So I stumbled upon a Rod Dreher article at Beliefnet, “The Church’s Lost Generation” (and by “Church” he means generic Christians). It is clear from General Conference themes that senior LDS leaders are now aware (finally) of our youth retention problem and the broader faith versus doubt problem that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately. Dreher makes it clear we are not the only ones worried about the problem. Everyone is losing their youth, it seems.
Welcome to the fourth or fifth or sixth session of General Conference, depending on how you count. Text in quotation marks are verbatim quotes but not 100% guaranteed; other text is my summary of their remarks. [My comments inside brackets.] Music by the Choir. President Eyring conducting (he thinks it’s the fifth session), President Monson presiding. Song, prayer.
At last night’s Stake Leadership Training Meeting, the stake president announced the first two speakers, both bishops. The second was assigned the topic “the unwritten order of things.” Hard to think of a topic more likely to spin out of control — I braced for the worst, and prepared myself for the upcoming train wreck by Googling up a copy of Elder Packer’s actual remarks at the 1996 BYU devotional and (#3 on the Google search) Julie’s 2009 post “The Problem with the Unwritten Order of Things” and the 103 spirited comments to that post.
Having heard nice things about the odd little book by Pierre Bayard How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (ht: someone out there), I finally found it. And read it. Summary: You read a very, very small slice of all published books. You forget most of what you read, so you retain only a small part of the few books you actually read. Worse yet, you bend and twist what you do remember to fit your own personal matrix of ideas and experiences. So what is in your head after reading a book, even more so for a book you read years ago, likely bears little or no similarity to the actual text of the book. Maybe we should forget books, forget any claim to link to some text that we supposedly read and remember, and just talk creatively and imaginatively about our own ideas and experiences. The author draws a lot out of that simple set of claims.…
It’s not surprising that the First Vision has become one of the faith issues that gets kicked around the Internet these days. Visions are personal experiences of one particular person, so little effort or justification is needed for a third party to doubt or disbelieve another’s account of a vision. Most Mormons find it easy enough ignore or reject visions recounted in other Christian traditions without much reflection. As Steven C. Harper notes, “It is vital to recognize that only Joseph Smith knows whether he experienced a vision in 1820. He was the only witness to what happened and therefore his own statements are the only direct evidence. All other evidence is hearsay.”  But if accepting or rejecting Joseph’s accounts of his vision is so straightforward, why has the First Vision become so contentious for some people? Let’s consider a few possibilities.
The Summer 2014 print issue of Dialogue arrived in my mailbox last week. Among other fine articles is a ten-year look back at Mormon blogging by Dialogue Web Editor Emily Jensen. The article consists of about 70 paragraph-length quotations from selected Bloggernacle posts over the years, in ten categories: theology, homosexuality, feminism, race, Mormon studies, public conversations, history, Dialogue, personal essays, and miscellaneous. The Dialogue website adds a few supplementary blog posts that did not make the print article, but to get the print article itself you will need to subscribe. Below are links to the T&S posts that appeared in the article.
Elder David A. Bednar just delivered a talk on social media at BYU Education Week. The text of the talk is already posted at LDS.org (video also available). You are probably going to be hearing about this one so you’d better go read it. Here are the highlights. Quotations in the italicized blockquotes; my commentary in plain text following the quote.
It has always been the case that some missionaries “come home early,” as the gentle phrasing goes. It turns out that more missionaries are coming home early than ever before. The percentage is now into the double-digits, and it turns out the folks in Salt Lake City are already well aware that we have a problem. This is based on information quietly passed down the priesthood chain, coupled with an urgent request to extend support and guidance to our young men and women as they prepare for and depart on LDS missions. So the leadership recognizes there is a problem and, surprisingly, the young returning missionaries are not being blamed. But acknowledging a problem is only the first step. What is going on and what can be done to improve things? How can we fix the problem?
Below is the agenda for Day 2 of the FAIR Conference in Provo with brief bios of the speakers. I will be adding summaries of some of the sessions as the day goes by. (Disclaimer: these are on-the-fly summaries for general information and discussion. Please consult audio recordings or the transcripts that FAIR releases in a week or two for accurate details.) Full bios are available at the speakers page. You can get online streaming of the conference sessions.
People are still trying to digest the consequences of the Kate Kelly trial. Just today FMH posted dozens of reports showing how arbitrary the LDS disciplinary process can be and Exponent posted on the feasibility of bringing some level of informed consent to the worthiness interview process. At T&S, we have recently posted and discussed in comments shortcomings of the Kelly trial and problems with apostasy trials in general. Let’s take a step back and ask a more general and hopefully less contentious question: Has the Church outgrown the lay leadership model? Are there any practical alternatives?
The Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles released a short three-paragraph statement on Saturday June 28, 2014, posted at the Office of the First Presidency page at LDS.org. It seems like a helpful and timely statement responding to issues raised in the wake of Kate Kelly’s excommunication on June 23, 2014. In particular:
We are pleased to post the last installment of our Q&A with Armand Mauss, LDS author and scholar. See Part 1 for a full introduction and the first set of questions and answers, and Part 2 for the second set. 9. In the third chapter of your recent book Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport, you discuss how as a graduate student you encountered the theory “that truth or reality is socially constructed,” which you contrasted with an “absolutist or essentialist ontology” that you had developed as a young Latter-day Saint. At the end of the chapter, you reflected back on your early experience as an undergraduate student in Japan and “finally realized how my exclusive resort to a Mormon epistemology in those days had prevented me from fully understanding and appreciating Japanese culture.” It sounds like the traditional Mormon approach to truth and reality makes it difficult to engage with other cultures. That seems like a problem as the…
From Socrates in Athens to Galileo in Rome to John Scopes in a small town in Tennessee, trials make great drama. So it is not surprising that LDS disciplinary proceedings, essentially mini-trials, get so much attention, especially in the age of blogs and Facebook. I shared my thoughts on the topic three years ago in Church Discipline in the Internet Age. This post takes a different approach. Ever heard of Mars Hill Church?
Another installment in my occasional series (see here, here), this one prompted by a fine little two-page article titled “Keeping the Faith” in, of all places, the BYU Magazine. The Church, both the membership and leaders, finally seems to be waking up to the fact that the Church is losing its youngest adult cohort, the Millennials. What exactly is the problem? What can be done at the local level to address the problem? What can LDS leaders do at the Church-wide level to address it?
So I read Bigler and Bagley’s The Mormon Rebellion: America’s First Civil War, 1857-58 (U. of Oklahoma Press, 2011) last week. It will certainly convince you that the Utah Territory of the 1850s was the Wild Wild West as much as it was Zion. Checking the footnotes, it seems like the narrative is built primarily on reports from dissenters, which I suppose is where you turn for facts if you think Mormons were all liars, thieves, and murderers. There wasn’t much historical context provided, say about levels of violence in other western settlements or maybe something about that Second Civil War that was just around the corner. It seems misleading to paint General Johnston, commander of Johnson’s Army that marched on Utah, as a paragon of patriotism in contrast to Brigham Young’s alleged treason without noting that, shortly thereafter, Johnston was in open rebellion against the United States as a Confederate General and died from a Union bullet at Shiloh…
We continue our Q&A with Armand Mauss, LDS author and scholar. See Part 1 for a full introduction. 5. Let’s talk now about some of the issues you discussed in your memoir, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012). In Chapter 6, “Recurrent Visits with the Race Issue,” you recount how you conducted research on the LDS race issue during the 1960s for your dissertation on Mormonism and minorities, filed at UC Berkeley in 1970. That put you smack in the middle of the most contentious issue in the Church during a difficult ten or fifteen years (particularly difficult for many LDS scholars) right up to the 1978 revelation. Yet you held the middle of ground of not exiting the Church or being pushed out as a harmful critic while, at the same time, publishing scholarly analysis and gentle criticism of the existing LDS policy and remaining a fully active…
“The rise of biblical criticism” is the title of a section in Jaroslav Pelikan’s Whose Bible Is It? A History of the Scriptures Through the Ages (Viking, 2005). Those pages are a short and objective introduction to what is variously called biblical criticism, historical criticism, higher criticism, or the historical-critical method. This discussion is sort of a set up for my upcoming review of David Bokovoy’s new book Authoring the Old Testament: Genesis — Deuteronomy (Kofford Books, 2014), which I will be posting in two parts over the next couple of weeks.
Way back in April 2004, almost exactly ten years ago, Armand Mauss was the very first Times and Seasons 12 Questions guest (see Part 1 and Part 2). A lot has happened in the last ten years, so Armand has graciously agreed to answer 12 more questions. He was a Professor of Sociology for many years at Washington State University (the other Cougars) and is the author of two must-read books for students of Mormonism, The Angel and the Beehive (1994) and All Abraham’s Children (2003). With Lester Bush, he co-edited a collection of essays, Neither White nor Black: Mormon Scholars Confront the Race Issue in a Universal Church (Signature Books, 1984). He recently published his memoirs, Shifting Borders and a Tattered Passport: Intellectual Journeys of a Mormon Academic (U of U Press, 2012).
I attended priesthood session at my local chapel. About sixty men and boys in attendance. One woman. It was snowing when I left home. I decided to reward my choosing the right with good consequences, so I stopped by my local Wendy’s and bought a small vanilla Frosty. On the way I listened to a few minutes of my current audio CD, Neptune’s Inferno, about the US Navy at Guadalcanal. Right now (in the CD) the US heavy cruiser San Francisco (which survived the fight) is trading fire with the Japanese battleship Hiei (which didn’t) in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. There were a dozen ships on each side in a wild, confusing night melee. A lot of good young men on both sides died that night, November 12, 1942.
Welcome to round two of T&S sort-of live coverage of General Conference. President Eyring conducted this afternoon session with President Monson (in attendance) presiding. Opening prayer by Ian S. Ardern, a Seventy, and music by an Institute Choir from Orem, Utah. Direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks; other text represents my own summary.
Welcome to T&S sort-of live coverage of General Conference. President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session with President Monson (in attendance) presiding. Opening prayer by Carl B. Cook, a Seventy, and music by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Direct quotations of a speaker are given in quotation marks or blockquote form; other text represents my own summary of their remarks or, where noted, my own comments.
One can read the Book of Mormon as canonized scripture, to guide the Church and its members in doctrine and practice, or as a sign of Joseph Smith’s calling to bring forth new scripture and establish a restored church. Then there is the possibility of reading the Book of Mormon as literature, to enlighten, uplift, and inspire the reader. So, how literary is it? How exactly does one read the Book of Mormon as literature?
A conversation in two senses: First, everyone is talking about Ordain Women (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here; a four-part response here; earlier T&S posts here and here). Second, because, almost without noticing its own success, Ordain Women achieved a significant milestone this week as the LDS Church opened a public conversation with the group by publicly posting an official letter addressed to four of the organization’s “official spokeswomen” (as they are identified on the OW website). The LDS letter responds to earlier private communications from the group and, predictably, elicited a publicly posted response at the OW site. Successfully initiating an official conversation with the Church is no small accomplishment.
This is a discussion T&S permabloggers Julie and Dave had last week about the new book Letters to a Young Mormon (Maxwell Institute, 2014) by Adam Miller (also a T&S permablogger). Dave: Three things a reader should know about Letters to a Young Mormon: It is short, 78 pages if you count the title page. It is published by the Maxwell Institute, part of their Living Faith series (each volume in the series is an “example of faith in search of understanding” by “a scholar who has cultivated a believing heart …”). And it is written by a philosopher, which is always a plus. But I wonder how young a Mormon needs to be to be part of the intended audience. My sense is that anyone from twelve to a hundred would enjoy the book and profit from reading it. Julie: Good question. An interesting bit of reception history here: I’ve seen reviewers mocked for assuming that the book was actually…
When we read scripture, we generally start at the beginning. This is one reason why openings — first lines, first paragraphs — are so important. They set the scene for what is to follow. They set the context and frame our understanding for entire chapters and books to follow. Terry Eagleton has a lot to say about openings in his How to Read Literature (Yale Univ. Press, 2013). While his focus is on literature, not scripture per se, his comments are helpful because scripture is a form of literature. And when it comes to how to read our scriptures, we Mormons certainly need all the help we can get.
I read Edward J. Larson’s Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America’s Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion (Harvard Univ. Press, 1997) earlier this month, and was surprised to see the Book of Mormon appear in one of Clarence Darrow’s arguments to the court. Funny how little mention there is of the Scopes Trial in LDS discourse, given how often evolution seems to come up. I have some ideas on that. But first the interesting arguments made to the court by Darrow.
Stephen H. Webb’s Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (OUP, 2013) has a lot to offer both LDS and non-LDS readers. My acquaintance with Amazon titles on Mormonism makes me think it would have attracted a much larger non-LDS readership had it been titled How I Escaped From Mormon Christianity. Happily for mainstream LDS readers, the book is listed at Deseret Book, where an author search under “Webb” sorted by popularity puts the book just above Melodie Webb’s 250 Ways to Connect With Your Family and just below the ebook version of Isabelle Webb’s The Grecian Princess. I suppose a title like 12 Ways Mormon Christianity Can Make You Rich would have pushed it higher on the Deseret Book popularity list. All this to say I’m not sure how many from either potential audience will actually read this book. But you should.
As a Mormon, you belong to two churches: your local congregation, be it ward or branch (the Local Church), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Institutional Church). While something similar may be true for members of other denominations, it is more true for and has more effect on Latter-day Saints. You may draw strength from both your Local Church and from the Institutional Church; I do, and I think most Mormons do. But they are surprisingly distinct units, with rather different, if complementary, agendas.
I’m about a third of the way through Stephen W. Webb’s Mormon Christianity: What Other Christians Can Learn From the Latter-day Saints (OUP, 2013). Webb is a Catholic professor of philosophy and theology turned writer. His Catholic perspective on LDS doctrine and his evident sympathy for the LDS approach to Christianity make this insightful outsider treatment of LDS theology quite refreshing. I will no doubt post a longer discussion of the book in a week or two, but here is a quotation highlighting some similarities between Catholic and Mormon approaches to Christianity (apart from both traditions being the target of historical Protestant animus, of course):