The Worst of All Possible Worlds? Religious Pessimism and the Gospel of Hope

There is no room in the city
for respectable skills…and no reward for one’s efforts.
Today my means are less than yesterday; come tomorrow,
the little left will be further reduced. So I’m going to make for
the place where Daedalus laid aside his weary wings.
                                    —Juvenal, Satire 3, lines 21– 26

Something is profoundly wrong in our country. Once, we were a great power, but our standing has been jeopardized by corrupt rulers, burdensome taxes, and a population that has lost its spiritual moorings. Unchecked immigration has flooded our nation with cheap labor and a large population that does not even speak our language. Sexual perversions abound, and it is becoming impossible to tell the difference between men and women. This is without a doubt most corrupt and lascivious generation that has ever lived on earth.

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Early Morning Seminary and Sleep Deprivation

Is Early Morning Seminary worth it? This is a question I ask myself every year. At the kickoff for seminary, the seminary director explains each year that the reason we do Early Morning Seminary is to teach the kids they can do hard things. That’s the same reason we were told we do manufactured Trek reenactments, too. But is doing hard things a good justification in and of itself to do something? I have seen fairly severe impacts to my kids as they’ve gone through 4 years of seminary. The sleep deprivation at a crucial growing period when they are supposed to be achieving grades that enable them to get a good college education seems like a high price to pay for daily religious education from amateur volunteers. [Read more…]

The pride cycle, the prosperity gospel, and grace.

Ah, the pride cycle: the idea that humility leads to righteousness, which leads to material prosperity, which itself leads to pride, which then leads to sin and to a loss of material prosperity, which leads back to humility. So it goes. [Read more…]

So about that Op-Ed

I provided a brief op-ed to the Salt Lake Tribune about the BYU situation. They tell you never to read the comments, but I’ve seen some floating around the internet and wanted to address a couple of points.

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Via Francigena Liveblog


Via FrancigenaMembers of the BCC community have been embarking on an annual pilgrimage since 2013. The first took us along the famed Camino to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain. It was such a success that we founded the Mormon Society of St. James and decided to do it again, choosing Olav’s Way to Trondheim as our next project. In 2015 we walked to Canterbury, where we picked up credentials for the Via Francigena, which, if you follow in the footsteps of Archbishop Sigeric, begins there and ends in Rome.

We did so until Dover. But lacking a boat and sufficient time, we decided to return in 2016 to tackle the portion of the “road that comes from France” that crosses Switzerland. Next year we plan to walk the final 100 kilometers of the Via Francigena to Rome; details will follow as plans solidify. But for now, watch this space for updates on our travels in the coming week from the Rhône valley to the Great St. Bernard Pass.

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Moroni 9:9 and Lucretia

Moroni 9:9, with its claim that women can be deprived “of that which is most dear and precious above all things, which is chastity and virtue,” is something of an infamous scripture, and justly so, because it suggests that chastity and virtue can be passively taken from someone instead of actively given away. As EmJen explains:

What’s objectionable is not that they lost their hymen, but that they were forced against their will, they were raped. Their virtue cannot be taken, it can only be given away, and when given at the point of a gun or through other coercive means, it’s rape, it’s not being unchaste. This should be evident to anyone who reads it; it’s kind of an obvious point. Most women will immediately realize that if there is no consent, there is no loss of virtue by the woman, and that a man who forces or coerces a woman, robbing her of consent, is committing a heinous crime against her.  But that doesn’t mean she is at fault.

This critique ably clarifies what the scripture misses about consent and female agency (see also Kristine’s post), but it doesn’t explain the worldview in which it makes sense to say that virtue can be taken away. This post is going to attempt that, because I don’t think that we can do better until we name such assumptions and get them out in the open. After all, the Personal Progress section on virtue still includes Moroni 9:9.

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The Second Post on Etiology and Race in the Book of Mormon #BOM2016


In an earlier post, I argued that, early Mormon traditions to the contrary, we should not view the story of Laman and Lemuel’s curse as an etiological tale about the origins of Native Americans. In this second post, I will argue that, after a certain point in the text, it is not even correct to see the this story as an etiological tale about the origins of the Lamanites in the Book of Mormon. At this point, the definition of the term “Lamanite” shifts to include things that cannot be accounted for by the curse narrative in 2 Nephi 4.

I cannot locate this point exactly in the text, but I am pretty sure that it occurs some time between two crucial passages set during the two continental wars that frame the book of Alma.

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Five Finger Discount

I might as well tell you about the only time I ever deliberately stole something. The theft just so happened to take place on the exact day that I met my future husband, though he has nothing to do with why I did it. (Not consciously, anyway. <— Ha! That is going to be mildly to moderately funny when you find out what I stole!)

Twelve years ago my friend Lianna pulled me aside in a panic at her wedding reception. A garter! She’d forgotten a garter! How would her groom’s older brother ever get married if he didn’t catch the garter at their wedding?? Luckily I, an otherwise respectable young Mormon woman, somehow knew exactly where the nearest lingerie shop was, so I enlisted my friend Christa to keep me company and we set off for Naughty or Nice, determined to save the day.

We quickly located a suitable specimen and made our way to the register where the cashier handed me a receipt to sign and motioned toward the pen jar. Well, imagine my surprise and supreme delight to there discover a veritable hoard of Bic pens with tiny plastic penises on top! They were flesh-colored and everything!! I gingerly made my selection, signed the receipt, and would have returned the pen to its holder had the cashier not at that exact moment turned her back to fold some unmentionables.

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Sister Wives Series #8: Serena Torjusdatter Evensen (the 7th wife)


Tarjer Serine “Serena” Torjusdatter Evensen Gardner (1822–1911)

Part 8 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

“Let us think with pride of our pioneer dead
And follow the exemplary lives they led.”
—Annie Gardner Francis (Serena’s youngest child)

Archibald’s 7th wife, Terjer Serine Torjusdatter Evensen, was born in Risør, Norway, an untamed land surrounded by lakes and hills, fjords and fens, wrapped round with a coastline that had already been an important fishing and shipping port for hundreds of years. [Read more…]

King David, Corianton, and Sex #BOM2016

Alma 39-42

DavidThe Latter-day Saint scriptural tradition contains two great cautionary tales about sex: the first is the story of King David, who saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof and summoned her to his quarters—an assignation that ended with the betrayal and murder of Bathsheba’s husband. The second is the story of Corianton, the son of Alma the Younger, who abandoned his missionary duties among the Zoramites and dallied with “the harlot Isabel”—thus imperiling the entire mission and bringing disrepute on the followers of Christ.

On the surface, these cautionary tales seem to have the same message, which is something like, “don’t follow your sexual impulses (except under carefully controlled circumstances) or bad stuff will happen.” It’s a message that Mormons hear a lot. But when we start looking at the differences between the two stories, we start to see very different understandings of human sexuality and religion at work. And, in this case, the differences are much more important than the similarities. [Read more…]

The Basis of Religious Freedom in the Book of Mormon.

The Nephites in the time of Alma and Korihor apparently had principles of law that recognized the importance of religious freedom, like our First Amendment free exercise guarantee. But the nature of that freedom–what it protected, the reasons they gave for it, and how they thought about it–were different from our concept of religious freedom. [Read more…]

When Your Calling and Election is Sure (I): The Jerusalem Bishopric

In 1841, Lutherans and Anglicans decided that there were enough Protestants in the region of Jerusalem that they should be served by a formal church functionary. The region of service was to include Syria, “Iraq,” (the term at the time was “Chaldea”) Egypt, and Ethiopia. As you can imagine, such a scheme was bound to leave controversy and discomfort in its wake. And your imagination would be correct if it did that.
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Guest Post: Mormon Research Funding Database

Logo-Funding-1This post comes to us from Jessica Young, who is working on a database of funding sources for Mormon Studies research.

Today, I have a very important announcement. Hopefully it is about something you never knew you needed, but soon won’t be able to live without.

Right now the very first (and only, to my knowledge) database for fellowships, grants, scholarships, and awards for Mormon studies research is underway. We anticipate launching the site on 1 September 2016, provided all goes to plan.

In the meantime, we need your help! [Read more…]

Wait: the Church Has Money?!?

Every time[fn1] I write about the church’s investments, I get pushback. Usually that pushback involves asserting that there is something immoral or wrong about the church accumulating wealth. The implication is something like, it’s not that the church can’t have money, but it should use its money to promote good things,[fn2] and it should promote those good things now.

Often the justification for this mindset consists of scriptural exhortations to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, etc.  [Read more…]

Anatomy of a GD Lesson

Yesterday I taught lesson 29 on Alma 36-39. I thought I would try to break down for you how I approach teaching a class like that and how in fact this particular class went. When you stand up in that room and begin the class, you really don’t have any idea how things are going to go or what direction the class might take the lesson which, especially if you’re an introvert, could be (in Alma’s words) an “inexpressible horror” (Alma 36:14), but more often (for me at least) is simply exhilirating. [Read more…]

I Believe… the Book of Mormon is Multidimensional

I had a vinyl banner that hung in my bedroom—a gift from one of my Primary teachers. It was distressed to look like an ancient manuscript, and on it were printed the Articles of Faith. Next to each Article, a blank circle hovered. As I memorized each Article, I would check them off with my teacher and she would give me a sticky-backed button to place in the circle… each Article had a different button, and I remember the anticipation I felt as I waited to see the image on the button’s obverse. The whole affair felt like an ancient rite of passage, passed down to me by those who’d paved the way before.

I never completed it.

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Narratives Beyond Conference Talks

Too often in my own life I have looked for the one right story to live by. The older I get, the more I am aware that there is not one ‘best’ narrative, or even a few ‘best’ narratives. I need a quantity, a gigantic sum of narratives to survive and thrive in Mormonism.bird for bcc

The other day while driving in a hot car with my two children as they handed out requests faster and more outlandish than I could possibly ever deliver on, I got to thinking about  conference talks about motherhood that I’ve heard my whole life.  The remembrance of them, however,  did not feel like an act of solidarity in the moment.

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Sister Wives Series #7: Jane Park (the 6th wife)

jane park

Jane Park Gardner (1834–1916)

Part 7 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

Five months after marrying the schoolteacher Laura Althea, 38-year-old Archibald courted and married his sixth wife, 18-year-old Jane Park, for time and all eternity on August 24, 1852. Jane had known Archie since she was a girl; she was born in Kent County, Canada (like Archie’s first children), and her family had joined the LDS Church there. The Park family was in the same company of Saints as the Gardners when they left Canada for Winter Quarters. Jane’s family, however, stayed in Missouri for a few more years to earn money for the trek west and did not reach the Salt Lake Valley until 1850, three years after Archibald and Margaret had helped to settle Mill Creek, Utah. [Read more…]

Korihor and the Freedom to Believe Correctly #BOM 2016

Alma 30

Imagine that a man comes into town and starts preaching a religion that flatly contradicts what most people believe. Nearly everything he says offends religious orthodoxy, and the most powerful members of the community regularly refute him in public. Despite this, he starts to make progress with the people–especially the ones on the margins of society. Enough people convert to his religion to make him a concern to the authorities, who arrest him, detain him, subject him to violent treatment–and then expel from the community. Would you say that this man was treated justly? [Read more…]

Coming Home

I drive by miles of cornfields every day to and from work.  I watch as the fluttering leaves and straight stalks slowly grow.  I pass only two or three cars on my 20 mile commute.   I arrive at work energized, ready to meet with students, plan lectures, research, and write.  And I return home relaxed, looking forward to watering my tomato and herb garden and then cooking a homemade dinner.  On my frequent traveling adventures doing student oversight or recruiting, I enjoy the time in other places, but look forward to returning home to the peace of this place of belonging that I’ve created.   After a year of upheaval and change, I did not expect to find this harmony.  But one day, I looked around and realized that I was happy.  It was an unexpected moment of grace that has continued with me—quiet in my heart—the whole summer. [Read more…]

Barabbas: Religion as Tribe vs Religion as Love

“I have no god”, Barabbas answered at last. . .
“Why then do you bear this ‘Christos Iesus” carved on your disk?”
“Because I want to believe,” Barabbas said


41e2glunvl-_sy344_bo1204203200_This is not a book review, but it is a meditation inspired by a remarkable book that I read last week. The book is the short novel Barabbas (1950) by the Nobel-Prize winning Swedish novelist Pär Lagerkvist. Barabbas imagines the life of the murderer and thief who was pardoned on the day that Jesus was crucified. Because it is not a book review, it contains spoilers. You have been warned.

The Barabbas that Lagerkvist creates is the first Christian in one important sense: he was the first member of the human race to be redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The redemption is immediate and tangible. He is literally released from a death sentence because Christ is crucified. In this way he becomes a stand in for all people who are ransomed from sin and death by the atonement of Jesus Christ. (Symbolism and all; great literature works that way). [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #6: Laura Althea (the 5th wife)


Laura Althea Thompson Gardner (1834–1899)

Part 6 in a series; see the rest of the series here.

Laura Althea was 17 years old when she married 37-year-old Archibald Gardner as his fifth wife on March 3, 1852. By this time, Archibald’s first wife, Margaret, was 34-years-old with 5 living children, her youngest about a month old. Abigail, the second wife, was 38 years old with seven living children. Abigail’s daughter and Archie’s third wife, Mary Ann, was 20 years old with two children in the three years since her marriage (her baby William would die before the end of the year, however). Big Liz, Archie’s fourth wife, was 19 years old, and had been married to Archibald less than a year when he married Laura Althea. Althea met Archibald in Cottonwood, Utah, where she was the schoolteacher for some of his children, working from a one-room log house in Mill Creek. Later, Althea would teach English to Archie’s seventh wife, a Norwegian named Terjer Serine (or “Serena”). [Read more…]

Winter Quarters in Omaha #PioneerDay

MTCExterior4_DetailWe didn’t plan on being in Omaha on the day before Pioneer Day. To be frank, the approach of July 24 doesn’t generally trigger anything in my mind. I mean, the ward I went to when I was a kid usually had a picnic at Lake Poway sometime around the end of July that was loosely inspired by Pioneer Day, but it was mostly baseball and hamburgers and hot dogs, and rarely made any mention of 1847 or pioneers or anything.

But months ago, we’d decided that Omaha was a decent halfway(-ish) point between Rocky Mountain National Park[fn1] and Chicago, and so that was our stopping place on Friday night.  [Read more…]

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Heaven’s Light

We’re pleased to feature this guest post from EOR.

Like many people, my relationship with The Church is a complicated one.  I converted from Catholicism at the age of 15 and despite over 20 years of membership there is nothing that necessarily ties me to The Church.  I come from a large family, none of which are LDS nor have any intention of becoming so.  So I have walked this road largely alone.

My faith in God and in the Gospel has never been in question, even sometimes at great aggravation to myself.  However, The Church and I have had what can aptly be described as a “love-not exactly hate” relationship.  I have gone through periods of inactivity for varying reasons which I won’t address here including one currently.  I also have a similarly complicated relationship with myself.

In Disney’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo and Frollo have what is (in my opinion) the single greatest song in Disney history.  It succinctly sums up each character as well as compares and contrasts them with rich, spiritually infused vocals.  This 2-part song also serves to sum up my interactions with The Church and with my inner self.  Heaven’s Light/Hellfire sees Quasimodo and Frollo both relaying the story of their object, Esmeralda.  Both characters are profoundly impacted by her but in two very different ways.  The Church is my Esmeralda; my object for purposes of this analogy.

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Book Review: Peter Enns, The Sin of Certainty

enns-sin-of-certaintyThe Sin of Certainty is a confessional book about how biblical scholar Peter Enns came to understand “belief” and “faith” less in terms of facts and knowledge, and more in terms of trust and love. Many Christians, Enns says, place being “correct” about God at the center of faith, which sets them on a shaky foundation that sometimes results in crisis and loss of that very belief. Enns speaks from personal experience here. He’s encountered what he calls “uh-oh moments,” times when what he thought he knew no longer seemed viable in the least. Such moments may be God’s way of inviting us to a more nuanced, closer relationship, breaking down the barriers of certainty in order to let faith flourish within our messy human lives:

I feel it is part of the mystery of faith that things normally do not line up entirely, and so when they don’t, it is not a signal to me that the journey is at an end but that I am still on it” (154). [Read more…]

Rameumptom #BOM2016

Alma 31

“Father God, in the name of Jesus, Lord, we’re so thankful for the life of Donald Trump. We’re thankful that you are guiding him, that you are giving him the words to unite this party, this country, that we together can defeat the liberal Democratic Party, to keep us divided and not united. Because we are the United States of America, and we are the conservative party under God.”—Pastor Mark Burns at the Republican National Convention, July 18, 2016

When Pastor Mark Burns gave the closing prayer at the Republican convention last night, he made it clear that Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party are enemies of God who must be destroyed. People were shocked by his directness; political parties usually dial down their martial rhetoric at conventions to appeal to swing voters who may still think fondly–or at least non-Satanically–about the other side. But we shouldn’t be that surprised: the good Reverend’s basic message–that God loves our side the best–is something close to a human universal. [Read more…]

The History and Symbolism of Temples

While looking for something else, deep in a desk drawer I stumbled upon my notes for a fireside I was asked to give on the captioned subject in my ward back in 2011. I thought I would share them here in case some of you may find them useful. [Read more…]

Campus Rape: What’s Left Unsaid

A few weeks ago, I participated in a town hall about rapes on college campuses. Madi Barney, Erin Alberty and Jodi Peterson were fantastic participants; I was glad to be there and listen to Madi’s experience, Jodi’s excellent advice and Erin’s solid reporting. BYU’s Julie Valentine provided a prerecorded message and it, too, was very powerful. I didn’t have much to say for my part, other than I think BYU should apologize and that an honor code that shields rapists is a false sort of purity. It’s been a couple of weeks, and I don’t know what impact that town hall actually has had — or what’s next. It was clear that this was only the very beginning of a longer and more difficult process. Here are a few things that might be worth talking about some more.

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Mary, Thomas, and the body, broken

John 20:11-29

11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.

13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. [Read more…]