Author: Gordon Smith

Welcome New Guest Blogger, Jed W.

I am very pleased to introduce our newest guest blogger, Jed W. Besides being the Scoutmaster in my ward, Jed is a third-year doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, where he is studying the history of education on his way to a dual degree in American history and educational policy. He is originally from Bountiful, Utah and his undergraduate degree is from BYU. While there he worked for three years as an editor at BYU Studies and another year on the Papers of Joseph Smith project, which was run through the Joseph Fielding Smith Insitute for Latter-day Saint History. For the past two years, Jed has been assisting Richard Bushman in editing and research on his forthcoming biography of Joseph Smith. Reid Neilson and Jed also prevailed upon Richard to publish a collection of his Mormon history essays. The collection appeared earlier this year with Columbia University Press under the title Believing History: Latter-day Saint Essays. We are looking…

Simple Things

Over the past few days, I have been engaged in some much-needed family immersion. Among other things, I rediscovered the joys of eating jello pudding with children, playing an impromptu “turkey bowl” football game (with players ranging in age from eight to forty-something), and whipping some teenagers at the board game Risk.

Sinning Alone

At a recent conference, I was klatsching with law professors, mostly from my school, when a young law professor in the group related how she was being pursued by another conference attendee. “I always attract married men,” she lamented. “Of course, they all say that they have a bad marriage, but this one is Mormon!”

The Election and SSM

I have generally avoided posting on same-sex marriage, and I am not attempting to initiate another debate on the merits. But I believe that one of the huge stories of the presidential election will be the importance of this issue. While most people I know thought this election would be a referendum on the war in Iraq, it now appears that the tipping issue may have been same-sex marriage. More on my other blog.

Mormon Senator Harry Reid

One of the so-far-untold stories of the election is that Mormon Senator Harry Reid will almost certainly assume leadership of the Democratic Party in the United States Senate. Senator Tom Daschle appears to be going down in South Dakota, thus providing an opening for Reid. Of course, the Democrats are a minority in the Senate, but they are far from irrelevant. I assume this makes Reid the most powerful Mormon politician in the United States. (Will he be the most powerful Mormon politician ever?) Ironic, in light of the recent dominance of the Republican Party among Mormons, that our most powerful politician is a Democrat.


We had an excellent discussion of reverence in our combined Priesthood-Relief Society meeting yesterday. At the end of the meeting, I made a comment which provoked mixed reactions after the meeting, and now I am wondering about that comment.

Teen Apathy

Now that I no longer teach Seminary, one of my biggest challenges is getting my daughter to Seminary on time. She has a driver’s license and would be happy to go on her own, but we can’t spare the car. So I am up at 5:30 (or so) every morning, just like last year. This morning she was stressed because we were running a little late. Not late for class, mind you, but late for her. She likes to arrive a early to write messages (jokes) on the Seminary chalkboard. These jokes often become a topic of conversation with the other youth when they arrive, and I appreciated having them when I was teaching last year. Her teacher this year also has nice things to say about them, but now I am getting off track. As we drove to the chapel, where the Seminary class is held, I was marveling at my daughter’s concern over the time. How did I…

Prayer Rolls

Did you know that you can add a name to the Salt Lake Temple prayer roll by calling an 800 number? Our priesthood instructor mentioned this today, and it started me thinking again about the nature of prayer. And I admit, I am stumped by the prayer roll.

Political Discourse

During this election season in the U.S., I have been troubled repeatedly by the tone of political discourse among my friends, in my community, on the internet, and in the mainstream media. I have been astonished by the extent to which the dominant motivation for political action has become hate. Most people I know are voting against a candidate for president, not in favor of ideas that might improve our country or the world. Last night, while reading in Alma 43 with my family, I perceived in the portrayal of Zerahemnah elements of both major candidates for president, and read with sadness the description of the then-wicked Lamanites — symbolic, in my account, of those who allow themselves to be manipulated by purveyors of hate. Consider the following passages (emphasis added): Zerahemnah appointed chief captains over the Lamanites, and they were all Amalekites and Zoramites. Now this he did that he might preserve their hatred towards the Nephites, that he…

Sweet Boldness

The first part of this post is taken from a comment that I posted just after Elder Maxwell’s death. The story that follows those thoughts is new. During my mission, while serving in the office, I found notes of a talk that Elder Maxwell had delivered to missionaries in Vienna about a decade before. The title of the talk was “Sweet Boldness.â€? At the time, still early in my mission, I was struggling to find my own style of missionary work, and this concept appealed to me. (It was easy to become either hostile or reserved in a country where rejection of the message was so overwhelming.) Indeed, it became something of a personal mantra, which I shared with the mission president and several of the missionaries. As fate would have it, Elder Maxwell returned to Vienna toward the end of my mission. The mission president mentioned this talk to him and asked if he could say a few words…

Withdrawal of the Spirit

Here is a very simple question on which I have no priors: is there a difference between withdrawing from the Spirit and having the Spirit withdrawn? On the former, see Mosiah 2:36. On the latter, see Helaman 13:8. I can visualize us withdrawing from God, but I have a harder time visualizing the circumstances under which God withdraws from us.

Confronting Religious Bigotry

This evening I was having dinner with a well-known professor of sociology from Stanford. Near the end of the dinner, he was discussing genetic research in Utah. He said the only problem is that the research is entirely focused on the men because the Mormons don’t care enough about women to keep their genealogy.

Jewish Standard Time?

I was running late for a meeting today when I encountered a staff member at the law school. When I explained quickly that I was 10 minutes late, she commented, “No problem. Jewish Standard Time.” Well, I thought it was a strange comment to make to me, a conspicuous Mormon, but I was also intrigued by the comparison to the expression, Mormon Standard Time. Do all religions have an expression like this? I have never heard of Catholic Standard Time or Muslim Standard Time.

So, what did you do today?

This is a 911 call in which one of my former colleagues at Lewis & Clark, Jack Bogdanski, is receiving instructions for assisting his wife in the delivery of their baby. This is absolutely incredible, and I dare you to make it through the whole tape without crying.

A Matter of Taste

I just received an announcement for a talk next week in our business school. The title is “Practicing Polygamy with Good Taste: The Evolution of Inter-organizational Collaboration in the Life Sciences.” The paper on which the talk is based has a different title, but the reference to polygamy has me wondering about this person’s perception of polygamy. Given the implicit contrast, I assume that he views polygamy negatively, but I have never thought of polygamy as being a matter of taste. Then again, last week in priesthood meeting, the subject of the Church’s website was raised by the teacher, who was marveling at the various ways that he could sort information. I asked whether we could sort conference talks to hear only the ones discussing commandments that we like. To which the natural response was, “We don’t need a computer filter to do that.”

Fairies & Ectoplasm

Over the past few weeks, I have been listening to a biography of Houdini as I drive to and from work. Among the many things that I have learned is that Houdini was acquainted with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes. In his later years, Doyle became interested in Spiritualism, a religion of sorts that involved communication with the dead. Doyle attended seances and expressed an interest in other spiritualist phenomenon. Doyle was attracted to Houdini, whose powers seemed to have a mystical dimension. During the early years of their acquaintance, while they were still on good terms, Doyle often claimed that Houdini possessed special powers. Doyle’s gullibility is illustrated by his reaction to one of Houdini’s simple tricks. While riding in the car, Houdini pretended to remove the first joint of his thumb. You may have done this trick yourself, or seen someone perform it. It is very entertaining to small children, but Doyle wrote of the…

Racist by Association

More than once in my career, I have been told by colleagues that they had me wrong. They had assumed, because of my religion, that I had unkind feelings toward racial minorities. After observing me in various settings, however, they had concluded that their initial assumption was unfair. These moments are always bittersweet. On the one hand, I am pleased to have gained some measure of approval, even if I have not consciously sought it. On the other hand, I wonder how many other people never get past the initial assumption. When I was an undergraduate, a marketing professor told me that Proctor & Gamble assumed that every customer complaint was representative of six (or was it eight?) other unhappy customers. Similarly, I assume that for every person who admits to having this initial negative opinion of me based my religion, many more people simply harbor the opinion without ever giving it expression. Moreover, I fear that some people will…

Countering Pornography

My impression is that pornography is a widespread problem among members of the Church. While women sometimes fall prey to its enticements, the overwhelming majority of pornography consumers are men. The perils of pornography are of particular concern for those who work with the young men, but many Elders and High Priests also suffer from a so-called “pornography addiction.” As I have encountered members of the Church who are dealing with this problem — whether as Church leaders or as parents — one thing has become depressingly clear: we are not very effective at countering the magnetic force of pornography.


Last week I had an interesting conversation with a young father in my ward about hobbies. He was lamenting the fact that he has none. He used to have hobbies, but the press of family, work, and Church has squeezed all self-indulgence from his schedule. I was interested to hear this because I had said almost exactly the same thing to my wife about five years ago. I had completely given up my youthful passion for golf. I rarely watched television, and certainly didn’t have any regular shows. Reading? Forget about it, unless it was related to a paper that I was writing. No video games, no movies, no pez dispenser collections. Even BYU sports was out. When a student asked about my hobbies, I responded simply, “none.” Fortunately, I enjoy my family, my work, and my Church service because they still account for virtually all of my waking hours. More recently, however, as my children have gotten older, I…

Are you embarrassed?

Many of you have heard about the latest sex scandal associated with BYU’s football program. For those who haven’t, four members of the football team are being investigated in connection with the following events: The 17 year old told detectives she met the men at the mall on Sunday August 8th, and willingly went to their off campus apartment. Inside she claims she was accepted their offer to drink vodka, a pornographic DVD was playing on a TV, and that she later passed out and awoke to find herself undressed. She says she was raped by three or four men over a period of 20 to 30 minutes. If the story is true, I feel very sad for the young woman. Unfortunately, many such events go unreported and unpunished because of ambiguities of proof and ambivalence about blame. And, of course, even those cases that are reported do not attract the same amount of media attention as this case, though…

Scouting v. Personal Progress

My son — with significant prodding from his mother — has been an inspired Boy Scout, and he just completed his Eagle Project. Actually, this is not unusual in our neck of the woods, as almost all of the young men in our ward attain the rank of Eagle. Having missed the scouting experience myself, I have been amazed at how much he has learned through the scouting program. Indeed, I was so impressed with the program that I recently offered my 16-year-old daughter a deal: fulfill all of the requirements for Eagle Scout (slightly amended to meet her interests — i.e., no camping), and receive a scholarship for college.


In the thread on suicide below, several comments have raised this idea from 1 Cor. 10:13: “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” What does this mean? When BRM states, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts,” isn’t that an example of being tempted beyond one’s ability? Is Paul’s statement just “rah! rah!” talk?


Not long ago, I sat in an emergency room with a friend who had been musing about suicide. My experiences with such matters are limited, but I wasn’t taking any chances. This man had lost his job and was being evicted from his apartment. He was at risk of losing custody of his children to his former wife. And he has a history of depression and bi-polar disorder. He claimed not to be suicidal, but I was worried for him.

Dead Man Walking

Sister Helen Prejean, a Catholic nun, published Dead Man Walking in 1993. I am just finishing the book, which reinforces my long-held disdain for the death penalty. I have not seen the movie, but the book is a powerful accounting of Sister Helen’s experiences counseling death-row inmates in Louisiana.