Author: Dave Banack

Calling All Millennials

Millennial

The most interesting talk at UVU’s just-completed Mormonism and the Art of Boundary Maintenance Conference was by Jana Riess: “Mormon Millennials: Assimilation or Retrenchment?” Jana gave a preliminary report of research she is doing for a new book on the subject. She defined the Millennial generation as those born in the 80s or 90s. Others define it as those born between 1982 and 2004. Are you a Millennial? Glad you’re here. Hope you stay.

Conference Theme: No Trouble Here, Move Along

After a turbulent six months, many were expecting some bold declarations at this weekend’s General Conference. That did not come to pass. Just a few weeks ago, Elder Ballard directed CES teachers to stop teaching folklore, stop evading tough questions from students, and start reading publications by faithful LDS scholars. In his Saturday afternoon Conference talk, Elder Ballard talked about … family councils. Late last year, President Nelson announced that what has become known as “the Exclusion Policy” was not a policy, it was a revelation and is here to stay. In his Priesthood session talk, President Nelson talked about … the role of men in the Church. Elder Steven E. Snow, the Church Historian, talked not about one of the Gospel Topics essays that addresses a key issue in LDS history but about the LDS hymnal and humility. The theme for this Conference seems to be: Don’t rock the boat. Nothing controversial here. Perhaps it is a good time…

Review: Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings

Mormon Feminism

I enjoyed reading Mormon Feminism: Essential Writings (OUP, 2016), a 300-page collection of articles and essays on Mormon feminism spanning the 1970s to the present. That I enjoyed it says a lot, as feminism isn’t really my thing. The editors (Joanna Brooks, Rachel Hunt Steenblik, and Hannah Wheelwright) did a great job not only selecting the articles and essays to include in the volume but also paring down the size of the excerpts of longer articles so more pieces could be included in the volume. They also penned very helpful introductions to each piece. Consequently, a reader like myself who has not really lived the LDS feminist drama of the last two generation or two can still appreciate the context and contribution of each of the 60 or so articles. Joanna’s 20-page introduction heading the volume also helps bring every reader up to speed. This is truly a volume that everyone should read — this issue is going to be…

Elder Ballard on Building a Better Boat

In October 2014, Elder Ballard delivered his “Stay in the Boat” talk at General Conference, highlighting “faith crisis” as an emerging problem for members of the Church and likening it to white-water rapids. In October 2015, he followed up with “God Is at the Helm,” extending his metaphor and providing sage advice for how to stay in the Old Ship Zion. Most recently, he delivered a talk to CES religious educators on February 26, 2016, now posted at LDS.org under the rather bland title “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” I think he should have stuck with his winning theme and called it: “Building a Better Boat.” Highlights Everyone ought to read it. Twice. He announced that business as usual in CES just isn’t working anymore: “Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” The problem…

An Americanized Gospel

A chatty post at the This Week in Mormons site, “Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church,” recounts a few of those Americanisms: Scouting, patriotic music in the LDS hymnal, women wearing (or not) pants to church. At a deeper level, the LDS Church has self-consciously embedded itself in the American myth. Consider “The Divinely Inspired Constitution” by Elder Oaks (1992) or “The Constitution: A Glorious Standard” by Elder Benson (1976). The notion that only in the USA could the gospel of Jesus Christ have possibly been restored is part of the Restoration story. Few American Saints really notice the extent to which the Church has Americanized the gospel of Jesus Christ, but non-American Latter-day Saints certainly do. Quietly filtering out overtly American elements of the gospel that just don’t work in a foreign land and culture may solve some of the inevitable difficulties. Is that enough?

Faith, Hope, and Charity in an Age of Doubt

Mormon Feminism

Once upon a time, the topic of inoculation was all the rage in the Bloggernacle. Too late for that now; the epidemic is upon us and its primary symptom, doubt, has become a standard feature of LDS discourse. The latest discussion is Patrick Mason’s new book Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt, co-published by the Maxwell Institute and Deseret Book. I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so instead I’m going to point you to Boyd Peterson’s post “What To Do If Someone You Know Is Going Through A Faith Crisis.”

Modern Christology, Part 2

Having covered the general topic in my earlier post, I’m going to pull a few additional topics from a book by Jesuit scholar Gerald O’Collins: Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (OUP, 2d ed., 2009). As a Mormon writing for a largely Mormon set of readers, I’m naturally drawn to topics that complement or contrast with LDS Christological views.

Two Kinds of Mormons

Or maybe two kinds of Mormonism. Go read Boyd Peterson’s recent essay “Eugene England and the Future of Mormonism” and decide whether you are an England Mormon or a McConkie Mormon. Or whether you prefer England Mormonism or McConkie Mormonism. Or whether, if you were moving into a new ward, you would rather find Bishop England or Bishop McConkie to be your new local leader.

Policy or Revelation?

Facebook is ablaze with dismay over statements made by Elder Russell M. Nelson in Sunday night’s Worldwide Devotional, titled “Becoming True Millennials.” Initially, when the details of the new provisions were first disclosed and when Elder Christofferson publicly defended them, they were simply portrayed as a policy. Now, many are suggesting Elder Nelson has declared that the policy regarding Mormons in gay marriages and the status of their children (hereinafter, the “New Policy”) is more than a policy, it is a Revelation. The media is now picking up on this: here is a CBS News story titled “Mormon leader says policy against gay marriage was word from God.” If you go visit the home page at LDS.org, you will indeed find a box with a link to the Elder Nelson broadcast — just below “Youth: Ask Your Questions Here” and a couple of boxes to the right of “Meet the New Presiding Bishopric.” Somehow I kind of expected a new…

Modern Christology

I recently read Alan Spence’s Christology: A Guide for the Perplexed, a short but very helpful discussion of the topic. I’m going to use it to reflect a bit on Mormon Christology, particularly as it relates to modern Christological commentary on and criticism of the doctrines that emerged from theological debates in the early Church. First, let’s define the problem.

Changing of the Guard at Dialogue

Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought gets a new editor every five or six years, and that time is now upon us. As a subscriber and supporter, I wanted to get a sense of where the incoming editor, Boyd Jay Petersen, is going to take the journal, so I bought a copy of his Dead Wood and Rushing Water: Essays on Mormon Faith, Culture, and Family (Greg Kofford Books, 2013) to get the lowdown. After all, Kristine is a hard act to follow. After reading the book, I am optimistic. To offer a few comments, I will highlight one essay from each of the three sections in the book.

How Technology is Changing the Church

At checkout on a recent visit to my favorite SLC bookstore, I was rewarded with a free book: After 150 Years: The Latter-day Saints in Sesquicentennial Perspective (Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, 1983). Loyalty has its perks. A bit dated at 32 years, but this chapter caught my eye: “Testimony and Technology,” by LDS historian James B. Allen. What he didn’t see coming: The Internet.

All the Lights Were Red: Thinking About Reform in Mormonism

A funny thing happened on the way to the conference. On Saturday morning I was driving to the final day of the SMPT Conference held on the BYU Campus. I hit the main BYU intersection near the Marriott Center. My light was red. There were cars stopped at other approaches as well. Everyone was stopped. All the lights were red. As I had been thinking Mormon thoughts while driving down Provo Canyon and onto campus, that seemed like a sign: Nothing is changing. No movement. Full stop.

Reading Genesis

howtoreadthebible

The latest entry in the how-to-read-the-Bible genre is How to Read the Bible (HarperOne, 2015) by Harvey Cox, a Harvard divinity prof who has been around since the sixties (his classic The Secular City was published in 1965). The first chapter is devoted to Genesis. He offers some helpful perspectives to go beyond simply plodding though chapter by chapter, verse by verse, trying to follow what is going on or being said. Here are four approaches to shape one’s reading.

Teaching Genesis, Sort Of

OT seminary manual

A new year of LDS seminary is just starting up, and this year’s course of study is the Old Testament. The first week of lessons gives some Mormon framing: (1) an introduction to the Old Testament (it “contains images, symbols, and teachings about the Lord Jesus Christ” and “in the Old Testament, Jesus Christ is known as Jehovah”); (2) a review of the Plan of Salvation (essential elements: Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and the Atonement); (3) a module on how to study the scriptures; and (4) a lesson on the Bible (with a timeline starting with Adam at 4000 BC). Then lessons 6-16 cover the LDS Book of Moses, followed quickly by three lessons (19-21) on the LDS Book of Abraham. The material in Genesis 1-5 is never studied directly. The student reading chart includes all of Moses and all of Abraham but omits Genesis 1-5. The early lessons use Moses references almost exclusively.

Church Sticks With BSA

boyscoutsofamericauniform

At least for the moment, as announced in this statement posted at the Mormon Newsroom: “Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program.” So despite the sharply worded LDS statement released a month ago at the Newsroom expressing frustration with BSA for the timing and content of the decision to allow gay scout leaders to serve and despite Internet rumors that an LDS-BSA divorce was imminent, this troubled marriage will continue, at least for now. How long will this last given declining support for BSA among the LDS rank and file? And what does this mean for LDS youth and youth programs?

Seer Stones and the New Narrative

A week ago, the Church released a suddenly iconic photograph of Joseph Smith’s favorite seer stone, and also posted at LDS.org an article by three LDS historians, “Joseph the Seer,” to be published in the October 2015 Ensign. It seems clear that the image plus the content of the article are going to rewrite the standard (“official”) LDS narrative concerning Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon text. I’m concerned it may also bring folk magic back into that narrative and even back into mainstream LDS culture. That seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Review: Fresh Courage Take, or What It’s Like to Be a Mormon Woman

Fresh Courage Take

I recently read the new book Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women (Signature Books, 2015; publisher’s page), edited by Jamie Zvirdin with a foreward by Joanna Brooks. Twelve enlightening essays reflecting the plight, fight, and delight of being a Mormon woman circa 2015. You might ask: Not being a Mormon woman myself, who am I to write a review of this book? I know at least a few Mormon women rather well (mother, wife, daughter). Also, I have read lots of blog and Facebook posts by articulate Mormon women sounding some of the same themes and experiences, albeit shorter and less polished than these published essays. There’s a certain “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it for much longer, only a few more years, but I really enjoy teaching the Sunbeams” quality to a lot of Mormon feminist writing. These essays show even less mad and more enjoyment.

Mormons and Scouting: A Messy Divorce?

Mormons are talking about Scouting this week as the first significant aftershock of Obergefell v. Hodges rips through the LDS Church. It started with the July 27 announcement by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that its “National Executive Board ratified a resolution that removes the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees.” The BSA statement announcing the decision included this paragraph explaining that local units can still set their own guidelines for selecting adult leaders: Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.

A Look at Life on the Trail

A view of Devil's Gate

On a recent corner-to-corner drive across the state of Wyoming, I paralleled the Mormon Trail for about 200 miles: from where the trail intersects I-25 (about 80 miles north of Cheyenne), through Casper (site of the first Mormon ferry), along Wyoming 220 past Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and Martin’s Cove, then up US 287 past Split Rock to the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. I’ve never been much for pioneer tales, but I enjoyed taking in the landscape that was the common experience of the first twenty thousand Mormons who made the overland trek to Utah.

Selecting New Apostles

From the Salt Lake Tribune, a variety of reflections on the upcoming selection of two new apostles for the LDS Quorum of the Twelve. Many of those quoted in the article favor a pick that would advance ethnic or international or gender diversity. No one made the obvious prediction: a married white male from Utah with a law degree.

Another Proclamation?

For the second week, LDS wards and branches in the USA and Canada were presented with the Letter over the signature of the First Presidency, the Statement over the title of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the unsigned background material in Q&A form accompanying the Letter. These have all been officially published at the Mormon Newsroom. Social media continues to report a variety of reactions at the local level: some bishops simply read the Statement with no discussion, others conducted a Q&A comment period with considerable discussion. Reported comments (when permitted) following the reading of the Statement range from expressions of love and support for gays to jokes and laughter to complete silence. In a post last week, I examined the text of the Letter and Statement in detail. This week, let’s talk a little more broadly about how it has been…

A Letter From Salt Lake City

The Mormon Newsroom has posted a letter from the First Presidency to area and local leaders. This is unusual: generally letters from the First Presidency are read to members over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, where you hear it once (if you’re lucky) but do not get access to the written text for study or review. And the first line of the letter makes it quite clear what prompted the letter: “Enclosed is a statement by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in response to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.” [See Obergefell v. Hodges opinions.] The attached statement is to be read to the membership on Sunday (but not in sacrament meeting). The letter anticipates some discussion following the reading of the statement.

Review: First Principles and Ordinances

first principles

I’m going to say some nice things about Sam Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple, published in 2014 by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. But first some background. This short book (153 pages of text) is part of the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith series, which also includes Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon. What I like about both books is that they take a relentlessly positive approach to the LDS doctrines and principles they discuss but avoid the oversimplified discussion that has become the norm for the LDS curriculum and mainstream LDS books. These are books directed at the intelligent Mormon reader.

Review: Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

Merina Smith’s Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853 (USU Press, 2013) does a very nice job summarizing scholarship on the LDS practice of polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and for the decade following his death. The focus of the narrative (which is based on the author’s recent PhD dissertation) is on the development of a theological narrative to support and justify the early practice of LDS polygamy. The author makes the point that a convincing theological narrative or justification was a necessary prerequisite for the acceptance and practice of polygamy by Joseph’s associates and of course by the women who participated. Later the practice was broadened to a much larger percentage of the membership of the Church. And this is a key point: it took years for Joseph to develop that theological narrative and to get others to accept that theology. This book tells that interesting story.

Day of the Lamanite, Deferred

Lamanite: An increasingly dated term that now rubs many people the wrong way when heard in public Mormon discourse. But the category lingers on despite LDS attempts to move toward a post-racial approach to priesthood and salvation. Lamanites, Nephites, children of Lehi, Indians, Native Americans, Amerindians — whichever term you choose, it’s clear the doctrinal category is still with us. There is still a racial component to the Mormon view of past, present, and future history. Let’s explore this a bit.

Religion in America: Who Needs a Church?

The Pew Research Center is releasing the results of its “extensive new survey” on religion in America. In “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” it summarized changes for reported religious identification: Evangelical Christians dropped 0.9% (from 26.3% of the US population in 2007 to 25.4% in 2014), Catholics fell 3.1%, Mainline Protestants fell 3.4%, and “Unaffiliated” rose 6.7% (from 16.1% to 22.8%). Overall, adults identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%. America is becoming less religious and less Christian.

Review: Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding

You have probably heard about Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Greg Kofford Books, 2015; publisher’s page) by Brian C. and Laura H. Hales. It has been getting a lot of attention, coming as it does in the wake of the recently released polygamy essays at LDS.org. Furthermore, the book follows the three-volume treatment of the history and theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, authored by Brian C. Hales and (for volumes 1 and 2) Don Bradley and also published by Kofford. Not having read the three volumes, I assume the 100 pages of narrative text in this shorter volume, along with the 75 pages of biographical sketches of the 35 women who were, in one sense or another, plural wives of Joseph Smith, are something like a summary of the material discussed at greater length in the three longer volumes. An abridgement, if you will.