Stand with Muslims as they fight against bigotry


Carolyn at the impromptu Muslim Ban protest march on January 29, 2017

The Supreme Court hears arguments on the Muslim Ban tomorrow.  I’ll be in the courtroom, and with hundreds of civil rights supporters at the rally on the courthouse steps.  Join me.  As the Fourth Circuit has declared, the Muslim Ban violates the Establishment Clause and is “unconstitutionally tainted with animus towards Islam.”

Everytime I talk to Muslim friends, colleagues, and even taxi drivers, I hear the same themes over and over again – children bullied as “terrorists” at school, women harangued for wearing headscarfs (with aggressors sometimes forcibly yanking religious headcoverings off), graffiti and vandalism to businesses, threats and firebombs at mosques.


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When Your Calling and Election is [in Doubt]. III. Fundamentalism (part 2).

There is a contradiction between a Church tightly held together by a strong hierarchical authority, which will nevertheless be filled with practitioners of heartfelt devotion. There are, of course, people whose devotional life is enhanced by the sense that they live under this kind of authority, but for the masses who do not respond this way the choices are either to knuckle under, or leave, or live a semi-clandestine life.

So far this peripatetic series has wandered from the Jerusalem Bishopric to Intelligent Design, and now to 20th-century Physics™ and Conservative Christianity (see part 1).

I’m afraid it’s nothing this interesting.

Election has been a Christain puzzle for two thousand years since Paul and then the Johannine community and all these posts hover around it with one or another valence. This post is part 2 of a previous post on Christian fundamentalism mostly conceived in terms of biblical literalism. This time I’m really wandering, with seemingly unconnected dots—to evoke Steven Peck.
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Teaching Old Testament, Primary-style

I’m having a pretty good time teaching the Old Testament to my Valiant 9 class. They’re a good group of kids, and the Old Testament is a wack book of scripture, so it’s kind of hard not to have fun with it. One of my kids is a natural thespian. When we had the lesson on the Creation, he wanted to act it out, and I, having nothing better to do with our time, said sure, why not. So he took on the role of Creator, and the other kids…well, one of them handled the lights, and the others sort of took turns embodying things like water and springtime. It was a little avant garde. At some point I did remember that it’s against the rules to let anyone portray a member of the Godhead in role-play situations, but by then it was too late, so I figured God would just have to forgive us this one time. Unfortunately, re-enacting the Creation turned out to be their favorite activity, so God has had to forgive us multiple times, but I like to think the Godhead understands these things.

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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…]

God of the Deluge


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

Eight weeks before the Boston marathon, my treadmill broke. I know, big deal, right? Most runners love the outdoors and it was starting to be spring. But I am not most runners. I love indoor training and the security it provides, from pitstops to water to Netflix and no dogs. I wasn’t happy to have to run outside, and this feeling was compounded when I found I had Achilles tendinitis. But I just kept training because I had to do Boston this one year I qualified. [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…]

“Confessions of a Mormon Historian” The diaries of Leonard J. Arrington. A Review.

Confessions of a Mormon Historian: The Diaries of Leonard J. Arrington, 1971-1997. Salt Lake City: Signature Books, April 30, 2018. $150.00. 2,600 pages in three volumes.

Gary James Bergera, ed.

Foreword by Susan Arrington Madsen. A (delightful) introductory essay by Rebecca Foster Bartholomew on some of Arrington’s ancestors and his life to ca. 1971.

Each volume contains a chronology by Joseph Geisner and Lavina Fielding Anderson in the front matter. Editor Bergera provides helpful short biographical notes on persons who appear in the diaries along with citations for work LJA mentions and other brief but important bits of context, along with generally unobtrusive expansions of the text when LJA is terse with names, places, etc.

Volume 1: Church Historian, 1971-1975 876 pages (including an appendix listing LDS historians and some associates for the years 1830-1985) + front matter.
Volume 2: Centrifugal Forces, 1975-1980 922 pages.
Volume 3: Exile, 1980-1997 803 pages (includes an index for all volumes) with an Afterword by Thomas G. Alexander and an Arrington bibliography by Jeffery O. Johnson.

Signature Books very kindly gave me a look at their forthcoming publication of Leonard J. Arrington’s (LJA) diaries covering the period of his appointment as LDS Church Historian to two years before his death in 1999. The recent Arrington biography by Gregory A. Prince quoted liberally from LJA’s diaries, housed at the Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University in Logan, Utah.[1]
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Lesson 15: “Look to God and Live” #BCCSundaySchool2018


The Old Testament’s hottest book is Numbers. This week’s reading has it all: burnings, plagues, miraculous leprosy, poisonous flying hell-snakes, and a meat sneeze. What’s a meat sneeze? It’s that thing where you complain about eating manna, so God makes you eat meat for a month until it comes out of your nostrils. [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…]

The Little Things of General Conference

Amy Harris lives in the western US.  She enjoys reading, hiking, and spending time with family. Some might classify her approach to gardening as “mildly unhinged.” Like nature, Amy abhors vacuums (and irons).

There has been a lot of talk about all the major changes and exciting announcements from General Conference. I just want to add a few of the “little things” I noticed that made this the most energizing/enjoyable/uplifting conference experience I’ve had in years.   [Read more…]

Avoiding Holier-Than-Thou Ministering

In a recent episode of Mormon Land, historian (and BCC blogger) Matt Bowman talked about the brand new changes to the home teaching/visiting teaching and looked at the history of the program. Matt explained that the home teaching program, under Harold B. Lee’s correlation, used to be more of a guardianship priesthood thing, with each home teaching companionship tasked with making sure the family to whom they were assigned, were completing the various church programs and ordinances, and came to their visits ready with a list of questions to complete their watchcare. Here’s a good Ensign article from 1973 that captures the old program’s aims.

Bowman, in comparing this to the new program and in explaining that in the intervening years we’ve moved farther and farther away from a list-based approach, noted that perhaps the new ministering program will allow for needed flexibility so that people can cater the ministration as the Spirit dictates.

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You knew what I was

JD grew up in the church in an area he affectionately terms “Zion Lite.”  He served a mission in a country with police with semi-automatic weaponry and weird fatty foods, went to BYU, did more than enough graduate school, and still goes to church.  Look around this Sunday, he may be sitting down the bench from you, possibly wearing fantastic socks. He could really use a friend there.

I am a gay man in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I battle despair daily, even though “to despair is to turn your back on God.” [1] I can understand the feelings that lead someone to consider suicide — the feeling that the Lord in this church has no plan of mortal happiness for me.  

But I desperately hope the Lord does have a plan of mortal happiness for me. We still need to be actively seeking further light and knowledge, and the testimonies of God’s LGBT children are key.   [Read more…]

Don’t Just Do Something—Stand There


I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.  And especially if it’s given from the heart.  When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them.  Just take them in.  Listen to what they’re saying.  Care about it.  —Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom


A few weeks ago, I met with a group of students who had some legitimate concerns about the way they had been treated at the university. It was an uncomfortable meeting but a necessary one, and by the end of it I was ready to get to work. I told them that I would fix everything—we would create some student organizations, incorporate new material into our core curriculum, revise our conduct code, and take care of the problem once and for all.

“You are missing the point,” one of the students told me when I announced these plans. “We don’t need you to fix all of this today. We need you to listen to us. We need to know that we are being heard.” [Read more…]

Saint Mary the Protectress

Gold-plated spires of Lavra's main church.

Cathedral at Lavra

I recently returned from a business trip to Kyiv (Kiev) Ukraine, including two days of just being a tourist. My tour guide was Olga, a well-informed host overflowing with love for her city and country. One of the most impressive places I visited with Olga was Kyiv Pechersk Lavra (Києво-Печерська лавра in Ukrainian and Киeво-Печерская лавра in Russian). More like a small city than just a church, it is a historical center of Eastern Orthodox Christianity and includes a magnificent cathedral, smaller (though still magnificent!) churches, an active seminary, monastery housing, and a historical underground cave monastery containing relics of saints.  [Read more…]

Roundtable on The Power of Godliness, Part III

Jonathan Stapley’s new book is only 129 pages of text, but it feels much longer. This is not, thankfully, because the prose slogs. Rather it is one of those books that makes every word count. There is no fluff here, only finely sanded insight after insight, with all coarse surface and redundancy polished away. Stapley’s strengths are twofold. First, his archival work is unparalleled. For every assertion he has an anecdote. He meticulously marks fine nuances in opinion among his subjects, and those subjects are as frequently obscure figures like Steven Markham, John Steele, or Margaret Anderton as they are more familiar Mormons like Joseph F. Smith or Zina D.H. Young. His attention to such figures is essential to his second strength: the deep pattern of his argument. The process of producing the Mormon liturgy in all its parts and rituals, he argues, was and often remains the collision between the planned and the inadvertent.

Mormon leaders—be they Joseph Smith or Joseph F. Smith or Eliza Snow—conceived or introduced new rites, like a ceremony to seal a couple together. Mormons balked, or reinterpreted them. Mormons began dedicating their graves or their homes; Mormon leaders scrambled to catch up and codify a ceremony already happening. Through this messiness, Stapley argues, not only have Mormons generated a liturgy, but—because, as he rightly notes, liturgy is a powerful route by which worshipers conceive of the cosmos—they have gradually altered the ways they conceive of what it means to be a Mormon in the universe. [Read more…]

Roundtable on The Power of Godliness, Part II

The next installment of our discussion on Stapley’s book comes from Taylor Petrey. Taylor is Associate Professor in the Religion Department at Kalamazoo College, with research interests in the body, gender, and sexuality in antiquity and the formation of Jewish and Christian identity in the ancient world.

Stapley’s The Power of Godliness has cracked the code on Mormon discourse about priesthood. This book brings so much clarity to a complex topic that has confounded outsiders and insiders to the Mormon tradition alike. The key that unlocks the mystery is Stapley’s historical analysis revealing two different ways Mormons have used the term “priesthood” and two different conceptual universes behind them. Sometimes overlapping and sometimes diverging, these two different meanings of priesthood are based in notions of church order that date to different periods in Joseph Smith, Jr.’s prophetic ministry. Rather than harmonizing Mormon history or Mormon thought under a single rubric or organizing principle, Stapley points to a foundational tension in Mormonism that holds immense explanatory value. [Read more…]

Cling to your guns if you must, but leave the Holocaust out of it


The fruits of irregular armed resistance against a fascist state: Following the defeat of the Warsaw Uprising, the civilian population was expelled and the city systematically destroyed. (Source)

Recently, a friend on a popular social media site shared a photo of the pile of shoes at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum that was accompanied by the following text:

To all the kids that walked out of school to protest guns. These are the shoes of Jews that gave up their firearms to Hitler . They were led into gas chambers, murdered and buried in mass graves . Pick up a history book and you’ll realize what happens when u give up freedoms and why we have them.

I hadn’t pegged him as someone who would fall for such a cheap shot in the gun control debate. We had served together as missionaries in Austria where most of us had been to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Although primarily a forced labor camp for political and “antisocial” prisoners—in contrast to the death camps farther east that served no other purpose than mass killing—Mauthausen was a sobering and context-rich enough example of the Nazi regime’s horrifying crimes against humanity that I was surprised someone could visit the site and still believe that the problem with the Holocaust was that the victims simply “gave up” their freedom.

But maybe he hadn’t been there. [Read more…]

Taxsplainer: How the Utah Legislature Is Raising Taxes By Doing Nothing

The Salt Lake Tribune is reporting that the Utah legislature has just enacted a large tax increase on many Utah families, in spite of its putative 0.05 percentage-point tax cut. How can that be? [Read more…]

Lesson 14: “Ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Learning Outcomes:
To encourage class members to partake of the Lord’s spiritual water and bread, sustain his chosen leaders, and obey his commandments so he can make of them a “holy nation” (Exodus 19:6).

Exodus 15-20, 32-4
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The Power of Godliness: Mormon Liturgy and Cosmology

BCC’s very own J. Stapley has published a remarkable book. So we are going to remark upon it. At length.

We’ll kick off our roundtable discussion with a post from Hannah Jung, a graduate student in history at Brandeis University and expert in Mormon women’s history.
Jonathan Stapley takes ritual seriously. His book The Power of Godliness looks at what rituals do for the people that perform them. “By tracing the development of the rituals and attempting to ascertain the work they have accomplished,” Stapley tells us, “the Mormon universe, with its complex priesthoods, authorities, and powers, becomes comprehensible.” (2) Or, more simply, his book asks what Mormons have meant when they have invoked the term “priesthood” and how they imagined themselves in relation to it. This process has changed over time: “instead of viewing priesthood as channeling the power of God, church leaders began to describe the priesthood as the power of God.” (12) Stapley frames his analysis by discussing two different notions of priesthood: ecclesiastical and cosmological. Ecclesiastical priesthood refers to the ordination of Mormon men to different offices in the Church hierarchy. Cosmological priesthood is an idea developed gradually by Joseph Smith and reflected in the temple liturgy in the temple. Although the ritual practices inside the temple have not fundamentally changed, Stapley asserts that the cosmological priesthood that undergirded the temple liturgy is no longer recognizable to contemporary Latter-day Saints. The Power of Godliness is, therefore, a project of historical recovery. He is successful: Stapley has laid a foundation for new conversations and questions about priesthood and religious power for years to come. [Read more…]


The following is based on an excerpt from the eulogy I gave for my father at his funeral last week.

Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.  1 John 4:7

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Confessing God’s hand in all things

My three-year-old son loudly announced that the incense smelled “yucky” just as the priest walked by, censer swinging from chains, bells jingling. And the priest smiled.

I recently finished reading a book by religious studies scholar Robert Orsi, who once suggested that “if it doesn’t offer you the opportunity to taste something, lick something, kiss something, or put something into your mouth, it’s not a religion.” I’m sure he’d have included “smell something” in this list had he been thinking about it. One of the things I enjoy most about attending Eastern Orthodox Pascha each year with my family is the way it engages the body—sight, sound, touch, and yes, smell. While the LDS Church is my home, these occasional pilgrimages help renew my faith.  [Read more…]

On Kirton McConkie’s (Lack of) Women Shareholders

The other night, I was listening to the most recent Slate Money podcast. In its second segment, the hosts talked about the recent gender pay report in the United Kingdom. They specifically mentioned about Goldman Sachs and Condé Nast, both of which, it turns out, have a pretty sizeable gender pay difference.[fn1]

There are undoubtedly many reasons why men’s income was significantly higher than women’s, but the podcast highlighted one in particular: high earners. At Goldman, women make up only 17% of the top quartile by income. At Condé Nast, there are more women at every income quartile, but it appears that incomes are skewed by the top 5%; in fact, the five-person executive committee is entirely men. [Read more…]

Visiting Ministering: Alice Smith

Alice C. Smith was an extraordinary woman. I won’t take time to recite her achievements here but I do want to quote from one of her sermons (for the curious, we are not related-though I do possess some of her personal reminiscences courtesy of her family). This address took place October 1, 1969 and it continues to impress me. I’ve read it several times.[1]

I leave you these excerpts without comment except to say that I think the points raised are symbolic. Like loaves of bread. And that I think the sort of thing Alice speaks of happens all the time. Not every time. It will be different for different people. I’m hoping that the new organizational changes in visiting teaching will make for more outreach. Women have always been at the heart of Christianity, leading, teaching, doing. Culture from the deeps of time has hidden much of this from our discourse.
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You say you want a revolution (ecclesiology edition)

Both the quorum structures that we have had for many decades and “Priesthood Home Teaching” as we have experienced them were implemented as part of the Priesthood Correlation movement during the 1960s and 1970s. This was the progressive reform movement championed by Harold B. Lee and both the quorum/group structure of the Melchizedek Priesthood and Home Teaching were central pillars to this new church structure. But all living things change.
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The Quarter-Inch Hole in My Heart

I spent the last part of this week in a design-thinking workshop, which is kind of a new thing for a guy who majored in English three times. But it was well-worth the effort. The first thing the facilitator told us was that nobody ever wants a quarter-inch drill; people want a quarter-inch hole. They ask for a drill because they think that there is no other way to get what they want.

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Introducing Heidi Naylor’s Revolver (and also Happy Birthday to Us)

Cover design by the amazing D Christian Harrison

BCC Press is now one year old. On April 6, 2017, we published our first book, Steven Peck’s magnificent treatise Science the Key to Theology. Since then, we have published seven books and one translation, won awards, changed lives, and brought excellent books into the world. And there is more on its way.

In the coming twelve months, we will bring you exceptional memoirs by David Dollahite, Roger Terry, Keira Sloan Scholz, and Angela Liscom Clayton; Zina Nibley Petersen’s indescribably beautiful (k)Not about Love; Steven Peck’s new novel about climate change, King Lear, and killer robots; The Book of Abish, Mette Harrison’s sequel to The Book of Laman. And, also by Mette, an incredible new book about Vampires in the Temple. Yes, we’re going there. Vampires. In. The. Temple. And coming very soon, we will bring you the Little Purple Book of Mormon Women for Ethical Government. And so much more. [Read more…]

Finding Religious Joy

This guest post comes from Nathan Steiger, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia University and a friend of BCC.

Over two years ago I stepped into a synagogue on the Jewish sabbath in New York City and witnessed one of the most foreign religious rituals I’d ever encountered: dancing. Twenty-year old men, eighty-year old women, whole families with preschool-age children, dozens of people all holding hands, dancing and singing with liberated gusto. That experience, along with many others, radically changed my life. [Read more…]

Joseph Smith Papers: Documents Volume 7 Teaser

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has just released volume 7 of its Documents Series. Recently, Steve Evans and I sat down with three of the editors of the volume and had the chance to ask them about it. Volume 7 covers the Nauvoo foundational era, specifically between September 1839 and January 1841.

Left to right, editor Chris Blythe, lead editor Matthew Godfrey, editor Spencer McBride, associate editorial manager, Riley M. Lorimer

Since these volumes focus on Joseph Smith’s “papers” —the representation of events is naturally focused on Smith. Other personalities who are mentioned in the documents get some time in the extensive explanatory notes and an important Biographical Directory. Maps, geographical and organizational charts, source notes and chronologies are just some of the many materials that assist the reader with context.
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