Joseph Smith Papers Lecture: Brent Rogers on Kirtland Temple

Notice of Lecture by Brent Rogers, one of the editors of volume 5 of the Documents Series in the Joseph Smith Papers. If you’re in Salt Lake City on Thursday, it should be fun.

In conjunction with the publication of Documents, Volume 5: October 1835–January 1838, Brent M. Rogers, Associate Managing Historian of the Joseph Smith Papers and coeditor of Documents, Volume 5, will be giving a lecture titled “‘We ask thee, O Lord, to accept of this house’: The Temple in Joseph Smith’s Kirtland” on May 18 in Salt Lake City.
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The Boy Who Cried Religious Freedom

The June issue of The New Era includes an article entitled “Why Religious Freedom Matters: What’s at Risk.”

As I read through it, I had two primary thoughts. On the one hand, I applaud the church for attempting to educate teenagers about their civil rights and responsibilities. This is an important topic, and one that our teenagers should be exposed to.

On the other hand, though, I’m perplexed and bothered by the actual delivery. The content ranges from accurate to irrelevant to speculative to flat-out wrong. So while conceptually, I think this article is both necessary and important, it ultimately fails spectacularly.  [Read more…]

Ted Chiang, “Arrival,” Mormons, Science Fiction, Angels, Time Travel, Sex, Free Will, The Tower of Babel, and the Secular: A Roundtable

You probably heard of, and might have seen, last year’s Best Picture nominee Arrival. I did, and liked it, and so eventually picked up Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others, the collection that features “Story of Your Life,” the short tale of alien contact and the ways in which it upends how humans think about language and time that the movie is based on. The collection’s other stories roam far beyond the hard sci-fi of Arrival: one, set in what appears to be roughly the same world as Disney’s Aladdin, explores the traditional problems of time travel (What if, like Marty McFly, you stop your parents from falling in love? That sort of thing, more or less) by insisting upon a sort of humanist determinism. We cannot change anything but ourselves, but over our own lives we have the powers of atonement and forgiveness. Another, “Tower of Babylon,” posits that the cosmology of the compositors of the Book of Genesis – a flat world encompassed by a firmament holding back great waters – is in fact correct, and examines how, given that world, the Tower of Babel might have worked. A third imagines a Victorian England in which Jewish gemetria, the mystical power embedded in the numerical value of letters, is a real force that might be industrialized. In short, Chiang’s work is simultaneously powerfully imaginative, in that he thinks through the logical ramifications of worldviews that we moderns have dismissed – and in some ways powerfully secular. There is little room for the mystical or the transcendent in his vision: in the story “Hell is the Absence of God,” which many of the below readers think through, God is simultaneously an empirical, demonstrable reality – angels regularly appear to humanity; souls ascending to Heaven are visible as they fly through the air; Hell can be perceived within the great cracks of the earth – and completely inscrutable, because his intentions, purposes, and the reasons he sends angels to proclaim his glory while simultaneously calling massive traffic accidents and the like are quite opaque.

In an odd way, Chiang’s world bears some resemblance and some divergence to that of Mormonism: his cosmos is rational, which many defenders of Mormonism assert is a great virtue of their own theology, but also a-modern, defiant against the colonizing power of the ways we think we know the world works. Mormons believe that God is discoverable; Mormons would recoil, though, at this God’s resistance to interpretation.

Given these provocations, I asked some smart people to read the book and think through some of these ideas out loud. Below are their reactions.

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Mother’s Day Service Roll Call

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Earlier this year I asked you how your local Easter service went. Today I’d like to ask you how your Mother’s Day service went. [Read more…]

Lesson 18: “Establish … a House of God” #DandC2017

Sorry this is a little late.
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The Church cuts ties with scouts (but not really).

1241908The Mormon newsroom broke the news this morning that the church is ending its venture and varsity scout programs for boys 14-18 years old in the U.S. and Canada. I was particularly interested in this announcement not just because I was active in scouts when I was younger, but because until fairly recently I served in a young men calling that required me to serve as a scout leader, and I have two sons that will eventually be part of the program. Given President Monson’s personal attachment to scouting, I never thought the church would disengage from BSA during his lifetime. There was a first presidency letter sent out this morning announcing the change, included with the letter is a set of guidelines about the activities for priests and teachers, and there is a set of questions and answers on the newsroom about the change. [Read more…]

Satan is Silent Notes Taking

We take for granted that angels are silent notes taking, but did you know that Satan is too?

As a youth, I recall having vague notions about the actions that were necessary to avoid temptation, but if you would have asked me, say, last week, I don’t think I would have had the temerity to assert that “Avoid vocalizing your thoughts!” is one of them. I mean, that’s just magical thinking that I can hardly pin on the church, right? [Read more…]

Book Review Roundup

Again it’s my pleasure to bring you brief reviews of outstanding books that deserve (and have received elsewhere) much fuller review by more qualified persons. My goal here is not to replace that more fulsome review, but to give a layman’s perspective and some idea of where these books fit into the libraries of non-professional Latter-day Saints. [Read more…]

Lost Longing, Or, The Book You Didn’t Know You Needed

It’s almost Mother’s Day. I can tell from the little knot of confusion pushing itself towards the front of my consciousness. On Father’s Day, it’s easy to choose the hymns: “O My Father,” and “Our Father, By Whose Name”– Our Father, by whose name all fatherhood is known…Thy children bless in every place, that they may all behold thy face/and knowing thee, may grow in grace.

No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home…

There aren’t hymns for Mother’s Day, not really. Beyond affirming Her existence, we don’t know what to sing or say. So we argue–it’s easy enough to name the doctrinal and historical complications of naming Our Mother, and often, those complications are a comfort. The retreat into theory eases the ache of the simple questions.

Until someone writes a series of small, perfect poems asking simple questions, like the ones in Rachel Hunt Steenblik’s Mother’s Milk, forthcoming from BCC Press. [Read more…]

Welcome Carolyn Homer!

Carolyn Homer portrait by the Golden Gate bridgeBCC extends its warmest welcome to new Permablogger Carolyn Homer! As the non-priesthood holder presiding at the welcome, I now have the opportunity to open our Carolyn testimony meeting by roasting Carolyn bearing my own testimony of Carolyn’s many virtues.

I first met Carolyn at a Stake Relief Society Super Saturday activity, where we fatefully chose the same session from a menu of parallel speaker tracks. The session we chose was a town hall discussion of issues around women’s roles in the church, hosted by a member of the stake presidency. Pop some popcorn, you know I wouldn’t miss that! And of course Carolyn felt the same way. (Y’all should try churching in a Blue State–that session was real, and it was spectacular.)

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Where faith lives

This past Sunday the stake president asked me to speak in one of the wards in our stake. The assigned topic was cultivating the faith necessary to have success in missionary work as a ward. That got me thinking about faith and how it relates to how we think about the church’s long term fate.

It strikes me that there are two extremes in the way we think about the church and its long term destiny. [Read more…]

When in Rome, Marry as the Catholics Do

By Carolyn Homer (with comedic assistance from Eric D. Snider). Carolyn is a Mormon attorney engaged to a Catholic attorney in Washington D.C. Eric is a film critic and humorist in Portland, Oregon.

Friends keep asking Brad and me when we’re getting married. We appreciate the support, but we believe marriage is a private decision, to be made by no one but the bride, the groom, and the Catholic Church.

Brad and I want a Catholic wedding, and the Catholic Church takes marriage very seriously — almost as seriously as it takes divorce.

Being Mormon, I respect quirky theologies. Your faith? Your rules. But now that respect has gotten me into trouble. You see, Brad and I are divorced. (Not from each other.) [Read more…]

Religious Liberty Today

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Last night the Chicago Chapter of the J. Reuben Clark Society (the professional society for Mormon lawyers) sponsored an event titled “Religious Liberty Today: An Interfaith Discussion.” It was a great event, and I’d like to tell you about it.

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Them That Are at Ease in Zion

Woe to them that are at ease in Zion. (Amos 6:1:)

I have not been able to get this verse out of my head since I learned yesterday that the US House of Representatives narrowly voted to eliminate 800 billion dollars of benefits designed to help the poorest Americans get health care in order to fund an 800 billion dollar tax cut for the wealthiest. I have never seen a starker example in my country of the wealthy and powerful manipulating the structures of society in order to enrich powerful people at the expense of the most vulnerable members of society. This is exactly the sort of thing that the prophets were always talking about. [Read more…]

Troubling the old stories with Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Laurel Thatcher Ulrich recently published one of the best books ever written about nineteenth-century Mormonism. I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s called A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women’s Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835 to 1870. The folks at Juvenile Instructor are hosting an online book club this summer; it begins later this week.

Here’s an excerpt from my interview with Ulrich on the Maxwell Institute Podcast, where I ask her about how she paints a fuller, richer, grittier and more complex portrait of the early church: [Read more…]

Aphorisms on Pornography

I’ve written this as a list of aphorisms, without the traditional scholia. I figure that’s what the comment section is for. [Read more…]

Mormon Art in New York

Glen Nelson is a ghostwriter of twenty books, with three New York Times best sellers to his credit. He founded Mormon Artists Group in 1999 and remains its director. MAG has created 30 projects with 90 LDS artists. As a librettist, he has written three operas, five song cycles, two cantatas, and has published poetry and essays and collaborated with artists on many projects. He and his wife have published a book on their art collection, The Glen & Marcia Nelson Collection of Mormon Art. Nelson arrived in New York City 30 years ago, the year his driver’s license expired, which he has not renewed.

It started out as a dare, almost. Richard Bushman asked me what I would do if I won the lottery. Those weren’t his exact words, but he was curious to know what a seven-figure windfall might mean for Mormon Studies. He challenged me to identify the big ideas that could transform the ways Mormons think of themselves, interact with the public, and connect with each other.

For me, the solution was a single word: art. [Read more…]

Consecrated Oil in 7.62x39mm Vials or Mormons Missing the Mark

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A 7.62×39mm bullet fulfilling the measure of its creation (Source)

I don’t know that I’m eminently qualified to address a topic related to Mormons and guns. But as a Mormon and very likely the only BCC blogger who owns and enjoys shooting guns, well, let’s just say you go to war with the army you have.

Anyway, growing up in rural California offered great opportunities with plenty of wide open spaces and ranges in which to plink and shoot at targets. My dad devoted a career to developing weapons systems and all residents owed their livelihoods to a military installation that has been designing, testing and evaluating more effective ways to kill the enemy since World War II. Guns were in the air, and I still have fond memories of the family tradition of getting together after Christmas dinner to go shooting. So feel free to dismiss what I’m about to say, just not on the grounds that I’m a liberal snowflake who hates guns.   [Read more…]

Presses, Ranked

Do you have an idea, but you’re so slow in getting around to it that you feel sort of stupid continuing it? But you also can’t convince yourself to let it go, so you do it anyway? That’s sort of how I feel right now. A few weeks ago, Steve and I decided that the Time Was Right for a ranking of all the important types of presses in this world. It was an appropriate revelation to seek, given the other announcement around that time. But shortly after we received our inspiration, disaster struck–things at work went crazy and caused me all manner of stress and distractions, and our once-timely ranking was forgotten. By me, anyway. But Steve never forgets. He never, ever forgets, people.

As always, these rankings are authoritative. [Read more…]

Because We’re Friends…

Sit down, Bloggernacle… you’re about to get dating advice from a gay man.

Seriously.

And by dating advice, I mean dating advice… Not courtship or relationship or marriage or sex advice. Just… dating. Because, well, I’ve had some experience in that department. And if you believe what you see in movies and on television, gay friends are duty-bound to help their straight friends when it comes to these things.

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Your Sunday Brunch Special: The 1880 First Presidency and the George Q. Cannon Journal

Last year, Jonathan Stapley and I reviewed the newly released initial segment of George Q. Cannon’s journals from the Church Historian’s Press. Cannon, a fixture in Utah Mormon leadership, politics, and business for the latter half of the nineteenth century, reported his activities in Church and State with interesting fidelity in what was once a closely held journal. Just recently, more of the Cannon journal was released and Cannon has a particularly frank account of deliberations among the apostles over the question of organizing a First Presidency. Brigham Young had been dead since August 1877 and the apostles had stepped up as a twelve man presidency, just as they had done in Nauvoo after Joseph Smith’s death. Remarkably for us perhaps, some of the same puzzles were still present over the question of reorganization of a First Presidency. Did they really need to proceed? Was a Presidency really needed to effectively govern? How would it be selected? Who should be president–what of the health of older apostles? Why did some apostles object to a new presidency? Who were those objectors? Cannon sheds remarkable light on these and other questions in this drama.[1]
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The Price of a Soul

For most of my academic life, I have had a minor obsession with stories based on the Faust legend—tales of human beings who wanted something so much that they were willing to sell their soul to the devil to get it. It’s not the oldest story in the world, but it’s up there. What intrigues me so much about the various Faust stories in literature is the wide variety of things that people want most. We learn a lot about individuals, and the cultures that produced them, by studying what they rate as more important than their souls. [Read more…]

How Much Mormonism Has Changed

Mette Ivie Harrison is a former BYU “Benson Scholar” and high school seminary Scripture Chase champion. She now writes Mormon mysteries about Bishop’s Wife Linda Wallheim starting with The Bishop’s Wife. She is an All American triathlete and holds a Ph.D. from Princeton University. She is the ward historian and nursery teacher, has five children and lives in Layton, Utah.

Sometimes I hear Mormons talk about how the church never changes in essentials or ex-Mormons complain that the church moves in geologic time toward more progressivity. My view is entirely different. In my lifetime (I was born in 1970), I’ve seen the church change dramatically, and not only in the most obvious way, the 1978 change to allow full priesthood blessings to be extended to our black brothers and sisters.

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Patriarchal Innocence and the Church

Recently, I’ve been listening to Eric Michael Dyson’s book Tears We Cannot Stop: a Sermon to White America. As a white dude who grew up in the South and who currently lives in the south in the era of Black Lives Matter and the Drumpf Administration, I’ve been thinking a lot about what race has meant to me. Professor Dyson’s book is an excellent jeremiad against indifference to the suffering and death being inflicted on our African-American brothers and sisters and I recommend the book to anyone who really wants to understand what is at stake in our current racial discord. But I don’t really want to talk about that today. Instead, I want to talk about innocence.

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Lesson 17: The Law of Tithing #DandC2017

Learning Outcomes

At the end of class, students will be able to

  1. Describe the roots of tithing in the Hebrew Bible and in American Protestantism.
  2. Assess how scriptural text relates to contemporary practice in Mormonism.
  3. Explain how the blessings from tithing compare to Prosperity Gospel ideas.

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Heavenly Mother is a Black Woman: Exploring a Mormon Womanism

Janan Graham-Russell is a writer and graduate of the Howard University School of Divinity. Her research focuses on womanist theology in Mormonism and identity formation in racial communities. Her work has been featured in two books: Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings, and A Book of Mormons, as well as The Atlantic. She will begin attending Harvard University in the fall of 2017 to continue her research within the PhD program in The Study of Religion. When she’s not working, she enjoys watching movies, playing XBox with her partner, and making music videos with her one year old son.

Janan gave these remarks at the 2017 Faith and Knowledge Conference, held Feb. 24-25, 2017 at Harvard Divinity School.

Before I begin, I wanted to read an excerpt of remarks given by then-Church president Brigham Young, in 1852, to give context to my own remarks this afternoon.

What is that mark? you will see it on the countenance of every African you ever did see upon the face of the earth, or ever will see . Now I tell you what I know; when the mark was put upon Cain, Abel’s children was in all probability young; the Lord told Cain that he should not receive the blessings of the priesthood nor his seed, until the last of the posterity of Abel had received the priesthood, until the redemption of the earth. If there never was a prophet, or apostle of Jesus Christ spoke it before, I tell you, this people that are commonly called negroes are the children of old Cain. I know they are, I know that they cannot bear rule in the priesthood, for the curse on them was to remain upon them, until the residue of the posterity of Michael and his wife receive the blessings , the seed of Cain would have received had they not been cursed ; and hold the keys of the priesthood, until the times of the restitution shall come, and the curse be wiped off from the earth, and from Michael’s seed.

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A Mormon’s Guide to Trinity Lutheran

Carolyn Homer brings us this Mormon’s guide to Trinity Lutheran, yesterday’s Supreme Court religious freedom case.  Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in Washington, D.C.

The case is deceptively simple. The State of Missouri has a program where it recycles used tires into springy playground surfaces. Trinity Lutheran, a church & school in Missouri, applied to get funding for those recycled tires. Missouri denied the application. Missouri’s sole basis for the denial was that Trinity Lutheran is a church. The Missouri Constitution says “That no money shall ever be taken from the public treasury, directly or indirectly, in aid of any church, sect or denomination of religion.” [Read more…]

Amici Curiae Brief by Scholars of Mormonism Opposed to Trump’s Refugee and Immigrant Ban

There has been much commentary on President Trump’s executive orders regarding immigration and refugees in the Bloggernacle; now, that commentary–or, rather, an expertly distilled legal expression of it–has made it’s way into the courts. Today, a group of 19 scholars of Mormon history have filed a brief attacking Trump’s ban on refugees and immigrants from six Muslim countries in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The primary author of this brief is Nate Oman, one of the Ancient of Days in the Mormon blogging world, and a writer whose skill and insight is known to many here. Among those scholars who put their name to the brief are Michael Austin, Claudia and Richard Bushman, Kathryn Daynes, Kathleen Flake, Terryl Givens, Ardis Parshall, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, and more. Read the press release announcing the filing of the brief here; feel free to read the brief, ask questions about it, and engage in the sort of argument, debate, and grammatical nitpicking for which the Bloggernacle is famous for below. (Never Trump lives!)

What She Said

Cathy Gilmore is a friend of the blog and has posted with us previously.  She is also currently working on a documentary history of her grandmother Dorothy Smith Clark. Cathy graduated from the University of Utah with a B.A. in English and a Russian minor, and works as a contract consultant in marketing communications and design. She is married to Ed, an English bloke from Northeast Lincolnshire, and together they have four daughters. 

It is a belonging that we crave because it is one we have always known.
Terryl & Fiona Givens, The God Who Weeps[1]

One of my favorite things to say as a child was, “It’s not fair!” As the fifth of seven children, I naturally developed a keen sense of fairness. I remember fuming in my room because my older siblings sent me to bed while they ordered pizza and watched movies. (I can smell the pizza, guys!) I was irritated that my parents didn’t let me to see Poltergeist with my older brothers. My fear of being left out reached its high point when I was accidentally left in a park in Blackfoot, Idaho during a family vacation lunch stop. To my dad’s credit, he did risk overturning the camper while flipping a U-turn on the highway after they realized their mistake. Like 45 minutes later. [Read more…]

Looking for God in All the Cool Places

You’ve probably heard that BCC has embarked on a publishing venture: the BCC Press. You may also know that our first book is Steven L. Peck’s remarkable work of scientific theology (or was that theological science) Science the Key to Theology. But if you haven’t read the book, you don’t yet know how thoroughly Peck’s work, if taken seriously, could change the way that Latter-day Saints interact with science. [Read more…]