Author: Dave Banack

Mormon Myths

If you haven’t read “Five Myths About Mormonism,” a piece at the Washington Post by Joanna Brooks, you should. There are plenty of Mormon myths out there, but few people are going to visit the LDS Newsroom or the Mormon Defense League to upgrade their ideas about Mormons and what we believe. We need more articles like this in the mainstream media to get the message out.

Who Wrote the Gospels?

It always helps to know who wrote what you are reading, and Bible books are no exception. The four gospels, in particular, present interesting questions of how the narratives were composed and who did the composing.

Doctrine and Practice

I enjoyed Alison’s post from a couple of weeks ago, Does Gender Matter?, but I’m a little confused how the pieces fit together. The post appears to accept the nonscriptural, uncanonized Proclamation at face value, stating: “Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters.” That makes it difficult to argue for reform of what is identified as a problem: “The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles.” However, there is a different way to see the issue.

Women and Meetings

Once a year I attend a professional conference on juvenile law and practice. The keynote speaker at this year’s conference is Bruce D. Perry, a scholar and psychologist who studies the effect of trauma on brain development and who runs a clinical practice treating children and juveniles who are forced to deal with those difficult issues.

Cafeteria Correlation

Karl Giberson’s Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution (HarperOne, 2008) relates Giberson’s journey from fundamentalist Christian student to still-believing but no longer fundamentalist physicist. Chapter 5 of the book critiques the sources of Young Earth Creationism (YEC), primarily George McCready Price’s The New Geology, published in 1923, and Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, published in 1961. As Price’s book is also a source for LDS YEC beliefs — which for some bizarre reason still seem to guide Correlation in approving statements made in LDS publications — the chapter seems particularly helpful for Latter-day Saints seeking to understand LDS views on science and evolution.

Evangelical Incivility

I am guessing many readers have already stumbled across a controversial opinion piece posted at Patheos last week, Warren Cole Smith’s “A Vote for Romney Is a Vote for the LDS Church.” Smith is the author of the book A Lover’s Quarrel With the Evangelical Church, so it is clear where he is coming from. In fairness to Patheos, it should be noted that the article was part of an online symposium on faith and social conservatism offering a variety of viewpoints, including “Yes, Christians Can Vote for Mormons,” “In Defense of Mormons,” and Nate Oman’s “The LDS Church Walks a Tightrope on Public Policy.” Still, the Smith article rankles. Why? It is not simply because of disagreement with the author’s opinion. I read a lot of articles that I disagree with but that don’t spur the sense that there is something deeply wrong with the article. After some reflection I have decided that is not the author’s opinion that…

The Language of God

I recently breezed through a short book by Herman Wouk (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny) titled The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion (Little, Brown and Co., 2010). The book has the virtues of being short, entertaining, and informative as it recounts the author’s quest to relate his deep religious and cultural attachment to Judaism to his equally firm attachment to a scientific worldview. That’s the sort of quest many people in the 21st century are engaged in at one time or another.

Rethinking the Proclamation

What exactly is the Proclamation, or, to use its full title, The Family: A Proclamation to the World? It is not scripture. It is not a revelation. It is not even a Conference talk. What is it? What status does the Proclamation have at present in the LDS Church?

Making Mormons in the 21st Century

Jan Shipps always has something interesting to say about Mormonism. An essay you might not have run across is “Making Saints: In the Early Days and the Latter Days,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1994). It turns out that becoming a Latter-day Saint (or acquiring the characteristics of Mormon ethnicity) involves more than just conversion or joining the Church.

More on the Mormon Gender Gap

Once upon a time, I wrote a post titled “The Puzzling Mormon Gender Gap.” It is still puzzling, primarily because it seems so inconsistent with the popular picture of the Church as a patriarchal institution run by old white males. When the topic came up recently in a ZD thread, the ZD discussants (generally a fairly rational bunch) simply denied the data. Well, I think the question is too important and too interesting to dismiss simply because LDS feminists (and I use that as a descriptive term, not a dismissive one) don’t want to talk about it.

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.

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.

Blogging on the Road to Damascus

saul damascus one

Transcripts of the recent General Conference have been posted at LDS.org, 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…

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?

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.

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.  

Saturday Morning Session

Conference Center

President Uchtdorf conducted the Saturday morning session, featuring talks by Elder Perry, Sister Jean A. Stevens, Walter F. Gonzalez, Kent. F. Richards, Elder Cook, and President Eyring, with brief 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.

Tsunami

tsunami

I am sure that many of you have been following the stunning events in Japan: earthquake, tsunami, meltdown. Our first personal reaction to such events is always concern and sympathy for those swept up in the ongoing human tragedy. The first LDS institutional response, when resources are available, is to forward relief supplies and helping hands to those in need of assistance. But at some later point comes personal and institutional reflection. Is this just the sort of natural tragedy that happens from time to time, or is it a divine sign of the end times? Or both?

Challenges of Church History

Just finished A Brief History of History: Great Historians and the Epic Quest to Explain the Past (The Lyons Press, 2008) by Colin Wells. It is a quick review of all those names you have heard a time or two (Thucydides, Tacitus, Guicciardini, Ranke, Burckhardt, Turner, Braudel, etc.) woven together into a narrative. Favorite quote: “History is everywhere; we live in it.” The comments in the book that are worth discussing at an LDS blog concern the challenges of writing Church History.

Almost Mormon

almost christian

I recently finished Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers Is Telling the American Church (OUP, 2010) by Kenda Creasy Dean, a professor at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Chapter 3, entitled “Mormon Envy,” naturally attracted my attention. Almost Christian relies in large part on data gathered by the National Study of Youth and Religion and on an earlier book presenting results from that sociological study, Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers (OUP, 2005). But Dean’s interest is more in what the results mean for youth ministers of mainline Protestant denominations. The news is not good, as documented in Part 1, “Worshipping at the Church of Benign Whatever-ism.” The chapter titles — “Becoming Christian-ish” and “The Triumph of the ‘Cult of Nice’” — pretty much tell the story. Mainline Protestant teens are generally not developing a Christian or denominational identity. Instead, they are implicitly adopting the norms of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, a term borrowed from Soul…

Cruise Control and Doctrinal Ditches

On Friday night, I was heading up the Snake River Canyon toward Jackson Hole, with snow falling gently through the darkness. At the entrance to the canyon, the following message was brightly displayed on a portable electronic sign: “Slippery spots: Turn off cruise control.” I have never seen that particular message on a traffic sign before. Good advice, of course — you’ll live longer if you are thinking (cruise control off, brain on) while driving on slick roads.

Church and Family

After a flurry of posts related to the new edition of the CHI (now titled Handbook 1 and Handbook 2), the Bloggernacle has fallen silent. (The Salt Lake Tribune has followed up with a helpful article.) One of the new features of Handbook 2 (“H2”) highlighted in the worldwide training broadcast is the three introductory chapters that provide a foundational and doctrinal context for the guidance given in the balance of the book. I am going to note a few statements given in the four pages of Chapter 1, “Families and the Church in God’s Plan,” with short comments following each statement. The bold titles are my own; all quotes are from H2.

Downgrading Doctrine

Here is a second post (see No. 1) drawn from Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One (HarperOne, 2010). In Chapter 7, titled Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return, Prothero comments on how ritual and ethics receive greater emphasis in Judaism and doctrine receives less emphasis than in, for example, Christianity. I wonder to what extent this is also true of Mormonism. Noting how narrative Exodus is followed immediately by the detailed legal and ethical recitations in Leviticus, Prothero notes that Judaism is “about both story and law,” and that Judaism stresses “doing over believing, orthopraxy over orthodoxy.” The word “orthopraxy” should set off your Bloggernacle word alert (see discussions here, here, here, and here, for example). If Prothero thinks Jews emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy, he is saying that correct practice or action is more important to Jews than correct opinion. He summarizes this by saying, “So Jews are knit together more by ritual and ethics than by doctrine.” Is…

Unauthorized Practices and Other Selected Highlights From the Leadership Training Meeting

Things happen fast around here these days. Last night when I retired for the evening, nothing about yesterday’s Worldwide Leadership Training Meeting had yet been posted online. Now that I am home from church today and are sitting here at my computer, the video is publicly posted for all to read and discuss; Handbook 2 (or “H2”) is likewise publicly posted; and several Bloggernacle posts are up (here, here, here, here, here, and here). But I still think my notes have a few things to add to the discussion. In his short pre-recorded introductory remarks, President Monson stated that reading, understanding, and following the Handbook would further the goal of avoiding what he termed unauthorized practices. As an example, he recounted a personal experience where a high councilor thought it proper to turn the chair of a young man receiving the priesthood toward the local LDS temple. I’m aware of a visiting general authority who recently advised local leaders that…

Mormonism in God Is Not One

I’ve been reading Stephen Prothero’s new book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter (HarperOne, 2010). I’m rather enjoying it, which is a bit of a surprise given that I’m not generally a religions of the world kind of guy. Anyway, Prothero devoted a generous two pages in his 34-page chapter on Christianity to Mormonism and said some refreshingly pleasant things about us.

How to Read the Bible

Last month I did a series of posts on religion and science; the theme for November is interpreting the scriptures. (Since November basically ends when Thanksgiving hits, I’m borrowing a week from October.) First up: a few thoughts on Steven McKenzie’s book How to Read the Bible: History, Literature, and Prophecy — Why Modern Readers Need to Know the Difference, and What it Means for Faith Today (OUP, 2005).

Sunday Afternoon in a Nutshell

T&S does not run open posts — we figure readers ought to be listening to Conference rather than yakking online during the sessions. Instead, we do post-session summaries and posts looking at individual talks. Comments welcome. President Uchtdorf conducted the concluding Sunday afternoon session, featuring talks by Elder Perry, Elder Bednar, Elder Lawrence, three more Seventies, Elder Ballard, and President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given. Parenthetical comments in italics are my own comments.

Sunday Morning in a Nutshell

President Uchtdorf conducted the Sunday morning session, featuring talks by President Eyring, Elder Packer, Elder Jensen, Sister Cook, Elder Oaks, and President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given. Parenthetical comments in italics are my own comments.