Author: David Evans

Telling the stories of the Church’s history

A review of Leonard Arrington and the Writing of Mormon History, by Gregory A. Prince Telling the history of a church can be tricky. Which elements arose from the culture of the time? Which manifest the direct intervention of the divine? Is that even a sensible distinction? On the one hand, some Church leaders have historically seen the principal role of religious history as being to show “the hand of the Lord in every hour and every moment of the Church from its beginning till now” [1]. With this as one’s end, the appropriate means may be a partial telling of history: “Some things that are true are not very useful” [2]. On the other hand, some fear that this will leave believers vulnerable when uncomfortable truths come out: “I worry about the young Latter-day Saints who learn only about the saintly Joseph and are shocked to discover his failings. The problem is that they may lose faith in the entire…

Listen to the stories of those who hurt because of the ghost of eternal polygamy

a review of Carol Lynn Pearson’s The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy: Haunting the Hearts and Heaven of Mormon Women and Men I don’t think about polygamy much. I have no interest in participating in it (in this life or another). It doesn’t come up much in my conversations, except as I discuss my polygamous ancestors from the early Church or the lives of Brother Joseph or Brother Brigham and their contemporaries. I am one of those for whom, as Carol Lynn Pearson writes, “it is not to be taken very seriously.” But Pearson argues that there are others, “a great many, I think,” for whom “it is a blight, rather like the crickets that destroy a crop.” To that I say, but wait, didn’t we — and by we I mean the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — give up polygamy more than a century ago? Well, yes and no. Members of the Church who enter into polygamous…

What is Zion and how do we get there? 31 Mormons weigh in: You’ll definitely find your Zion somewhere in here

A review of A Book of Mormons: Latter-day Saints on a Modern-Day Zion In this useful collection of brief essays, an impressively wide array of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints describe what Zion means to them. As the editors write in their introduction, “Forget about glossy Mormon-produced documentaries. Forget about funny Broadway musicals. … Here you will find a potent mixture of everyday and extraordinary Mormons speaking in their own voice about tough issues and hard-won testimonies.” The range of approaches is wonderfully expansive. Some of the authors speak of how Zion means better inclusion of groups that have historically been under-empowered. Neylan McBain, whose book Women at Church I can’t say enough good things about, writes, “As we stretch toward a new identity of Mormon womanhood, our community craves a vision of how we can honor our priorities without being slaves to their former trappings.” Julie Smith explores the question “does Mormonism oppress women–or…

Whom say ye that I am? A review of John Turner’s Mormon Jesus

This is the first in a series on John Turner’s The Mormon Jesus: A Biography. John Turner’s latest book — The Mormon Jesus: A Biography — is wonderful. The book opens with Jesus’ question to his apostles, as recorded in Mark 8:29, “But whom say ye that I am?” Over the succeeding nine chapters, Turner explores how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have answered that question over time. By themes, Turner constructs a rich historical narrative of the evolution of Mormon belief. Along the way, he places Mormon views in the context of broader Christianity: Joseph Smith revised the Bible? So did Thomas Jefferson and others, but in very different ways. This anchoring of Latter-day Saint views in their time and place doesn’t make Mormonism’s brand of Christianity the same as other groups; rather, it serves to highlight what is actually distinctive. Furthermore, Turner illustrates each theme with well-told illustrations, such as ordinary members of…

The General Conference Mirth Index – Take 2

I always enjoy the opportunity to laugh a little bit in general conference. In January, I introduced the General Conference Mirth Index (for the October 2014 conference), which sums up the number of laughs for each talk. As we enter into the next General Conference this weekend, let’s see how much laughing we did last April. A quick recap. To calculate this, I listen to each conference talk and record the number of instances of laughter that I hear. (Note that I’m not counting jokes or judging what is a joke; I’m only counting what induces laughter.) I listen to each talk in the language in which it was delivered, since the English voiceover often covers the laughter. I then adjust by the length of the talk. This has limitations – it weighs equally Elder Gibson’s chuckle from not eating dinner with Elder Pearson’s medium-sized laugh from #spaciousbuilding. Big picture. More than half the talks had at least one laugh…

They Spoke in General Conference as Ones That Had Authority

“And they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the scribes.” –Mark 1:22 (see also Matthew 7:29) This scripture is often read to mean that Jesus expounded doctrine directly, rather than citing repeatedly what others had taught before (see some detailed discussion here). As Ellicott puts it, “It is the prophet, or rather, perhaps, the king, who speaks, and not the scribe.” This scripture led me to wonder how leaders in the modern Church refer to different types of authority in their teaching. So I went through a single General Conference – the most recent, from October 2014 – and tallied up quotes of authority of different kinds. I separated the quotes into four categories: Scriptures: This includes only the four canonical books of LDS scripture. High LDS Authority: This includes General Conference talks (by General Authorities or auxiliaries), other recorded talks or Ensign articles by General Authorities or auxiliaries,…

Laughing through General Conference

No one comes to General Conference for the jokes. And yet, some of the conference moments I remember most clearly involve laughter. In 1997, after Elder Nelson gave a laudatory talk about President Hinckley, President Hinckley took the stand and said, “I thought we were conducting General Conference. It’s turned out to be a funeral.” He went on to challenge Elder Nelson to a duel in the basement of the Tabernacle. Later in the session, he postponed the duel. It was a fabulous moment in conference history. What does humor in General Conference do? First, the spiritual tide of General Conference can feel overwhelming at times and humor can break it up, making it easier to be attentive to the rest of the counsel we’re receiving. Second, it can teach a subtle lesson, as with the humility implicit in President Hinckley’s embarrassment at being praised. Third, it can make a story that teaches a lesson more memorable, as when President…