Month: March 2012

Saturday Priesthood Session

President Eyring conducted the Saturday evening Priesthood Session. Direct quotations (based on notes by Kent and myself) are given in quotes; all other text represents my summary of the remarks given. Text in italics is my own editorial comment. I have highlighted in bold type one particularly striking thought or comment in each talk.

Saturday Afternoon Session

President Eyring conducted the Saturday afternoon session. Direct quotations of a speaker’s words (based on my notes) are given in quotes; other text represents my summary of the remarks given. Any text in italics represents my own editorial comment.

Saturday Morning Session

President Uchtdorf conducted the Saturday morning session, featuring talks by President Boyd K Packer, Sister Cheryl A. Esplin, Elder Donald L. Hallstrom, Elder Paul E. Colliger, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and President Eyring, with brief introductory remarks by President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; all other text represents my summary of the remarks given. Parenthetical comments and discussion notes at the end of the post in italics are my own editorial comments.

Conference Pre-Game

Good morning, Conference viewers. Times and Seasons will once again post session-by-session summaries of Conference by Kent and Dave. Whether you are attending in person, listening on television, iPad, or radio, or will miss a session due to conflicts, we hope the posts add something to your Conference weekend.

Notes: Mormonism and the Internet

Below are notes from today’s live-streamed presentations at Utah Valley University’s Mormonism and the Internet conference. I will bold particular comments that stand out as I listen. Readers are welcome to make additional observations in the comments. Any reader attending in person?

No Women Allowed: Why Exclusion Makes the Priesthood Awesome

No girls allowed

In the name of full disclosure and in order to clarify my agenda, if any, note I tend to agree with Ralph Hancock a great deal of the time and to disagree with Joanna Brooks about as often. In addition, even before I began blogging in 2003, I wrote for Meridian Magazine. (I was one of the original three in the “Circle of Sisters.”) In his recent, two-part review of Joanna Brooks’ The Book of Mormon Girl, Ralph Hancock responds to Brooks’ negative response toward gender differentiation in the church. While I believe it minimizes this differentiation—with women being excluded from holding the much-touted, much-taught “eternal power and authority of God”—by calling it merely “role differentiation,” Hancock made a particular statement that has continued to run through my mind. Those who are not simply content with accepting the Church’s authority on such matters might thus consider the possibility that Priesthood responsibilities and rites of passage serve purposes particularly appropriate to the making of boys into men and to the effective and wholesome definition of manhood…It may be, that is, that, on the whole, women are more immediately or naturally in touch with the meaning of their womanhood than men are…

Just Say No?


We have had horrible luck while traveling with finding church services through On one trip, the address it gave didn’t exist. (How do I know? After nearly an hour of looking, asking people in the shops nearby, meeting up with friends who were also looking, well, we never found it.) On another, church started an hour after claimed it did. So I’m gun-shy about trusting when I’m looking for church services. Which is why, last summer, on vacation, when my wife saw an older couple wearing missionary name-tags, we decided to confirm when and where the church met. Turns out that they weren’t assigned to that particular area.[fn1] Still, we started talking. At one point, the husband mentioned something he’d been asked to do, and said, “You don’t say no to a Seventy.” Let me interrupt myself right here to emphasize that it was a throw-away line. They had been asked to report on establishing some program or committee or something. He was not implying that, if a Seventy asked him to do something immoral or illegal or even questionable, he would mindlessly obey. I assume that, if pressed, he would admit that he would say no…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Divine Belief

We remain, in chapter 9 of The Attributes of God, within Ostler’s larger assessment of the (in)compatibility between exhaustive divine foreknowledge and human free will. I want to do two things in this post. First, I want to focus briefly on Ostler’s claim, on page 280, that the point on which “the debate ultimately turns” is “whether God’s having a belief is relevantly similar to humans having beliefs.” Second, I want to move from an investigation into what Ostler is doing with that gesture to yet another reframing of the question concerning knowledge—a reframing akin in spirit to what I did a couple weeks ago with chapter 7 and what Adam did last week with chapter 8. Divine Unicity I: What Says Joseph? Ostler claims that the pivotal point for the philosophical analysis of divine foreknowledge is the question of whether God is “utterly unique” or “a member of a kind” (p. 280). With this gesture, Ostler comes back to a distinction or at least point of clarification he drew in his very first chapter, between (1) “God” as the rigid designator of a concrete particular absolved in some sense from every class and (2) “God” as shorthand for a…

Conference Plug: Mormons and the Internet

Want to be discussed, dear reader? Engage in naval gazing? Hear voices and see faces of names you’ve only read and intellectually crushed on? A reminder of the conference to be held at UVU on Thursday and Friday and appropriately live-streamed over the internet, featuring various luminaries from all corners as John Dehlin (of Mormon Stories), Joanna Brooks (various), Ardis Parshall (Keepapitchinin and others), Scott Gordon (of FAIR), David Charles (of Patheos), James Faulconer, Patrick Mason, Jana Reiss, and others. Joanna Brooks and Jana Reiss will be doing readings on Wednesday, and it’s not clear if those will be broadcast. See here for complete info.

A Mormon Mirage Disrupted

Yeah Samake

We’re all familiar with unintended consequences. Recent news reports claim that the unintended consequence of last year’s Libyan civil war, which resulted in the death of long-time dictator Muammar Gaddafi. According to these reports, many of Gaddafi’s trained warriors were ethnic Tuaregs from northern Mali. When they returned after the Libyan war, these fighters joined the long-simmering Tuareg rebellion, which heated up suddenly in January. The result? Last week a group of Malian soldiers staged a coup, ousted the Malian government, and cancelled the forthcoming elections. Yes, the same elections that featured an LDS candidate, Yeah Samake.

All History is Local: A Review of Tiki and Temple by Marjorie Newton [minor update]


Newton, Marjorie. Tiki and Temple: The Mormon Mission in New Zealand, 1854–1958. Draper, UT: Greg Kofford Books, 2012. Paperback. 343 pages. ISBN: 978-1-58958-1210. $ 29.95. Former Speaker of the U. S. House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, is well known for saying All politics is local. By that he meant that voters choose who they support based on how it effects them locally, instead of on major national ideological issues. While how true this is may be debatable (don’t here, its off topic), I think it extends to history also. All history is local.

Mormonism: A religion of the head or of the heart?

head and heart

That question is not as straightforward as you might think. Garry Wills’ Head and Heart: American Christianities (Penguin Press, 2007) reviews these two different approaches and uses them to structure his history of Christianity in America. It is an effective format that helps the reader follow developments, in contrast to most histories of religion in America which are often overloaded with doctrinal and denominational details that have little interest for most contemporary readers.

Exploring Mormon Thought: The Homogeneous?

William Blake's "The Ancient of Days"

In chapter 8 of The Attributes of God, Ostler continues grappling with the question of human agency in relation to God’s foreknowledge. The professional literature generated by this kind of theological question is wide and deep and the field is no particular speciality of mine. On these kinds of questions, Ostler is much better read than I am. The basic problem is this: “If there is anything in [an agent’s] circumstances which precludes a person from exercising a power, then the power cannot be exercised under those circumstances” (249). Blake argues that God’s strong foreknowledge is just the kind of  causally implicated circumstance that compromises a person’s freedom to exercise their agency. As a result, the power to choose in this instance is no real power and agency is compromised. I recommend a close reading of the chapter’s details. As a non-specialist, though, I’m wondering about the larger context that frames these really difficult questions.

Adventures in Family History, part 1

Joan Brownson

Sunday night, I was at a meeting, the intent of which was to help us each get a name to take through the temple. Bandwidth problems significantly detracted from our ability to do so, but, as I was playing on FamilySearch, I discovered something incredible: I’m descended from royalty! Don’t believe me? Check it out: See? Proof irrefutable. Mrs. Joan Brownson, my great-great-great-etc.-grandmother was the daughter of the King and Queen of England.[fn1] Except that it didn’t feel quite right. So I dug a little deeper. Under “Parents and Siblings,” I saw this: So it turns out I’m doubly awesome. Not only am I descended from Edward III King of England and Philippa Queen of England, but my particular ancestor was born almost 200 years after her mother died![fn2] — [fn1] It does, however, bring up a skeleton in my ancestral closet. It appears, based on somebody’s genealogical work, that Richard Bronson married his mother. Because his wife and mother not only have the same name, but the same dates of birth and death. So maybe that kind of relationship undoes the coolness of being descended from royalty.[fn1.1] …..[fn1.1] Yes, I’m being sarcastic; I know[fn1.1.1] that he didn’t marry his…

Call for Papers: IV Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference

IV Brazilian Mormon Studies Conference Annual Conference of the ABEM (Associação Brasileira de Estudos Mórmons) Theme “The Relationship between Headquarters and Periphery in the LDS Church” January 19, 2013 São Paulo, Brazil   Call for Papers In 1830, Joseph Smith organized the Church of Christ in Manchester, New York State, when the movement had only three distinct congregations: one in Manchester / Palmyra, another in South Bainbridge (NY) and third in Harmony (PA). In just over a year, Smith consolidated the three congregations in the area of a fourth and new congregation, directing all his followers to move to Kirtland, Ohio. A few years more and Smith founded another congregation in Missouri, and began to gather new converts to both of these two sites. Adverse events forced them to abandon Ohio, and then Missouri, and Smith founded a new city to which all Mormons would migrate, Nauvoo, Illinois. In 1847, after the murder of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young Saints relocated the Saints and founded a new territory in Utah. Throughout the nineteenth century, Mormonism displayed a unique feature: centralization and migration. Members were encouraged to migrate to “Zion”, the gravitational center of the Church, or as some authors call it,…

Literary BMGD #13: Pratt’s Historical Sketch

While eclipsed by the Iron Rod imagery in Nephi, the Olive Tree imagery in Jacob is still well-known and referred to frequently. Like so much of Mormon theology, it attempts to give an explanation for the whole swath of human history and show that we are in the last days. Since both images are unique to the Book of Mormon, they are only found in Mormon sources. The earliest use of the Olive Tree imagery in literature is from Parley P. Pratt, who included it in his poem, Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day. This poem was included in The Millennium, the first published book of Mormon poetry, which Pratt published in 1835. Here’s what Pratt wrote: Historical Sketch from the Creation to the Present Day, Part 3 by Parley P. Pratt Go ye and preach in all the world. Baptizing in my name, He that believes and is baptized Salvation shall obtain. Then rising from Mount Olivet Unto his Father’s throne. On high to reign until he claims The kingdoms for his own. His servants then, in mighty power, Soon made his gospel known, The Jews reject while Gentiles come. And glad their Saviour own. The…

Your help needed: naming Mormon ice cream

Hubby hubby

Not too long ago, Ben and Jerry’s opened a new front in the culture wars by temporarily renaming its “Chubby Hubby” flavor as “Hubby Hubby” and highlighting this chilling act on their website. And now they’re at it again. I’m guessing that at some point the Church will respond with its own renamed flavor, which is where your collective wisdom is required. Here is a list of Ben and Jerry’s flavors. The best I could come up with is renaming Triple Caramel Chunk as Triple Temple Dunk. But I’m sure you can do better.

Review: The Book of Mormon Girl

Book of Mormon Girl

Joanna Brooks is the Chair of the Department of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University. She is the author of several books, most recently The Book of Mormon Girl: Stories From an American Faith (2012). The book is available at Amazon and at the author’s website. A short couple of hundred pages, the book is at various turns both enjoyable and troubling, as the author recounts growing up LDS in Southern California, informally leaving the LDS Church then returning to activity, then rather suddenly emerging as a leading voice of what might be termed the progressive Mormon agenda which takes issue with traditional Mormon positions on race and gender. As such, she is on her way to becoming controversial (not generally a compliment in Mormon circles), so I need to start out with a couple of disclaimers.

What Happened Last Thursday at Institute: l’Affair Botte Goes Local


(I’m jumping because of the Bott stuff, but will still put up my 2 posts on Genesis 2-4 and Creation/temples post.) Instead of beginning on the Flood on Thursday as planned, I decided to take 5 minutes to talk about the mark of Cain in Genesis 4, and the curse on Canaan in Genesis 9. We never got to the flood, but ended up having a wonderful (I think) 2.5+ hour conversation about the priesthood ban, the eisegesis and various theories it engendered, the role and fuzzy definitions of tradition, policy, and doctrine in the Church. We also covered related issues like the context for Wilford Woodruff’s statement about “leading the Church astray”,  the tension inherent in living in a dynamic Church based on revelation that sometimes goes through upheavals (see polygamy, priesthood ban, etc.), and that we need to be careful not to get caught on either extreme. We talked about the nature of the writing of Church manuals and history, Institute and potentially RelEd at BYU as the two places where one can find depth and nuance in semi-official venues, obviously dependent upon the teaching philosophy and knowledge of the instructor and the degree of freedom they’re given.…

Don’t forget the theological issue in posthumous baptisms

It occurred to me the other day when I read Givens’ beautiful description of why we perform ordinances for the dead that our response to some critics of the practice of posthumous baptism may be too defensive. In response to those who believe that baptism or some other ordinance or event is required to enter God’s Kingdom, shouldn’t we go on the offensive and ask them what they are doing about those who were never baptized? Near as I can tell, hundreds of millions, if not billions, of humans have died without even having heard the gospel of any western religion. If your religion consigns them to hell, what are you doing about it?

Literary BMGD #12: Aristocracy


A major element of Jacob’s sermon in Jacob 2 is his condemnation of pride and those caught up in their riches. In that sermon, Jacob not only preaches against pride, but argues for equality, saying “Think of your brethren like unto yourselves, and be familiar with all and free with your substance, that they may be rich like unto you.”(2:17) and adding “one being is as precious in His sight as the other.” While Jacob likely lived too early in Nephite history for inherited classes to develop, still these views seem to clearly argue against classes and social hierarchy.

Policing Submissions for Baptisms for the Dead

And it’s in the news again. We have Elie Wiesel’s name slated for baptism, baptisms performed for Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s parents, baptism performed for Anne Frank (for the ninth time!), baptism performed for Daniel Pearl (who was killed in part, at least, because he was Jewish), and baptism performed for Gandhi. This in spite of the Church’s agreement (in 1995!) to remove Holocaust victims from the database.[fn1] And, apparently, the Church has now sent out a strongly-worded letter to be read in Sacrament meetings.[fn2] In the letter, the Church (strongly) reiterates the prohibition on submitting celebrity and Holocaust victim names, with potential penalties to follow for improper submissions. Will this work? Hopefully.[fn3] But I’ve been thinking about possible ways to police the submissions as a backstop.[fn4] Note that I’m perfectly aware that there is debate over whether we should, as a normative matter, care about others’ perception of baptisms for the dead.[fn5] And there’s debate among those not of our faith about whether proxy baptisms are, in fact, offensive. I have no interest in rehashing those arguments, though. Let’s assume that the Church is serious about its policy statement (which I believe it is), and, just for fun, let’s brainstorm…

Exploring Mormon Thought: Agency

I will intentionally ignore the larger context in which chapter 7 of The Attributes of God appears—namely, an attempt to nail down the nature, according to the Mormon conception, of divine omniscience. I’ll focus more narrowly on just what Ostler has to say about agency. I think the larger concerns here are important, but we have some weeks yet in which to take up his conclusions. Late in chapter 7, Ostler begins to speak of emergence. I think this is the right term, but not, I think, in the way Ostler uses it. I want to talk about agency itself—in more classically philosophical terms: subjectivity—as emergent, but he, if I understand him right, wants to talk about choice-events as emergent. What’s the difference? Ostler, following the basic framework of analytic discussions of freedom of the will, provides us with two broad approaches to the will’s freedom—the compatibilist thesis, according to which the idea of the freedom of the will is argued to be compatible with causal determinism, and the incompatibilist thesis, according to which the idea of the freedom of the will is argued to be incompatable with causal determinism. The adherent of the former position has no need to…

Institute Report: Genesis Week 5 (corrected)

The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!

(We’re a few weeks behind here on the blog. I hope to catch up. Most important for my students: We WILL have Institute this week, contrary to what I said last Thursday.) Tonight we finished off Genesis 1 and introduced the second creation account in Gen 2. Had a few more people, so I started by recapping Walton’s theory of functional creation (references in previous post.) Seven days It’s long been noticed that days 1-3 parallel days 4-6. Walton argues that days 1-3 create three primary and basic functions, while 4-6 create functionaries that either carry out those functions, or carry out their own within the parallel sphere. Day 1 creates the basis of Time, the cycle of night/day. This is simply the function; the functionaries who carry it out are designated on day 4. Day 2 creates the basis of Weather, which mostly means precipitation. That is, Israelite cosmology held as per Genesis that there were waters below which were connected to the sea, and waters above, with the waters above held back by a solid dome, the firmament or raqiya. Rivers, springs, and flooding (the regular inundations of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates) came from the waters below,…

Tomorrow’s folklore (Updated)

Recent and highly public events have focused attention on the prevalence of “folklore” — church members, sometimes in positions of authority, “freelancing” beyond church doctrine. Of course, there are a variety of complicated issues in trying to sort out doctrine from folklore, which l’affaire Bott cast into sharp relief. There have been recriminations and hurt feelings, and the community will likely be dealing with the fallout for some time to come. But we do have a few silver linings. For instance, the church newsroom’s prompt and unequivocal condemnation of Bott’s statements likely means that highly-visible BYU professors will think twice before making inflammatory, sweeping, extra-doctrinal claims to the national media. Oh, wait. Maybe not.

The Bott Affair: Winners and Losers

It has been only one week since the initial Washington Post article quoting BYU Professor Randy Bott’s controversial statements was published. [See Kent’s very helpful ongoing chronology of events and published stories.] But a week is a lifetime online. While official and unofficial reactions will continue to play out over coming weeks and months, we can already see who the winners and losers are among the main players. Briefly, the winners are the LDS Church, LDS Public Affairs, LDS bloggers and columnists, the mainstream media, and the rank and file members of the Church. The losers are BYU and the BYU College of Religious Education. Professor Bott gets a category of his own.