“A man among the gentiles”: Questioning our assumptions.

In the early chapters of the Book of Mormon, Nephi sees a vision of, among other things, events that readers have interpreted as the then future history of the colonization of the Americas. At one point in his telling of the vision, Nephi says this:

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles, who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters; and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man; and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren, who were in the promised land.” (1 Nephi 13:12)

Traditionally, readers have interpreted this verse as a prediction of the voyages of Christopher Columbus. And some latter-day saints have felt the need to defend Columbus from “political correctness” when Columbus’ serious sins (slavery, brutal oppression, etc.) are discussed.
[Read more…]

Columbus and Accountability

“And I looked and beheld a man among the Gentiles,
who was separated from the seed of my brethren by the many waters;
and I beheld the Spirit of God, that it came down and wrought upon the man;
and he went forth upon the many waters, even unto the seed of my brethren,
who were in the promised land.”

1 Nephi 13:12

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 (source: http://tinyurl.com/zrkzztj)

Posthumous portrait of Christopher Columbus by Sebastiano del Piombo, 1519 (source: http://tinyurl.com/zrkzztj)

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an opinion piece by David Tucker, a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University in Ohio, in which Dr. Tucker is willing to go part of the distance in reducing cultural adoration of Christopher Columbus. After acknowledging many of the negative consequences for native peoples of Columbus’s actions — and rehabilitating Columbus by arguing that we only condemn him now because of the European values that he brought to the New World, primarily the notion of Equality (?!) enshrined in the Declaration of Independence — Dr. Tucker states “[t]his Columbus Day we need no triumphalism. Let it be a day instead to ponder the human capability for good and evil and wonder how we might encourage more of the good.”[1]

I don’t think this goes far enough in dealing with Columbus’s legacy — especially for me as a Mormon who has so deeply internalized the Church’s teachings about the importance of the principle of accountability in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But for the past few years, I’ve posted my thoughts about Columbus and Columbus Day on social media and I’ve received substantial push back on my criticism of Columbus, specifically from Mormon friends and family. Again, today, I’m aware that many are claiming that denouncing Columbus is just an example of political correctness run amok. [Read more…]

Reframing the Question:  Moving Beyond Working v. Stay-at-Home Mothers

Natalie Brown is a former BCC blogger. 

It’s common in conversations among Mormons to hear people ask whether a woman works or is a stay-at-home mother (SAHM).  This question may come from a desire to simply understand a person, including their interests and how they spend their time.  But Mormons may also ask this question as a proxy to gauge other values, such as liberal or conservative political beliefs, faithfulness, conformity, educational attainment or economic status.  The problem with this question, aside from the discomfort it may give the women being judged and labeled, is that the distinction between working and stay-at-home mothers is often a false dichotomy, and these terms are a poor proxy for any values we may see behind them. [Read more…]

MHA 2017 Call for Papers Deadline Extended

Dear friends of the Mormon History Association:

Due to recent requests, we have extended the deadline for proposals for the 2017 MHA conference to be held in the St. Louis, Missouri metro area, to 1 November 2016. Please see the Call for Papers HERE for additional information. We will still send notification of acceptance or rejection by 15 December 2016.
[Read more…]

Sunday Poem: “Graces from My Life”

Mornings late abed, melancholy rain,
  feathered-hope graffiti, love’s youthful churn,
Boston flanerie, torque of longing’s strain,
  son in darkness, autumn, a sermon’s turn;
lungs’ gulp, bereaved embrace, vanilla pine,
  brokenness reknit, hands-uplifted prayer,
midnight thoughts, intimations of design,
  a chancel choir, friends’ laughs, the weight of care;
fire-purpled evening, remade love, a verse,
  motets’ weave and rise, raveled-open soul,
released Anfechtung, church-tears, mem’ry’s nurse,
  morning quiet, mountains, the hoped-for whole;
pilgrim’s aching, first Herbert poem’s heart’s-ease,
stubborn bones, a kindly thought, sacred peace.

Jackson County and the Specter of Slave Rebellion

6092241_orig

So this morning I went to see The Birth of a Nation, which is about the Nat Turner-led slave rebellion in Virginia in August of 1831. He and a group of other slaves rebelled against their masters, killing about 60 men, women and children over the course of two days, when the rebellion was put down. Nat evaded capture for a couple of months, but eventually was taken and hanged. White mobs killed about 200 blacks in retribution, many of whom had had nothing to do with the rebellion. [Read more…]

Making Your Calling and Election Sure, II. Mormonism and Intelligent Design: A Historical Meander.

A recent article in the New Era made me think about the Latter-day Saint version of the science-religion interface in the Joseph Smith period. And how that may have influenced the LDS thought tradition in the twentieth century.

The intellectual world of Joseph Smith’s

Joseph Smith repeated the traditions and to some degree the  science of his day. Just ask him why people got sick in Nauvoo. It was the smell man!

Joseph Smith repeated the traditions and to some degree the science of his day. Just ask him why people got sick in Nauvoo. It was the smell man!

era was marked by a near uniform belief in intelligent design. The Enlightenment of Locke, Newton and the so-called Founding Fathers of America was marked by a deep belief in the rational design of the Universe, Christian or not. Critics of Christianity, or American non-believers in general usually still passed muster as Deists. If the latter didn’t go for the Genesis account, they still saw the universe as the creation of a God, however impersonal and remote, lacing together a syste that ran of its own accord, no intervention required.[1]
[Read more…]

His Own

john-1-11

So I’m reading the assignment for GD lesson 37 this Sunday, and at 3 Nephi 9:16a I read this:

I came unto my own, and my own received me not.

[Read more…]

What We Didn’t Hear at #LDSConf

On Saturday and Sunday, we heard messages on a myriad of topics. Some resonated deeply with me; others, not so much. But (nearly) as interesting to me as what we heard was what we didn’t: nobody told us to vote for (or against) Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Jill Stein, Gary Johnson, or even Evan McMullin.[fn1]

So what? you rightfully ask. Does the church ever endorse candidates?

No. But last Sunday was a special day:  [Read more…]

Samuel the Lamanite and Who We Call a Prophet #BOM2016

We and the prophet have no language in common. To us the moral state of society, for all its stains and spots, seems fair and trim; to the prophet it is dreadful. So many deeds of charity are done, so much decency radiates day and night; yet to the prophet satiety of the conscience is prudery and flight from responsibility. Our standards are modest; our sense of injustice tolerable, timid; our moral indignation impermanent; yet human violence is interminable, unbearable, permanent…. The prophet’s ear perceives the silent sigh.—Abraham Heschel, The Prophets

I was well into my 30s before I realized that Latter-day Saints use the word “prophet” in places that most religious people don’t. For us, it is a specific office within a well-organized hierarchy. We rightly apply the term to the President of the Church and to the other fourteen members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve. Someone is a “prophet” by virtue of their standing within an institution. [Read more…]

Elder Meurs: The Sacrament Can Help us Become Holy. #ldsconf

peter-f-meurs-large

Elder Meurs.

In the Sunday Morning conference session, Elder Peter Meurs [1] spoke about worshiping God through the sacrament. (Watch his talk here.) This is a theme that church leaders have been hitting pretty hard for over the past year.
[Read more…]

Forms of Being Broke, Ranked

Apparently there are some super-boring videos on the YoobTube these days in which some LDS Church leaders are overhead using the term “Church Broke.” This has inevitably led to much speculation about the true meaning of the term, and Steve and I decided the time was right to seek revelation on the matter. Unfortunately, the inspiration didn’t clarify the phrase in question, but instead just highlighted many other forms of being Broke that we humans are likely to encounter during our mortal sojourn.

As always, these rankings are authoritative. [Read more…]

NMAAHC:Reflections

2016ak11_221Yesterday, I had the privilege of attending the new National Museum of African American Arts and Culture, the latest and long-anticipated Smithsonian museum on the National Mall in Washington DC.

Like all the Smithsonian museums on the National Mall, entrance is free. However, due to demand and crowds, and the design of the museum, you do need to request a timed and dated pass for entry to the NMAAHC. Currently, they anticipate this to be the case through spring 2017. If you’re going to be in DC, request your pass here. They’re still free, and there is a standby line, if you don’t have a pass and want to try your luck. [Read more…]

E. Ballard: Where should I go? #ldsconf

In the Sunday Morning session of October Conference, Elder Ballard gave an impassioned sermon asking those who are considering leaving the church to consider what they are leaving behind. This talk feels particularly relevant to me, as I am currently feeling a lot of pressure, internal and external, to clarify my relationship with the church. I haven’t been to church recently and, even though it is not for the typical reasons one doesn’t go to church, I still feel less Mormon for it. I may well be stopping and catching my breath, as Elder Ballard suggests, or I may be on my way down another path. I honestly can’t tell right now. [Read more…]

Nelson: “I Have Learned to Suffer With Joy” #LDSConf

During the winter of 1838, Mormons were forced to flee from Missouri’s infamous extermination order. On one freezing cold night, Eliza Snow and her family stayed in an overcrowded, underinsulated log cabin. In recalling that night, Pres. Snow wrote:

Not a complaint was heard—all were cheerful, and judging from appearances, strangers would have taken us to be pleasure excursionists rather than a band of gubernatorial exiles. That was a very merry night. None but saints can be happy under every circumstance.

We have a long history of our ancestors and/or church predecessors being happy in what were frankly horrendous circumstances; if they could be happy freezing in a log cabin in the Missouri winter, I should be happy in my modern comfortable situation, right? In fact, I may feel like I have a religious obligation to be happy.  [Read more…]

E. Cook: Get It In Gear, and Just Serve #ldsconf

Image result for just serveThis little gem of a talk was by E. Carl Cook, not the apostle E. Quentin Cook. He starts by talking about some obscure method of driving old-timey vehicles called “putting it in compound” that I admit was a bit confusing to me since all I have to do to give my car torque is hit the “torque” button in the mid-dash console (it’s a Juke), but the gist of his analogy was, as Paul said, that we are the body of Christ, and we all work together to do God’s will. When you have things (or people) working together, they are stronger than one working alone. Or at least that’s what I think he was saying.

He very humanely pointed out that serving in the church can be daunting for various reasons: [Read more…]

General Priesthood Session. Dieter F. Uchtdorf: Learning from Alma and Amulek. #ldsconf

Alma the younger was a talented man by Mormon’s lights, a talent that followed the Pauline Path: he “actively opposed his father and sought to destroy the Church . . . he experienced great success.”

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency

Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Second Counselor in the First Presidency


Like Paul, Alma’s life changed course with a heavenly vision.

President Uchtdorf:

When Alma emerged from this experience, he was a changed man. From that moment on, he devoted his life to undoing the damage he had caused. He is a powerful example of repentance, forgiveness and enduring faithfulness . . . Every citizen of the Nephite nation must have known Alma’s story. The Twitters, Instagrams, and Facebooks of his day would have been filled with images and stories about him. He probably appeared regularly on the cover of the Zarahemla Weekly and was the subject of editorials and network specials. In short, he was perhaps the most well-known celebrity of his day.

[Read more…]

Christofferson: God’s Love Is Unconditional #ldsconf

*Breathe in*
God’s love is unconditional.
*Breathe out*
*Breathe in*
God’s love is unconditional.
*Breathe out*

Say it with me. [Read more…]

Practical Home Teaching

home-teaching-to-help-craig-dimond-c-iri

It finally happened. I had sort of given up hope that it would ever happen. But it just did, moments ago, in Elder Holland’s talk during the Priesthood session of GC. [Read more…]

Stevenson: the memory of Mary #LDSConf

We remember young Mary Elizabeth Rollins for grabbing scattered pages of the Book of Commandments and running into the fields. As Elder Stevenson shared, there is much more to remember than this admittedly memorable act. She left for Zion where she became a regular interpreter of glossolalia. Her mother, ever faithful, anointed and healed her in Nauvoo, and angels ministered to her in her greatest moment of anxiety (when Joseph Smith proposed to her). She eventually wended her way West, but not immediately with Brigham Young. It was Young who confessed to her that “he would give anything to have seen what I had.”

If Mary is someone you would like to remember, here (PDF) are some excerpts from her autobiography. She was a great human being.

Elder Cornish’s Theology of Grace for a Diverse Church #LDSconf

Elder Cornish’s talk participates in the LDS turn toward grace that’s come in the wake of Stephen Robinson’s Believing Christ. So, I’m going to reflect briefly on how exactly he understands the theology of grace. He begins with what superficially seems like a classic Calvinist moment of redemption, where an external force lifts him from utter despair about the adequacy of his own capacity and efforts. He was a young medical intern, faced with a case of pediatric pneumonia he had no idea how to address, when a senior resident came along and believed in him even when he didn’t believe in himself. The manner of salvation isn’t quite Calvinist, though: instead of affirming the election of an omnipotent God, the resident affirmed Cornish’s own capacities. [Read more…]

“Tell me a story, Daddy!”

dsc_1657Despite growing up during Peak Journal [fn1], I didn’t start keeping one until we had a baby. It begins when she is 17 days old: “Right now we are in [the baby’s] room crying. We are in here so [my wife] can sleep for a couple of hours.” Two weeks later: “Overall, she doesn’t sleep as much as I expected newborns would. Last night she slept on my shoulder for about four hours. I had picked her up to give [my wife] a break and thankfully [she] took the opportunity to sleep. It’s not especially restful, but if [she] is quiet I’ll take what I can get.” [Read more…]

Movie Review: THE NEXT DOOR

I saw GOD’S ARMY in a theater in New York City after it came out. Richard Dutcher brought a level of realism to missionary work that I’d never seen before in a movie by an LDS filmmaker, let alone in one about missionary work. And there have been many good LDS movies since that time, including by Dutcher but also others: Hess, Little, Batty, Nelson and more. I believe it is very wrong to say that the best days of Mormon cinema are behind us. My belief is reconfirmed by THE NEXT DOOR, a short film by Barrett Burgin, a young filmmaker at BYU. You can view the trailer here. [Read more…]

Reverence, Not Faith, Is the Key to an Expansive Mormonism

Jon Ogden is the author of When Mormons Doubt: A Way to Save Relationships and Seek a Quality Life. We’re glad to have him as our guest.

“If you desire peace in the world, do not pray that everyone share your beliefs. Pray instead that all may be reverent.” — Paul Woodruff

One morning in southern California, my missionary companion and I were biking to an appointment when we saw a man sitting on his front porch. Like any good missionaries, we stopped to talk to him.

The moment we stopped, the man called out that he didn’t want anything to do with us.

At the time, comments like that only emboldened me.

I told him that we wanted to share the most important message in the world — that God had once again called a prophet to speak to everyone on Earth.

He just stared at me. “You believe that?”

“I don’t believe it,” I said. “I know it.”

“You know it?” he asked. “How do you know it?” [Read more…]

We Don’t Need Another Hiroo: Holdout Soldiers in the Culture Wars

dtmanage-000000020140117155220181-1This picture was taken on March 9, 1974–the day that Lieutenant Hiroo Onda officially surrendered his sword and his rifle and acknowledged the defeat of the Japanese Empire in World War II–nearly 30 years after the formal surrender on September 2, 1945.

Lieutenant Onda was the most famous of the zanryū nipponhei, or the Japanese holdouts—fighters in the Pacific theater who either did not hear or did not believe that the war was over. They stayed on their assigned islands for years—sometimes even decades—and followed the orders that they were given. Ondoo was the head of a small guerrilla band on the Philippine island of Lubang. He and the others spent most of the time between 1944 and 1974 hiding in the mountains and trying to survive, descending into the villages only to look for food and occasionally burn a rice field in the name of “harassing the enemy.”  [Read more…]

A Loveletter to BCC’s Single Readers

Last weekend, Sister Bonnie Oscarson spoke at women’s conference and made, what I assume she knew would be, a controversial statement.  “We fail to teach our young women that preparing to be a mother is of utmost importance because we don’t want to offend those who aren’t married, those who can’t have children, or to be seen as stifling future choices.”  A longtime reader contacted me and wondered whether BCC would address this line.  I asked her what she would say, and her response broke a little piece of my heart.  “I’m not exactly sure how to articulate how much that hurt and why, exactly.  Maybe the gist of it is that *I* feel like I’m part of the “us” but keep getting reminded that no, I’m not.  Since I don’t have children, the thing of utmost importance in the Church, I went from being less valuable to my community to some kind of enemy to my community.”

Here is the sermon I wish our reader had heard: [Read more…]

Book Review: Joseph Smith’s Seer Stones by Michael Hubbard MacKay and Nicholas J. Frederick.

5159794_keyartLike many things, this book is a product of its time. As the Joseph Smith Papers project has continued its work, increased availability of early sources has inspired renewed conversations about Joseph Smith’s seer stones. In 2013, the church published a Gospel Topics essay about the Book of Mormon translation, which discussed Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones. Last year, the church released photographs of a stone believed to be one of Joseph Smith’s seer stones, and published an short article in the Ensign with the photographs that attempted to put the use of seer stones in context for church members. Seer stones are having a bit of a moment.

Taking advantage of this moment, a pair of BYU religion professors, Mike MacKay and Nick Frederick, have written this book as a “friendly introduction” [1] to Joseph Smith’s seer stones. This is MacKay’s second book that has grown out of research from the Joseph Smith Papers. He wrote the first, From Darkness Unto Light: Joseph Smith’s Translation and Publication of the Book of Mormon, with Gerrit Dirkmaat, another BYU religion professor who, like MacKay, has worked on the Joseph Smith Papers project. It was published by the BYU Religious Studies Center in 2015, not long before the church released the seer stone photographs. That first book is basically a longer, more detailed, and free-ranging version of the 2013 Gospel Topics essay on the Book of Mormon translation. In a similar way, this book could be considered a longer, more detailed version of the October 2015 seer stones article. [Read more…]

You Want the Church to Be a Corporation. Really.

I blame Time for the whole "LDS Inc." movement.

I blame Time for the whole “LDS Inc.” movement.

The other day, our own Aaron B. posted this on Facebook:

The single DUMBEST criticism of the LDS Church is the claim that “it’s a business, not a church”, or “it’s a corporation, not a church”. Obviously it’s both …[fn1]

I’ll confess that, like Aaron, I’ve never been particularly impressed by the implication that somehow corporate organization is antithetical to spirituality. After a discussion with one of Aaron’s friends, though, I think I kind of understand where some who object to its corporate status are coming from.  [Read more…]

General Women’s Meeting: ‘Cause you gotta have faith (and also charity)

Beknownst to some, and unbeknownst to others, Saturday was the first session of General Conference, the semi-annual General Women’s Meeting. Did you go? I did. I wouldn’t have, but I knew that if I didn’t, no one else would recap the meeting for BCC and its gentle readers. Once again, I am working from notes, not transcripts, so please forgive any inaccuracies, unattributed quotes, etc., usw. I am just trying to give you a general feel of this General Meeting. Interestingly enough, there were no special video presentations breaking up the talks this time. I wonder if they’ve completely given up on making the meeting eight-year-old-friendly. Or maybe the General A/V Guy was sick. Your guess is as good as mine. On to the meeting!

For those of you not already in the know (or the beknownstment), Linda K. Burton, General Relief Society President, was conducting. The First Presidency was in the house. (Like, the whole thing. All three guys.) A choir made up of women and teenage women (no “tween” women that I could see) dressed in various shades of pink that looked like a sea of Pepto Bismol from afar (but not in a bad way) graced us with a rousing rendition of “Arise, O Glorious Zion.” (Actually, I don’t recall if it was rousing or not, exactly. I just like to say “rousing rendition,” particularly for songs that begin with the word “Arise.” I am resisting the temptation to make further plays on words. You, of course, may do what you feel. It’s not like we’re in the chapel or anything.) Bonnie Goodliffe was at the organ. [1] [Read more…]

Joseph Smith’s Religious Liberty, and Ours

One of the key themes that permeates the recently-released Council of Fifty minutes is the issue of religious liberty. (Note how the LDS Newsroom frames the discussion here, for instance.) In some ways this may sound odd, given that the council revolved around theocratic principles that appear ill-fit for modern conceptions of political order. In other ways it seems convenient, as religious liberty has become the dominant rallying cry for the LDS hierarchy who have frequently and loudly denounced what they believe to be an “attack” on the principle. (They recently unveiled a new website on the topic; I’m sure we’ll hear plenty about it at General Conference this next week.) And to a degree, the connection between the Council of Fifty’s minutes to questions of religious liberty are justified, as that is how Joseph Smith and the other council members discussed it themselves. (See my write-up here.) But the concept of “religious liberty” has never possessed a staid definition, as it has often evolved according to different contexts and concerns. Understanding how Smith and his successors conceived the topic is a crucial–and often confusing–step, but it may give meaning to how we have defined it within the LDS tradition ever since.

[Read more…]