April 6, 1830

Today’s guest post is by Bryan Westover. 

Traditionally, Church members have understood the organization of the Church to be a meeting of thirty to forty believers, assembled on April 6, 1830, at the Whitmer farm in Fayette.  However, after years of mulling over early church records and individual member accounts, I have come to know another story. It goes something like this:

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From the Archives: “Bound Hand and Foot with Graveclothes”

This post from a few years ago, written on the occasion of some other mistakes being corrected without a full apology, seems relevant again today. Also this:
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Everyone knows where to find the shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept.” And maybe because it’s an easy verse to memorize, maybe because it is in the middle of a dramatic story, and maybe because it is possibly the densest theological phrase in all of scripture, I’ve returned to it, and to the rest of John 11 over and over in my life and in my thinking. There’s a detail, though, that I hadn’t noticed until this year, that makes the story speak to me in lovely new ways. [Read more…]

“Thou Art the Christ” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 16-17, Mark 8-9, Luke 9*

There is so much we could say about these readings, but this post will focus on the episode of Peter’s testimony of Jesus. The manual places the most emphasis on this part of these readings, and it uses Peter’s testimony as support for the idea that prophets and apostles are revelators and have revealed knowledge that’s worth listening to. This is a timely message, with general conference coming up, and the manual specifically asks us to ponder the testimonies we will hear from the apostles at conference this weekend along with Peter’s testimony.

That message is fine as far as it goes. But I think we sometimes misread Peter’s interaction with Jesus in Matthew 16:13-20, Mark 8:27-30, and Luke 9:19-21 if we overemphasize Peter’s role as an institutional revelator as the salient thing from this passage. [Read more…]

On Chastity and Closed Doors

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I have a fondness for cheesy Christian romance novels.   Their plots feature all of the emotional turmoil and external drama of harlequin romance novels – but they add faith crises and subtract sex.

One trope in these novels is to set up a wicked foil to the wholesome protagonist.  In-need-of-repentance characters lurk in the subplots, steeped in dark allusions and transgressed boundaries.  Think of Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice.  Jane Austen evinces plenty of scandal, yet there are zero explicit mentions of sex.

In order to stay “clean,” Christian novelists have learned to invoke religiously-tinged shame by writing proxies for sex.  All “sin” happens off-screen.  A common scene is the chance encounter after dark.  A woman stands in the shadows, heart pounding, face lit by candlelight.  A man with a half-unbuttoned shirt leans against a doorframe.  After two pages of banter, he steps across the threshold.  The door shuts.  The chapter ends.  At that moment, the reader is cued to assume the characters had sex. [Read more…]

Joseph, Abraham, and the Gifts of Tongues

Sam Brown is a friend of the blog and author, most recently, of Through the Valley of Shadows: Living Wills, Intensive Care, and Making Medicine Human, and In Heaven as It Is on Earth: Joseph Smith and the Early Mormon Conquest of Death. [Read more…]

Speaking Mormon

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Keira Shae is the author of the phenomenal BCC Press megahit How the Light Gets In, a memoir of her early life in the dark underbelly of Provo, Utah. She was taken from a Meth-house to an LDS foster home as a teen. She will be joining fellow BCC authors Ashley May Hoiland, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Keira Shae this weekend for readings at Anthony’s Antiques & Fine Art in Salt Lake City (7:00 PM on Friday, April 5) and Writ & Vision in Provo (7:00 PM on Saturday, April 6). Her story, and her book, are featured in the April 3 Edition of the Deseret News.


I speak Mormon.

People ask me all the time for “proof” of my standing with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Mormons and ex-Mormons alike will question my garment-wearing habits or Sunday routine, an “in-group” or “out-group” marker.

These are still tribes sticking to hard and fast rules. I did it, too. And do. It’s a way to gauge your interaction with others and adjust to their knowledge or preferences.

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Sanka and change

Look. I have no insight into what will be discussed in General Conference next week. Licking my finger and testing the wind, I’d say gender topics are likely on the docket. We’ll find out soon enough, regardless. But people are talking about the Word of Wisdom, which I do find interesting. I’ve met more than one church member who feels like the world of their strict upbringing, which proscribed all caffeinated beverages, is now in some way being betrayed by our casual libations. The thing is, though, these childhoods were just as much moments of transition as anything we see today.

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Higher Law Mormons

Mette Harrison, the author of this guest post, is a frequent contributor to BCC and the author of three books for BCC Press, most recently, The Book of Abish. She will be joining fellow BCC authors Ashley May Hoiland, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Keira Shae this weekend for readings at Anthony’s Antiques & Fine Art in Salt Lake City (7:00 PM on Friday, April 5) and Writ & Vision in Provo (7:00 PM on Saturday, April 6).

Since I heard from my own mother (who is ninety years old) about General Conference rumors that the Word of Wisdom would allow coffee and tea consumption, I was inspired to write this essay.

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“This is the real solution to climate change: babies.”

By now you have no doubt seen clips of a smirking Senator Lee of Utah pull America’s leg with his take-down of the Green New Deal from the floor of the “world’s greatest deliberative body.” This was, after all, two news cycles ago. But because I’m a day late and a dollar short by nature, I’m just now getting around to soliciting your views on his solution to climate change:

This is the real solution to climate change: babies. Climate change is an engineering problem—not social engineering but the real kind. It’s a challenge of creativity, ingenuity and, most of all, technological innovation. And problems of human imagination are not solved by more laws. They’re solved by more humans. More people mean bigger markets for more innovation. More babies will mean forward-looking adults, the sort we need to tackle long term, large-scale problems.

American babies in particular are likely going to be wealthier, better educated and more conservation-minded than children raised in still industrializing countries.

(The transcription is my own; if you find any mistakes, feel free to keep them.)
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Taking the Plunge for All It Is Worth (Which Is a Lot)

BCC welcomes this guest review by Roger Terry, editorial director at BYU Studies and the author of Bruder: The Perplexingly Spiritual Life and Not Entirely Unexpected Death of a Mormon Missionary, published in 2019 by BCC Press.

BCC Press has recently released two missionary memoirs, and Michael and Steve thought it would be fun to have the two authors review each other’s book. In my own memoir, I made the following observation up front: “One thing you need to know is that in spite of the stultifying sameness of dress imposed upon male Mormon missionaries (females get cut a little slack in this department), no two missionaries are alike. Beyond this, there is another level of diversity: between missions. . . . My youngest son recently returned from serving in Ukraine. At the same time, his cousin was serving in Florida.

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He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Bruder

I just finished reading the enjoyable and entertaining Bruder, a mission memoir by Roger Terry that was published by BCC Press on the same day as my own mission memoir, The Legend of Hermana Plunge. Both books are available on Amazon in Kindle or paperback format.

Bruder is a great addition to the canon of mission memoirs, harking back to a mission in the 1970s when transfers came via letter (!) from the mission office, and when his incoming mission president was a little alarmed at the rumpled, big-collared, subtly patterned shirts and not quite conservative suits that were sneaking into the missionary wardrobe at that time. [Read more…]

Judging Righteous Judgment, Part 2: a long-overdue post

Six years ago, I started what I thought would be a series of posts about how to judge righteously. One post in and I realized that I didn’t really have much else to say at the time. But I was recently inspired to start thinking about it again when I was informed that “Judge not!” was “the war cry of the great and spacious culture warrior.” [Read more…]

Mormons and Israel

Amber Taylor recently received her PhD from Brandeis University. She was a Schusterman Fellow, and her dissertation dealt with American Christian relations with the State of Israel, particularly relating to Christian pilgrimage in the Jewish State. We’re grateful to her for this post!

The recent controversy over Ilhan Omar’s comments on American support of Israel brings up an interesting question for Latter-day Saints. What is the Latter-day Saint stance on Israel and the conflict over the Holy Land? The answer is, of course, it’s complicated.

In the early years of the Church, Latter-day Saints shared, and even expanded upon, early American excitement over the idea of an imminent Jewish restoration to their ancient homeland. The idea occupied much of Joseph Smith’s writing, and in 1841 the apostle Orson Hyde made a now almost mythical journey to Palestine to dedicate the land for Jewish return. This historical and theological foundation has long loomed large in Latter-day Saint memory. [Read more…]

“Be Not Afraid” #BCCSundaySchool2019

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Ivan Aivazovsky’s “Jesus Walks on Water” (1888)

Readings: Matthew 14–15; Mark 6–7; and John 5–6.

The other night, my husband and I heard our 7-year-old daughter crying in her room, around 10:30pm. We knew she had fallen asleep a couple of hours earlier, so we went to her together, hoping that one or the other of us could help calm her down from a nightmare. “Why do I have bad dreams sometimes?” she asked us. Dave told her that when our brains are sleeping, they are still active and still creating stories for us, and even though it is no fun to have a scary dream, it’s comforting to know when we wake up that none of it was real. I added that sometimes if she wakes up from a dream and can’t shake the scared feeling, and Mom and Dad don’t immediately hear her and come to her, she can pray to feel strong and safe, too. [Read more…]

Glossopoeia: The Gift of (Invented) Tongues

 

“Atan lantanë tana atani ëuvar; ar atani ëar tana haryar olassë.”

– 2 Nephi 2:27, author’s translation in Quenya

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A calligraphic tengwar version of The Ataramma, the Lord’s Prayer in Quenya, by Danny Andries. Tengwar is one writing system that Tolkien invented for his invented languages. Source: http://www.ambar-eldaron.com/gwaith/andries.htm#aeadarnin.

 

Warning: this post is weird. It descends into depths of Tolkien nerdery previously unheard-of at BCC. Ye be warned.

Today is Tolkien Reading Day. Every March 25th the Tolkien Society chooses a theme and encourages readers to read their favorite passages from the professor’s work that relate to that theme, and read them on this day. This year’s theme is Tolkien and the Mysterious. That’s a topic with a lot of material, but one of the elements that contributes most to the sense of mystery—the sense that there is more to the story behind the story, is the presence of invented languages in Tolkien’s stories. Not just nonsense words with a “translation” in English, but full languages with internal rules of grammar, etymologies, and alphabets. This post will be an exploration of the idea of invented languages as it relates to the idea of the gift of tongues. [Read more…]

Why I’m So Bad at Not Using “Mormon”

Rebbie Brassfield is a copywriter living in Southern California. In 2012 she created the now-emeritus website Normons.com to try to prove how normal Mormons are (lol). Currently you’ll find her blogging here.     

It’s been almost 6 months since we were asked to ditch the term “Mormon.” I’ve been reflecting on it lately, I think because I’m anticipating some sort of follow-up at General Conference and I am keenly aware of how badly I’ve done at it.

With each reminder that “Mormon” is out, I’ve felt what I can only describe as a sense of mourning. It’s a strange reaction, given that I am fully on board with efforts to represent ours as a global, Christ-centered church.

But as I’ve gone about trying to scrub the word “Mormon” from my vocabulary, I’ve realized how deeply it is intertwined with my identity as a Latter-day Saint. I’ve attempted to simply swap out the old lingo for the new, but the correct name of the church is not a synonym for all that “Mormon” means. [Read more…]

The Kingdom of Hell Is Within You Too

Last night I dreamed about Hell. Here’s what it looked like.

It was a hilly region filled with big boulders that people were pushing, at great effort, in big circles. There were two groups of people in this version of hell–Mormons and ex-Mormons–and they were pushing the rocks in opposite, though circular, directions. Boulder pushing took most of their effort, but, when they passed each other on their circular paths, they summoned all of their remaining strength to shout accusations at each other in the form of two rhetorical questions. The Mormons shouted, “Why did you leave?” and the ex-Mormons shouted “Why do you stay?”

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Representation Matters: Naming Women in the Book of Mormon

This guest post is by Mette Harrison, whose many books include The Book of Abish, which was published this week by BCC Press.

A male friend of mine asked me a few years ago, when I complained about how few women spoke at General Conference, why it mattered to me. “If you believe the message is from God, then surely it’s the same message no matter who gives it.” This is, in a nutshell, what I think many men believe about male leadership within the Mormon church, and to be honest, about male leadership at work, in government, and in the media.

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Joseph Smith and Translation

On January 11th of this year (2019) Brian Hauglid and Robin Jensen gave a guest presentation at the Maxwell Institute titled “A Window into Joseph Smith’s Translation.” I watched the presentation at some point later after the video had been posted online (and enjoyed it). Jeff Lindsay at Mormanity [1] has recently taken exception to that presentation, both here and here, to the effect that the speakers were irresponsible not to balance their more naturalistic take on the production of the Book of Abraham (including a probable belief he was translating the Sensen Papyrus) with some of the more apologetic scholarship on the topic. But for my part, I actually appreciated their naturalistic take on the process. Let me try to explain why. [Read more…]

On Modesty

I hear it’s almost Spring, in parts of the world that are not New England. For young women in Mormondom, warm weather means (more) modesty lessons. When I criticize the ways that girls are instructed about modesty among Latter-day Saints, someone inevitably asks (accuses), “Well, how would you teach it, then?” My answer is simple:

I wouldn’t. [Read more…]

The Book of Abish Is Here


As BCC has already proved with math, the Book of Mormon does not pass the Bechdel Test. In fact, it doesn’t even qualify to sit for the Bechdel Test. It doesn’t have two named female characters who talk to each other about anything. It doesn’t even have two named female characters who are alive at the same time or part of the same story. Only three women in the book even have names at all, and these three never come near each other.

But do you know what does pass the Bechdel Test? Mette Harrison’s new Book-of-Mormon themed novel, The Book of Abish (Kindle edition here), that’s what. It passes it in the first chapter and then keeps on passing it, on almost every page, until the last chapter. That’s because the whole point of The Book of Abish is to give the women of the book of Mormon their own stories–and their own names. And it is available from BCC Press today. [Read more…]

Review: Thunder From The Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics

Matthew L. Harris, ed. Thunder From the Right: Ezra Taft Benson in Mormonism and Politics.
Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
Hardcover, 260 pages.
Footnotes. Bibliography. Index.
Cloth: $99.00. Paper: $27.95. Kindle: $14.95. [Kindle not paginated.]
ISBN-10: 0252042255
ISBN-13: 978-0252042256

Ezra Taft Benson, whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, was an important figure in US politics and religion. Several times a candidate for president of the United States, he was a prominent anti-communist and John Birch Society supporter. An LDS apostle from 1943 until his death in 1994 (Benson became the 13th president of the church in 1985), he was a powerfully conservative voice on traditional roles of women at home rather than the workplace and was the founder of an influential thread of Mormon political philosophy. These themes and others are explored in a new volume edited by historian Matthew Harris (Colorada State Univ-Pueblo), from the University of Illinois Press. Harris recruited a number of familiar voices from the world of Mormon studies, including Gary Bergera, (noted Mormon author), our own Matthew Bowman (assoc. prof. of history, Henderson State Univ.), Newell Bringhurst (emeritus prof. of history), Brian Q. Cannon, (prof. of history, BYU), Robert Goldberg (prof. of history, Univ. of Utah), J. B. Haws (assistant prof. of history, BYU), Andrea G. Radke-Moss (prof. of history BYU-Idaho).

Each of the eight essays provides penetrating scholarship on various aspects of the career of one of the most important and influential Mormon figures of the last century.
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“Who Hath Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear” #BCCSundaySchool2019

Readings: Matthew 13; Luke 8-13


The Gospel writers, in their wisdom, left most of the parables as open narratives in order to invite us into engagement with them. Each reader will hear a distinct message and may find that the same parable leaves multiple impressions over time. . . . Reducing parables to a single meaning destroys their aesthetic as well as ethical potential. This surplus of meaning is how poetry and storytelling work, and it is all to the good.”

–Amy-Jill Levine, Short Stories by Jesus

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This week we launch into the Kingdom Parables–those brief narratives in which Jesus tries to eff the ineffable and give ordinary mortals some frame of reference for talking about the Kingdom of God. This is beyond a hard sell. The Kingdom that Jesus spent most of his ministry talking about is an earthly kingdom, but it is like no earthly kingdom that has ever existed, and its governing logic is absolutely foreign to natural humanity.

But we have to see it to be it, so Jesus tells us about the parts–much like the blind men describing the elephant in the famous poem by John Godfrey Saxe. Like a mustard seed, the Kingdom starts small and becomes a place of shelter; like a fishing net, it draws in everyone and throws back what it can’t keep; like a great treasure, a person who knows about it will be willing to sacrifice everything to get it. And so on. These are all imperfect and incomplete, but every one of them contributes something to the picture, and, if we add them all up, we might be able to imagine the whole elephant.

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Visit a Mosque, Read the Quran, Pray Together, Share a Meal

Carolyn Homer makes an exceptionally strong case that we have a religious duty, as Mormons and as Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (and these are two different things), to mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters, to comfort them, and to share their burdens. I agree wholeheartedly.

And I am willing to go further still. I believe that we have a responsibility as both Latter-day Saints, and as citizens of a pluralistic democracy, to get to know our Muslim neighbors better, to understand them as we want them to understand us, and to love them as we want to be loved.

We have this responsibility with all of our neighbors, of course. It is basically what “the Gospel” means. But I believe that this responsibility is greater when it comes to those who practice Islam. There are several reasons for this. Here are three:

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Mourn, Comfort, Stand: How Mormons Can Respond to New Zealand

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The baptismal covenant in Mosiah 18 is why I call myself a “Mormon.”  There, by the Waters of Mormon, a beggarded group of refugees promised to “preach nothing save it were repentance and faith on the Lord” and to “knit their hearts together in unity and in love one towards another.”

These original members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Prior-day Saints expressed their desires to “bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;” to “mourn with those that mourn;” to “comfort those that stand in need of comfort;” and “to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things.”

I’ve spent the last day reflecting on how I, and my Mormon community, can live up to those same covenants in order to demonstrate love and unity towards our Muslim brothers and sisters in the wake of the white nationalist terrorist attack on Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. [Read more…]

11th Annual International Art Competition

One of my favorite art exhibitions is the International Art Competition run by the Church and exhibited at the Church History Museum. Run every three years, it’s a great opportunity to see some of the artistic talent of church members from around the world. This year, 151 works of art from over two dozen countries are on display, with the theme “Meditations on Belief”, taken from Psalm 77: “I will meditate also of all thy work, and talk of thy doings.” [Read more…]

“I’m sort of rules oriented”: What one man’s involvement in the college cheating scandal can teach us about moral reasoning.

By now everybody has heard of the college fraud, bribery and cheating scandal. In case you haven’t: a bunch of rich folks paid a sketchy dude to find ways to cheat on college entrance exams and college applications, including lying and flat-out bribery to get their kids into high-ranked colleges that they would not have been able to get into on their academic or athletic merit.

We could say a lot about it, but one thing that really jumped out at me was a pair of statements made by Gordon Caplan, one of the parents caught cheating, and what they tell us about the nature of morality and rules. [Read more…]

Study hard, learn lots…and don’t slam the door!

When you grow up here, you need all the advice you can get.

I grew up in a rural area, so far away from the nearest bus stop that my dad would drop me and my brother off on his way to work. He would stop on the side of the highway, we would tumble out, and he would invariably holler after us, “Study hard, learn lots, be good, stay out of trouble, and don’t slam the door!” We would mumble, “Yeah, sure, Dad,” in reply, slam the door, and go find our friends. I guess his advice eventually rubbed off though, as I went on to at least study hard and stay out of trouble, even if I didn’t learn much or become very good.

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Making Visible the Invisible Kingdom #BCCSundaySchool2019

PhotobyJimChampionKDA

Karen D. Austin teaches composition courses at University of Evansville and gerontology courses at Southern Indiana University. She’s on staff at Segullah as a writer and social media maven.

 

Come Follow Me. March 11-17:

Matthew 10-12

Mark 2

Luke 7, 11

*Photo by Jim Champion

 

The text for this week focuses on Jesus calling the Twelve to assist him in the preaching of the gospel. Central to this task is an invitation for the Twelve and other followers of Jesus to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven can mean a number of things:

  1. A political structure, a theocracy, such as the one that which King David tried to establish, one that can be established prior to the Resurrection. A number of human utopias have sought to do this.
  2. A heavenly state of union with God, the Eternal Father, a place where worthy people dwell after death.
  3. The organization on the earth after the resurrection where the Kingdom of God will supplant the flawed political structures of mortality such as the one described in the book of Revelation.  or
  4. A parallel realm that takes place within the natural world where God has power that the uninitiated cannot perceive.  (See this post for a collection of several New Testament scriptures that support the 4th definition of the kingdom of heaven.)

When I read the New Testament, I see a lot of descriptions of the fourth definition. For about a decade, I’ve called this “The Invisible Kingdom.” [Read more…]

New Zealand, Missionaries, and Inland Revenue

Effective January 1, 1991, the church equalized the cost of missionary service. Before, a missionary had to pay the actual costs of his or her mission.[fn1] Now, a missionary pays a set amount to the church, and the church pays the costs of missionaries’ missions irrespective of where they go.

Why did the church make this change? A bunch of reasons, I suspect, but one was because of the tax law. I’ve blogged about Davis v. United States before, and I have a chapter in my book that goes into extensive detail about both the litigation and the thinking behind the case. The short of it, though, is that the Supreme Court held that payments from parents to their missionary children did not qualify for the charitable deduction. Donations from parents to a church-controlled fund (at least, as long as those payments weren’t earmarked particularly for their children) did qualify.

Almost thirty years after the Supreme Court decided Davis, the question of the deductibility of missionary payments is back. Kind of. [Read more…]