Month: April 2011

“Policy” and “Doctrine”, This Time with Venn Diagrams!

Doctrine (4)

Here’s the circle that represents everything taught by church members, from the uncontroversial (like faith and repentance) to the bizarre  (“King Arthur lost the priesthood for not listening to Merlin”): Now let’s add another circle for things taught by General Authorities. Every GA is a member of the church, so this circle is entirely encompassed by the first: Now another circle for things taught in General Conference. Most conference talks are given by General Authorities, but some are not (e.g. talks given by auxiliary leaders): Now let’s add one more circle for the words of the prophet (he’s always a General Authority, and some of his words are delivered in General Conference): We could add many more circles — one for apostles, one for scriptural teachings, one for things taught recently, one for things taught repeatedly. But most importantly, we can add one more big circle to identify the parts of each which are true: Some things taught by church members are true, some are not, and some truth is not taught by church members…and so on, through all of the circles. So where is doctrine and where is policy? Is policy the orange circle, and doctrine the overlap of…

On the Proper Usage of “Policy” and “Doctrine”

We’ve enjoyed (or endured) countless discussions about which church teachings are “doctrines” and which are merely “policies”. Here’s my two cents: “policy” and “doctrine” aren’t opposites — they’re not even on the same axis. Doctrines are beliefs that are taught (in fact, the word “doctrine” comes from the Latin for “teachings”, suggesting that any belief taught in the church is, at some level, doctrine). Policies are organizational practices. Some doctrines are policies, some policies are doctrines, some are both, and some are neither. Determining that a particular teaching is policy doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s not also a doctrine. Both Doctrine and Policy: Baptism by authority. It is both taught and practiced. Neither Doctrine nor Policy: Raisin Bran is the best cereal ever! Doctrine but not Policy: The 10th Article of Faith. It is taught and believed in the church, but we have no organizational practices associated with the teachings contained in it. Policy but not Doctrine: …hmm…now that I think about it, perhaps every policy is necessarily a doctrine. After all, if it’s not taught, how can it be practiced? So the next time someone tells you that the priesthood ban or polygamy or some other controversial historical topic…

Influence, Reflecting Badly and Mormon Culture


The news yesterday that artist Jon McNaughton had pulled his artwork from the BYU Bookstore led me to ponder once again the influence that Church-owned businesses and institutions have on Mormon Culture. While these institutions seem focused on how what they carry and produce reflects on themselves and, ultimately, the Church, I worry that the variety of books, art, music and other Mormon cultural materials aren’t as available as they should be.

Heller is Senator: Appointment makes 6 Mormons in U.S. Senate


Yesterday, Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval named LDS Church member and current member of the U.S. House of Representatives Dean Heller to replace Senator John Ensign, who has resigned effective May 3 rather than face an ethics investigation. The move increases the number of Mormons serving in the Senate to 6 while decreasing the number serving in the House to 9.

NT Lesson 18 (JF): Luke 15, 17


Luke 15 As I learned from Bruce Jorgensen, it is important to read the parables of Luke 15 together. Consider the setting that Luke gives us in verses 1-2 and then imagine Jesus telling each of these parables in response to what happens in those verses: he hears the Pharisees and the scribes complaining because he eats with sinners, so he tells the parable of the lost sheep; evidently they don’t understand his point because he immediately tells another parable, that of the lost coin—I imagine a silent pause after the first parable, with Jesus waiting for the Pharisees and scribes to respond; they seem not to understand the second one either, so he tells them a third, more complicated parable, the parable that we often call “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.” As I learned from Arthur Henry King, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son” is a strange name for this parable. It draws our attention to one of two sons and neglects the father, yet the parable is clearly about both sons (else there would be no point in the parable continuing past the announcement of the feast) and the father is clearly central to the parable’s meaning.…

Mormon Funerals

President Hinckley's Funeral

How different are Mormon funerals than those done by other religions? For some strange reason I actually enjoy funerals (at least Mormon ones), despite the sadness of losing a loved one. We’ve had a couple of memorial services in our ward in the past few months, and while sitting through the most recent I wondered how our funerals are different from those of other religions.

Debating Mormonism

A few weeks ago I judged several rounds of a debating tournament held at the local high school. Teams from all over the state participated. Imagine walking by a high school cafeteria and seeing a couple of hundred students dressed in suits and skirts, chattering like all kids do but also pouring over notes and outlines for the upcoming matches. It was an impressive sight.

NT Lesson 17: Mark 10:17-30; 12:41-44; and Luke 12:13-21; 14; 16


Given the quantity of material in these chapters, rather than try to cover everything, I will focus my questions on the verses from Mark and selections from the verses in Luke. As you read this material, be sure to ask how it applies to us who live in the latter-days. What do these verses teach us about taking up our cross (cf. Jacob 1:8, 3 Nephi 12:30, and perhaps Alma 39:9)? What do they teach about riches (not what do we recall others saying that they teach, but what do they really teach)? What does the parable and explanation in Luke 16:1-12 teach us about our relation to the world? Mark 10:17-30 How is the story of verses 13-16 connected to that in verses 17-30? Why does the fact that the man is running suggest? Why does he kneel? That is an unusual thing to do before a teacher, which is a  more accurate translation of the word that the King James version translates “Master.” Why do you think the man uses the unusual title “good teacher”? Why does Jesus reject being called “good” (verse 18)? What does this person want? Compare this story to that in Matthew 12:28-34. How…

Reading Scripture in the 21st Century

space the final frontier

I recently read Thinking Through Our Faith: Theology for Twenty-first-Century Christians (Abingdon Press, 1998) by C. David Grant, a professor of religion at TCU. The book might be described as a short prologue to a 21st-century approach to theology, one that takes full account of science, historical criticism, and pluralism — in short, the sort of book you probably would not encounter in a BYU undergraduate religion class.

Inoculation for Mormons Behaving Badly

Last June Dave Banack discussed the idea that LDS Church members should be inoculated for troubling LDS doctrinal and historical issues. I don’t think that idea has been completely explored, but I do think inoculation might be useful in one area where our (i.e., Mormon) sub-culture doesn’t use it: the news.

Be Ye Perfect


The gospel instructs us in a certain way of being imperfect. Here, salvation turns on practicing what Elizabeth Bishop calls “the art of losing.” Jesus famously describes this art of losing in Matthew 5:48. “Be ye therefore perfect,” he says, “even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” Here, the term “perfection” indexes that “certain way” that is peculiar to both Jesus and the Father. The baseline meaning of perfection, of teleios, is completion. But what kind of completion? My suggestion is that, rather than burying Jesus’ teleios beneath layers of curdled metaphysics and ripe fantasy, we ought to simply read the preceding verses in which Jesus tells us exactly what kind of perfection or completion he has in mind. Here are the preceding verses: 38 Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: 39 But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloke also. 41 And whosoever shall compel…

NT Sunday School Lesson 16: John 9-10


Chapter 9 Verse 1: Chapter 8 ends with the phrase “passed by” and chapter 9 begins with those words. Did the events of chapters 9-10 happen as Jesus was leaving the temple precincts, or did they occur later? (See verse 14 for a clue.) Why is it important that the man has been blind since birth? As you read the story, ask yourself, How we are like the blind man: in what ways are we or have we been blind from birth? How do we come to see? What do we see when we have been healed? Verses 2-5: How could the disciples believe that the man’s sins could be responsible for his blindness since he was born blind? What do you make of the fact that over and over again we see Jesus ignoring general, hypothetical, and legal questions such as the question that the disciples ask? (See also, e.g., Luke 10:25ff. and John 8:3ff.) What does he deal with instead? How does Jesus explain the man’s blindness? Does he say that is a complete explanation? As you read the rest of this story, ask yourself what works of God are made manifest through this healing. What might might…

Blogging on the Road to Damascus

saul damascus one

Transcripts of the recent General Conference have been posted at, including President Uchtdorf’s talk “Waiting on the Road to Damascus.” The talk was mostly a word of encouragement to those members of the Church who, for various reasons including self-doubt, are not full participants in their local wards. The focus of the talk was on the invitation to get past or around whatever the issue is, not on the details of the difficulties or doubts some people face. Of course, his comments on blogging and social media were the most interesting part of the talk. He made these comments in the context of how members of the Church ought to be more open about sharing the gospel. With so many social media resources and a multitude of more or less useful gadgets at our disposal, sharing the good news of the gospel is easier and the effects more far-reaching than ever before. In fact, I am almost afraid that some listening have already sent text messages like “He’s been speaking for 10 minutes and still no aviation analogy!” My dear young friends, perhaps the Lord’s encouragement to “open [your] mouths” might today include “use your hands” to blog and…

Do we still teach homemaking?

A guest post from our friend and colleague emeritus, Russell Arben Fox. The title of this post isn’t a snark; it’s an open question, about which I am genuinely curious. (I’m also giving a presentation on this topic next week at the Midwest Sunstone/Restoration Studies conference, so my ulterior motive is a fishing expedition for anecdotes from the Collected Saints of the Bloggernacle.)

Forms of Agency


Agency is closely linked to power. Without power, we cannot make choices, and without choices we have no agency. It is by our power to help, to learn, to build that we exercise agency. Each of these — helping, learning, building — are forms of agency. (Agency is also closely linked to work and value, but I’ll come back to those later.) I’m fascinated by the idea of “forms of agency”. Most of us tend to exercise agency in only a very few forms, limited by our ignorance of the options available. For example, if you decided to bake muffins, you could exercise your agency to choose between several “forms of muffins”: blueberry, bran, orange, etc. But how about pepperoni muffins? Even if you had all the ingredients for pepperoni muffins in your kitchen, you could not have exercised your agency to bake them; the thought wouldn’t have entered your mind (at least not until you’d read about them here. Now when you bake muffins, your agency will be expanded as a result of having read this post — and that’s what Times & Seasons is here for: expanding your culinary agency :) ). In other words, beyond requiring just…

Regime Change in the LDS Church

I recently finished America’s Three Regimes: A New Political History (OUP, 2007) by Morton Keller, a retired history prof at Brandeis. The author suggests there have been three enduring American political regimes: a deferential-republican regime that lasted from the Revolution until the emergence of true party politics (Whigs and Democrats) during the 1830s; a party-democratic regime marked by strong party identification and increasing voter mobilization that lasted until roughly the Great Depression; and a populist-bureaucratic regime that saw the rise of big government, the rise of the independent media, and the decline of party identification and effectiveness. Can LDS history be parsed the same way? Are there successive LDS regimes (using “regime” in the same sense as Keller did, an enduring, stable arrangement of institutions and practices) that display significantly different ways of running the Church or of constituting the Church as an organization?

The Implied Statistical Report, 2010


A couple of years ago my post The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, looked at what can be learned from a detailed examination of the data the Church releases each April Conference. This conferences’ data includes an additional statistic not found in earlier reports, the number of Church Service Missionaries, which led me to look again at the statistics to see if I might find something else.

Serving God with Our Minds: SMPT Conference This Weekend

This weekend at BYU, the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will hold its 8th Annual Meeting on the theme, “Serving God with Our Minds—The Place of Philosophy, Theology, and Scholarship in a Prophetic Church.” Featured speakers include Patrick Mason, who will soon be taking the Howard W. Hunter Chair of Mormon Studies at Claremont, Alan Wilkins, a former Academic Vice President and currently Associate Director of the Faculty Center at BYU, and Jack Welch, Robert K. Thomas University Professor in the BYU Law School. Sessions will address themes including the role of theology in devotional life, prophets and continuing revelation, spiritual dimensions of education at BYU and elsewhere, scriptural interpretation, liberation theology, and justice in a gospel society. A session on “Art and Philosophy of Art in the Restored Church” includes reflections by artists with work in the “Seek My Face” exhibit currently showing in the Church History Museum. The conference runs Thursday-Saturday, April 7-9. All sessions are free and open to the public. For more information, see the conference schedule on the

What About Portable Temples?

In his Sunday morning session remarks in general conference, President Monson told stories of great sacrifice offered to reach temples for sacred ordinances. He told of those in the Amazon who travel thousands of miles to the temple in Brazil. He told of the dedicated Tahitian man who — with his two sons — spent a total of six years, living away from the family, working in nickel mines to earn the money to get the family to the New Zealand temple. Given the recent local emphasis from the church on keeping families together, I was surprised to hear a story of a father and two sons leaving the mother and eight other children alone for six years being presented as a good thing. I had to wonder if there wasn’t a better way. President Monson said: No sacrifice is too great, no price is too heavy, no struggle too difficult in order to receive those blessings. There are never too many miles to travel, too many obstacles to over come, or too much discomfort to endure. I understand the sentiment. If there were no other choice, then sacrificing our lives to have eternal life would be the reasonable choice.…

NT Sunday School Lesson 15: John 7-8


WARNING: Longer than usual notes. I agree with the generally accepted scholarly conclusion that John 7:53-8:11 is a later insertion into the original text. So I will deal with John 7:1-42 and John 8:12-59 as one narrative, the story of what Jesus does at the feast of the tabernacles. Then I will deal with the story of the woman taken in adultery separately. Chapter 7 Verses 1-5: In verse 1, to what is John referring with the phrase “these things”? Refer to the end of chapter 6 (e.g., John 6:66) to recall what things happened that caused him to be in danger. A more accurate translation of the word Jewry is “Judea.” in other words Jerusalem: Jesus left Judea and returned to Galilee. Nevertheless, the theme of Jewish opposition to Jesus is frequent in these chapters (John 7:1, 13, 19, 25, 30, 32, and 44; and 8:37, 40, and 59). John is setting the stage for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and his crucifixion, but how should we understand the term Jew in John’s gospel? Does the term always refer to the same group? If it does, who are they? If it doesn’t, in what ways does he use the term?…

Sunday Afternoon Session

President Eyring conducted the last session of this April 2011 General Conference. Speakers included Elder Scott, Elder Christofferson, Carl B. Pratt, Lynn G. Robbins, Benjamin De Hoyos, C. Scott Grow, and Elder Holland. Readers are invited to leave a comment with their overall reaction to Conference and their sense of the general themes stressed by the speakers.

Sunday Morning Session


President Henry B. Eyring conducting. Discourses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Paul B. Johnson, Bishop H. David Burton, Sister Silvia H. Allred, Elder David A. Bednar and President Thomas S. Monson. Perhaps even more so than previous sessions, the theme of this session was the Church Welfare program. President Eyring mentioned the 75th anniversary of Church Welfare in his opening remarks, and the remarks of both Bishop Burton and Sister Allred focused on Welfare.

Reflections on the Priesthood Session

Priesthood session

President Eyring conducted the Saturday evening Priesthood session, which offered talks by Elder Andersen, Steven E. Snow, Larry M. Gibson, President Uchtdorf, President Eyring, and President Monson. My notes below are basically summaries of the talks, but include rather loose paraphrases and a bit of commentary, so I have titled the post “Reflections on the Priesthood Session.” It was definitely one of the best priesthood sessions of recent years, and is notable for the rare absence of a major league anti-porn lecture. I would speculate that this reflects a desire to not push any more men away from church activity (I’m sure GAs know the gender gap statistics better than you do) rather than any belief that the problem has gone away.