Digital prayer roll

Today the church newsroom announced that members are now able to submit names online to be included on the temple prayer rolls. Next week functionality will be added to the Member Tools app to allow members to submit names from it. I remember coming across examples of nineteenth century Saints submitting names to temple prayer rolls by letter and telegram, and it appears that this was in place from the first temple of the Utah era.

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What have the Joseph Smith Papers taught me?

It seems incredible, but it looks like they’re almost through with the Joseph Smith Papers Project*. The JSPP plans on printing 27 volumes across five series, and 20 are done: 3 of 3 Journals volumes are complete, 10 of 15 Documents volumes have been published, with the next one landing this fall; 2 of 2 Histories volumes are complete; the Administrative Records (C50) volume is complete; and 4 of 5 Revelations and Translations volumes are done, including the Manuscript Revelations book**. Not sure when we will receive the 2 online-only series, Financial Records and Legal Records. It is too early to assess the series as a whole, especially since the next several Documents volumes will contain some of the most interesting content. But it’s not too early for me, as an amateur and dilettante, to give you my observations and impressions, particularly about how reading these volumes has changed my perspective on Joseph Smith. [Read more…]

The Giant Joshua, Chapters Three and Four

By Andrew Hall

These chapters present a microcosm of several themes and conflicts found in the novel, including stirring depictions of the faith that led the pioneer Saints to make such enormous sacrifices in their mission of building a Zion society. Here too, we see some of the less appealing aspects of the colonizing generation—its fear and cruelty towards Native Americans, its child marriages, and the heartbreak that could result from plural marriage.

St. George pioneers and the tragic price of faith
Chapter Three opens with the Saints having just arrived in what would become St. George in 1861. Whipple provides a geographic description by having Apostle Erastus Snow, the real-life leader of the Cotton Mission, observe the valley from the Sugar Loaf, a high steep rock in the red cliffs to the north. At this point, he sees his people still living in their tents and wagons, but he will return often to that spot as the settlement grows, and the Sugar Loaf becomes a landmark for the town.

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Saving Faith and Expertise

This guest post is by Kevin Shafer, an Associate Professor of Sociology at Brigham Young University and an adjunct associate professor of Health & Society at McMaster University (Canada). He holds a PhD in Sociology from The Ohio State University. His scholarship focuses on mental health and father involvement in a cross-national perspective.

In October 2018, President Dallin H. Oaks cautioned that “expertise in one field should not be taken as expertise on truth in other subjects.” In his new book, Saving Faith, Egyptologist John Gee makes assertions about child abuse victimization, LGBTQ+ identity, and the potential for child abuse victims to become perpetrators of abuse in adulthood. These are questions that are central to social science and strong claims are being made by someone without training in psychology, sociology, social work, economics, or related disciplines. Professor Gee’s lack of expertise in these areas is may have led him to make errors that lead to problematic claims that are not born out by research. In contrast to Professor Gee, I am a sociologist that researches gender, mental health (including childhood adversity), and family life. Here, I discuss two claims made in the book and why they are not based in science or current church statements on sexuality.

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Family-Centered, Church-Supported Thoughts About (Not Yet) Attending a New(ish) Ward

That’s our ward building, right there. We call it the “Westlink Building,” because its address is along Westlink Avenue, here on the west side of Wichita, Kansas. It’s more than a half-century old, having been built by the Mormon faithful here long before the church’s building program was centralized, back when local units needed to raise their own money and, perhaps, pour their own concrete and lay their own stones. Today, meetings were held there for the first time in months. Despite having attended church in that building ever since moving into our Wichita home–also on Westlink Avenue, just a third of a mile away, an easy Sunday walk–back in 2006, this week we weren’t there. [Read more…]

Meet Josephine Spencer: Mormon Writer, Editor, Teacher of Youth, and Communist

Faint and far in the night the wail of a child
Borne on heedful winds to a heedless ear;
Then, in the gray of a startled dawn, the wild,
Curdling cry of a million voices near. 
–Josephine Spencer, “Revolution”

You know from the book club that BCC Press will be publishing the unpublished work of Maurine Whipple next month. What you might not know is that we will also be publishing the first volume of the collected works of Josephine Spencer (1861-1928), edited by Ardis Parshall and Michael Austin. Spencer, we estimate, is the most important figure in Mormon literature that most people have never heard of.  

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Birthday, Baptism, Pandemic

My son was supposed to be baptized a few months ago. His grandparents had tickets to come to Chicago. He was ready to invite his best friend from school and some other friends who, while not Mormon, have come to all of my kids’ baptisms to love and support them.

And then a global pandemic hit. My parents had to cancel their flight. The church shut down its meetings and its buildings. We worked to recover.

These days my son goes back and forth on when he wants to be baptized. He’d really like to wait until his grandparents can share the day with him but, because of age and health conditions, his grandparents can’t really travel here until there’s a vaccine and they’re able to get the vaccine. While we’re hoping for early 2021, who knows if it will happen before another birthday rolls around.

Which leads me to a question: what is the church going to do about these pandemic-delayed baptisms? [Read more…]

Complicating sermon texts

One of the most important developments in the last fifteen years in the study of Mormon History and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been an increase in critical approaches to sources, particularly towards sermons of church leaders. [Read more…]

Exponent II Editor Search

Exponent II, the mother of all modern Mormon feminist publications, is looking for a new editor for its magazine.

Founders of Exponent II in 1974

Exponent II began as the project of LDS women in Boston, including Claudia Bushman, Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Judy Dushku, and others who aimed to make their faithful and feminist voices heard, like their suffragist foremothers who had published the original Woman’s Exponent in Utah. My dad was given a gift subscription by women in the ward of which he was bishop, so I grew up with Exponent II and have loved it all my life. My very first bit of published writing appeared in its pages in 1994 (or so).

The organization has grown into a feminist space for women and gender minorities across the Mormon spectrum, and the organization’s activities include the quarterly magazine, an annual retreat, a blog, and a robust social media community.

To apply for the Editor in Chief position, please send a cover letter and CV by September 15 to board@exponentii.org. The cover letter should include a brief description of your vision and priorities for the magazine. See here for more details about the position and its requirements.

The Giant Joshua – Chapters One and Two

By Lynne Larson

White and crimson, or black and yellow and blue — behind her and ahead and around her — spewed in fantastic violence, in every shade and nuance, the colors of this unreal landscape glittered with such intensity that she closed her eyes and for a moment her breath clung to her throat. She felt hemmed in with untamed, imponderable forces . . . between the two black ridges lay the valley of sagebrush where she was going to spend the rest of her life — the valley that was already named, President Young had told them, the city of St. George. (The Giant Joshua, p. 3-4)

            As Maurine Whipple’s heroine, Clorinda MacIntyre is vividly presented with her new home in the first pages of The Giant Joshua, we as readers are introduced to “Clory” herself, and we meet a dozen other sharply-drawn characters as well. We will come to intimately know them all as we turn the pages of  the novel. There is bearded, rigid Abijah, with his Scottish brogue, the strict family patriarch, whom the teenaged Clory has recently married. At this point, he is still ‘Uncle Abijah’ to her, since the marriage has not yet been consummated, an event she is anticipating with both apprehension and girlish curiosity. There are Bathsheba and Wilhelmina, Abijah’s other wives, the former mean-spirited, imperious, and superstitious, with a prominent wart on her jutting chin, the latter soft, shy, easily subdued, and surely Bathsheba’s foil. With these are Abijah’s sons, including Freeborn, enraptured with pretty Clory, as any teenaged boy might be. The band of pioneers includes cheery Lon Tuckett, a tailor who loves to sing and quote original verse through all his hardships, and his very pregnant German immigrant wife Betsy. Also the Hichinopers, a happy couple so worried about their firstborn baby, they carry it up hill and down on a pillow, lest it ever feel neglected. They and the others make up a caravan of Saints sent by Brigham Young to establish the Cotton Mission in southern Utah’s Dixie.

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BCC Late Summer Book Club: The Giant Joshua

By Andrew Hall and Lynne Larson

Welcome to the BCC Late Summer Book Club!

For the next eight weeks we will be reading Maurine Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, which is widely considered to be Mormonism’s greatest novel. Maurine Whipple is an enigmatic figure—in 1938 at age 35 she was broke, divorced and depressed, a failed grade school teacher who wrote obsessively but who had never published a substantial work. In that year, however, she was awarded a Houghton Mifflin Literary Fellowship for new writers, and the coveted prize allowed her to take pen in hand, let her genius flower, and create her masterpiece. Over the next two years she worked feverishly on The Giant Joshua, the epic story of the 1861 settlers of St. George. 

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A Footnote to the Extermination Order

Missouri Executive Order 44, commonly known as the Mormon Extermination Order, includes this text: “The Mormons must be treated as enemies, and must be exterminated or driven from the state if necessary for the public peace–their outrages are beyond all description.” The Order was rescinded in 1976, but prior to that time it was common for Mormons to wryly observe that it was legal for Missourians to kill Mormons on the street. Was that really true? Uh, no.

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Review: Blythe’s Terrible Revolution

A number of years ago, I wrote about the church culture of my youth: “I was born in 1976, the same year that President Kimball spoke with some measure of pride in General Conference about the “garden fever” that had infected many of the Saints. The church leaders of this period were raised when the Mormon culture region had primarily an agriculture-based economy (the farm-raised missionary remains legendary). Still, there is clearly more than a fear that the children of Zion be deprived home-canned peaches in President Kimball’s words.” We gardened like champs. We had food storage in case of emergency, but we were more proto-foodies (homemade bread and freezer jam, yes please) than end-time waiters. I remember the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. We never did bomb drills at school, though, and we soon saw the fruits of glastnost. When employment brought my family to the Kansas City area in the early-1990s, we made jokes about “the gatherers”—fringe believers drawn to the area, and who were generally cuckoo for cocoa puffs.

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Another BCC Press Sunstone Sale–All Ebooks $4.99. Are we nuts?

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In case you missed the memo, BCC Press has developed a new web site and unveiled it at this year’s all-online Sunstone Sumposium. You have already seen Bob Rees’s book that we launched today as part of this grand unveiling. By Common Consent. And you know that we are selling all books by Sunstone Symposium speakers for 25% off.

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BCC Press Is Thrilled to Announce: A New Book by Bob Rees

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By Common Consent is thrilled to announce our newest book–and our fourth book of the year to celebrate and examine the Book of Mormon. We lead off the first half of the year with The Book of Mormon for the Least of These by Fatimeh Salleh and Margaret Olsen Hemming, which has gone on to become our of the top-selling volumes in BCC Press history. We also published Mette Harrison’s book The Women’s Book of Mormon and Michael Austin’s Buried Treasures. We are proud to announce the capstone of our Year of the Book of Mormon with Robert A. Rees’s A New Witness to the World. (Kindle version here).

A New Witness to the World, which has been years in the making, contains thirteen essays by one of Mormonism’s most distinguished scholars. Bob Rees has been active in Mormon Studies for nearly sixty years. He was one of the Founding Parents of Dialogue and the journal’s second editor. During all of this time, Bob has been studying both the Book of Mormon and the religion it created, andd he has done so with the fine eye of a literary critic and the precision of an expert scholar.

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Rep. John Lewis and Religious Freedom

Yesterday and today, the late Representative John Lewis is lying in state at the Capitol. Thousands of people lined up to pay respects to the Congressman yesterday and I’d be surprised if thousands more don’t today.

They may know Rep. Lewis from his days as a Freedom Rider, fighting for racial justice. They may know him from the graphic novels about his civil rights career. They may know him from his 40-ish years representing constituents as an elected official.

I was reminded that Rep. Lewis was a deeply religious man and advocate of religious freedom last week when I got a call from Amy Lee Rosen, a reporter for Law360. She was doing a story about tax bills sponsored by Rep. Lewis.

One of the bills Rep. Lewis sponsored? H.R. 4169: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.

I was familiar with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act; I wrote about it in chapter 4 of my book. [Read more…]

What Does Pioneer Day Mean in 2020?

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Back when I lived in Utah, I found it obnoxious when other out-of-staters would dismiss Pioneer Day out of hand as uncool and irrelevant (as most Utah things are, according to most other Americans). As a student of culture, the idea of belittling a tradition like Pioneer Day for easy “cool points” seemed unproductive and counter to my training to take history and community seriously. However, this doesn’t remove the need for critique and engagement, especially with one’s own cultural inheritance. For anyone who wasn’t on this train before, 2020 has given us a host of opportunities to critically engage with the act of memorializing: who gets remembered and celebrated? Whose stories are left untold? What political consequences do these choices have?

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Me and Donovan Mitchell

The other day, Twitter recommended a bunch of topics for me to follow. And its recommendations confirmed for me the folly of paying attention to social media algorithms. Why?

Well, the first recommendation was Donovan Mitchell. And honestly, I had absolutely no idea who he was. (I’ve since learned that he plays for the Utah Jazz. Who knew?) Why did Twitter think I cared about a Utah Jazz basketball player? Probably because I tweet a lot about jazz. Like, the music.[fn1] And given the disaster that has been Utah’s response to Covid, I do more Utah-adjacent tweeting recently than I have done traditionally.

See, I don’t particularly care about the Utah Jazz.[fn2] I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego and shortly after my family moved there, the Clippers moved to LA. So growing up, to the extent I cared about professional basketball, I was a Lakers fan. In fact, the Lakers, the Clippers, the Knicks,[fn3] and the Bulls all have far more claim on my fandom that the Jazz (though growing up in a city without a basketball team, I didn’t really care much about the NBA.

But for a very short time, the Jazz managed to work their way into my religious life. [Read more…]

A Deep Dive into the “Flyover Books”

On page 72 of the Maxwell Institute’s newest Brief Theological Introductions book, Sharon Harris writes a passage that will forever change the way I read the “itty-bitty books” of Enos, Jerom, and Omni. Speaking of the common charge that Jarom just wasn’t as invested in keeping the record as his ancestors were, Harris counters:

Rather than seeing them as a lag or a slowdown in the narrative of spirituality among Lehi and Sariah’s descendants, perhaps we have more in common with them than we realize. It has now been over a century since a revelation was received that was added to the Doctrine and Covenants. Would we say of our day, however, that revelation has ceased? Of course not. In many ways it feels as though revelation continues to increase within the church. But if people 2,500 years from now were to look back, with one narrow selection of records with which to draw their conclusions, would it look as though revelation was booming in the early twenty-first century? Perhaps not (72-73).

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A Q&A with the editors of Producing Ancient Scripture

Two of the editors of the recently published Producing Ancient Scripture: Joseph Smith’s Translation Projects in the Development of Mormon Christianity fielded some questions about the project. I was a participant in the original seminar from which this project grew. My work ended out going a different direction, but I have been anxiously waiting for this volume ever since. Giddy even, you might say. If you use the coupon “MHA2020” at the linked site, it will save you $10 off the paperback.

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Melody and Twila (and peggy)–How Lucky We Are to Be Alive Right Now

By now the whole world knows that the Schuyler Sisters were the hottest—and coolest—female siblings in America. The operative word here is “were,” since, as of today, we have a new reigning matriarchy–the Newey Sisters. Today, By Common Consent Press is pleased to announce the publication of An Imperfect Roundness by Melody Newey Johnson, and Sylvia by Twila Newey. How lucky we are to be alive right now. And wait ’till you get a load of Peggy.

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The Discourses of Eliza R. Snow

“Do business properly and orderly as the men so that the history of the same may be handed down to future generations of the daughters of Zion.” – ERS to the Salt Lake City Eleventh Ward Relief Society, March 3, 1869.

I have spent a lot of time in the documents of the restoration—journals, sermon reports, correspondence, meeting minutes. The things that often get public attention are items such as church leader diaries that document the activities and opinions of themselves and other church leaders. They are important, but there is something I love far more.

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Toward a Humble Church

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A decade ago, I sat despondent in Relief Society during a lesson on humility. Law school exams were fast approaching and I felt overwhelmed. An arbitrary system was about to base 100% of my grades on half-day tests. Regardless of my objective mastery of the material, the system was designed to force competition against my smart and talented peers. I would be graded on a strict curve. Those grades would then be aggregated to assign my relative class rank. Without a sufficiently high class rank employers would flick my resume into the recycle bin. My future career was at stake. The legal job market was deep in a recession. I feared failure, and that my student loans would never be repaid.

I sighed and decided to interpret the lesson as a chastisement. I needed to repent and learn humility. I needed to learn “a modest or low view of my own importance.” [Read more…]

How to reactivate people

After reading this week about some stake presidencies sending form letters to folks in an effort to keep them active, I got to thinking about what really would work to keep people active in the Church and what sort of approaches would work. Here are some thoughts that represent my personal findings after being involved on the periphery of reactivation efforts over the years. I hope you don’t mind these ramblings, which are mostly to spur discussion and are not meant as a final declaration on the topic of church activity. [Read more…]

Religious Freedom vs. Public Interest (Working Women)

I dissent.

Let me start off by being clear that I am not a lawyer (on a blog with many lawyers). I have multiple decades of experience as a business executive in large corporations, overseeing the employment of thousands of people. As an executive, I understood very well what the applicable anti-discrimination laws were. Now that I’m a small business owner, I also recognize that many of those laws are not required for me, but based on my personal conviction and principles, I still run my business as if they do.

In a 7-2 decision, SCOTUS recently upheld a completely discriminatory ruling to allow employers (that are not directly affiliated with any church) to refuse to cover birth control in their employee healthcare plans. This decision rests firmly on a few shaky foundational assumptions: [Read more…]

Newly available shorthand transcriptions of nineteenth-century sermon texts

More than a few Latter-day Saints grew up in homes with one complete shelf full with the Journal of Discourses (preference of course for the black and gold volumes over those crappy blue ones). Missionaries through the years have variously been baffled and intrigued by snippets from them. Hardly anyone has actually read anything from them, though I know a couple of non-professionals who have made it through completely.

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Journal of Mormon History, July 2020 Issue Synopsis.

Vol. 46, no. 3 of JMH recently arrived in my mailbox. It has some fine articles and I thought I might preview them for you in hopes that you’ll pick up the issue and have a look. It is available by subscription in hard copy, or electronically and is a benefit of membership in the Mormon History Association. There are four articles in the issue, an essay, a notice of a document and a book review.
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Our Own Vines and Our Own Fig Trees: a Post-Independence Day, Post-Hamilton-Watching Sermon

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

Like plenty of other Americans (and, given likely demographics, probably in particular like plenty of readers of this blog), my family and I watched the musical Hamilton over the July 4th weekend. Our second-oldest daughter, who was home to join us yesterday, had actually seen the show in 2016 on Broadway; for the rest of us, as familiar as we were with the music, watching the show was a new experience–and it was a lovely one, a wonderfully funny and dramatic, visually and aurally compelling, and historically challenging (in more ways than one), piece of filmed theater. It was three hours very well spent. [Read more…]

July 4th, Amulek Day, and a Mighty Change of Heart

Lori Thompson Forsyth is a long-time New Englander, a part-time aspirational Spaniard, and a current resident of Utah Valley. She edits manuscripts for BCC Press and blogs at lorinotes.wordpress.com.

Brianna Santellan, Unsplash. 

Through the past several weeks of mourning and protests, as our national attention has turned once again to the power that systemic racism holds over many aspects of our communities, a passage from Alma chapter 10 has been running through my mind. It provides guidance as I ponder how to respond to the outpouring of emotions I see on the news and in the streets. It may even have some bearing on the ways in which we, as Latter-day Saints, could commemorate the Fourth of July, which I’m beginning to think of as Amulek Day.

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The KJV in the BoM

Review of Royal Skousen, The History of the Text of the Book of Mormon, Part Five: The King James Quotations in the Book of Mormon (Provo, Utah: The Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies and Brigham Young University Studies, 2019).

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