Author: Gordon Smith

Sunday School Lesson 15

I apologize that I’m posting these materials so late. One problem is that it is the end of the semester, but the real problem is that I started making notes as I read and ended up with seven pages of questions. That seemed like a few too many to be useful, so I’ve been editing. I hope they are not too late to be useful.

Belief and Practice

I said, “I don’t think that belief is central to LDS religion: it is important only as part of the practice of religion, not in itself,” and Susan asked, “Are you saying that LDS religion helps you to practice religion better and live better than you would otherwise?” Good question.

Mormons Leading the Way to a “New Dark Age”?

Darren Roulstone was kind enough to pass along a pointer to an article in the most recent issue of Fortune, which lies unread on my nightstand. The article — entitled “Which Nations Will Go Forth and Multiply?” — is adapted from Phillip Longman’s book The Empty Cradle. The main thrust of the article is that declining fertility rates bring lots of benefits, along with some risks for the future. Longman describes the worst-case scenario as follows: Even more sobering are the implications for modern civilization’s values. As urbanization and globalization continue to create a human environment in which children become costly impediments to material success, people who are well adapted to this environment will tend not to reproduce…So where will the children of the future come from? Increasingly they will come from people who are at odds with the modern world–who either ‘don’t get’ the new rules of the game…or who believe they are (or who in fact are) commanded…


On Kristine’s “testimony” thread, Nate’s post and Steve’s reply raised a question about the relation of one’s religion to one’s intellectual life. My question is related to Kristine’s question about how to bear testimony, but I think it is slightly different. I’d like to pursue it in a meandering way.

Thanks and Welcome

We want to thank Susan Staker, aka “Nate’s mom,” for her stint as a guest blogger. I’m not sure which took more courage, Nate asking his mother to blog or Susan agreeing to do so, but from my vantage point, I think the answer is “Susan agreeing.” Susan’s thoughtful and reflective posts have made the site itself more thoughtful and reflective. Without being confrontational, she’s asked questions that make us think. We also want to welcome a new guest blogger, Richard Bushman. If you don’t already know who Richard is, you should. Husband of Claudia Bushman (a former guest blogger), professor of history at Columbia University, author of books on New England history, the history of American ideas and practices of gentility, and LDS history, with a particular interest in Joseph Smith. But perhaps Richard’s most notable quality is his humanity. He is not only a brilliant scholar, he is a gentle and kind person.

Getting to know them

Though Good Friday isn’t a BYU holiday, I’ve tried for a long time to avoid scheduling anything on Good Friday. This year, however, when making up the calendar, I didn’t pay enough attention. To encourage my students to work on their papers early and to talk to each other about them, I required my philosophy of religion seminar to take part in a mini-conference, and I scheduled it for today and tomorrow.

The Baptismal Service

My twins turned eight years old on Tuesday, and we baptized and confirmed them today. Good Friday seemed like an appropriate day for such a service. Having baptized each of my five children, I have baptized more people since my return from missionary service than I did in Austria. Way more. The water was chilly, and my sons didn’t bend their knees — even though we had practiced that in the living room — so their feet almost went out of the water. My sister, who is not a member of the Church, drove three hours to attend. She cried when we sang, “I’m Trying To Be Like Jesus.” My youngest daughter invited a friend from her fourth-grade class, and her friend thought it was “cool.” The talks were basic, but heartfelt. I appreciated the woman who explained the sacrament prayer as a personal covenant, and I was moved by another woman who testified about the influence of the Holy…

Mission Reunion

I enjoy conference because I always feel the Spirit during some talk or another, and usually during several. This time, in the Saturday morning session, Elder Todd Christopherson struck a note that I heard several more times in other sessions when he spoke of grace and of our lives as a gift to give the Savior in response to his grace. And I was touched by President Hinckley’s very personal talk, as well as by what seemed a farewell from Elder Maxwell. But for me the most important part of conference this time was something outside of conference: my missionary reunion.

General Conference: Sunday Afternoon Session

Last session. Do any of you look for themes in Conference? Sometimes I think that the talks are part of an integrated whole, and other times I think that Conference is like a smorgasbord, with talks on various topics so that everyone can find something. If Conferences have a theme, what would it be this year? How about this: the role of families in the last days.

General Conference: Sunday Morning Session

Do people attend the chapel to watch this session of Conference, even when they get it in their home? That has been the custom in some places where I have lived, but I stayed at home, not wanting to discover any such custom here. Not to diminish any of the talks, but I thought the highlight of this session was Liriel Domiciano. Wow!

General Conference: Saturday Morning Session

I love General Conference! This morning/afternoon, I watched it from my home in Wisconsin. Modern technology is wonderous to me. I recall President Kimball talking about the Lord’s hand in developing technology that would spread the Gospel to the whole earth. We have seen that development in a most dramatic way over the past few decades. The following are some thoughts generated by the Saturday morning session:

Most Embarrassing Moments, Gospel Style

As an adult convert to the Church, I had plenty of embarrassing moments of adjustment along the path to integration. Mostly, these were caused by excessive zeal, rather than lingering bad habits. For example, there was the formal meal when I realized that I had just taken one bite of a dessert that contained trace amounts of alcohol. I excused myself from the table, dashed from the restaurant, and drove to the house of my “mentor” (a young returned missionary), who assured me that I wasn’t going to hell … at least for that. This was a bit embarrassing, to be sure, but it does not hold a candle to my most embarrassing moment.

April Fools Fun

This site lists the Top 100 April Fools Hoaxes of All Time. What is #1? The Swiss spaghetti harvest (“real, home-grown spaghetti”). The site has the actual BBC footage. Cool!


The Chicago Sun Times has a piece on the State of Illinois’s apology to the Church for the expulsion from Nauvoo. Is there a kind of analogy between such an apology and baptism for the dead, doing for another what he cannot do for himself? Does our welcome of that apology say anything to us about how we ought to think about other, similar apologies, such as to Native Americans or slaves?

Does History Matter …

In the public debate about abortion? This afternoon I attended the inaugural meeting of the American Constitution Society at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Professor Jane Larson discussed the history of abortion regulation in the United States. Professor Larson has written two amicus briefs to the United States Supreme Court on this topic. What follows are notes taken during the meeting.

Of Flappy Birds & Marauding Marsupials

Those of you who spend a lot of time in the blogosphere are undoubtedly aware of the Ecosystem, sponsored by The Truth Laid Bear. The purpose of the Ecosystem is to classify blogs based on links. The most popular are names you probably know: Instapundit, Daily Kos, Eschaton, Andrew Sullivan, etc. The Top 10 are referred to as Higher Beings. The next 20 are Mortal Humans, which is followed by 70 Playful Primates, thus rounding out the Top 100. The blogs that I read most often (other than Times & Seasons) appear just below that level and are called Large Mammals. Almost 400 blogs currently make this cut.

STQ: Chosen People

My Seminary students were never more united than this morning, when they all agreed that my “thought question” for today was not very interesting. Not one to be deterred by a little opposition, I decided to float the idea here.

Chariots of Fire

This morning in Seminary, I showed my students some clips from Chariots of Fire. We have been studying Isaiah, and I love the scene where Eric Liddell is preaching to a congregation in Paris while taking Sunday off from the 1924 Olympics. (Do they understand what he is saying with his Scottish accent?). During that scene, interposed with images of athletes stuggling to compete in slow motion to the haunting music by Vangelis, Liddell quotes from Isaiah 40:29-31: He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Faith, Works & Presidential Politics

Yesterday, John Kerry spoke in a chuch and invoked biblical support for an attack on “our present national leadership.” Kerry alluded to the following passage from James 2:14-17: What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or a sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Kerry asked rhetorically, “When we look at what is happening in America today, where are the works of compassion?”

STQ: Isaiah

We are all familiar with the words of the Savior to the Nephites after quoting Isaiah 54: “ye ought to search these things. Yea, a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.” (3 Nephi 23:1). In preparation for another week of Isaiah study (this is my third time teaching the book of Isaiah, the two prior attempts being in Gospel Doctrine), I decided to give in to my inner skeptic and ask this Seminary Thought Question: What is so great about the words of Isaiah?

Is Religion Offensive to Non-believers?

This from Richard John Neuhaus at First Things (scroll way down): [A] recent national survey asked administrators and students about the First Amendment. Only 21 percent of administrators and 30 percent of students knew that the First Amendment guarantees religious freedom. Only six percent of administrators and two percent of students knew that religious freedom is the first freedom mentioned in the First Amendment. Only 41 percent of administrators and 32 percent of students believe that religious people should be permitted to advocate their views by whatever legal means available. On the other hand, 74 percent of students and 87 percent of administrators think it ?essential? that people be able to express their beliefs unless?and then come a host of qualifications, all amounting to the condition that their beliefs not ?offend others.?

CES on The Passion

I received an email from my CES coordinator today. Attached to the email was a letter from the CES Administrators’ Council about The Passion. It reads: We have received questions about Mel Gibson?s new movie, ?The Passion of the Christ.? The Church has not made an official statement regarding the movie. We have been given the pamphlet, For the Strength of Youth: Fulfilling Our Duty to God. We should encourage the youth to follow the standards explained in the pamphlet, including those regarding movies. Also, it would not be profitable to spend class time discussing the pros and cons of attending it. If students seem confused and want further guidance, please encourage them to talk with their parents and priesthood leaders. CES personnel, however, should refrain from taking a particular stance on specific movies when the Church has made no official statement. The Church is in a tough position on issues like this, and asking CES personnel to refrain from…

Welcome, Julie & Thanks, Greg

Many thanks to Greg Allen, who posted early, often, and well here at T&S. I suspect that he won many new fans for, and we look forward to hearing from him again soon. Our newest guest blogger is Julie Smith, a native Houstonian who earned a BA in English from the University of Texas at Austin and an MA in Biblical Studies from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, where she specialized in women in the New Testament. You know her here as “Julie in Austin,” but you might also be familiar with her book, Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels, which according to Julie “contains over 4,000 questions (no answers) and attempts to get LDS readers to really think about the scriptures and to introduce them to the various approaches of academic biblical studies.” Julie teaches at the LDS Institute in Austin, Texas. She is married to an engineer, and has two children, whom…

“Mommy, I was wishing that!”

Last night I attended the Pinewood Derby races for my sons’ cub scout troop. My wife loves woodworking of all sorts, so I have never made a Pinewood Derby car. At our first Pinewood Derby, now many years ago, my oldest son thought that the highest numbers on the electronic scoreboard were best, so he was excited whenever his car came in sixth out of six. My wife quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and he won the next year.

Next Up: Methodists

This just in: The “2004 Yearbook” reports on 215 U.S. church bodies with a record high total membership exceeding 161 million. Leading any other single U.S. church is the Catholic Church, reporting 66,407,105 adherents, followed by the Southern Baptist Convention (16,247,736) and the United Methodist Church (8,251,042). The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ranks 5th (5,410,544). … From 2001-2002, major U.S. churches that grew included the Catholic Church, Southern Baptist Convention, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Assemblies of God, American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., Jehovah’s Witnesses and Church of God (Cleveland, TN). Recording membership losses were The United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod), African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and United Church of Christ…. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons), an American-born church, continues to grow remarkably, remaining the fifth largest church in the nation. Among the 15 largest churches, the LDS also reports…

Ward Web Sites

So my wife took my daughters to Enrichment Night tonight, and I was trying to remember why. Is it the Relief Society’s birthday? Some sort of mother-daughter bonding event? Or perhaps the women of the Church have finally had enough and they are simply taking over. Then I had a bright idea: check the ward’s website! Sure enough, it lists Enrichment Night for tonight. When I click for more details, I am prompted to give a username and password, which I navigate successfully. My reward: Wednesday, 17 March 2004 Enrichment Night 6:30 PM – 8:30 PM Hmm. That was almost pretty cool.

Appropriate Language

Between teaching Seminary and raising five children, I have plenty of opportunities to consider the topic of appropriate language. The other day, for example, one teenager referred to another as a “brown noser.” I asked, “Do you have any idea what that means?” Blank stare. Another piped up, “Yeah, it means that he sucks.” Arggh!