Teaching the Language of the Gospel in Trump’s America

A BCC reader contacted us with a request for help navigating potential pitfalls in preparing to teach a lesson based on a talk by Elder Valeri V Cordón. This is my response, and I hope you will join the discussion too. 

Introduction

That language isn’t simply a vehicle for, among other things, communicating feelings but also the source of powerful emotions became abundantly clear to me one evening in 2002 when I attended a public discussion on the theme “Decline of the German Language?” in Salzburg, Austria.  [Read more…]

Being esteemed as filthiness: What Not to Wear

Last year my family and I were fortunate to spend a significant portion of our summer in Japan. One of the things Brother J and I admire about the Japanese is that they are, generally speaking, much less slovenly than Americans. You don’t see Japanese people walking around in public wearing sweats or raiment in ill repair (what used to be known colloquially as “grubbies”—at least that’s what my mom called them). Almost everyone is dressed neatly and stylishly. I like to think I take a modicum of pride in my appearance, at least if I’m going to be seen by people not related to me by blood or marriage, but I rarely felt presentable in Japan. They are a very well-dressed people.

I probably noticed this only because the cultural differences were so striking. At home in the United States, I don’t think a lot about how other people are dressed, unless someone has committed a Glamour DON’T so egregious that it can’t be missed, even by the likes of me. I’m just too self-absorbed to be judgmental about clothes. Also, I have no taste. I know what I like, but that’s just, like, my opinion, man. At the same time, I try to dress appropriately for the various occasions, situations, etc. I don’t like to draw attention to myself, and at my age, I particularly don’t wish to appear undignified. [Read more…]

Two Temple Worker Restrictions Removed

Several years ago I discovered three weird restrictions on temple service.  Often, while I was attending the temple, the workers mentioned they needed help; they invited the patrons to pray and talk to their stake to seek out temple worker callings. Several friends of mine felt inspired to follow through.  They met the basic qualifications – devout Mormons, in good health, without records of Church discipline.  But they were denied. [Read more…]

In the Middle Space

Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is, most recently, the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Speaking to a group of women at the YWCA this week, I was surprised at how many of them were non-Mormons who nonetheless were having some of the same struggles with their church doctrine, hierarchy, and culture that I was having. One of them said that she was “in the middle space” of her church and I thought it was an apt phrase. Being in the middle isn’t the same as being on the fringes. Being in the middle is being in the midst of everything. It means digging in with your whole heart and mind, engaging with others, being open to being taught as well as to teaching, and remembering you are not above hard work and getting your hands dirty. [Read more…]

An Outbreak of Nazis

Rich Davis has a PhD in Immunology and a phone that is full of pictures of parasites, bacteria and his kids. These sometimes appear on his twitter feed, @RichDavisPhD.

Saturday night, following the aftermath of a white supremacist rally and counter protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, I got a request from a friend asking for some reassurance on a much less worrisome topic than white supremacy.

That topic was the plague. Like, the actual, literal plague.

I’m a medical microbiologist, recently graduated with my Ph.D. where I studied a tropical human parasite. I currently work in the microbiology division of a clinical testing lab, the place that tests your blood, wounds or poop to diagnose what’s making you sick and how to treat it.
My friend’s concern came from news reports out of Arizona where health departments have reported finding in fleas the bacteria (Yersinia pestis) that causes plague. Fleas spread the disease among rodents and, much more rarely, to humans. Plague has a lot of social cachet—a professor of mine once called this, “disease sex appeal.” People know enough about it to know that it’s scary and sometimes deadly. In this case though, scary headlines notwithstanding, it’s evidence that the system for treating potentially deadly diseases was working: someone was monitoring rodents and fleas in the wild, someone informed the authorities of a finding and they in turn made a public announcement so that people can be more cautious if they come across something that looks like the disease. [Read more…]

How Do You Solve a Problem Like the JST?

One of the most important facets of Mormonism that sets us apart from other faiths is that we don’t believe the Bible to be inerrant. We believe that it contains errors. This belief alone causes us to be viewed as unChristian by many evangelicals and other sola scriptura believers who consider any alteration of the Bible to be heretical. Reformists, in breaking with the Roman Catholic church’s authority, placed greater weight on scripture as the sole voice of God (not through the filter of papal authority, but accessible to all believers directly through reading the Bible). For some, if the Bible is fallible, then Christianity has no leg to stand on in proclaiming it has access to God’s truth. [Read more…]

30 Years Ago In White Supremacy

Image may contain: 16 people, people smiling, people standing and outdoorThirty years ago I was a sophomore at BYU majoring in English. I lived in a house with 4 other women just two blocks south of BYU campus. 4 of us were LDS, and one was a Methodist film major who came to BYU to be near Robert Redford. I was at that time peripherally connected to some of the students who ran the Student Review, an off-campus paper that riffed on BYU culture and published student opinion pieces and poetry. We were all deeply troubled by a news story that broke in November of 1987, a story a few of our readers may remember.

A white supremacist group called Aryan Nations was coming to Utah. [Read more…]

Mormon Scholars Take Their Brief Against Trump to the U.S. Supreme Court

This is a follow-up to a post from four months back, but we Never-Trump Mormons are a persistent bunch. (As a reader of BCC, perhaps you have noticed.) The Trump administration’s proposed travel ban–which many of us (including the three BCC-permabloggers who are co-signers of the linked amici curiae brief) believe demonstrates real discriminatory intent based on religion–will have its day before the Supreme Court this October, and when it does, a thoughtful and thoroughly Mormon argument about the dangers of religious discrimination, filed today, will be considered alongside all the other legal arguments. You can read the full brief here. This version of the brief was prepared by Nate Oman, whom Bloggernaclers need no introduction to, and Anna-Rose Mathieson, who represented the signing scholars before the Supreme Court and whom we really ought to invite to guest-blog with us here. Keep up the good fight, everyone; we are.

Eliminating Any Lingering Disapproval Of Interracial Marriage

I have a weirdly vivid memory of the early 1990s moment when I first learned that some people frown on interracial marriages.  I was approximately five years old and living in Florida.  While playing one afternoon, I stumbled upon a wedding invitation for a mixed-race couple in my ward.  The invitation included an engagement photo, and said the wedding would be held in a few weeks at the chapel.

[Read more…]

White Is Not a Culture

 

I hate, in Rome, a Grecian town to find;
To see the scum of Greece transplanted here,
Received like gods, is what I cannot bear.
Nor Greeks alone, but Syrians here abound;
Obscene Orontes, diving under ground,
Conveys his wealth to Tiber’s hungry shores,
And fattens Italy with foreign whores:
–Juvenal, Third Satire, 118 A.D.

For all of the bandwidth it has been getting recently, one might be tempted to think that “white culture” is an actual thing. When the LDS Church issued its forceful condemnation of white supremacy yesterday, the most controversial thing it did was put “white culture” in scare quotes. This was appropriate as “white culture” is not, in fact, a thing. And it never has been. [Read more…]

Hallelujah, Amen!

The Church has posted an update to its statement on the white supremacist mob in Charlottesville. It is unequivocal in its condemnation of members who support this movement:

UPDATE: Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Church has released the following statement:

It has been called to our attention that there are some among the various pro-white and white supremacy communities who assert that the Church is neutral toward or in support of their views. Nothing could be further from the truth. In the New Testament, Jesus said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:37-39). The Book of Mormon teaches “all are alike unto God” (2 Nephi 26:33).

White supremacist attitudes are morally wrong and sinful, and we condemn them. Church members who promote or pursue a “white culture” or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church. [Read more…]

White genocide or how I first encountered the alt-right in a suburban Mormon Fifth-Sunday meeting

Several years ago, I was visiting my mother’s home ward in my hometown in the South. My wife and I went to church with my mom and, as it was a fifth Sunday, all the adults in the ward (without a calling elsewhere) gathered together to watch a video. Normally, this just means that the bishopric hasn’t really had the time to put together a lesson (or call someone to do so). After all, we’ve all looked forward to Church videos when we haven’t gotten our Sunday School lesson together. However, this video wasn’t obviously by the church. I don’t recall the production company, but the content was disturbing.

The main point of video was that women don’t have enough babies. [Read more…]

My statement.

The church’s PR arm released a statement yesterday condemning the racism and hatred on display in Charlottesville.

I’m not going to lie. I wish the statement were stronger and more specific. I wish that we didn’t have to go back more than ten years to find a statement by a prominent church leader condemning racism as the evil that it is.

But I’m not going to find fault. This is a statement that expressly condemns racism as the evil that it is. And that is a good thing. [Read more…]

The problem of God’s whiteness

Here’s a form of white supremacy: the belief that God is white. Holding that belief does not necessarily make you a supporter of neo-Nazism and white terrorism but you should know that it does make you a white supremacist. Sorry if that offends. [Read more…]

“Racial strife still lifts its ugly head”—Gathering resources against racism

Suppose you wanted to teach a Sunday school lesson on the Word of Wisdom. If you perform a search at LDS.org you’ll find a long list of ready-to-go full lesson outlines. Suppose you wanted to give a talk warning about pornography. A search there will yield a long list of conference addresses from which you could draw. But suppose you wanted to teach a lesson on racism. It gets a lot more difficult.

Why? And what can be done? [Read more…]

Peace and Love to Charlottesville

I love Charlottesville.  For nearly a decade, Charlottesville has been my favorite retreat from the chaos of big cities.  I have family who live, just barely outside of cell-signal range, in the breathtaking rolling hills west of town.  My fiancé, Brad, attended – and I seriously considered attending – the University of Virginia Law School.  I love visiting.  I’ve explored its romantic colonial streets; hiked its peaceful mountains; day-dreamed about living there forever.

But this year Charlottesville has become a flashpoint for racial tension.  After years of studied discussion, the City Council voted in February to remove confederate statutes and rename two confederate-honoring parks.  (One of those parks, Stonewall Jackson park, was built after the city in 1914 seized land from private citizens in order to destroy a burgeoning black community.)  The parks have since been renamed, but plans to remove the statute stalled when the City was sued under a state law protecting historic monuments.  A month ago a small KKK rally at Justice Park (formerly Stonewall Jackson park) was overwhelmed by a thousand counter-protestors.  When a “Unite the Right” group applied for a permit to hold a further rally, they had to obtain a federal court order protecting their right to free speech.  Counter-protestors again rallied to flood the streets.

[Read more…]

Call Nothing a “Blessing” Until You Are Dead

“Call no man happy until he is dead.”–Herodotus

 

This oft-quoted line from Herodotus requires some unpacking before it makes sense to modern ears. In the first place, Herodotus is not speaking for himself. He is quoting a conversation between Solon, the great Athenian lawmaker, and Croesus, the fabulously wealthy and magnificently powerful King of Lydia.

This is the point at which (unless you are a Classics student or ancient historian) you say, “wait a minute, I’ve never heard of Croesus. And where the heck was Lydia?” This, it turns out, is precisely the point. [Read more…]

Things you can’t capture

Here is a sort of poem I have written. [Read more…]

A Guide to Doing Hard Things in the Land of Not Yet

Elizabeth Pinborough is a writer, photographer, and artist. She is also a TBI survivor and has a site at The Art of Striving. Her words are really powerful, so we asked her to share them here with you.

One of my posts from last week was actually part of a draft for a talk I gave in church today. The topic was “We can do hard things!” Here are my more complete thoughts on that and on how Christ is essential to our ability to overcome.

Today I want to talk about the Land of Not Yet—a beautiful and dangerous place, a place with innumerable opportunities. Not Yet is full of every imaginable landscape, plant, animal and person.

Sometimes Not Yet appears to be a land of black and white. People there can choose to be kind or to be cruel, good or evil, humble or proud, and on and on. Sometimes it seems that people without scruples prosper the most.

In Not Yet, if someone asks her neighbor how she is doing, her neighbor may feel compelled to respond, OK, with a polite smile, hiding her private burdens. Not Yet isn’t so black and white after all. Everyone there understands that good and bad befalls each in his or her turn, and some receive more than their fair share of either.

The Land of Not Yet is the land of Hard Things, capital H, capital T. [Read more…]

The Widening Mormon Generation Gap

In her Flunking Sainthood posts, Jana Reiss has summarized some fascinating findings about Mormon attitudes toward the LGBT community. These statistics represent wide-scale shifts in attitudes in a very short period of time as well as double digit differences in attitudes between generations. I’ll review the findings from her posts below, but I recommend you read them yourself here and here.

Let’s start with the older data, from October 2016. This data was about the attitudes toward the Nov. 5 Exclusion Policy, nearly a year after its release. This was, for me, the most discouraging data set. [Read more…]

Does Prayer Work?

So today, two sorts of explosive news: first, that a prominent general authority has been excommunicated, and second, that Donald Trump is going to rain "fire and fury" upon North Korea if they should threaten the United States again.

These two events make me ask: does prayer work? [Read more…]

If she asks for tacos, give a salad?

“Ye will not suffer that the beggar putteth up his petition to you in vain, and turn him out to perish.  Perhaps thou shalt say: The man has brought upon himself his misery; therefore I will stay my hand, and will not give unto him of my food, nor impart unto him of my substance that he may not suffer, for his punishments are just—But I say unto you, O man, whosoever doeth this the same hath great cause to repent…For behold, are we not all beggars?”  (Mosiah 4 16:19)

Lived Christianity is … difficult.  In a multitude of everyday encounters, I either genuinely don’t know, or my natural instinct is not to follow, how Christ would act.

I’ve dubbed these my moral “dilemmas of the day.”

Take yesterday.  The poor often congregate near where I work.  My office is in a gentrifying area — upscale cafes serving business professionals are popping up next to downtrodden public housing and shelters.  Nearly every day, someone asks me for help.

[Read more…]

When Satan Was a Trickster

About a week before he went into the MTC, my son, who had been studying the scriptures earnestly like a good missionary should, came down stairs with a look of amazement on his face and said, “dad, guess what I just figured out: the Book of Genesis never actually says that the serpent was Satan. It just says it was a snake.”

That meant, of course, that it was time for “the talk.” It went something like this.

Satan, my son, was a fairly late addition to the Hebrew scriptures. When the Book of Genesis was first set down, there was no concept of a being of utter darkness and evil. The God of these people, Yahweh, was plenty scary. But as Yahweh came to be seen ever more as a good and loving father figure, they needed a place to put all of the evil scary things that were once a part of God. And it didn’t hurt that the Jews at this time were deeply influenced by the Persians, who were theological dualists, meaning that they had a figure of of ultimate evil (Ahriman) to oppose their otherwise monotheistic God (Ahura Mazda).

Even in the Book of Job, which was written around 500 years after the earliest Genesis texts, Satan is not yet the Prince of Darkness. He is not even Satan. He is “the satan,” a member of God’s court who functions something like a prosecuting attorney combined with a store detective—he goes throughout the kingdom looking for people who are disloyal to the King (God in this case) and then prosecutes them before God for their disloyalty. [Read more…]

Twenty Years

In preparing for day’s Primary lesson on missionary work, I did a quick search to see if I could find anything out Seymour Brunson’s mission.

The short answer is, not a lot of detail on an iPhone during sacrament meeting. I mean, access to the D&C tells me he was called on a mission in 1832. And, thanks to the Joseph Smith Papers Project, I know that his mission was in Ohio, Kentucky, and Virginia. And, per Ferron Olson’s Seymour Brunson: Defender of the Faith, he went through those states, baptizing hundreds (as missionaries did in the 1830s) and organizing branches along the way. [Read more…]

Resurrection

As a Mormon raised on the 2nd Article of Faith, I believed that the principle of individual responsibility made the concept of an inherited “original sin” incoherent. We each, I thought, came into the world as blank slates, given eight years to develop the capacity for accountability—at which point baptism gave us a clean start, just in case. From then on, we bore the responsibility of acting well, with repentance and weekly sacrament participation to take care of our inevitable mistakes. With Christ’s help, we would be capable of living in the world as good people.

It’s not that I disbelieve any of this now, exactly. Still, I’ve recently found myself telling people that I believe in original sin. I always hasten to clarify that it’s not the Augustinian seminally-transmitted version of original sin that has won my assent. I don’t believe that my veins flow with depravity born from Adam’s fall, and I don’t believe that newborn babies carry its taint. I do believe, though, that our common humanity has a dark side that none of us escapes. [Read more…]

Silent Notes Taking

Stephen Smoot is a BYU alumnus and current graduate student in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto. He is also a Mormon blogger who writes at Ploni Almoni: Mr. So-and-So’s Mormon Blog. His writings on Mormon topics have also appeared, among other places, with the Interpreter Foundation and Book of Mormon Central. You can catch him on Twitter at @stephen_smoot. We’re pleased he agreed to share this post.

A few days ago I received a message from a friend of mine that I had known since I was a Freshman at BYU. It started out nonchalantly enough with him asking about how much longer I was going to be in Provo before returning to Canada for school. Eventually he got around to dropping some hints that things weren’t quite right. He mentioned feelings of loneliness and being directionless in life, and added that he felt awkward in his YSA ward and struggled with church attendance. He asked if I would be able to chat about some things he had on his mind, since he knew me, had followed me on social media, and felt like I was “a chill guy” he could be safe and somewhat vulnerable with. I happily agreed to be a listening ear. [Read more…]

Good and Bad Apologetics

So last night I’m sitting on the couch with a fairly new iPad in my lap. (I recently upgraded my phone, and they threw the pad in for a nominal amount. I’ve never used one before, so I’m still getting used to it.) All of a sudden this video popped up on the screen. I recognized the space as being Writ and Vision in Provo.  It was a roundtable discussion of that new Kofford book on apologetics, featuring Blair Van Dyke, Stephen Smoot, Joe Spencer, Amanda Brown and Loyd Erickson.[1]

[Read more…]

Summer Seminar on Mormon Culture: 2017 Symposium

Mormonism Engages the World

This year the Maxwell Institute’s Summer Seminar is being held in the basement of the Joseph F. Smith Building on BYU Campus. The morning session just wrapped, and I thought I’d give a very brief summary of the papers mixed (inexorably) with my own mental stirrings. Warning: these are in no way verbatim reports—they are very brief summaries. Caveat Emptor. Presenters who encounter this should feel free to disabuse the public of my errors.
[Read more…]

Announcing “Mother’s Milk” for Kindle―and So Much More

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B074GNL73S

You asked for it, and we heard you. At BCC Press, it’s just what what we do. As of today, Mother’s Milk, the remarkable book of poems about Heavenly Mother written by Rachel Hunt Steenblik and illustrated by Ashley Mae Hoiland, is available for the Kindle. And for the next four days, you can get it for $3.95, which, let’s face it, is the new free.

If you haven’t seen what people are already saying about Mother’s Milk, check out the buzz: [Read more…]

Peace Like a River/Peace Like a Desert

“Solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant.” (They make a desert and call it peace)—Tacitus

 “Behold, I will extend peace to her like a river, and the glory of the nations like an overflowing stream.” (Isaiah 66:12 NIV)

For years I have been haunted by two different symbols of peace. [Read more…]