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):
Times and Seasons is pleased to welcome Chris Henrichsen as our latest guest blogger. Chris has been blogging for years, first at FPR and then, since February 2013, at the Patheos column Approaching Justice. He has a BA and an MA in political science from the University of Utah and is currently working on a doctorate, also in political science, at Idaho State University. In 2012, Chris ran for the House of Representatives in Wyoming as a Democrat. Chris has taught political science and philosophy at BYU, BYU-Idaho, UVU, and Casper College. He recently relocated to Las Vegas with his wife and three children.
Over the holidays I read The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), by J. B. Haws, a BYU history prof. Technically, the book is a study of how the LDS Church and Mormonism in general is perceived by the American public, and the author presents survey data throughout the book to gauge the ups and downs of the various ways that Mormons and the Church are viewed. No doubt the book is required reading for every LDS Public Affairs employee. But for most readers the book also serves quite nicely as a narrative history of the last fifty years of Mormonism. A lot has happened and a lot has changed: reading about George Romney’s 1968 quest for the Republican nomination for President is like reading about another world.
I hope you have seen the recent public announcement of the initiative to use the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org to essentially do what we have been calling “inoculation” for the last ten years (see here for a list of links to Bloggernacle posts on the topic). The three short video interviews of General Authorities listed at the top of the Gospel Topics page (identified with titles like “How will Gospel Topics be enhanced?” rather than identified as GA interviews) give additional details about the initiative. While there is a lot of ground to cover, this is a very promising development. We should nominate whoever championed this initiative for Mormon of the Year.
This is the third of three posts on the atonement (see here and here). What effect, if any, does the atonement have on your day-to-day life? Does it change how you think, how you feel, or how you act? I think most Latter-day Saints would agree that the atonement is not simply about something that will happen at some distant point in the future (Judgment Day) when, thanks to the atonement, one might be pronounced sinless and eligible to enter a resplendently glorious celestial world instead of being cast down to hell, away to outer darkness, or off to a dimly glorious telestial world. But how exactly does the atonement work for us in the here and now? And why do so many Mormons not feel cleansed, redeemed, and confidently hopeful in the here and now thanks to the atonement but rather feel guilty and inadequate? What are we missing?
Last week I posted The Atheological Atonement, noting that the LDS Church affirms the atonement but not any particular theory of the atonement, and suggesting this is actually not a bad “official” position for the Church to take. This post takes a different approach: if the Church were to move towards a publicly stated theory of the atonement, in which direction should it move? I will be relying on Gustaf Aulen’s (1879-1977) fine little book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Macmillan Co., 1966; American edition, 12th printing, trans. by A. G. Hebert; originally published in Swedish in 1930).
Ten years is a long time, even in the real world. When Adam put up the first Times and Seasons post on Nov. 19, 2003, there was no WordPress. There was no Bloggernacle. There were just six T&S permabloggers (Nate, Matt, Adam, Kaimi, Greg, and Gordon) and a handful of commenters. Those were the days. Below are links to fifteen or twenty representative posts from the first year, with a few commenter names thrown in to give credit to the early followers of the blog.
I recently finished reading Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (OUP, 2011), by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. Most Mormons know Pratt by name from reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few Mormons have read Pratt’s autobiography, which gives some idea of the extent of his missionary travels, but provides little detail about his influential writings or his busy family life (he had 9 wives and 23 children at the time of his death). Any reader of this biography will come to appreciate just how significant a role Pratt played in the early LDS Church, almost from the moment of his conversion in 1830 right up to his death in 1857. Here are a few of the highlights from the book.
It was January 5, 1982, the day United States District Court Judge William R. Overton issued his memorandum opinion in McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education. Plaintiffs challenged an Arkansas statute that required Arkansas public schools to “give balanced treatment to creation-science and evolution-science.” The Court found that “creation science has no scientific merit or educational value as science” and that “the only real effect of Act 590 [the Arkansas statute] is the advancement of religion.” As such, it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and was struck down as unconstitutional. Langdon Gilkey, a theologian who testified at the trial as an expert witness for the plaintiffs, provided an account of the trial in his book Creationism on Trial: Evolution and God at Little Rock (Winston Press, 1985).
The good news: There is more room for dialogue between science and Mormonism than between science and other conservative Christian viewpoints. Most Latter-day Saints don’t feel threatened by science. The bad news: Some Latter-day Saints do come to see the relation between science and Mormonism as one of conflict rather than dialogue, and sometimes science wins that debate in their head. Why do some Mormons see science and Mormonism as an either/or choice rather than a helpful partnership?