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…]
For as much as we love religious freedom (BYU just finished its annual two-day conference on the topic), Mormons don’t pay much attention to the Establishment Clause. Which, if you think about it, is astounding. What else is Mormonism, if not the greatest Establishment Clause failure of the 19th Century?
Today’s guest post is from Carolyn Homer. Carolyn Homer is an attorney and religion constitutional law enthusiast in California. She has represented the Anti-Defamation League and other religious organizations as amici before the U.S. Supreme Court, most recently in Zubik v. Burwell, which concerned religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act. [Read more…]
I just finished reading Adam Miller’s latest modernization of ancient scripture: Nothing New Under the Sun. This is a very quick read, a modern version of Ecclesiastes:
Because the modern language made the parallels to modern wisdom literature so clear, I was curious about the links to Buddhism. According to Wikipedia, Ecclesiastes was written between 450 and 350 BCE.
The presence of Persian loan-words and Aramaisms points to a date no earlier than about 450 BCE, while the latest possible date for its composition is 180 BCE, when another Jewish writer, Ben Sira, quotes from it. The dispute as to whether Ecclesiastes belongs to the Persian or the Hellenistic periods (i.e., the earlier or later part of this period) revolves around the degree of Hellenization (influence of Greek culture and thought) present in the book. Scholars arguing for a Persian date (c. 450–330 BCE) hold that there is a complete lack of Greek influence; those who argue for a Hellenistic date (c. 330–180 BCE) argue that it shows internal evidence of Greek thought and social setting.
Is Ecclesiastes Buddhism in the Bible? Or is it simply the case that all wisdom is roughly the same and there is nothing new under the sun. Buddha dates to 600 BC. Adam Miller’s book doesn’t dwell on these parallels, but merely hints at them. Wisdom is wisdom, no matter the source. It’s an interesting question, though. His modernized take on Ecclesiastes also demonstrates that there really is nothing new under the sun, including Christian wisdom.
Today’s guest post is from Rachael.
I was sexually abused as a child and later raped as a teenager and again as an adult. All of these horrific experiences were at the hands of LDS priesthood holders. Of course, those who did these things were sinning and were not true representatives of Christ or His priesthood. It was relatively easy for me to separate out in my mind these evil men from what I knew God wanted. But it was much harder for me to figure out how to make sense of the good men, bishops and stake presidents, who counseled me to forgive, to bury the past, to not hold my perpetrators legally responsible. Because I believed that these men were representatives of God, I believed them when they told me that it was God’s will that I let my rapists (and abusers) off the hook. And so I did. I earnestly practiced the forgiveness that I was taught to practice, burying any hint of anger the moment it tried to rise up in me, and consequently, I believe, that buried emotion took on a life of its own, to the detriment of my health. [Read more…]
Adam Miller’s new book Future Mormon: Essays in Mormon Theology is laid out in a series of digestible-length short essays. Reading his essays is like talking to a smarter, more esoteric friend or maybe sitting next to a chatty and interesting professor on a flight. His essays generally follow a pattern for me:
- Adam says something moderately profound but provocative that makes sense and that I totally agree with. I think to myself, “This is going to be good. Go, Adam!”
- Adam follows that up by saying something that sounds really smart but is completely incomprehensible to me. I re-read it several times, and then give up, shaking my head at how stupid I must be not to comprehend what he’s saying.
- Adam patiently walks back from Adam-land to where he left me in confusion and patiently, even respectfully, takes me through the steps to get me to the newfound understanding that is the true thesis of his essay.
- Along the way, like a dad walking on a beach with a small child, he points out interesting things, thoughts I can mull over at a later time, ideas I haven’t ever fully formed before, observations, and insights that have been hiding in plain sight and feel immediately familiar but newly articulated.
- When each essay concludes, my inner world of ideas has become a bigger place. My curiosity is awake. I’d like nothing more than to sit and think my new thoughts, but there are more essays to discover, so I keep reading.
We are sorry for the occasion of this post, but grateful to Hal Boyd of Eastern Kentucky University for this tribute to someone whose work many of us at BCC have learned from and deeply appreciated.
The man who so often contemplated eternity has now stepped beyond its threshold. Dr. Stephen H. Webb passed on this weekend.
A protestant convert to Catholicism, Dr. Webb increasingly dedicated his immense intellect to Mormon theology.
For him, the Latter-day Saint doctrine of an embodied God held the potential to rejuvenate what he saw as moribund mainline theology. The Mormon notion of the material essence of “spirit” was a novel breakthrough. [Read more…]
It was just the two of us at the dinner table. We were eating my daughter’s favorite meal and talking about the kinds of things that concern preschoolers.
After a lull in the conversation–part of which took place in a make-believe language–about her stuffed animals, drawing, playing in the gym and funny things other kids said at preschool, she turned to me and said: “I don’t want to die.” I was taken aback–her closest brush with death was when her grandmother died nearly two years ago when she was, I thought, too young to remember. [Read more…]
John, The Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith: Part 4-More on Community-Feasts-Doctrine and Covenants 7.
You can find the whole series here.
Another unfortunate thing about this divorce between John’s group and the synagogue: they lose a powerful and fulfilling tradition. The feasts, celebrations, and cultural links with the past that acted as a continuing force of discipline, values, and stability drifted away, their meaning diminishing over time. You lose your own identity when something like this happens in some respects. That seems represented in the Gospel.
You can find the whole series here.
In Paul, and later in the Synoptics, the central act is that Jesus died for us, and God brought him back in resurrection. John keeps much of this certainly, but he draws us back to the Prologue (John 1) in statements like “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son.” That is, God sent Jesus into the world, from a preexistent state. It’s not a reference to the end of Jesus’ life, atonement/resurrection, it’s a reference to its beginninglessness, it’s a passage about Christmas—Word became flesh. God’s Son came down, and brought God’s life with him (life in himself)—the life that he can give (here and now!) is God’s own life—eternal life. That seems to be John’s message, and it’s a message that Joseph Smith extracted and sacralized-sacramentalized. In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers people eternal life while he’s in conversation with them and with the disciples. John never uses the term “apostle”–he’s virtually anti-clerical–this tells us something of his presentism perhaps and the ecclesial nature of his community. The Book of Mormon carries the terminology of John when Jesus chooses Twelve and in many other places.
The release of the recent Gospel Topics essay on Heavenly Mother has unleashed a flood of conversation. The questions that have come up are fascinating: what does it mean to assign gender to God? What’s at stake in believing God is embodied? If we do affirm the existence of a Heavenly Mother, why don’t we talk about Her more? Why don’t we see Her in the temple? Does the language of “Mother” and “Father” even seem adequate to a divine force that can somehow encompass and exceed the full range of human experience?
I’m going to admit that I have no idea what the answers to these questions are or ought to be. But I’m also going to admit that I don’t think I can find the answers on my own. [Read more…]
In a memorable moment of Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ, he relates his wife Janet’s intense burnout under the pressure of all she had to do. Famously, Robinson answers this situation with the parable of the bicycle. The result is a theory of grace according to which we do what we can (which isn’t much) and Christ makes up the rest. If we feel despair, it’s because we don’t take Jesus at his word: we believe in Christ without believing Christ. 
Robinson’s book has had the effect of making Mormons not as entirely allergic to the concept of grace as we had been back when we were eager to differentiate ourselves from “born again” Christians. Even so, I don’t think that grace has led us home just yet. Part of the issue, I want to suggest, is that we tend to conceive of salvation in individualistic terms, notwithstanding the strong family orientation of our theology. To get to heaven we have to read the Book of Mormon every day, by ourselves and in our families (and if we don’t have a family, we are to acquire one tout de suite); we have to hold family prayer, family scripture study, and family home evening; we have to do our home and visiting teaching with a diligence extending beyond the required monthly visit; we must actively seek opportunities to share the gospel with nonmembers, while making time to fellowship less-active members in our area; we are to worship in the temple regularly, performing ordinances for deceased ancestors whom we have diligently searched out, even if we are sixth-generation Mormons with faithful BIC ancestors whose work has nevertheless been vicariously performed at least a dozen times, just to make sure, and whose non-BIC ancestors are in much the same boat; on top of all this, we must serve in time-intensive Church callings, all without detracting from precious family time. Nobody else can do this stuff for us. Grandma’s extraordinary commitment to family history work in no way lets you off the hook, and so on ad infinitum. [Read more…]
Last year, a commenter stated that in his stake at a recent meeting with a Q&A session with a general authority, two of the seven questions asked were how to get youth to accept the church’s stance on homosexuality.  This is a question that I have wondered about myself as a mother of teens who likewise don’t agree that homosexuality is the dire threat the church portrays. They have been consistently taught in school that being gay is innate and acceptable, that gay kids should be treated with respect, and that bullying will not be tolerated and is morally wrong.  As a result of the world in which they live, they do not inherently feel homosexuality is shameful, and they have friends in school who openly self-identify as gay. This is a pretty big change from the era in which I was raised and an even bigger change from when older generations were raised. [Read more…]
In an October 2013 talk called “Come, Join With Us” Pres. Uchtdorf welcomed everyone to be a part of the church, even if they have doubts. He famously said:
First doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith.
It’s a great line. Some have taken it to mean that Pres. Uchtdorf is saying that there is no room for doubt, that only the faithless doubt, that doubting your faith should never ever happen. Given the rest of the talk, that seems like an unlikely interpretation. He speaks with empathy toward those who have doubts and invites everyone to join and participate in church regardless of their doubts. [Read more…]
There has been a lot of talk about apologies lately. First E. Oaks, channeling Fox News or possibly Clint Eastwood, claimed that the church neither seeks nor gives apologies , prompting a lot of discussion about what constitutes an apology, and whether or not the church should apologize to gay people for their ostracism and mistreatment throughout the years. [Read more…]
I truly hope that Mormons around the United States (and elsewhere!) will make use of the fortuitous confluence of the (U.S.) national holiday commemorating the work and memory of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Monday evening Family Home Evening program that we enjoy in the Church. [Read more…]
Dissolution seems to be our most recent zeitgeist. With the recent referendums in Spain and the UK, the strife in Ukraine, and the increasingly schismatic politics in the US, it seems that long-held social ties and traditions hold less value than in the past. We seem more and more capable of drifting away from one another.
I have a tendency to see the rise of modern conservative libertarianism as concurrent with this trend. [Read more…]
We’re pleased to feature this guest post from John G. Turner, associate professor of Religious Studies at George Mason University and author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet, in addition to other writings about Mormonism.
Terryl Givens ends his lucid and immensely informative Wrestling the Angel: The Foundations of Mormon Thought with a long chapter on theosis, the idea that human beings can progress toward and achieve godhood.
Givens presents Mormon thought as a recovery of “a Christian road not taken,” paths explored by early thinkers such as Origen and Pelagius and then rejected by subsequent definers and defenders of Christian orthodoxy. Mormonism as explicated by Givens insists upon human potentiality, freedom, responsibility, and affinity with the divine. Human beings, the spirit children of heavenly parents, embrace mortality as an ascent — sometimes a very difficult and gradual ascent — toward an exalted return to a heavenly family. [Read more…]
Julie Smith over at Times and Seasons has done an excellent job of covering the decision to edit the word “fourth” out of Elder Bruce A. Carlson’s prayer opening the Priesthood session of General Conference. Public Affairs eventually responded to Smith’s request for an explanation by saying:
While the women’s meetings have long been an important part of general conference week, they are not usually referred to as a session of general conference. Edits are routinely made to general conference proceedings prior to publication of the official record. In this case a simple edit was made by the conference producer to reflect the usual numbering of the sessions.
What’s striking about this statement are the words “routinely” and “usual,” which have the effect of taking something many saw as significant and asserting that it was in fact banal all along—as if to say, to those of us who dared believe that something extraordinary had happened, “Everything is normal: nothing to see here.” That Carlson’s prayer apparently built on the momentum of President Uchtdorf’s words opening the General Women’s Meeting, only to have the effort stifled by the bureaucratic inertia of “routinely” and “usual,” indicates one of the challenges of bringing change to a large and complex organization. (At this point it’s worth noting that Carlson was taking his lead not from rabble-rousing feminists, but from a counselor in the First Presidency, someone we sustained last weekend as a prophet, seer, and revelator. Carlson, too, seems to have believed that the prophetic can occur at General Conference.)
Does Mormonism have a theology? My gut response, as someone who reads 17th-century theological debate for fun, is to say “no.” We do not, as a people, engage in the sort of definitional arguments that characterize formal theology. Ask someone after sacrament meeting what kind of Christology Mormonism has and you’ll probably still make it to Sunday School on time (unless that someone is Blake Ostler). This isn’t to say that your typical Mormon is stupid for not knowing what Christology is, or for not being able to place Mormon belief within the historical arguments about it. The typical Catholic probably couldn’t do that either. The difference is that Catholicism has a long history of philosophical engagement with these questions, and Mormonism doesn’t. Our engagement tends to be more ad hoc, with an Orson Pratt here and a Sterling McMurrin there. At present, in addition to Ostler (and approaching theology in a quite different way), we have the triumvirate of Jim Faulconer, Adam Miller, and Joseph Spencer.
It seems to me that one of the major challenges of the 21st century involves figuring out how to be present to other people. Technology has given us so many ways of connecting with others, but with these opportunities come some obstacles as well. Part of the value of social media is the way that it can help us keep connected regularly with distant friends, but these connections can often be fairly shallow. For that person who sat across the room from you in middle school math class, this might be okay, but with closer friendships it can feel like a hollowed-out version of something once solid. And in rare cases, social media can foster real friendships with people we’ve never met in real life. Conversely, social media and other forms of technological connection can distance us from the people with whom we are (or ought to be) present all the time, especially our families. Given Joseph Smith’s teachings about friendship as “the grand fundamental principle of Mormonism” and about the eternal potential of family relationships, I believe that figuring out how to be present to other people is a pretty powerful theological imperative. In a recent post I thought about these questions in terms of heaven; for this post, I turn to the here and now. [Read more…]
A Book Review by Michael Austin*.
The Miracles of Jesus
Eric D. Huntsman**
Deseret Books, 2014
(Click on each spread to enlarge.)
OK, I’m just going to admit it: I was a little bit skeptical when I first got Eric D. Huntsman’s newest book, The Miracles of Jesus, and saw that it was a glossy, gorgeously illustrated book fit as much for framing as for reading. High production values in books make me nervous, as I always wonder what they are hiding. And then there is the fact that it is published by Deseret Book — the official publishing arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Official publishing arms make me even more nervous, as I usually have a pretty good idea what they are hiding. All I needed was a third strike to set it aside and move on to the next book in my pile. [Read more…]
Many of us have recently participated in the “Eternal Marriage” lesson from the Joseph Fielding Smith manual. The lesson’s final section carries the heading “As a husband and wife faithfully observe all the ordinances and principles of the gospel, their joy in marriage grows sweeter.” The paragraphs in the section, however, lean toward defining this joy negatively, in terms of avoiding divorce. This tendency can have the effect of making our divorced sisters and brothers seem “less than” those whose marriages are currently working.
Recent events—the death of Jordan Fowles, the shooting of the Stay family in Texas—have prompted some internal BCC discussions about the character of God. Commenters occasionally accuse BCC of being an echo chamber, but our discussions of this topic have turned out to be full of lively debate and disagreement. We’ve decided to bring our discussion to the blog, with several posts on the subject over the next few days. Our collective goal is to stimulate further conversation, not to defend any particular theological position (although some of us might choose to argue vociferously in the comments).
Terryl and Fiona Givens’ The God Who Weeps offers a provocative vision of a God whose heart beats in sympathy with human hearts, presenting this, as its subtitle (How Mormonism Makes Sense of Life) proclaims, as a compelling answer to the difficulties of being human. I want to follow in the spirit of Adam Miller’s thoughtful critique of Weeps in the Spring 2014 issue of Dialogue (subscribe if you haven’t yet) by probing some of the implications of the vulnerable God that the Givenses find in Moses 7:28-29. This probing will be ad hoc rather than systematic, stirring up dust rather than settling questions. With Miller, my aim is not to denigrate the book (pas du tout!), but rather to honor its contribution by allowing it to provoke further thinking.
“Love all, trust a few, do wrong to none.” Shakespeare wrote that in All’s Well That Ends Well. Is being trusting a virtue or evidence of lack of discernment? Are Mormons more gullible (as is often asserted or at least implied) than the average person? [Read more…]
In Church, and in Church-related discussions, I often hear people differentiate Church policies from doctrine. Policies, they say, can (and not infrequently do) change; doctrine, on the other hand, cannot. It has never changed and will never change.
These doctrine-vs.-policy discussions are rarely satisfying, in my experience. We argue over whether we’re talking about doctrine or policy, but rarely make it any further. And in part, I believe, the impediment is that we don’t really have a clear sense of what we’re talking about when we say “doctrine.” [Read more…]
Trinity Sunday, Year A
The Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, who as the Father and the Son, aided by the presence of the Holy Spirit, appeared to thy servant Joseph Smith, jr.: grant that we may be one with each other, and one with thee, as you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, are one God forever and ever.
Sometimes as active members, we are caught up in being the best Mormon we can be, the most observant, ticking all the boxes, perceived well by other ward members. We can forget that the point is to become a better person by following Christ’s teachings, not just to become a better adherent to a set of religious requirements or a better person as defined by the community.
But shouldn’t this be the same thing?
No, of course not. [Read more…]
The Collect: Heavenly Father, who gavest power to Thy Son, Jesus Christ, to rise in resurrected glory on this holy day: let our hearts be changed through faith in His name so that we of Thy latter-day Church may live as spiritually begotten sons and daughters of Christ, adopted through Baptism in His name, that we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, may live and serve Everyman as though he were Christ, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. [Read more…]
My wife, Kristine K. (disambiguation: not the same as Kristine) gave this sermon today in the Slate Canyon 13th Ward in Provo.
“[When] in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth . . . the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep . . . the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light” (Gen 1:1-3).  In this opening scene of creation, I picture “the Spirit of the Gods . . . brooding upon the face of the waters” (Abr. 4:2), in a way, as a feeling out or trying to get a sense of what is out there. Then realizing that they need a clearer view of the materials they have to work with, the Gods utter, “Let there be light.” What is revealed in that primordial light is primordial chaos—a watery wasteland. I’m sure the Gods realized—maybe in that moment, maybe before—that their work would be difficult, that it would be a long and arduous process. In his book Reflections of a Scientist, Henry Eyring informs us that it takes an average of 250 years to deposit one foot of sediment, or roughly 112 million years to deposit all known sediments.  In fact, the Book of Abraham says that after the Gods “prepar[ed] the earth to bring forth grass” (4:11) or “prepared[ed] the waters to bring forth . . . the moving creatures (4:20),” they “watched those things which they had ordered until they obeyed” (4:18).  [Read more…]