Author: Dave Banack

Genesis and Genre

When we read Genesis, what exactly are we reading? The distinctions and categories we modern readers bring to books and narratives (fiction or nonfiction; science or folk tale; history or literature; poetry or prose; author’s original text or quoted source) may not serve us well when we read the Old Testament, a collection of ancient literature. Its writers used different conventions. What were they? What exactly are we reading when we read Genesis?

Lineage: A Troubling Concept

Here’s a quote from Lesson 7, “The Abrahamic Covenant,” that caught my attention in Sunday School: The great majority of those who become members of the Church are literal descendants of Abraham through Ephraim, son of Joseph. Those who are not literal descendants of Abraham and Israel must become such, and when they are baptized and confirmed they are grafted into the tree and are entitled to all the rights and privileges as heirs.

Mormons and Prosperity

What the scriptures teach us about prosperity

The Prosperity Gospel (which the linked Wikipedia article defines as “the notion that God provides material prosperity for those he favors”) is often associated with Evangelical megapreachers. [Note 1.] But we all know there is a Mormon variation of the Prosperity Gospel lurking behind the ubiquitous references to blessings and how to earn them that populate LDS books, sermons, and discourse. So when I started reading my review copy of What the Scriptures Teach Us About Prosperity (Deseret Book, 2010) by S. Michael Wilcox, I was hoping that at some point the author would distinguish the Mormon view of prosperity from the Evangelical version of the Prosperity Gospel. The Mormon View of Prosperity Alas, no. The book contains no explicit discussion of the Prosperity Gospel and no direct comparison of Evangelical and LDS views. The index offers no entries under Propserity Gospel, Rick Warren, Joel Osteen, Evangelical, or even Protestant. The best I can find is an entry for John…

Underwhelming Thoughts on Correlation

gospel principles manual

I confess that I am not a regular reader of the Church News, but I did happen to run across this recent piece, “Using proper sources.” I will note a couple of quibbles I have with the piece (which, as an unsigned post in the “Viewpoints” section, I take to be essentially a staff editorial), but in the end I think I agree on the need to avoid the use of “uncorrelated” supplementary sources or materials in class.

Calling All Introverts

There’s hope! At least that’s the message of a couple of posts I read through lately (here and here) presenting an interview with Adam McHugh, the author of Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture. By “Church” he means Evangelicals, not the LDS Church, but the discussion is still relevant to us.

Do We Need A Fifth Mission?

Samuel, proclaiming.

The news is out that LDS leaders are adding a fourth mission for the Church: caring for the poor and needy. According to an official LDS spokesman cited in the Salt Lake Tribune article, the new mission (or purpose or emphasis) will be included in the new edition of the Handbook of Instructions to be issued next year. With a publishing deadline looming, I propose that we put our collective heads together and see whether we need a fifth mission as well. Perhaps adding a fourth mission alone is not enough to fill in the gaps apparently missed by the first three missions.

December: Preparing for the Annual Sunday School Curriculum Reboot

OT manual cover

In the Church, December means different things to different people. If you’re three, you will soon be exiled from that zone of energetic irreverence known as Nursery to your first real class, Sunbeams. If you’re a bishop, holiday cheer is tempered by the month-long grind of tithing settlement. But one change we all look forward to every year is the annual Sunday School curriculum reboot. The anticipation is palpable. Yes, even this year, with the Old Testament waiting in the wings. Any course of study gets old after twelve months. Universities run on quick 10-week quarters or endless 16-week semesters. Gospel Doctrine is like a 52-week BYU religion class. We’re ready for a change. December is your month to prepare. And prepare you must. The LDS Bible offers an archaic English translation based on scholarship and original manuscripts five centuries behind the times. Moreover, the narrative is cut up into little snippets (enumerated verses), poetry and prose are made indistinguishable,…

Your View of Mormons in the Media

I recently had a short discussion with a journalism student about how Mormons and Mormonism get covered in the mainstream media and whether new online media, including blogs, do any better. I’ll summarize my responses below, but I invite readers to offer their own responses in the comments. 1. How do Mormons feel about increased coverage of Mormonism in the mainstream media that accompanied Mitt Romney’s presidential candidacy? I don’t know any Mormon who resents the increased coverage or wishes the media would stop talking about Mormonism. Of course, it is nice when journalists who include references to Mormonism in their stories get the details right. I think the LDS Newsroom has had some success helping journalists get some of the details right, such as distinguishing The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from other churches or splinter groups that still come under the larger umbrella of “Mormonism,” some of which continue to practice polygamy. 2. Do you feel…

What Happened in Nauvoo, Part 3: Polygamy

[See Part 1: Founding and Part 2: Flourishing] Any history of Nauvoo needs to give an account of the secret practice of polygamy between 1841 and 1846. In Nauvoo: A Place of Peace, a People of Promise, Glen Leonard does this in about twenty pages as part of Chapter 13, “Foes Within: The Church of the Seceders.”

Hope and Children

Faith and charity get plenty of attention, but hope not so much. Pessimism, it seems, has become one of the guiding principles of modernity, reflected in the media, popular culture, and even academia. So I was surprised to find a philospher making the suggestion that children anchor our hope for progress and our conviction that life will be better for the next generation.

Sunday Afternoon in a Nutshell

President Uchtdorf conducted the Sunday afternoon session, featuring talks by Elder Holland, Elder Cook, Elder Neilson, Elder Renlund, Elder Ringwood, Elder Sitati, and Elder Christofferson, followed by closing remarks from President Monson. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given.

Saturday Afternoon in a Nutshell

President Eyring conducted the Saturday afternoon session, featuring talks by Elder Oaks, Elder Hales, Elder Zeballos, Elder Callister, Elder Watson, Elder Anderson, and President Packer. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks given.

Saturday Morning in a Nutshell

President Eyring conducted the Saturday morning session, which featured brief remarks from President Monson and talks from Elder Scott, Sister Matsumori, Elder Clayton, Brother Osguthorpe, Elder Bednar, and President Uchtdorf. Direct quotations (based on my notes) are given in quotes; phrases without quotes are my summary of the remarks.

Populism and the Early Church

I finally got my hands on a copy of The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan O. Hatch’s look at how the egalitarian democratic spirit that pervaded post-Revolutionary America influenced five early American religious movements: the Christians (such as the Disciples of Christ), the Methodists, the Baptists, black churches, and Mormonism.

Two Kinds of Faith

I recently read Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate, Terry Eagleton’s critique of the contributions to that debate by Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (who he conflates via the memorable moniker “Ditchkins”). It’s less than I’d hoped for, but Chapter Three, “Faith and Reason,” raises issues and questions about that most basic of First Principles, faith.

Life on the Fringe

I’ve seen several links but no discussion of the Slate piece on the hypothetical future role of Mormons, “The Catholic Church helped preserve Roman civilization. Can Mormonism do the same for America?” It’s part of an eight-part series on the theme How is America going to end? by a Slate senior editor.

New Primary Lesson Needed

Suggested lesson topic: What to do when you are seven years old and do not want to go to church. Yes, I finally watched the video of the seven-year-old kid who drove away in the family car to avoid going to church (see posts at Get Religion or the SL Trib for details and the video). The story coyly refrains from noting which church the kid was fleeing, but the video comes courtesy of the Weber County Sheriff’s Office, so I’m just guessing …

Two New Permabloggers

We are pleased to welcome two new permabloggers to our ranks: Alison Moore Smith and Rory Swensen. Both have recently guest blogged here, so I won’t repeat bio information from earlier welcome posts (see here and here for a refresher). We look forward to their continuing contributions here at T&S.

Modernism and the Mormon Intellectual

The Enlightenment and its legacy of reason applied to human affairs has been tough on religion. One would think this would apply with even more force to the LDS Church, given how recent are the founding miracles of Mormonism and how prominently they are featured in discussions of our history and practice. But most Mormons seem strangely unaffected by the modernist critique.

Anonymity as Virtue or Vice

Online anonymity is a topic that comes up regularly. Does if facilitate public discussion of controversial issues or just allow anonymous commenters to spread rumor and innuendo with no accountability? Does real-name posting or commenting improve quality via reputation effects or lead to self-censoring? These are valid questions for all online forums, not just blogs or the Bloggernacle.

AWOL: The Threefold Mission of the Church

I was cleaning up my blogroll yesterday and came across this post at Intelligent Life that prominently displays the threefold mission of the Church: preach the gospel, redeem the dead, perfect the Saints. It occurs to me I rarely hear this once-prevalent formulation in current LDS discourse. Where did it go?

God and Robots

They’re coming. Even if you don’t own a robot vacuum cleaner or lawnmower, you’ve been dealing with robots for many years now without realizing it: ATMs, kiosks that vend DVDs, the scan-it-yourself devices at the grocery store that greet you with a friendly “Welcome, valued customer!” and conclude with a brisk “Your receipt is printing. Don’t forget to pick up your change!” How long before the Church starts using robots for some functions? Please, no snarky comments. This is a serious topic.

Reflections on the Mormon Trail

On a recent corner-to-corner drive across the state of Wyoming, I parallelled 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.

Upbeat Reflections on BYU

I recently spent a day on the BYU campus as part of an informal reunion with several old dorm-floor roommates and family members. It was a nice visit, and made me recognize something that often gets forgotten in online discussions about BYU: It is a great place for LDS kids to go to college.

Mormonism, Fundamentalism, and Absolute Truth

I recently read Terry Eagleton’s After Theory (Basic Books, 2003), in which Eagleton manages (in a very entertaining way) to be critical of just about everything, including fundamentalism and “Utah” (a term he seems to be using as a proxy for Mormonism). He makes an interesting argument about fundamentalism, suggesting that it is rooted in how certain people (“fundamentalists”) read texts. His references to Utah suggest he sees Mormonism as practicing a fundamentalist approach to truth. I think I disagree with both points. Some fundamentalist movements might be based on how certain texts are read, but not all, and Mormons don’t really employ the fundamentalist approach that Eagleton seems to attribute to us.

A New Mormon Gateway

A website with answers. That’s what Time Magazine calls the new religion website Patheos.com in “What Do Religions Believe? A Website with Answers.” The Time article describes the new site as one “that sets out to explain the differences among religions as well as illuminate the areas of common ground.” Just today the site unveiled its Mormon Gateway section, a menu of resources designed to complement the more detailed information presented in the Library section of the site.