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…]

Bees, Chimps, and Returning from Missions

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Shawn Tucker is an Associate Professor at Elon University and occasional voice of bloggernacle satire

You have been on a rowing team for a short time, when, one day, a new rower shows up who might take your spot. You are not happy. You love rowing, and you are committed to doing what it takes to keep your spot. In a few weeks, your team will have its first competition. You and your team are all working hard to be the best. You want to be the best to keep your spot. Your team wants to be the best to win.

Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind, Chapter 10) uses an example like this to illustrate how humans compete in two ways. We compete on an individual level, like you against the new rower who just showed up. We compete as groups against groups, rowing team against rowing team. Haidt puts forward the idea that we evolved to do both things. When we compete with other individuals, Haidt says that we are like chimpanzees. When we compete with other groups, Haidt says that we are like bees in a hive. The success of the hive depends upon each bee working together for the good of the hive. [Read more…]

Books: Newly Published and Shortly to Appear

I thought I’d post a mini-review or two of recently published books in the Mormon genre and at least notice a few impressive pieces that will turn up shortly. Warning: not an exhaustive list.
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The Women’s Book of Mormon Is Here

Papereback 9.99 Kindle $6.99

We have been busy little deseret here at BCC Press in January. For ther unitiated, deseret is a Jaredite term for “honeybee.” The Jaredites, of course, came to the New World before the languages were confounded at the Tower of Babel, so they spoke a pure Adamic tongue. As near as we can tell, deseret is what God calls bees.

There are all sorts of fantastic beasts in the Book of Mormon. Along with honeybees, there are horses, and cows and oxen and asses and goats. And, of course, the mysterioius curelom and cumom. In all, the official LDS Coloring Book Curriculum lists 17 different animals that are named in the Book of Mormon.

Yes, there are lots of animals named in the Book of Mormon. What there aren’t a lot of are named women. There are, in fact, four women named in the entire book: Sariah, the wife of Lehi; Abish, the Lamanite servant; Isabel, the harlot and, by prophecy and reputation only, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ. This is not enough for the Book of Mormon itself to even sit for the Bechdel Test, much less pass it.

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In Praise of Boring Sunday School Lessons

 

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Shawn Tucker is an Associate Professor at Elon University and occasional voice of bloggernacle satire

Imagine a ship made with millions of popsicle sticks intricately bound together with dental floss. The many rows of wooden sticks make it waterproof and seaworthy. It is not a flashy boat, but it can move forward in the water toward a destination. That boat is how I imagine the church—each popsicle stick is a member, and the members are all tied together with bonds of testimony, commitment, and love.

I describe the church in this manner to do something perhaps unexpected—to praise boring Sunday School lessons. [Read more…]

The Meetinghouse and the Temple

Michael Haycock has a bachelor’s from Yale and a master’s in religion from Claremont Graduate University.  He currently serves as the Ecumenical/Christian Life Coordinator at Georgetown.  Views are, of course, his own.

LDS theology is like the double helix of DNA, unzipped:  it has two parallel strands that circle around each other, but which rarely connect. 

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On one strand rests the Meetinghouse, with much of the Christianity we received through scripture ancient and modern and which we share with much of Christendom. 

On the other is the Temple, the divine anthropology of the eternal family, and eternal progression, which we hold unique among Christian faiths. [1]

I am convinced that much of the theological friction within the LDS Church is born of the gaps between these two theological strands, amplified by official near-silence on how to bind them together. [Read more…]

Enos and the Joy of the Saints

Authors Note: For reasons that are lost to me know, I did not write anything about the Book of Enos in my 2016 series of posts that became the recently published book Buried Treasures. Today, I was assigned to lead a Priesthood-Meeting discussion about Elder Christofferson’s talk, “The Joy of the Saints,” which references Enos extensively. Always looking for messages from the Universe, I took this as a sign and prepared the following lesson, which readers of the book should feel free to print off, insert, and pretend that it was always there.

Enos 1

When I ask people to define “joy”–which I do from time to time because I am weird like that–they usually come up with one (or more) of three related synonyms. Joy, they say, is like happiness. Or it is like pleasure. Or it is like a deep and abiding feeling peace that convinces us that everything is going to be OK.

These, I would suggest, are exactly the three things that look like joy but are not. And perhaps the best way to define joy is to place it in contrast with these three look-alikes.

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January Is Book of Mormon Month at BCC Press

Here at BCC Press, we are starting our fourth year with a bang. Well, not literally with a bang. But, literally, with three new books desgined to complement the Come Follow Me Book of Mormon curriculum this year. Our offeringts are varied across generes and rhetorical modes, but they are united in their purpose to help you see and appreciate a familiar book in new and exciting ways.

We will be releasing one new book a week–today, next Friday, and the Friday after that so that, by the end of the month, you can line them all up on your shelf and nod with satisfaction that you are ready for the year.

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Reading the Book of Mormon Again for the First Time

Editor’s Note: In the month of January, BCC Press will publish three new books about the Book of Mormon, in conjunction with the beginning of the 2020 Come Follow Me reading plan. The first book, which will be published this week in print and Kindle versions, is Michael Austin’s Buried Treasures: Reading the Book of Mormon Again for the First Time. This book collects the 44 #BOM2016 blog posts that Michael did at BCC during 2016 into a single book. The amazing Christian Harrison designed both the book and the cover. Below is the introduction to the volume.

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In 2016, I decided to read the Book of Mormon for the first time in 30 years. The last time I read it was in 1986, during my mission to Central California. Our mission president challenged us to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day that year reading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, which I did. And that was the last time.

At first, I didn’t read it because I never got around to it. I had stuff to do. Important stuff. I was studying “Literature,” about which I thought very highly. And I had read the Book of Mormon several times before and during my mission. I know enough to get by, and even to teach Gospel Doctrine in three different wards. I read the lesson material and scanned the relevant chapters, usually during Sacrament Meeting, and I faked the rest.

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I’m terrified about having kids.

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I just spent the holidays with family. I’ve been married a year. I’m approaching my mid-30s. And due to an unrelenting year at work, I’ve gained some weight. So perhaps unsurprisingly, the last few weeks have featured a conversational dance of hinted “are-you-pregnant” questions.

I’ve ignored the hints and laughed off the passing comments about future grandchildren. What I haven’t responded with is my honest answer: I’m terrified about having kids. [Read more…]

“Unwed Pregnancy” and Agency

In June of 2002, local leaders received a letter from the First Presidency to be read in high priests group, elders quorum, and Relief Society meetings. This document outlined the church’s policy on “Adoption and Unwed Parents.” [n1]
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