (who was very nearly able to resurrect his wife, Eurydice, from death, and whose own head had been able to keep singing sad, beautiful songs long after it was torn from his body) was also commonly depicted as a shepherd, playing music to birds and animals from his lyre. It’s not always easy to distinguish among these various personalities in ancient art, and it’s also possible that many pieces of art simultaneously represented a synthesis of these various stories: stories of heroism, tenderness, care, and sacrifice. [Read more…]

Christians, Mormons, and Latter-day Saints: Religious Identity and Self-Determination in Religious Movements and Institutions

Who gets to decide what my religion is? Who gets to decide what my religion is called? Who gets to decide who gets to call themselves a Mormon, or a Christian? Should the church have anything to do with those who aren’t members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint, but who call themselves Mormons?

Something I’ve been thinking about over the past several months since President Nelson’s announcement about the name of the church is the relationship between the right of religious institutions to define themselves, and the right of individuals to choose their own religious identity. [Read more…]

Profile in Courage: Matt Easton

Watch this video of Matt Easton, valedictorian of the Political Science Department, giving the convocation speech for BYU graduation in the Marriott Center and announcing, “I stand before my family, friends, and graduating class today to say that I am proud to be a gay son of God.” 

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Latter-day Saint Parents, Please Stop Apologizing for Your Child’s Wedding

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Emily B. grew up in New Hampshire but currently lives in Maryland, where she spends most of her time writing and teaching writing classes. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from BYU and just finished a PhD in English at the University of Georgia. She and her husband have no children but two very spoiled cats.

Last summer while attending a conference for work, I met a woman from Utah, Trudy (not her real name). It was one of those contexts where we quickly figured out that we were both members of the Church and started chatting, just making small talk. Trudy asked if I had attended this conference before, and I explained that I had meant to attend the previous year but that my sister’s wedding plans had changed, preventing me from going. She then told me all about her adult children and her son’s upcoming wedding.

“Congratulations!” I said. “That’s exciting!”
“Well…” Trudy said, grimacing a little. She sighed.

Instantly, I knew what she was about to say. It’s a sigh and grimace I’ve seen on many occasions when a Latter-day Saint parent, or perhaps even a sibling, mentions an upcoming wedding. [Read more…]

“What Shall I Do to Inherit Eternal Life” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Matthew 18, Luke 10

The Sapiential, Constitutive, Consequential Kingdom of God

To read the Gospels is to become obsessed with a vision. And the name of the vision is “the Kingdom of God,” or, sometimes, “the Kingdom of Heaven” or just “the Kingdom.” It is the most powerful vision in any of the standard works, where it occasionally also goes by the name of “Zion.” It is the focus of nearly all of Christ’s parables, and of the vast majority of His teaching and ministry. And it remains one of the most poorly understood concepts in the churches that use His name.

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The Point of View for My Work as an Author–On Leere

This post is a continuation from the AML Blog. Read it first to understand my path in becoming an author.

Yes. Today King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals is released into the world. At one point I was so excited about writing it. I sat in my chair too long and suffered a deep vein thrombosis. Ah, the hazards of the writing life.

To understand my work, it must be kept in mind that I break things. [Read more…]

Your Earth Day Present from BCC Press: The Tragedy of King Leere, Goatherd of the La Sals, by Steven L. Peck

Two years and two weeks ago, on April 6, 2017, BCC Press began with a single book: Steven Peck’s Science the Key to Theology. Today, we are proud to announce the publication of our 21st book, also by Steven Peck: The Tragedy of King Leere, the Goatherd of the La Sals.

In a certain (very metaphorical) sense, BCC Press is now a Steve Peck sandwich. We have a varied and tantalizing selection of fiction, poetry, drama, and memoir, and Steve is the artisan bread that holds it all together and gives it a shape. Science the Key to Theology is a serious work of philosophical nonfiction with the potential to change the way that Latter-day Saints see the universe. King Leere, on the other hand, is a post-modern, post-climate-change, post-American novel set in Southern Utah among people who used to be Mormons.

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“O Grave, Where Is Thy Victory?” #BCCSundaySchool2019

The Come Follow Me manual’s resources for the week of Easter include no set reading from the New Testament. Instead, there is a broad range of scriptures referenced–mostly from Matthew, but also from Luke, John, and 1 Peter–all dealing with Jesus’s resurrection, and how the story of the resurrection, and the story of the week preceding it, are emblematic of Jesus’s power to help us overcome trials and weaknesses and sins, and even death itself. This is, of course, a vital message; one that is captured in the exultation of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” [Read more…]

Special Assignment

About two and a half years ago a local church leader gave me what he dubbed a “special assignment” to go and visit with a young couple who had had a faith crisis and were no longer believers. He had talked to them and they told him they would appreciate such a visit, but this leader didn’t feel competent to discuss the things they wanted to discuss. I told him I would be happy to go to their home and talk to them about their issues, but I wanted to manage expectations. That is, I didn’t want anyone to think I was somehow miraculously going to cure their faith crisis. If I did it, my goals would be much more modest. I would want them to understand that no, they’re not crazy; and yes, these kinds of issues exist. If they wanted to talk about specific issues I would be happy to do so, but more from a perspective of trying to explain how many Saints deal with such issues, and not from a perspective of trying to argue against their newfound knowledge altogether. He agreed with these constraints, so I made the visit. [Read more…]

The Prophet Project: Careful versus Casual by Sister Becky Craven

Near the end of her talk, Careful versus Casual, Sister Becky Craven says something fairly radical, so radical that it runs against the apparent grain of the rest of her talk. [Read more…]

A Poem for Holy Thursday (2019)

I posted this two years ago on Holy Thursday. I’ve tweaked it and made some revisions. [Read more…]

Thursday

If you look at our archives, today is a day when I revisit the liturgies associated with it. This is a post from some years ago, that reads different to me with the death of my father earlier this year.

There are old Eastern folk traditions that anyone who dies during Easter week is immediately ushered to paradise. The formal Orthodox funeral liturgy is in fact dramatically altered for those who die on Easter and before Thomas Sunday. “[L]ittle of the chanting which is ordinarily part of the office is retained. This is out of respect for the greatness and dignity of the resplendent feast of the Resurrection, which is a feast of joy and not lamentation. As we shall all rise in Christ, in the hope of the resurrection and eternal life, through this same resurrection of Christ the dead pass from the afflictions of this world to joy and happiness, and the church proclaims this in the hymns of the resurrection.”[n1]
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Sunday Dress

In our most recent General Conference, there has been a push for members to dress up for church. It’s long been a hobby horse of E. Oaks, and that hasn’t changed. Generally speaking, current Mormon dress standards at church are a little more dressed up than most other sects, but maybe less than Easter at a historically black church–we don’t like hats and fans.

Several years ago, we had a French boy staying with us on an exchange program. I asked if he wanted to come along with us to church or if he preferred to stay home. He said he would like to come along, for curiosity sake. I had mentioned that people in our church tended to dress up for church. He was Catholic, an occasional church-goer, but not from a super devout family. When he came down in nice jeans, sneakers, and a tee shirt with a slogan on it, I was worried he’d feel awkward when he saw all the other kids in dress pants and button down shirts. He borrowed a button down shirt from my son and off we went. He was further surprised to see our son administering the sacrament, a rite he was used to seeing a priest in vestments conduct. [Read more…]

Come Follow Me as a Quasi-, or Proto-Lectionary

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints doesn’t have a traditional Christian liturgical calendar, and the Come Follow Me New Testament manual is not a traditional lectionary. But Come Follow Me is also not entirely like a traditional Latter-day Saint Sunday School manual, and the ways that it departs from that form nudge it closer to functioning almost like a lectionary in some interesting ways. [Read more…]

#taxday 2019: Henry P. Richards and Hawaiian Personal Taxes

 

Henry P. Richards, public domain.

Today is April 15, which means it’s Tax Day! And, as always, on Tax Day, I wanted to bring you a story of Mormonism and taxes.[fn1]

I didn’t have anything particular in mind, though.[fn2] So I ran a quick Westlaw search,[fn3] and, before I had a chance to rearrange the results chronologically, the first result caught my eye: Kupua v. Richards, an 1879 decision from the Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Hawaii.

The Richards in that case was Henry P. Richards, brother of apostle Franklin D. Richards. But, while today we remember Franklin D. better than Henry P., it turns out that Henry P. Richards played a critical (and heralded!) role in missionary work in Hawaii. [Read more…]

LATTER-DAY SAINTS AND MEDIA SYMPOSIUM

CALL FOR PAPERS

From Embrace to Erase
Friday and Saturday, October 25-26, 2019
Hunter Conference Center
Southern Utah University
Cedar City, Utah

The “Mormon” moniker has become a symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ changing organizational norms, shifting identity, technological innovations, and these factors’ reflection in media studies. To wit, the church has entered into a period of renewed international media coverage and attention by scholars, especially since the beginning of church prophet Russell M. Nelson’s presidency in January 2018. [Read more…]

Palm Sunday: Being on the Right Side When it Is Easy

Today is Palm Sunday, when we remember Jesus entering Jerusalem triumphantly on the back of a donkey. All four gospels tell the story, as well they should. It is the moment that Christ is recognized as the king that he is. As Mark relates it,

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A Tale of Two Restorations

Expanatory Note: In 1999, the fledgling organization FAIR (more recently FairMormon) held its first ever conference, in Ben Lomond, California. I had nothing to do with the group at the time, but someone invited me to present at the conference, and I agreed to give it a shot. (That first conference was held in a Relief Society room, and the number of speakers almost exceeded the audience. This was a very humble beginning compared to the conference centers and large crowds of today.) My effort was a comparison and contrast of the restorations of Alexander Campbell and Joseph Smith. I have copied the main text below, as I’m confident the vast majority of our readers has never seen this piece. For space considerations I have omitted the Introduction, a Chronology, a Bibliography and Notes; that apparatus can be found where the presentation is archived at the FairMormon website. The piece is 20 years old, so I cannot claim to stand by everything I wrote at the time, but I hope some of you may find it interesting nonetheless [Read more…]

The Prophet Project: How Can I Understand? by Elder Soares

Perhaps you are familiar with the Dunning-Kruger effect? It is the psychological tic that so many of us have that allows us to think we are competent when we are not and incompetent when we are. The less we know, the more likely we are to think we get things right. The more we know, the more likely we are to see our faults and shortcomings. As I read through Elder Ulisses Soares’s recent conference talk, “How can I understand?”, I couldn’t help but think about the Dunning-Kruger effect and how it influences us. [Read more…]

The No-Longer Policy: Where Do We Go From Here?

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Today’s guest post comes from Christian Kimball, a longtime friend of By Common Consent.

First, let’s celebrate getting things right. Whether it takes 4 years or 30 years or 100 years, correcting past mistakes is a good.  Let’s recognize and even celebrate the virtue of continuing revelation—the Church’s ability to change, which we tout as a distinctive feature.

Second, let’s recognize that real people have been hurt over a clear mistake.  The harms are wide-ranging, from agonizing over doctrine and institutional loyalty, to seeing loved ones leave the Church, to unrelenting pain in the LGBTQ community, to suicide.  I can witness from personal knowledge that the Policy of Exclusion caused some to feel there were no good options and no viable future for them in this life.  Others internalized the Policy as “you are irredeemably broken.” None of that is good, for anybody.  Reparations, restoration, apologies, corrections, and ongoing improvements are all in order (even if they seem impossible). [Read more…]

Reforming the Honor Code Office

BYU Students are hoping to reform the Honor Code Office with a social media campaign, and students have been sharing stories online of their own run-ins with the HCO. The stories have a few recurring themes:

  • Gay students being targeted disproportionately, often for non-violations
  • Vindictive behavior between students that the HCO enables and promotes
  • Hints at breaches of confidentiality in the ecclesiastical confession process, putting repentant students’ educations on the line when they seek counsel
  • Policing of doubts and testimony by other students
  • Local police officers sharing information about BYU students that occurs off campus
  • The emotionally and psychologically unhealthy impacts of the HCO on students: paranoia, anxiety, depression, and the fact that some reported sins/violations are associated with psychological issues
  • That the HCO encourages lying and discourages repentance by inserting academic (and downstream financial) consequences to what should be personal spiritual matters
  • That there is an HCO file on each student, including fishing expeditions in their social media accounts. (FYI, they are legally obligated to show you your file if you request, and I would request the heck out of that thing.)

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When the Miracle Doesn’t Come

 

Mette Ivie Harrison is the nationally known author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series with Soho Press, and has also published three books with BCC Press (The Book of Laman, Vampires in the Temple, and The Book of Abish ). She is currently at work on a memoir about “Old Mette” and “New Mette” that chronicles the two deaths (her daughter’s and her own spiritual death) that led to the new life she lives and the new relationship she has with God. This essay was written in the midst of the change from one to the other.

While in graduate school, I knew two very devout women who had two very similar and yet very different experience with miracles. One was Primary President. The other was in the Relief Society Presidency. Their husbands were active. But the youngest son of one of the women, in the year before we moved into the ward, had been hit by a car right in front of his house. She performed CPR on him and he survived, but was never fully healed, despite the fasting and prayers of the ward.

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Easter and the Final Days of Jesus

A few years back, I wrote a series of posts on the last days of Jesus’ mortal life. I have edited a few of them for this year but mostly my thoughts expressed in the series remain unchanged. Since we are once again approaching my favorite holiday, I offer them again for your perusal. You can find all of them here (scroll to the bottom to read the first entry). God bless, and happy Easter 2019!

The Middle

We’re told that the world is black and white

Good or evil

Right or wrong

And sitting in between is always gray

because it has to be a mix between the two

some right, some wrong

some good, some bad

But to me the middle is full of color

red

blue

green

yellow

purple

It’s something entirely different than the black or white

It’s not all the possible shades of gray

Because it is not gray at all

It is me

And I am so many colors

What Does the Budapest Temple Mean for the Church in Europe?

King Saint Stephen helped transform Hungary into a Christian state using methods that today would no doubt cause a stir.

A couple of weeks ago I started drafting a post entitled “What Does the Rome Temple Mean for the Church in Europe?” but didn’t get around to finishing it for a variety of reasons. Now I’m glad I didn’t because with the recently concluded General Conference some of those thoughts have been overtaken by events.

From my worm’s-eye view, the announcement of the Budapest temple is an encouraging sign of the church’s engagement in Europe, for it builds on a growing trend—e.g., the dedications of the Paris temple in 2017 and the Rome temple in March of this year and the planned dedication of the Lisbon temple this September and the re-dedication of the Frankfurt temple in October—of investing in an area of the church where membership density is low.

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The Prophet Project: An Introduction

I’ve never been a “modern prophets” guy. [Read more…]