Announcing Ali, the Iraqi by Joshua Sabey

Later Dad will tell me why he believes it is right for Ali to remain Muslim. He will invite me into his room and sit me on the edge of the bed, his computer across his lap, and read a line from his journal: 

Ali has an old faith and an old country and we have a new faith and new country. If we were to convert all of the Muslims, that would be the end of us. Their culture is too old, we would be the ones that were assimilated. We might not even know it but we would become Islam like Christianity became Rome. 

If you live in Utah, then you have no excuse: get yourself to Writ & Vision in Provo tonight at 6:00 for the launch of Josh Sabey’s new book, Ali: The Iraqi. If you don’t live in Utah, you may still be able to catch a flight, or start driving, or just move there. It will be worth it. This book is that good.

[Read more…]

The Gospel of Dirty Hands

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? (Matthew 15:1-3. NRSV)

Both Matthew and Mark tell the story of the dirty hands. It is one of the most baffling conversations between Jesus and a group of interlocutors—in this case, a group of Pharisees—who challenge the disciples in the name of the dominant religion. Both Gospel writers take us quickly through the conversation because we should already have a sense of the basic idea—which is that (pace Confucius) performing correct rituals is not the same as being a good person. It is not even close.

[Read more…]

Experience of Easter

Growing up in a very orthodox, orthoprax LDS family in the 90s and 00s, I experienced Easter as a rather awkward holiday. We had no Easter bunny, Easter baskets, or anything else that would distract our focus from Jesus; our few activities (egg dyeing, egg hunt) were on Saturday, prefaced by how they were Not The Reason for Easter. 

And so broke Easter morning. We ate our colorful eggs reverently. We got ready for church, sometimes in new clothes (thanks to my mom), but usually not. When there were Easter programs at church, they often focused on Joseph Smith and the Restoration. After church, we stayed in church clothes (like every Sunday), watched church videos (like every Sunday) and got ready for a big dinner (like every Sunday). We’d eat ham instead of pot roast, on fancy china instead of Sunday dishes. We ate a spring-themed dessert (courtesy of my mom) and, for family scripture study, we paused wherever we were in the Standard Works to read the Easter story. 

Conceptually, Easter was A Big Deal – the holiest day of the year, as we reminded each other – our focus solemnly dedicated to “what Jesus did for us.” But that was both as far as it went and what we did every Sunday. So, in practice, Easter was just another Sunday, except with a little extra guilt, a different scripture story, and an extra fork and spoon at each place setting.

[Read more…]

Easter Weekend, 35 Years On

As it is Easter, I am returning, as I have many times before, to what is, in my opinion, the finest, most powerful, and most Christian personal essay which Mormon-Americana has yet produced: Eugene England’s “Easter Weekend.” It was originally printed in the Spring 1988 issue of Dialogue, and so is 35 years old this Easter season. You can read the whole thing here. I will include some excerpts below.

Gene has been dead for over 20 years, but his legacy lives on. I didn’t know him well, though there are many members of the BCC community who did. But whether you knew him well or only a little or not at all, we all can re-read his words, and look forward to someday hearing his voice again.

[Read more…]

Celebrate the Birthday of the King Follett Sermon with a New Book from BCC Press

One hundred and seventy nine years ago, on April 7, 1844, Joseph Smith delivered a sermon to commemorate the death of King Follett, a close friend of his who died a month earlier in a construction accident. Smith spoke for two and a half hours to an audience of around 20,000 people. No exact transcription of the discourse remains, but several extensive reports, mixing quotation, paraphrase, and commentary, survived.

[Read more…]

Singing A New Song

About two years ago, I wrote a piece for Square Two Journal in which I advocated for a move away from military/war imagery in LDS religious discourse. I suggested that even though the Abrahamic tradition has always included such language, the LDS church’s contemporary message is one of “healing for all of creation that is grounded in God’s love” and that “military/war language detracts from what we are actually called to do as Christians generally and as the ‘true and living church’ specifically.” I continue to believe that.

[Read more…]

Waiting for the Temple

We are rapidly approaching the two-year anniversary of the announcement of the Vienna temple: the 4th of April 2021. I remember the day well. We were all watching conference from home during those pandemic times, so I wasn’t able to see the immediate reactions of my ward, but I’m sure audible gasps echoed around living rooms all around the country. The excitement was felt as far away as North America. People I hadn’t heard from in years—mostly former missionaries I had served with in the Austria Vienna mission in the mid-1990s but also family members and friends—reached out to share felicitations on an occasion that seemed to validate a lot of hard work by a lot of people over decades.

As a missionary, I recall members in a Vienna suburb showing us a map where they thought the temple was going to be built, even labeling it “temple square” (Tempelplatz). I don’t recall how they had determined that that would be the place. It was just an empty field in an unremarkable part of the country, far enough from Vienna that you could afford to build a house and raise a family but not so far that you couldn’t commute into the city for work. There were already a number of member families living there, so maybe someone had purchased the lot and intended to donate it to the church when the time was ripe. See below for details:

At any rate, a temple is something members have been working towards for a very long time.

[Read more…]

Welcome M. David Huston!

By Common Consent is pleased to welcome M. David Huston to our perma-blogger ranks. He’s been writing guest posts faster than our ability to publish them, so we opted to give him WordPress credentials. Please join us in welcoming him.

M. David Huston lives and works in the Washington, DC metro area. He and his wife have four children, and the children have three fish, two snails, two bearded dragons, and a dog. Though he spent most of his youth west of the Mississippi River, he has lived on the east coast the last two decades, and will likely remain on the east coast for the foreseeable future. His bachelor’s degree from Utah State University (Logan, UT) and master’s degree from American University (Washington, DC) gave him the skills to pay the bills. His master’s degree from Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, DC) gave him a foundation and vocabulary for deepened theological investigation and spiritual engagement with the Divine.

He is a long-time reader, and previous guest blogger, of By Common Consent. He has also written for poetry, international affairs, and other LDS-related publications. In his spare time, he enjoys the Grateful Dead and other Dead-adjacent musicians and bands, as well as a variety of other artists in a multitude of other genres. He is a deep believer in the power of community, the criticality of relationship, the essentiality of neighborliness, the transformative capacity of covenant, and the all-encompassing and redeeming nature of love. 

The theory of ethical miracles and why it is dumb

We’ve all been there. You are sitting in some Sunday School or Auxiliary lesson and some chucklehead goes on and on about how they are so obedient that if God asked them to kill someone, they would. They think they are the height of righteousness because they are chomping at the bit to get some blood on their hands. These people are psychopaths; avoid them if possible. But sometimes they influence people, so here are a few things to help.

[Read more…]

Lessons from Loaves and Fishes

I normally avoid the “horizontal harmony” model of New Testament commentary—analysis that takes pieces out of each gospel and strings them together into a single narrative that supposedly tells a single story. That’s just not how narratives work. Each gospel was created to be a complete story in its own right. Each evangelist had different doctrinal and rhetorical objectives, and we miss these when we smush them all together or treat the New Testament like a jigsaw puzzle with nicely interlocking pieces spread across four different boxes.

[Read more…]

Crosses to Lay Down

Guest author Elizabeth Cranford Garcia’s most recent work has appeared in Tar River Poetry, Portland Review, CALYX, Tinderbox Poetry, and Anti-Heroin Chic, is the recipient of the 2022 Banyan Poetry Prize, and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. She is the author of Stunt Double and serves as the current Poetry Editor for Dialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought. Read more of her work at

My four-year-old daughter is leaning her whole body over my arm from the back seat, waiting to be dropped off at preschool, reaching to press the “skip” button on the music for the tenth time—a need she’s developed in my habit of allowing her to choose the music in order to persuade her to go to school at all. I’m hungry, eager to get a bite after drop-off, having chosen to exercise, shower, and put on makeup this morning instead of eat (because all my experience with mothering three kids has taught me that to skip my workout will lead to late afternoon burnout, tipping the domino that leads to a depressed and grumpy mommy at bedtime)—and my daughter’s body pressing in on me suddenly evokes a barrage of irritation at all the ways in which I’m expected—by them, by whatever idealized image I have in my head—to go without, to put myself second, in order to mother them. That when I metaphorically raise my hand to protest (“Could you please fill my glass of ice water at the dinner table after I’ve laid it with homemade hot food?”), it’s like I’m suddenly asking for an appendage.

[Read more…]

Why Jesus’s two great commandments can’t be at odds with each other

The New Testament offers strong evidence that the two great commandments are inseparable. Here’s the story:

Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?”

Jesus said unto him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:35–40)

Jesus responds to the lawyer’s attempt to trip him up by referencing the most widely-known excerpt from the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 6, or the Shema, the prayer recited morning and evening by practicing Jews to this day.

[Read more…]

The Relief Society Dinner that Spontaneously Combusted

Last Friday our ward celebrated the Relief Society’s 181st anniversary with an ambitious program involving all the organizations: the Relief Society prepared a play in three acts recounting the founding; the Primary was tasked with sewing bonnets for all the women; the Young Women and Young Men decorated the cultural hall; the bishopric set up the sound reinforcement; and the elders quorum was asked to cater dinner in accordance with guidance provided by the Relief Society.

The central feature of the dinner menu was to be roast chicken. There were a lot of moving parts for the dinner, so I decided to delegate the side dishes and deserts to members of the quorum and took responsibility for the main dish myself.

A week before the Relief Society’s gala event, I placed an order for 20 roast chickens at the grocery store deli just down the street from the church to be ready for pickup a half hour before the dinner was scheduled to begin. The same deli had taken care of twice as many chickens for our Christmas party, so I figured they were up to the task. Deli staff were happy to take my order, and when I followed up in person on Wednesday they gave me two thumbs up—everything was on track.

[Read more…]

“Let both grow together until the harvest”: The Kingdom Parables and the Fallacy of Exclusion

“It is not possible for man to sever the wheat from the tares, the good fish from the other frie; that must be the Angels Ministery at the end of mortall things.”—John Milton, Aeroipagetica

The Kingdom of God is the ultimate ineffable concept: a kind of society that has never existed before and that contradicts every established theory of social or political development. Even its name, “kingdom,” implies a human domination structure that is completely alien to the thing described. To inspire his followers with the possibilities of this society, Jesus must first find ways to describe something for which his audience has no point of reference. This is the central narrative problem of the New Testament: how to eff the ineffable.

The solution to this problem comes in the form of the “Kingdom Parables,” a subset of New Testament parables designed to illustrate some element of the Kingdom. The thirteenth chapter of Matthew is the mother lode of Kingdom Parables. In this one chapter, Jesus gives eight parables, fully interprets two of them, and explains the reasons that he speaks in parables in the first place.

[Read more…]

In Which I Wonder ‘How to Teach my Girls about Tithing.’

I remember going to my first tithing settlement. In fairness, it may not have been my first, but it was the first I remember. I was probably about ten years old, just old enough to have a couple dollars to my name. I had paid tithing on those dollars and was able to confirm that the amount of tithing the bishop had recorded was correct. He also complimented me on my ability to know what ten percent of some amount of money is. 

I was very smart. 

It’s an objectively unremarkable memory, but it’s one I look on with nostalgia. I have described my longing for my childhood Mormonism elsewhere. But looking back on my church I experienced then and the one I live with now reminds me a little of Christmas as a child verses Christmas as an adult. It’s nice, but it was better when I didn’t know where the presents came from. The magic of youth conference with simply never be captured in Elders’ Quorum. And the magic of tithing settlement is long gone. 

I say that having experienced the sort of miracle stories we sometimes share about tithing. Once when I was newly married we were unsure how we were going to pay rent and after paying tithing found a check we had neglected to cash. Maybe it was coincidence. It’s also possible that it’s a coincidence that I’ve given value; one that could still draw me closer to God. Or maybe God was helping us along. 

In the time since that tithing miracle my wife has left the church and we have divorced. To that end, my children’s spiritual education has fallen squarely on my shoulders and I feel this weight frequently. 

And now, I don’t know how to talk to my children about tithing. 

I hate that. 

All things being equal, I want to believe in tithing. I’m an educator. I worry about money daily. I am blessed to have a family who can support me when I come up short, and I fully acknowledge my relative privilege. But still, I could use the blessings tithing is supposed to provide. 

More than that, I want to be a good Latter-day Saint. 

I want to be able to answer the temple recommend questions with fidelity. To use our vernacular, I want to be fully worthy. But I haven’t been able to tithe since the original whistleblower revelations on the church’s wealth. It feels strange to say, but paying tithing hasn’t felt right. 

This isn’t because I’m angry the church is rich. It’s because tithing no longer feels moral. I don’t know how to justify giving money I would otherwise spend on my children to an organization that will seemingly do nothing more than invest that money, for the purpose of making their pot of money bigger. An organization that despite its claims of great humanitarian spending continues to prioritize enriching its coffers over going about doing good. And the more recent revelations concerning the deception surrounding these funds has hit me in a deep and vulnerable place. I feel brokenhearted. 

I feel spiritually used. 

What complicates all of this for me is I continue to love this organization. I wouldn’t be so broken about its deception if I didn’t. Being hurt by someone you love stings more than being hurt by someone you don’t. 

All in all, I feel the institutional church’s deceptions have put its members in a morally dubious situation. Is it right to continue to give money to the institutional church, at the expense of our families, when it doesn’t need the money and it not behaving ethically with the money?

At this time the question of tithing is one each of us members of the church will need to work out for ourselves, with reasonable and well-meaning people coming to differing solutions regarding what God requires of them. It is a question we need to wrestle with, and I believe the church needs to allow us room for spiritual deliberation. 

To that end, I believe it is time for the church to enact a new temple recommend policy, one that can have utility beyond this issue. 

There is no reason that the temple recommend interviews could not simply consist, in their entirety, of the last question: “Do you consider yourself worthy to enter the Holy Temple?” Shorting the interview to that question alone would allow each member to do the individual wrestling we all require without losing the temple’s very real blessings. It would signal to members of the church that the institutional church respects the spiritual wrestling of the membership and trusts their ability to work things out with God. At this moment, I believe that is a pastoral imperative. And I would appreciate being treated like an adult; with my own autonomy and gift of discernment.

The benefits of this approach would extend beyond this singular issue. I’ve written a book about how my religious OCD has affected my relationship with the restored church. With the issue of tithing, and all other issues relevant to temple worthiness, broadening this question would have saved me a lot of anxiety driven mental work and unending wondering about my worthiness. I am sure that would be the case for others, especially our young people. Additionally this approach could help us move past the issue of adults asking teenagers the about Law of Chastity which, even with a parent in the room, is still weird and (in my view) inappropriate. 

I still don’t know how I will talk to my daughters about tithing. I hope that I can resolve this issue within myself and, through my own spiritual due diligence, know how to move forward with their spiritual education. I am hopeful that my relationship with my Heavenly Father will get me to that place. But it would be made a little easier if the standard for temple worthiness they could grow up with would be one focused on accepting introspection rather than cosmic checklists. 

And it would be made much, much easier if tithing could truly be their own choice not one upon which the blessings of the temple are dependent. 

I only see benefits for this and many other components of the LDS temple goer’s experience. It’s a theologically easy change that would bring immediate and longterm positive effects. And while I don’t expect this to sway anyone…I do wish it would.

On Amicusing Religious Freedom

Over that last decade, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been party to at least 15 Supreme Court amicus briefs.[fn1] (How do I know? I searched Westlaw’s Supreme Court briefs database for “Latter-day Saints” and “Kirton McConkie.” Then I counted back to 2013. There may be more, but I think 15 gives me a pretty good sample.)[fn2]

Of these briefs, three are focused on opposing same-sex marriage. One addresses the definition of “sex” in Title IX. And at least twelve deal with questions of religious liberty (though there is some overlap—a number of the religious liberty briefs deal with religious liberty in the context of laws that limit discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.)

And what does the church say about religious liberty in its briefs? It paints religious liberty as absolutely critical. In its Carson brief, it explains that “the Religion Clauses protect the full range of religious freedom and not merely freedom from official discrimination.” In Groff, the church asserts that “Americans shouldn’t have to choose between their jobs and their faith.”

[Read more…]

Knocking at the Door

“CHRISTIANA began to knock . . . she knocked and knocked again. But instead of any that answered, they all thought that they heard as if a dog came barking upon them. A dog, and a great one too; and this made the women and children afraid. Nor durst they for awhile to knock any more, for fear the mastiff should fly upon them. . . . . Knock they durst not, for fear of the dog; go back they durst not, for fear that the keeper of that gate should espy them as they so went, and should be offended with them. At last they thought of knocking again, and knocked more vehemently than they did at the first. Then said the keeper of the gate, “Who is there? —John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, Part II

Even by the standards of 1678, the first volume of John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress is hostile to women. When the hero, Christian, discovers that he is among the elect, he turns his back on his wife and sets out to find salvation on his own. Though The Pilgrim’s Progress went on to become the bestselling book of the century (and of the next two centuries after that), readers expressed great dismay over the fate of Christian’s wife.

[Read more…]

2023 John Whitmer Historical Conference – Call for Papers

JWHA 2023 Conference Call for Papers

September 21-24

Fredericksburg, Texas

“Restoration Tales from Texas Dust”

Led by independent Apostle Lyman Wight, a number of early Latter Day Saints departed from their homes with the letters “GTT” (Gone to Texas). They were headed to the independent Republic of Texas on a colonizing mission and searching out a homeland for the Latter Day Restoration. These sturdy pioneers included many who became ancestors for thousands now found in Restoration movements. 

The Wight Colony dissolved with his passing in 1858. The remnants scattered throughout the country, from Bandea County, Texas, to San Bernardino, California, to villages on lands east and west of the Missouri River. But the sacrifices of these Texas pioneers live on in their descendants. The building of a new temple in Independence by the Community of Christ memorialized the Wightite temple built in Zodiac, Texas. Many of the descendants of the Wightite colony took their places in the leading quorums of Restoration movements in Missouri and built chapels throughout the Texas Hill Country.

The pioneering spirit of these Texas settlers lives on in the diversity of the Restoration today. In the decades following, Priesthood ordination was extended to include men of African ancestry in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and women and LGBTQ+ members in the Community of Christ. Global expansion among all branches of the Restoration generated a growing awareness of cultural differences and complex questions surrounding contextualization of the gospel.

[Read more…]

“Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice’”

In the ninth chapter of Matthew, Jesus seems to have gotten really fed up with people asking him why he eats with publicans and sinners. Here’s how we can tell. After he gives his standard answer to the question, he gives the guys who asked it a reading assignment:

And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at meat in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came and sat down with him and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners? But when Jesus heard that, he said unto them, They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick. But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Matt 9:10-13, KJV)

[Read more…]

Church Tax Exemption: An Explainer

It seems like every time there’s a church scandal—and especially one that concerns money—people start arguing that the scandal-ridden church (or even churches in general) should lose their tax exemptions. (If you want to see an example, search “mormon tax exemption” on Twitter.)

So how does tax exemption relate to churches, and especially churches that make a lot of money? I thought it might be worth a quick Explainer.

Why Are Churches Exempt, Anyway?

Fair questions. One reason is history—religious exemptions from taxation go back at least to the Bible. When Joseph imposed a 20% tax on Egyptian land, he exempted the priests from the tax.

Jump forward to the United States: while it hasn’t been a straight line, the exemption of at least some religious property from the property tax goes all the way back to Colonial days. And churches have been exempt from income taxation since the introduction of the modern federal income tax.

[Read more…]

Introducing Beehive Girl by Mikayla Orton Thatcher

You may know that the LDS Young Woman’s program was way cooler in the early 20th century than it has been during the lifetime of anyone alive today. But you probably didn’t know how cool it was. Mikayla Thatcher is here with Beehive Girl to tell you that it was amazing beyond your wildest dreams.

[Read more…]

Worthiness Interviews and Moral Authority

In our church, we don’t do confession. Nor do we offer absolution. The church has made the decision to not be an arbiter of your stance before god. However, we do have worthiness interviews.

[Read more…]

A Rainy Day Parable

Like many of you, I’ve been dismayed by the SEC scandal and trying to grapple with the fallout. [1] What does it say about our leaders? Why can’t we have a better accounting of our donations? Should I be a better steward of my donations and send them elsewhere? These are the types of questions I have when I consider this situation as a businessperson.

But as a Christian studying the New Testament, I can’t help but consider several of the parables as potentially illustrative. The first parable that came to mind when the huge quantity of money at Ensign Peak came to light was the parable of the talents. Talents are, as I hope we all know, units of money, not personal skills. It’s a parable about stewardship. In the parable, the Lord has given different quantities of money to his servants before he leaves on a trip: one receives 5 talents, another 2 talents, and the last one receives 1 talent. While their master is gone, the first two servants, knowing their master likes to make money from his money, invest their money and return double the value to their Lord. The third servant, whom the master wisely gave the least amount to, was afraid of the risk and hid the money, returning just the same amount back to the master. He was punished severely (outer darkness!) for being an unwise steward. The two who took risks and doubled their money by investing it were rewarded.

[Read more…]

A Hospital, Not a Museum

“A church is not a museum for the saints—it is a hospital for sinners.”
― Abigail Van Buren

Much of America’s national theology in the 20th century came from syndicated advice columns, including the sentence quoted above. Though the phrase has been attributed to Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, and many others, its first recorded use actually occurred in a 1964 column by Dear Abby A couple calling themselves only “Sinners” wrote Abby to say that they had been living together without the benefit of clergy for 25 years and did not feel worthy to go to church. “The very fact that you are troubled by the way you have been living proves that you are worthy,” Abby wrote. “A church is not a museum for the saints—it is a hospital for sinners.”

It would not have been out of place coming from Augustine or Chrysostom, though, because the sentiment (factoring out the modern origins of both hospitals and museums) comes directly from Jesus. When the Pharisees saw Jesus eating with tax collectors and sinners, they (quite logically) asked his disciples, “why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus heard them and said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Matt 9:11-12, NRSV).

[Read more…]

The Church, the Investment Advisor, and the SEC

By now, I assume you’ve heard that the church and Ensign Peak Advisors have settled an SEC investigation, with EPA agreeing to pay a $4 million fine and the church agreeing to pay a $1 million fine. (If you haven’t, you can see some excellent reportage on the issue here, here, and here, among other places.)

So what should practicing members make of this? I think it’s tough, and I’ll try to address that at the end of the post. But first, what exactly happened?

On Not Filing Form 13F

To understand what’s going on here, we need to start with Rule 13f. Under Rule 13f, investment managers must file a quarterly report with the SEC where (a) they “exercise investment discretion” over (b) accounts containing at least $100 million of (c) “13(f) securities.” (13(f) securities are basically stock traded on a securities exchange.)

Between 1997 (when it was formed) and 2019, Ensign Peak Advisors did not file a Form 13F.

But it’s not just that EPA didn’t file a 13F for 22 straight years. It’s that EPA, at church leaders’ behest, structured their investment to avoid the rules.

[Read more…]

Jesus Was a Funny Guy: The Laughing God of the Sermon on the Mount

For my money, the best joke in the New Testament is the one about the camel going through the eye of the needle (Matt 19:24). This is not a slam dunk. The bit about forgiving your brother 70 x 7 times is real hoot too (Matt 18:22), as is John the Baptist’s bit about God making children of Abraham out of rocks (Matt 3:9). But the camel through the eye of the needle joke gets all five stars. It is a first rate joke.

Here’s how you can tell that it is a good joke; for 2000 years, serious Christians with limited senses of humor have been making themselves look ridiculous by not getting it and trying to explain it away as a serious statement

[Read more…]

Salt and Light: Jesus on the Burdens of Chosenness

Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
—Matthew 13:13-16

The first thing we must grapple with in interpreting the “salt and light” passage from the Sermon on the Mount is that Jesus does not speak in the form of a command. He does not say, “be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” He does not even make it a suggestion, like, “it would be really cool if you guys could be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.” There is nothing in the grammar to suggest that he is instructing us to be salt or light at all.

[Read more…]

The Gospel According to ChatGPT

The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints is notorious for not having systematic theology. With a lay clergy and no divinity schools, our doctrine is often an endearing mishmash of scripture mastery verses, General Conference talks, correlation committee curriculum manuals, handbook policies, and Wasatch Front folklore.

James Talmage, B.H. Roberts, Bruce R. McConkie, Joseph Spencer, and others — all have endeavored to impose order on our smorgasbord of restoration theology. Whether they have succeeded is a different question.

So perhaps we can assess our progress by asking an AI! What does a computer trained on billions of books, scholarly articles, and internet posts think are the core tenets of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Let’s find out! Copy-pasted below are ChatGPT’s exact answers to the following questions.

Based on the phraseology of its responses, my suspicion is ChatGPT’s dataset relied heavily on official, modern Church sources — and not much else, yet. Although I threw in some more challenging questions at the end as a way to test that hypothesis.

Why are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints called Mormons?

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) are often referred to as “Mormons” because of their belief in the Book of Mormon as another testament of Jesus Christ. The Book of Mormon was published in 1830 by Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS Church, and it tells the story of ancient American civilizations and their belief in Jesus Christ.

The term “Mormon” is derived from the Book of Mormon, which was named after Mormon, a prophet-historian in one of the ancient American civilizations described in the book. Over time, the nickname “Mormon” became popular and was applied to members of the LDS Church.

[Read more…]

Greater Love Hath No Man: A Review

Click here for Eric Huntsman’s translations of New Testament passages created specifically for readers of this book.


Latter-day Saints have always been allergic to liturgy. This allergy has nothing to do with doctrine or even church policy. It is just our inheritance from the pragmatic Yankee Puritans and low-church English immigrants who first converted to Mormonism and created our worship patterns. For these Christians, there were very few things more important than not looking too much like Catholics.

Without any liturgical tradition, however, Latter-day Saints find themselves separated from much of the Christian world at times like the Advent season and Holy Week—the extended periods of devotion and reflection that surround the holidays of Christmas and Easter. We often lack knowledge about basic things that most Christians take for granted And we deprive ourselves of both the structure and the opportunities for reflection that come with a regular liturgical calendar. [Read more…]

Tacitus, Plutarch, and Truth: Thoughts on the Gospels and Genre

In yesterday’s post, I said that it simply didn’t matter whether or not John’s story about Jesus turning water to wine actually occurred because historical fact is not the kind of truth that John was telling. I also suggested that nobody in John’s day would have considered the question important because biography and documented history were not genres that people in the ancient world understood. These, of course, seem like the kind of flippant and faithless statement that academics are always making in order to tear down people’s faith. Like Korihor. Since that is actually not what I was trying to do, I wanted to do a follow-up.

[Read more…]