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.

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Nephi’s Lament and the Perils of Historiolatry #BOM2016

Nephi Son of Helaman lived in a world turned upside down. During the course of his lifetime, the Nephites went from being the good guys who had the Church of Christ in their midst to being the bad guys controlled by secret combinations, robbers, wealth-getters, and other doers of dastardly deeds. The Lamanites, on the other hand, had become the righteous ones—the ones who had to warn the Nephites to return to God. So it is certainly understandable that Nephi longed for better days: [Read more…]

In Which I Speak Out About Sexual Violence

Cross-posted from here. Tinesha is a 22 yr old BYU student studying sociology and French. She directs a nonprofit.

It happened so fast I wasn’t even certain it was really happening. I knew it had happened and yet somehow I couldn’t fully grasp if it was actually real. I kept asking myself did that just happen to me? I drove around. I listened to Taylor Swift’s Innocent. I cried and I cried and I cried and I pounded my palms against the steering wheel so hard I thought I was going to lose control and crash into the median on I-5.

[Read more…]

You’ve given this program a bad name

Brothers and sisters, it’s been a long time since I’ve posted at BCC, and I won’t lie to you: the neglect has been due to a lack of will and a lack of inspiration. But something’s been bothering me for a long time, and I’m finally going to write about it here because I’ve hit the breaking point. I can no longer pretend that I support the status quo. There’s something wrong in Mormondom, and it must change.

“Activity Days.”

I’m not talking about the Activity Days program itself, although goodness knows its shortcomings are legion. But baby steps, first things first: that name, “Activity Days,” is a horrible, stupid name for a program. Yes, the program itself desperately needs improvement. Activity Day leaders across the church do their best, working with miniscule budgets and almost zero guidance. But I think the name itself demonstrates why the program is so substandard. What a slapdash affair that planning meeting must have been. [1] [Read more…]

Around Our Kitchen Table: A Conversation About Roles


Recently, BCC received an impassioned response from a frequent reader on the feelings and topics arising from Mike Austin’s post on the gender imbalance at BYU’s Universities. The following is part of a dialogue between some of the women of BCC about how we handle and respond to the rhetoric and pressure of being a Mormon woman

Ms. Blue: The comments on Mike’s post about faculty gender balance at the BYUs have me overall feeling sort of crummy about myself. I was wondering how other women like yourselves are handling the comments, regardless of whether you work, stay at home, are married, are single, etc. [Read more…]

U2 Albums, Ranked

It is GENERALLY true that Steve and I are of one mind, not just with respect to the revelations we receive pertaining to Things, Ranked, but also with respect to the Rankable Things we seek revelation on. But every now and then, one of us feels the (probably unrighteous) desire to pursue our own agenda, and we end up ranking things that clearly have nothing to do with our personal salvation. For example, earlier today, Steve decided that U2’s discography needed to be ranked.

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

The Importance of Education

bucks_Jabari 13ofx spt wood

I have previously done two blog posts on our young, budding basketball star, Jabari Parker, the first on whether he should serve a mission and the second on whether he should jump to the NBA. I’m now going to make it a trilogy. [Read more…]

In Autumn, a Young Woman’s Fancy Turns to….Making Soup Stock?

About a year ago I gave myself permission to label all the activities that I waste my time on as “hobbies.”  Sudoku?  One of my hobbies now.  Driving randomly around on the county roads near my house, then seeing if I can get home without GPS even though all I see is cornfields?  (Weird) hobby.  Watching dog training videos, even though I don’t have a dog yet?  Hobby.  Teaching myself to cook Korean food based on internet bloggers?  Delicious, delicious hobby.  But when the temperature starts to dip (please start to dip soon), then all I want to do is make soup stock.  [Read more…]

Not Even Close: Faculty Gender Balance at the BYUs

Last week I had a conversation with a friend whose son had recently started at BYU-I and had yet to encounter a female professor. After 25 years in higher education, mainly in “the world,” I was a bit surprised. But then I remembered my own experience at BYU back in the 1980s: in four years of undergraduate study (as an English major no less), I had exactly one female professor. To my discredit, I had never before bothered to count. [Read more…]

Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families: Interview with the Author

One morning as I drove my kids to their swim lessons I overheard Remy, who is five, tell Thea, who is three, “I know four people: Heavenly Father, the Holy Ghost, Jesus and Heavenly Mother.”  I think they both must have nodded in agreement because I didn’t hear much else on the topic, but those few words Remy said so confidently have stayed with me.  I didn’t speak the words Heavenly Mother aloud until I was in college, and even then it felt subversive and a little rebellious.  I remember saying it in my testimony  and I’m sure it didn’t sound entirely natural as I still stumbled and paused at the words. Our_Heavenly_Family_Our_Earthly_Families.jpg

For me, much has changed since those college years, and I have so many brave people to attribute that to. Conversations, books, poems, lessons, artwork, encouragement all set me up to explore my own personal relationship with Her in my late 20’s and forward.   I love that my children have no need to feel subversive in speaking about Heavenly Parents.  They are being raised up by a community that is better becoming acquainted with Her.  I love many things about the new book Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spaulding with artwork by Caitlin Connolly but the invaluable space they offer to children to think about a Heavenly Mother in conjunction with a Heavenly Father, along with the books inclusivity of different types of families, makes me so happy to have it on my bookshelf. [Read more…]

Male Privilege and Priesthood Bias

One time, I had a close friend tell me that he was planning on moving to a large plot of land in Missouri with his in-laws. He liked and believed in his in-laws, whom he saw as living closely to gospel principles (embracing freedom by refusing to pay taxes to the federal government, for example). They were going to divide up the land in a manner similar to the United Order and have a three-person council to run everything: a president and two counselors. I’d like to believe that my snarky remarks that the place was going to go polygamist within six months or my constantly calling this place “the compound” convinced my friend to back out, but there was probably only one question I asked about the plan that gave him pause. Why was it, as he had explained to me, that the president of the presiding council had to be a man? [Read more…]

Book Review: Eric Huntsman, “Worship: Adding Depth to Your Devotion”

Worship: Adding Depth to Your Devotion
Eric D. Huntsman
Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016.
Hardcover, $19.99.

In my observation, Mormons mostly use the word “worship” in reference to the temple, where they can practice contemplative prayer in a venue more tranquil than many sacrament meetings. Eric Huntsman’s latest book aims to expand worship into more aspects of Mormon lives, focusing on prayer, ordinances, holy places, sacred time, scripture, and music. He approaches each of these topics by combining careful attention to the breadth of LDS scriptural tradition with holy-envy-inspired examples from other religious traditions and frequent anecdotes relating personal experiences that expanded his vision of what worship can be. With this method Huntsman ably draws out a rich potential for better worship in Mormonism that reads more as the actualization of latent potential than a critique of persistent shortcoming. [Read more…]

Dialogue, and Me, at 50

unnamedDialogue: a Journal of Mormon Thought turns 50 this year. So do I, and the similarities don’t end there. Both of us were both polite and orthodox in our youth and reasonably well behaved in our adolescence, but we both started to push up against institutional boundaries in our early adulthood. We tried hard to walk the line between scholarly inquiry and faithful discourse, but it was a tough line to walk, and sometimes we ended up too much on one side or the other. A lot of our friends left the Church, but we both knew we never could. Mormonism was too much a part of our core identity for us to ever give it up. [Read more…]

Gadianton, the State, and the Kingdom of God #BOM2016

Helaman 1-2

Every friend you make, you’ll wonder, could just be about the money. Every conversation, that’s underneath. “Maybe he’ll give me money.” You’re not a home teacher. You’re not even Mahonri Ward anymore. You’re three hundred million dollars, and that’s all you are for the rest of your life. –Eric Samuelsen, Gadianton



There is a healthy debate in Mormon Studies—rapidly approaching a cottage industry—about whether or not Book of Mormon’s portrayal of the Gadianton Robbers has anything to do with the anti-Masonic furor that swept across the nation in the late 1820s. One dead giveaway, say the Masonizers, is that the term “secret combinations” was commonly (some even say only) used by the anti-Masonic press in their diatribes against the order of Freemasons—an order that included such American luminaries as George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and the current president, Andrew Jackson. [Read more…]

The Stakes of Heavenly Mother

This is Taylor Petrey’s response to the responses to his Harvard Theological Review article. Caroline Kline’s response is here,  Margaret Toscano’s is here, and Kristine Haglund’s is here.
I am extremely grateful to those who read this essay and who provided such amazing feedback. It is an honor to have these impressive minds take the time to respond to my article, and I thank them for their feedback and critiques. I am also thankful for the rich discussion in the comments on these posts.
There is an interesting convergence in these responses. While Toscano suggests regressiveness in my work, Haglund suggests that I have “leapfrogged” too far ahead. These concerns both point to a lack of attentiveness to the present that Mormon feminists inhabit. Basically, the concerns Mormon feminists have raised over these past decades have not been addressed. These arguments, in all their conditioning from a certain era of feminist theory, still remain “radical” in contemporary Mormonism. Bypassing these vital questions to move to critique and reformulation may seem premature, or mark me as ungrateful for the work of those who have sacrificed for this cause.
Among the contested aspects of my article is my argument that a significant strain of much of earlier Mormon feminist work is aimed at addressing the (heterosexual) female absence from LDS theology and ecclesiology. While others may read this work differently, I have based my arguments on citations from these texts that I see as working from within a particular feminist paradigm, one that shares a great deal with Irigaray, among others. The applicability of this project to alternative sexualities and genders is, perhaps symbolically, found in fleeting observations or footnotes. The theoretical models of “partnership,” “complementarity,” and a binary notion of parity are the primary drivers of this project of heterosexual female inclusion. I applaud the work of Toscano, Allred, and others who have attempted to create space for others, and for their acceptance of non-heterosexuality, at least. I see my work as gesturing toward a theoretical and theological basis for that inclusiveness and more.

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The Body

Your body didn’t look like you, Dad, not anymore. It seemed like some wax figure of you, some rough approximation, but thinner, older, without the spark that made you what you are. You didn’t look anything like your driver’s license photo from years ago. Mom had called the home teachers, and we went together to the funeral home with your temple bundle. There, in a small back room, we men offered a word of prayer and began the work of dressing you for the last time. [Read more…]

Leapfrogging the Waves: A Nakedly Unacademic Response to “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”

This is the final response to Taylor Petrey’s Harvard Theological Review article. Caroline Kline’s response is here, and Margaret Toscano’s is here.

This is going to be one of those annoying critiques that basically complains about it not being the paper I wanted to read or the one I would have written, rather than pointing out any flaws in the paper’s actual argument.

For me, the crux of the matter is in Taylor’s concise formulation on page 6: “Mormon analysis of Heavenly Mother, then, is not abstract theorizing, but rather it articulates a divine model of human gender relations and female subjectivity.” But the paper fairly rapidly devolves into precisely such abstract theorizing. Of course, that is what the Harvard Theological Review is for, and Taylor can hardly be faulted for working within the constraints of the academic discourse in which he is a participant. But the paper I would like to read is the one that situates this theorizing in lived religion, that decries the marginal place of even completely institutionally loyal apologetic feminism, that notes the thin-ness of the theological resources and calls out the official commitment to maintaining the lacuna. [Read more…]

Pastors’ Housing Revisited

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

The Chicago Temple First United Methodist Church may have the coolest parsonage anywhere.

Not quite three years ago, and again not quite two years ago, I wrote about a Freedom From Religion Foundation lawsuit against the IRS. In the suit, the FFRF argued that section 107 of the Internal Revenue Code was unconstitutional.

Quick refresher: in general, when your employer gives you something, that thing you receive is income to you. And it doesn’t matter if what you receive is cash, is property, or even is services. To the extent your employer gives you something of value, that’s income to you.

Congress has carved out a handful of exceptions to the general rule, though. Maybe most importantly, employer-provided health insurance is not treated as income. So those of us lucky enough to have health insurance provided by our employers don’t have to pay taxes on its value. Similarly, all kinds of fringe benefits are excluded.  [Read more…]

Letting Missionaries Sleep In

Carole Turley Voulgaris is a doctoral candidate in urban planning at UCLA and usually only blogs about transportation planning. She served a full-time mission in the Germany Frankfurt mission from 2003 to 2004. Carole currently lives in Seattle with her husband, who is a late-riser and has convinced her of the virtues of sleeping in.

A few weeks before the end of my mission, I was chatting with a couple other missionaries about what we most looked forward to about life after the mission [fn1]. One elder said, “When I get home, I’m going to head to my room and go to sleep. And when I wake up, it won’t be because my alarm went off. It won’t be because my companion woke me up. It won’t be because I feel guilty. It will be because I’m not tired.”

Wow. The idea of waking up and feeling well rested just sounded so amazing. We missionaries were tired a lot. [Read more…]

How to account for Evan?

TIME recently published a beautifully told story by Jessi Hempel, about the highs and lows of her brother’s successful pregnancy. It’s both moving and straightforward—a husband and wife want a child. The husband gets pregnant and a baby is born. The husband becomes a father, the wife a mother.

Give it a read, and then come back because I’d love to hear your thoughts.

A few from me to start the discussion:

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A Multiplicity of Theological Groupings and Identities — Without Giving Up on Heavenly Mother

This is the second response in our series on Taylor Petrey’s recent article on Heavenly Mother in the Harvard Theological Review. The first response, from Margaret Toscano, is here.

Caroline Kline is completing a Ph.D. in religion with a focus on women’s studies in religion.  Her areas of interest revolve around the intersections of Mormon and feminist theology and the study of contemporary Mormon feminist communities. She is the co-founder of the Mormon feminist blog, The Exponent, and is a committed believer in the importance of online feminist forums and communities. She is also one of the four women who co-founded Feminism and Religion

Taylor Petrey’s “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother” is an important piece of scholarship, as it stretches the bounds of Mormon theological discourse on gender. Reading this article for me was both enlightening and unsettling, as it helped articulate some potential problems with Mormon feminist theologizing of Heavenly Mother, theologizing that has informed my own stances. When I first read Janice Allred and Margaret Toscano’s work on God the Mother fifteen years ago, I was blown away by their courage to catapult this shadowy and all but forgotten divine female into the heart of the Mormon godhead. Their insistence on her equality with God the Father resonated deeply. Reading their work gave me, a young Mormon feminist, hope for an eternity where I as a woman would not be subordinated and pushed aside. It helped me to not despair over my eternal future. Their work on Heavenly Mother helped give me heart to cling to my Mormon identity and practice, even in the face of the horrors of Prop 8, last year’s exclusion policy of LGBTQ people and their children, and excommunications of prominent feminists and intellectuals. [Read more…]

Sister Wives Series #10: Harriet Armitage (the 9th wife)

harriet armitage

This photo is frequently attributed as Harriet Armitage Larter Gardner Larter (1830–1866), however, there is some dispute that this may actually be a photo of Phoebe Marie Curtis Neach Larter (1852–1949). 

Part 10 in a series; see the rest of the series here.


This was a tricky narrative to scrap together (and consequently has taken a bit longer to write than others in this series). There isn’t much I could find on Harriet herself, and even this picture is only maybe a picture of her (some have argued that this is a picture of her first/third husband’s second wife, Phoebe—I’ll explain in a minute). In researching and writing this, it felt a bit like I was dancing and skipping all around but not quite exactly on Harriet’s own story. She is like a skip on an old record; I can almost hear her, but every time I get close the needle jumps and I’m hearing someone else’s story near her.

In the same week of June 1857 (and, according to some records, even the same day) that Archibald married his 15-year-old 8th wife, Sarah Jane, he also married his 9th wife, 27-year-old Harriet Armitage [Read more…]


Today is my birthday (I just turned 58, which I realize is ancient by blogging standards). This morning on the train ride in for some reason I reflected on how, for a few short years, I was destined to become some stripe of scientist, and how through various poor decisions I made along the way I managed to foreclose that particular path in my life. [Read more…]

Can We Judge Captain Moroni by Contemporary Moral Standards? #BOM2016

Well, of course we can. We are free to apply any standards we choose to any text that we read. That’s how judging stuff works.

But should we judge Book of Mormon characters by contemporary standards on things like religious freedom, separation of church and state, the treatment of prisoners of war, and, well, genocide? After all, this was a different culture and a different time. Should we judge them by the same standards we would apply to someone today?

Again, the answer is, “of course we should”—if we want to take the Book of Mormon seriously on its own terms. [Read more…]

Alternative Expressions to Great and Abominable, Ranked

You ever just get a hankering to rank stuff? Yeah, Steve and I got that hankering last night. And we surrendered to it. Big Time.

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

The Collateral Damage of Cable News Talking Points at Sunday School


AMIRITE? (Source)

Just before our gospel doctrine class concluded its consideration of Lesson 31 “Firm in the Faith of Christ,” the teacher distributed a two-sided handout. On the one side were quotations used in the lesson outlining a kind of Mormon just war doctrine. On the other was a statement by the teacher–a missionary who was probably inspired by the lesson’s suggestion “to create your own title of liberty“–on the state of the world. [Read more…]

The Warld has Turned and Left Me Here

I’ve lived in the same ward for about 10 years, and made some amazing friends along the way. Not only have these guys been great friends for me personally, they have almost all been married to women who are close friends with my wife AND have children that have formed years-long friendships with my kids. Mind you, these haven’t been just casual, at-church friends, either: I’m talking about people with whom we’ve taken vacations, watched Star Wars, shared more meals than I can count, and generally reached the level of friendship where we can talk about the boobs, the butts, the farts, and the poops without hesitation. It’s been a couple-dating utopia! Then, over the past 4 weeks, suddenly and without (much) warning, my ward (and life) went through the Scottpocalypse, as each and every one of these people moved away. [Read more…]

How Bodies Matter: A Response to “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”

This is the first in a series of responses to Taylor Petrey’s “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother,” recently published in the Harvard Theological Review.

Margaret Toscano is an Associate Professor of Classics and Comparative Cultural and Literary Studies at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. Her research focuses on religion, myth, and gender. She has published extensively on Mormon feminism. 
Taylor Petrey states his complaint against certain Mormon feminists (i.e., me–Margaret Toscano, Janice Allred, and Valerie Hudson Cassler) on page 16 of “Rethinking Mormonism’s Heavenly Mother”: “Mormon feminists writing about Heavenly Mother have been complicit in heteronormative narratives that universalize a subset of women as the hypostasis of ‘woman.’” Taylor’s argument ignores the complexity of the god narratives I have explored over the years, as well as the multiplicity of images I have put forth to represent women and the Female Divine.

Taylor says I put forth “a singular mother who represents the plurality of her daughters” (9). It is only possible to assert this if you pick out statements where I focus on the Heavenly Mother and ignore those where I explore other goddess figures from Mormon sacred texts. [Read more…]

Book Review: As Iron Sharpens Iron.

By proving contrarieties truth is made manifest. –Joseph Smith, Jr., 1844 [1]JSmith_Iron_cover_1024x1024

Without Contraries is no progression. –William Blake, ca. 1790 [2]

[I]t must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things. If not so, my firstborn in the wilderness, righteousness could not be brought to pass, neither wickedness, neither holiness nor misery, neither good nor bad. –Lehi, ca. 588-570, B.C. [3]

As iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. –Attributed to Solomon, recorded ca. 8th Century, B.C., by the scribes of Hezekiah [4]

As Iron Sharpens Iron: Listening to the Various Voices of Scripture, is a collection of 17 fictional dialogues between men and women in the scriptures addressing topics on which the interlocutors seem to have different viewpoints. The title is taken from the proverb that as one piece of metal can be used to sharpen another, debate with a friend sharpens a person’s wit, insight, and perception (Proverbs 27:17). [Read more…]

But Where Am I?

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Recently, my ward decided to perform reenactments of the Restoration in Primary. It’s a sweet idea—certainly well intentioned—when you don’t think about it for long: Joseph as a boy praying in the Sacred Grove, the angel Moroni appearing to the boy Joseph, the translation of the Book of Mormon with Joseph and his scribe, the baptism and gift of the Holy Ghost by the Susquehana River.

My first reaction, however, was not sweet. I was piercingly sad. All I could picture were the faces of the little girls in Primary. Not a single active role in the reenactments could be given to a girl child. I understand the complexities here- what can the Primary President do? Things happened as they happened, and imposing 21st century parity on historical religiosity shouldn’t be done. Right? [Read more…]