President Nelson and the Problem of Prophetic Infallibility

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T. L. Peterson is an editor who lives in Utah. He is also known as Loursat.

Peterson would like to express his upfront gratitude to Sistas in Zion, whose insightful tweets on the day of President Nelson’s sermon suggested the key idea for this post.

Treating our leaders as though they are infallible is a problem for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  With his energy and bold language, President Nelson might be showing us a way through that problem.  But his solution comes with some nervous questions and a new conundrum.

A popular saying among Latter-day Saints purports to tell the difference between Catholics and Mormons: Catholics say the pope is infallible, but they don’t really believe it*; Mormons say the prophet is fallible, but we don’t really believe it. This saying started as a joke, but I think it has become a truism. [Read more…]

What I Learned in the Silence

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Natalie Brown is a former By Common Consent blogger. She is currently writing a memoir on the stories we tell about houses. You can follow her on Twitter @BtwnHouseHome.

The prophet invited Mormon women to take a break from social media, and they listened. My networks went silent with friends gone ghost. I know this, because I logged on occasionally to check announcements. What I discovered was a wasteland of quiet. I began logging on deliberately to process the silence, sharing my thoughts about the fast into the void it left behind. Wondering occasionally what other Mormons might think when they saw the dates and timestamps of my posts.

I learned in the silence that it is primarily Mormon women who amplify my voice. With Mormon women mostly absent, fewer people engaged with me. Although my networks include men and women, Mormons and non-Mormons, it is disproportionately Mormon women who comment, retweet or like what I have to say. I can’t fully explain why this is so, but my voice is diminished in their absence.

[Read more…]

Informal Gospel Study Groups

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“Do you have Priesthood approval for that gathering?”

It’s a question I’ve heard numerous times, and it’s always bothered me.

Over the years, across the country and even the world, I’ve participated in many informal gospel study groups.   They’ve often sat at the core of my social circles and been the site of some of my powerful spiritual insights. [Read more…]

Mormon Obedience: On Disregarding the Prophet’s Preferences

On Sunday morning, President Nelson dedicated his full full talk to shutting down the use of Mormon and other nicknames for the church. This seems to be something he feels passionate about, and something that has been weighing on his mind for a long time. He went so far as to assert that Jesus is offended if we use, or allow others to use, nicknames for the church, and at least intimates that the use of nicknames represents both a victory for Satan and disregard for the Atonement.

So what are we, as faithful members of the church, to do with this? We absolutely have to take it seriously.

But that raises the question of what taking it seriously means. And I believe that this is a tougher question that it appears at first blush. Because taking it seriously isn’t (necessarily) the same as obeying. To take it seriously requires that we engaged, spiritually and intellectually, with what Pres. Nelson has said. [Read more…]

The Nurturing By My Son’s Many Fathers

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Dave K. has been ‘gathered to the Ohio’ for nearly fifteen years, where he lives with his wife and five children. A data privacy attorney by trade, his goal is to take the children to every MLB ballpark before they leave home; twenty-nine down and Seattle to go. 

My two oldest sons returned home unusually late Saturday evening. They were performing at a regional high-school band competition and rain delayed the start. One is a senior who plays trombone; the other a sophomore who plays trumpet. Meanwhile, my wife and two daughters also returned late from the General Women’s Session (we live in the Midwest and they drove an hour to watch the session with family).  It used to be the first Saturday evening in October was reserved for the General Priesthood Session. I understand the Church’s need to streamline things, but I miss the fellowship and brotherhood tradition of holding that session each conference.

This all resulted in an unusual evening of just me and son-number-three.  My third son is thirteen, so not yet in the high school band. I let him choose the special ‘guy’s night’ activity. No surprise there – he picked the latest Jurassic Park movie. I defended the choice by noting the rental was only $1.50 at Redbox.  Ten minutes into it I realized $1.50 was still grossly overpriced. [Read more…]

A Sister-Nurturer Reacts to General Conference

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Bobbie Smith is a returned missionary, BYU graduate, and mother of a large family in the northeastern United States with a literal and metaphorical oversized heart. Said heart greatly affects the nature of her religious worship, community service, and housework.

Ten men (if I counted right) attended the General Women’s Session this past weekend and three men spoke. As I watched them take up more than half of our meeting, I thought of how few women are invited to speak in General Conference. I thought of the women denied permission to even attend priesthood session. Yet the men invite themselves not only to attend our women’s session, they also dominate the dais and they dominate the speaking roster. Was it even a women’s meeting, really? It was more of a combined “sister and priesthood meeting” this year, really, when you consider the gender breakdown of talks and the gender count of who was on the stand. These were sobering thoughts.

I crave women’s voices.  In my lifetime in the Midwest, we’ve never had a sister church authority visit us, ever. Our only options for  help with callings, family life, and personal growth have been “Time Out For Women,” which is expensive and kind of smacks of priestcraft.  I’ve never understood why the brethren get flown out on the church’s dime, yet I need to buy tickets to an expensive program if I want to hear guidance from female church leaders.  I hoped the Women’s Session would provide a chance for some empathetic instruction, and instead the time was consumed by men.

[Read more…]

Thanks, Elder Holland

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Dear Elder Holland,

A week ago I expressed concern with your Facebook post that included some marriage advice.  I was most concerned about how victims of abuse would hear rhetoric that “you can make the marriage you want” and “your priesthood leaders will know” when “there is a legitimate exception” justifying divorce.

Yesterday, I was grateful for your talk on peace.  Christ is the Prince of Peace, the source of healing for all pain and for all contention.  We should live together in love, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation with our imperfect brothers and sisters.  This is a core gospel truth.

Amidst this message on peace, I appreciated that you acknowledged what healing and forgiveness is, and what it isn’t.  [Read more…]

Worthiness vs. Confession

We’ve all seen Catholic confession in movies and TV shows. It’s a situation that we might liken to our own worthiness interviews, and yet there are some significant differences in purpose, theological implications, and in how the act is understood by believers. [Read more…]

New YW and RS boards include two black women, “Common Ground” LGBT inclusion advocate

Photos of three new RS and YW board members.The Newsroom announced new leadership on the Young Women and Relief Society general boards yesterday. There is plenty to celebrate here! I wish I knew more about all of the women, but I love what I see and what I know behind the scenes about some of these picks. They include two black women, and a leader in BYU’s athletics department who has been part of NCAA’s efforts to improve the experience of LGBT student-athletes at religious schools.  [Read more…]

Let Us Worship How We May?

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Bradley Burgess is a convert to the LDS Church from a mostly Anglican background. He is originally from South Africa, but has lived on the US side of the pond for the better part of a decade. He holds degrees in piano and organ performance, and is a graduate of the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. A professional organist and church musician, Bradley currently serves as the full-time Associate Director of Music and Worship Arts at a large downtown Methodist Church.

In 1842, responding to a request for information about the Latter-day Saints, Joseph Smith composed a letter to the editor of Chicago’s first newspaper, the Chicago Democrat. In this document—now known as the Wentworth Letter, after the newspaper’s editor, John Wentworth—Joseph spelled out some of the history of the Latter-day Saints, as well as a selection of thirteen tenants that he saw as their core beliefs. While they have since become canonized scripture, these thirteen Articles of Faith—as they would later be known collectively—were originally intended for a non-Mormon audience. Even by 1842, Latter-day Saints had become accustomed to persecution—having been forced from upstate New York to Kirtland, OH; to Independence, MO; and, by this time, to Nauvoo, IL. The often violent expulsion of the Saints from state to state was surely not far from his mind when Joseph penned the Wentworth Letter, especially the eleventh statement of belief that declares that Latter-day Saints “claim the privilege of worshipping Almighty God according to the dictates of [their] conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.” [1] [Read more…]

Missionary Safety: Brainstorming

A recent Tribune article talked about issues with sexual assault among missionaries.

I have a lot of opinions on this. First of all, let me just say that when I was a missionary, I was as guilty as anyone for being cavalier about my safety or thinking I would be protected. I think part of that is just being young, feeling invincible. Young people often feel they are safer than they are because they don’t have life experience yet. I was also in a relatively safe place, the Canary Islands, which is basically the Hawaii of Europe. The only things that happened to me were: [Read more…]

What’s in a name?

At the risk of making a big deal out of a small deal, I have a few thoughts to add to Carolyn’s excellent post on yesterday’s updated usage guidelines from Pres. Nelson.

The good news is we have Jesus Christ in our name. The bad news is it’s the part of our name that doesn’t get acronymized. TCoJCoLDS doesn’t exactly role off the tongue. Nor does CoJC, and anyway that acronym is already claimed.

So what do you do when the whole world leaves Jesus Christ out of your name, gets your name wrong, or calls you a Mormon?

Screen Shot 2018-08-16 at 8.00.57 PMIt’s been an issue for as long as the church has been called The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “LDS” and “Mormon” are the most “user-friendly” terms to refer to our religion, if we assume that the easiest, most convenient moniker is the one most likely to be used in conversation. Which is usually true.

But if we’re ever going to be able to accept those names, we’re going to need to first accept a few truths about our brand. 

[Read more…]

Harm vs. Purity

Recently, the SL Tribune broke the story about a BYU-I student who came forward about being sexually assaulted and was suspended from school for two semesters for drinking. She states that she did not confess drinking to her bishop, but that her attacker outed her for drinking, leading to her suspension.

“I knew I was in the wrong, I knew she was in the wrong,” he said. “I only went to the bishop so I could work on what I needed to work on. I didn’t go with any intentions to report her and retaliate. I was hoping she could work on her stuff, too … so she can be helped with drinking and following the Honor Code.” – Sexual assault guy

You didn’t intend to retaliate. Riiiight. You are just so helpful and concerned for the relative stranger you groped when she was incapacitated that you wanted to be sure her bishop could assist her in the repentance process. Thank you, Mr. Helpful. It’s a time-tested practice of sexual assaulters to minimize their offense by creating a false equivalence in questioning the behavior of their victim. We should certainly quit falling for it when it happens.

This points to the loophole that exists in the BYU-I school’s Title IX provision, but on a broader level, it points to an ethical question as it relates to understanding sin. [Read more…]

Complementarity and the Gospel

Tom Hardman is a patent attorney in Salt Lake City, and occasional blogger on science and religion

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A Beautiful Question: Finding Nature’s Deep Design, by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Frank Wilczek, is a fascinating meditation on the nature of reality. I found Wilczek’s discussion about complementarity to be particularly thought provoking. Complementarity is a principle of quantum theory, but Wilczek argues that “its importance, as an insight into the nature of things, goes beyond physics.”

Wilczek summarizes complementarity as follows: “No one perspective exhausts reality, and different perspectives may be valuable, yet mutually exclusive.” [Read more…]

Testing Bishops for Skills, Aptitude, and Narcissism

Chris Kimball is a seven-times grandfather, a father, and a husband.  He was a fast-track Mormon church leader, with the right genealogy and checking all the boxes, until about age 40. On a very different path since then.  He is a good friend of BCC.

I was a Mormon bishop in the mid-1990s.  The experience led to my turning in my temple recommend and leaving full activity.  From an orthodox Mormon point of view, it was a destructive experience, even disaster.  I spent the next 10 years in therapy (on-the-couch deep investigation therapy) sorting myself out.  I probably should not have been a bishop in the first place.  [Read more…]

Prayer for the Day of Pentecost

O God of the nations,
you who speak to all in their own language,
you unto whom all are alike,
black and white, female and male, bond and free:
pour down your spirit upon us;
let its thunder ring in our hearts
as it calls us into your love,
which became flesh in the person of Jesus;
let it teach our tongues to name the wounds
that have long festered in our body,
until we know at last how to pray for their healing;
let it teach us to hear the sighs too deep for words,
the groanings in the hearts of our fellow saints;
let it teach us to speak the long-awaited word of comfort;
let it teach us to pray your kingdom into our midst
until, Great God Almighty, we are free at last.

The Unfinished Endowment

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Cory B. Jensen is a longtime temple worker and author of Completing Your Endowment, which traces the history of the endowment.

In May of 1842, Joseph Smith first introduced the temple endowment to nine men in the room above his Red Brick Store. Over the next eighteen months, Joseph continued to add to this basic endowment. He introduced separate prayer circle meetings, sealing for time and eternity of a husband and wife, and a capstone two-part ritual sometimes referred to as the second endowment or second anointing. By the time of his death in 1844, Joseph had endowed about thirty-seven men and thirty-two women.

Unfortunately, Joseph never had the completed Nauvoo temple to work with and he left Brigham Young a charge to complete the work. Brigham Young recalled: “Bro. Joseph turned to me and said: ‘Brother Brigham this is not arranged right but we have done the best we could under the circumstances in which we are placed, and I wish you to take this matter in hand and organize and systematize all these ceremonies with the signs, tokens, penalties and key words.’ I did so, and each time I got something more, so that when we went through the temple at Nauvoo I understood and knew how to place them there. We had our ceremonies pretty correct.” [1] [Read more…]

Garments are Symbols of the Atonement

P. Anderson blogged at the Exponent as Starfoxy once upon a time, but entered retirement in order to build a reputation as a bloggernacle cryptid. She lives with her family in the Phoenix metro area, and just got a new solar oven.

Screen Shot 2018-05-17 at 8.58.16 AMI had a conversation years ago where I expressed a desire for the women’s garment pattern to change to a camisole type top. The woman I was talking to stared at me blankly and asked, “Then how would we stop women from wearing sleeveless shirts?”

I wanted to shriek.

Thankfully I did not shriek. (Though after the rant I went on, perhaps my friend would have preferred the shriek.)

[Read more…]

Fearful Tales of Interlagos, Brazil

XDxRvANaHeather Collins is a convert and in-progress author of a book on patriarchal blessings she never shuts up about, but will probably never finish.  Follow her on Twitter.

The only time I ever trained a new missionary was in the most dangerous area I was ever assigned to in Brazil. She was Argentinian, and we dealt with a triple language barrier. I’d come without suitcases to take her back to our area, deep in the interior of São Paulo state. Tatuí was rural, relatively safe, and hours away from the city by public transit. We had a small branch to work with and had just baptized a child with no support at home.

I wasn’t happy about that baptism. I was tired of baptizing young kids whose parents wanted nothing to do with the Church. That was how I was baptized, and I knew the years of heartache that would be ahead of every child we did this to. The price of staying without parental support is higher than most people know.

I was frustrated with my area. I wanted to go anywhere else where I felt like baptism would be more likely. In my mind, that meant going back to the city. 

Then our phone rang. It was my mission president. There had been a change of plans. [Read more…]

Book Announcement: God and the IRS

I’m thrilled to announce that my book God and the IRS: Accommodating Religious Practice in United States Tax Law (New York: Cambridge UP, 2018) has just been published and is available for your reading pleasure.

As background to the book, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment (as well as the jurisprudence courts have used to interpret and apply the Religion Clauses) have a sometimes-complicated interplay. Because the law sometimes imposes on individuals’ ability to practice their religion, the government can sometimes accommodate their religious practice, exempting religious individuals from generally-applicable laws. At the same time, though, in general, the law can’t favor religion over non-religion; as a result, sometimes religious people can’t get an exemption from the generally-applicable law. A lot of religious litigation turns on where, in a given situation, the line between permissible and impermissible accommodation falls. [Read more…]

Stoic Maxims to Enhance Your Mormonism

Glen Fewkes is a health policy attorney in DC.  He listens to podcasts at double-speed and lives life at half-speed.

For a 2,000 year-old philosophy, Stoicism is currently having a bit of a moment.  For some reason, it’s particularly resonant amongst the “bro” set, and if they don’t find a way to wreck it then we’ll know it’s really built to last.  At its core, Stoicism offers a useful way of engaging with the world and has a rich history of interactions with the Apostle Paul and the peoples of the New Testament.

Stoics, ancient and modern, love to repeat maxims – condensed phrases of wisdom – in the hopes that certain virtues will sink into people’s psyches through repetition, much like repeated bicep curls build muscle (OK, maybe I’m starting to see the “bro” connection). These maxims are meant to be applicable to people of all walks of life.  Indeed, example sources span the spectrum from a Roman Emperor (Marcus Aurelius), to a freed slave (Epictetus), to a playwright (Seneca), a fact that is not at all irrelevant to the Stoic philosophy. [Read more…]

Invisible and Overqualified

“Whom the Lord calls, the Lord qualifies” is a statement often used in Mormondom to give us hope that our volunteer workforce will be able to fulfill callings if they rely on the Lord. It’s a fine sentiment, one that should be humbling and aspirational all at once. But what about when a calling requires specific qualifications, such as a certification or degree, to be able to perform that role? Well, in those cases we are a bit more specific in whom we call. I noticed decades ago that our stake had called someone to the role of financial auditor who had no financial acumen, despite the fact that there were women in the stake who were CPAs and had the right qualifications; however, it was deemed a “priesthood” calling for some mysterious reason, so these women were not considered, essentially invisible to those extending the callings. That was decades ago, though, and we’ve entered a new era of gender inclusiveness, right?

Perhaps not. [Read more…]

Three sub-degrees in the Celestial Kingdom?

Shannon Flynn is a life long student of Mormon History and a member of the Mormon History Association. 

About four weeks ago a discussion was started on the Mormon Historians Facebook page that asked about the common belief that there are three distinct sub-degrees or separate places within the celestial kingdom.  The reference that is usually pointed to is D&C section 131 verses 1-4 especially verse 1. “In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees.”

In the discussion that followed it was my contention that there are not, in fact, three sub-degrees or divisions. Moreover, this idea and all of the variations and speculations on the nature of the sub-degrees has become one of the most significant pieces of false doctrine that pervades the LDS church today. Part of the discussion came from Kevin Barney who linked a post he had done back in 2006 on BCC, that the three sub-degrees was not the original interpretation of the verses in section 131.  I had an experience similar to what Kevin describes in his post when he said he heard it from a friend who heard it from California temple president. [Read more…]

#TaxDay 2018: For Ye Were Strangers

The foreigner who resides with you must be to you like a native citizen among you; so you must love him as yourself, because you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.   —Leviticus 19:34

My liturgical calendar tells me today is Tax Day,[fn1] and so it’s time for another installment of my annual Mormons and Taxes post.

This year’s has nothing to do with the income tax, and, in fact, very little to do with the United States. Instead, we’re going to look south of the border to the Mormon colonies in Mexico. [Read more…]

Prayer for Easter Morning

Praise be to the God of the dawn,
our God of the morning light,
whose Son this morning lives again,
dead in the tomb though he was!
Grant that we, too, might come forth
from the dark places of our own hearts
and find together the fullness of life,
in the rich vigor of the Holy Spirit
and the renewing presence of the Son;
in your strength may we rise together
as the living body of Christ,
proclaiming the message of peace
in all the world, until we become
one people as you are one God. Amen.

Gerrit Gong and Susan Gong, my marriage, and why #RepresentationMatters

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Susan and Gerrit Gong (Church News photograph)

There are any number of reasons I couldn’t be happier about the newly-called Elder Gong and Elder Soares. Elder Soares, a Brazillian, brings long-overdue representation from the southern hemisphere. I know several members of Elder Gong’s extended family, and they couldn’t be a more dynamic, talented, kind family. But if you would indulge me for a moment, I want to focus on one area of very specific, personal appreciation: the marriage of Elder Gerrit Gong, as an Asian-American man, to his wife Susan Gong, a white woman.

[Read more…]

Prayer for Holy Saturday

Our God of the darkness,
who meets us this day in Jesus’ tomb:
grant us your Spirit
to show us the darkness
in our own hearts,
from which we long to rise. Amen.

Prayer for Good Friday

O God of our godforsakenness,
appearing this day to us
only as a broken man on a cross:
grant that we, in his cross,
might see ourselves,
might see the myriad ways
we find to crucify one another,
until the Spirit, rending our hearts
like its fierce wind
rent the temple veil,
reveals the face of God
in all the people we have forsaken,
that we may renounce forever
our daily crucifixions
and proclaim at last the Prince of Peace,
becoming one people as you are one God. Amen.

Prayer for Maundy Thursday

O God of our garden prayers,
to whom our souls cry out of the depths:
grant that we in our dark hours
might sense Jesus kneeling before us,
gently washing our feet,
and then find him feeding us
with the bread and wine,
his own body and blood,
and promising us another Comforter,
found when we love one another;
guide us, Father, in the works of love,
that through your Son and in the Spirit
we might become one people as you are One God.
Amen.

Prayer for Palm Sunday

O God of our ecstatic praises
and tumultuously shouted joys:
grant us the courage of rejoicing,
for although our hearts will soon
slip back into their stony selves,
wishing to cry out, but not,
and although everything we now celebrate
will soon go heartbreakingly wrong,
in this hour of Jesus’ triumph
let our hearts open wide with joy
and overflow with the Spirit’s power,
making us for this hour one people in the delight
that forever flows within you, the One God. Amen.