Author: Kaimi Wenger

CNN blog reports from anti-Mormon Bizarro-Land

The CNN blog just ran a lengthy interview with Tricia Erickson, who makes a variety of arguments that no believing Mormon should ever be elected President. (Link here; note that in her interview she cites language from the endowment ceremony). Erickson’s arguments are predictably bad. She repeats the old evangelical anti-Mormon reasoning that Mormons are all basically automatons, and suggests that any Mormon politician would have a secret church-promoting agenda. It’s an argument straight out of The Manchurian Candidate (and reminiscent of the anti-Catholic arguments raised against JFK). Her argument, such as it is, is sufficiently silly and hyperbolic that it is essentially self-refuting. But what are the implications of the article’s prominent publication today — what does it say about the current political and religious discourse? I found it interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it surprised me that CNN would run this sort of thing. The article was a silly, self-serving (buy my book!) hack job. Erickson…

And I Feel Fine

This Saturday, the world is going to end. At least, a few folks seem to think so. Why? The idea comes from a dizzying combination of numerology (looking for special hidden numbers which God has placed as clues) and eschatology (discussion of the end of the world). In recent years, these kinds of claims have come up every few years — for instance, prior movements claim to have found hidden numerical clues indicating that Jesus would return in 1988, or 1994. Of course, each of the earlier movements predated the projected event, but not by much. Indeed, these sorts of movements typically project a very short time horizon for the Second Coming. This year’s specific account is based on complicated calculations using numbers pulled from Bible verses in a rather ad hoc manner. First, you add up the ages of the patriarchs in the Old Testament to arrive at a date for Noah’s flood: 4990 B.C. Then, you add 7000…

Orson’s Game

Orson Scott Card is a longtime expert in making the fantastical seem almost real. He’s done it over the course of his decades-long literary career, bringing to life child generals at war with alien insects; magic-wielding prophets in the American West; spooky child ghosts living in video games; planet-ruling musician kings; Mormon colonies scrabbling for existence in a post-apocalyptic waste; worlds populated by talking heads and fascinating failed copies of humankind. Card did grim and dystopic before it was cool. Not one but two of his books have won both the Hugo and Nebula awards in the same year — which is kind of like winning Best Picture and Best Director the same year, except awesomer. Recently, to the puzzlement of some observers, Card has directed his prodigious talent into the production of political punditry. Like his novels, Card’s political columns are often masterpieces of speculative fiction. For instance, there is the one about how gays with pitchforks and torches…

God and Baby Face Nelson: Thoughts on Obedience, Genocide, and Problematic Narratives

How should church members today approach morally repugnant scriptural narratives? I wondered about that as I recently read over Elder Hales’ talk about agency and obedience. There was a lot in the talk which I liked. I do think that order and consistency can absolutely be useful for faith communities (for instance, in helping establish expectations). I think that agency is a useful way to conceptualize human behavior, and that despite its problems it remains one of the best broad answers to problems of theodicy. And I certainly agree with many of the talk’s basic points, such as the tension between freedom and accountability. But I had a strongly negative reaction to a central portion of the talk, because it relies heavily on a morally repugnant Old Testament story. I give you Elder Hales: Contrary to the world’s secular teaching, the scriptures teach us that we do have agency, and our righteous exercise of agency always makes a difference in…

Divine Institution slides

A few months ago I spoke at a conference at St. John’s University Law School. The conference theme was same-sex marriage, and my own talk was a largely descriptive account of LDS church statements and actions on the topic. I used a short set of powerpoint slides to cover the basic facts. Since then, several people have expressed interest in seeing the slides, so I just posted them online — they’re available here, if you’d like to take a look. Any comments are welcome. (And just to reiterate, these are pretty basic. If you’ve followed the topic in any depth they don’t contain anything that you don’t know. My talk was a very basic descriptive account of church statements and actions.)

Mormon Feminism Panel at Patheos

Don’t miss the excellent Patheos panel on Mormon feminism. Kathy Soper’s thoughtful and perceptive essay headlines the event, and a fabulous group of respondents — Claudia Bushman, Tresa Edmunds, Rixa Freeze, Kristine Haglund, Caroline Kline, Neylan McBaine, Melissa Proctor, and Rosalynde Welch — pitches in with a wealth of excellent follow-up analysis. If you’re at all interested in Mormon feminism, make sure to check out the discussion.

A Loving critique of Elder Oaks

Elder Dallin H. Oaks spoke recently at Utah’s Constitution Day celebration. His talk, titled “Fundamentals of Our Constitutions,” discussed the role of the constitution, as well as a variety of other topics relating to law, religion, and the public sphere. The talk is well-articulated, as Elder Oaks’ talks tend to be, and sets out some specific ideas about politics which bear further discussion. For the moment, I wanted to focus on one particular portion of the talk. Elder Oaks writes that: Another great fundamental of the United States Constitution is its federal system, which divides government powers between the nation and the various states. This principle of federalism is at the heart of our Constitution. Unlike the next two fundamentals I will discuss, which were adaptations of earlier developments in English law, this division of sovereignty between two government levels was unprecedented in theory or practice. In a day when it is fashionable to assume that the national government has…

The Angel and the Internet

A few years ago, the confluence of the Mitt Romney campaign and Proposition 8 (and to some extent Harry Reid) focused sustained national attention on the church and its members. The church’s profile has only continued to grow since then, raising a variety of questions about assimilation, retrenchment, and the future of the flock. Mormonism has long inhabited a liminal state between cultural insider and outsider. Armand Mauss’s pioneering work The Angel and the Beehive charts the church’s uneasy relationship with mainstream status, a cycle of ebb and flow driven by the specific benefits and drawbacks on each side of the spectrum. If the church is too peculiar, it will suffer in its growth prospects and place in society. At worst, disrepute can lead society to treat such a church as a threat to be eradicated (a possibility of which Mormons are quite aware). This creates strong pressure to assimilate in order to avoid social costs and reap the benefits…

Your opportunity to WIN. FABULOUS. PRIZES.

You’ve always dreamed of starting a handsome Mormon studies collection — who hasn’t? This week, you have an unprecedented opportunity to start your collection in style. As we’ve mentioned here and elsewhere, Sunstone 2010 is just around the corner. It will take place from August 4th through August 8th in Salt Lake City. Online pre-registration is available up through 5:00 p.m. on Friday, July 30th. And about those prizes? Here goes. — RAFFLE ANNOUNCEMENT All persons who pre-register for Sunstone 2010 between July 26th and July 30th will be automatically entered into the inaugural Fabulous Pre-Registration Prize Raffle. This year’s prizes include signed copies of: Richard Lyman Bushman, Rough Stone Rolling Carol Lynn Pearson, Mother Wove the Morning Carol Lynn Pearson, No More Goodbyes Margaret Young and Darius Gray, Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons Kathryn Lynard Soper, The Year My Son and I were Born Each one-day registration, stand-alone workshop, or stand-alone banquet registration gets you one…

I Cannot Read a Sealed Book – Part I: The Basic Case for Making Public the Handbook

The church handbook is a foundational document for the lived experience of LDS church members. The handbook (actually two specific handbooks at present, but for convenience’s sake we’ll just refer to it as the handbook) sets out rules regarding a variety of important experiences in church member life. The Encyclopedia of Mormonism notes that the handbook contains “instruction on (1) Church administration and meetings; (2) calling members to Church positions and releasing them from such calls; (3) ordaining members to priesthood offices; (4) performing ordinances and giving blessings; (5) doing sacred temple work, and family history; (6) responding to calls for missionary service; (7) keeping records, reports, and accounting for finances; (8) applying Church discipline; and (9) implementing Church policies on such matters as buildings and property, moral issues, and medical and health issues.” The handbook is cited repeatedly in a variety of general member discussions (see, e.g., here or here). However, under current policy, the handbook is not made…

San Diego temple from the air

Google maps has added aerial views to a limited number of locations. I just saw (hat tip: Paula) that the San Diego temple is one of them. It’s a pretty cool feature. How do you see it? Unfortunately there’s no one-click link, because you have to enable aerial views. So it’s a slightly more elaborate process: 1. Go to the San Diego temple on Google Maps. (Click here.) 2. Click the little green “Labs” chemical-beaker icon at the top of the screen. (It’s above the Print button). Click “enable” on the tab that asks about Aerial Imagery. That’s it! You should now have a nice little view of the San Diego temple, which looks great from the air.

Bloggers at Sunstone

The preliminary program for the Sunstone symposium is available, and includes many familiar names. Some of the bloggernacle folks who are listed include: Wednesday: 9:30 – John Dehlin (Mormon Stories) 2:00 – John Dehlin Thursday: 11:15 – Mormon feminism panel including Alisa (ExII) and Tresa (FMH) 2:15 – Tresa (respondent to Laura Compton) 4:45 – Janet, Kathy, Tresa, and Tracy – Joanna Brooks (Mormon Matters) Friday: 3:30 – Bridget Jack Meyers Jeffries 4:45 – Sheila and Sara panel -Mormon women on tour panel (Joanna Brooks, Holly Welker) 8:00 – Tracy (BCC) Saturday: 11:15 – DKL talking about Glenn Beck. Bring popcorn. 2:15 – FMH’s panel with Lisa, Tresa, Shelah, and Melanie. 4:45 – Panel with me, Kristine, John Dehlin, and Ms. Jack -Bored in Vernal 7:30 – Mormon women panel including Exponent II’s Caroline I think that’s all of the bloggernacle folks — at least, all the ones that I noticed in a quick skim through the program. (If I…

The hidden apologetics of Banner of Heaven

Scott at Bloggernacle Times has been putting on a very impressive Behind the Music retrospective about the old Banner of Heaven blog.  The hair, the women, the trashed hotel rooms — it’s all there, complete with interviews with band members (Brian G. comes clean about the infamous “no brown M&M’s” contract), groupies band aids, and even the occasional critic. In fact, about the only point that Scott seems to have missed so far is the group’s hidden apologetic purpose. What apologetic purpose, you ask?  Only that a widely read book — also widely perceived as hostile towards the church — was google-bombed halfway into oblivion.  Now, curious souls who google “Banner of Heaven” are as likely to read about X-boxes or the speculation train as they are to learn about Mountain Meadows.  Apologetics, meet Web 2.0. And the apologetic stone cut without hands will roll forth virally, until it has overcome the entire Googleverse.  Amen.

Stop! Hamer time

Next Friday and Saturday, May 21st and 22nd, John Hamer will be at Miller Eccles in southern California to discuss the history of the Community of Christ.  John’s work is fascinating, and if you’re in the area, I’d encourage you to attend one of the two events, either on Friday the 21st in Orange County, or Saturday the 22nd in Los Angeles. The event announcement (with lots of information about why you should attend) is this: Dear Friends: We are pleased to announce the next meeting of the Miller Eccles Group will be on Friday, May 21, 2010 (Villa Park) and Saturday may 22 (La Canada).  Both sessions will be at 7:30 p.m.  The speaker will be John Hamer, an independent historian and author (more about John below).  We anticipate a fascinating discussion of “The History of the Community of Christ.” The Speaker: John Hamer is president of the John Whitmer Association (the Community of Christ counterpart to the Mormon History…

Dialogue 2.0

Searchable archives.  Free access to the entire vault of past articles.  Helpful starting points in a Classics section.  No more one-page-at-a-time clicking through the wacky — lovable in a quirky way, but definitely *not* user-friendly — old pdf-image page-by-page e-archives at the U library website.  Did I mention, we’re talking about searchable archives and free access to the vault? What are you still doing here?  Go check out Dialogue’s new website — or discuss in comments what you like about it best.  Take advantage of the free access.  (Starting in summer, the most recent two years will be subscription-only, but the rest of the vault remains free.) And a big kudos to the Dialogue crew.  Mormon studies has officially entered the new millennium.

What is the doctrinal status of the car-wreck story?

It’s a story we’ve all heard, and it’s still in wide circulation. For instance, from the current YW manual: President Spencer W. Kimball told the following true story: “A few years ago a young couple who lived in northern Utah came to Salt Lake City for their marriage. They did not want to bother with a temple marriage, or perhaps they did not feel worthy. At any rate, they had a civil marriage. After the marriage they got into their automobile and drove north to their home for a wedding reception. On their way home they had an accident, and when the wreckage was cleared, there was a dead man and a dead young woman. They had been married only an hour or two. Their marriage was ended. They thought they loved each other. They wanted to live together forever, but they did not live the commandments that would make that possible. So death came in and closed that career.…

April 4th

I’ve loved the Holy Week series that Eric has posted. I hope I’m not interrupting with this post. But I think it’s fitting this Easter to also remember other pioneers and prophets who have given their lives to help make men free — and especially so, when one such man died 42 years ago today. And so I hope you’ll permit a link to a hymn of a different sort, a poem which openly connects the lives of two people who lived and died . . . in the name of love.

Missionary work, common ground, ethics, and deception

A fascinating New York Times article and follow up blog post discuss negative reactions to a build-on-common-ground Christian missionary initiative among Muslims. The blog post details: An outreach technique that some Baptist missionaries use with Muslims. It involves stressing commonalities between the Koran and the Bible and affirming that the Allah of the Koran and the God of the Bible are one and the same. . . . The “overture” — the missionary’s initial bonding with Muslims via discussion of the Koran — is precision-engineered to undermine their allegiance to Islam. This approach is quite similar to what I learned in the Missionary Training Center: Find common ground. Build relationships of trust. A great way to reach out to people. Or is it? What are the ethics of this approach? Is this two step approach a legitimate way to reach out to other faith communities? Is there something problematic about finding common ground as an opening step in undermining the…

If Glenn Beck followed his own instructions, he’d be an ex-Mormon

Well known LDS political pundit Glenn Beck recently told his radio listeners that they should leave churches with the words “social justice” or “economic justice” on their websites: I beg you, look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!” This overheated rhetoric has already drawn fire from Catholics and Protestants. But it’s not just Protestants and Catholics who are in trouble. In fact, if Glenn followed his own instructions, he’d be an ex-Mormon. Let’s try it out, shall we? Step one: Look for the words ’social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. This is easily enough accomplished with the handy search function at LDS.org. Among the results is this 1986 Ensign article by Elder James E. Faust of the Quorum of the…

Heresy and Adding Upon

Many Mormons find that many Christian discussions are compatible with Mormon belief. We cheerfully borrow from C.S. Lewis, for instance, simply adding a Mormon gloss to Lewis’s statements; we happily listen to Switchfoot or Joy Williams. The idea of adding upon a Christian foundation has become popular in missionary discussion, as well. President Hinckley said, “To people everywhere we simply say, You bring with you all the good that you have and let us add to it.” This approach is a popular one, and is often viewed as a friendly gesture, a recognition that Christian belief is foundational in Mormonism. The idea has been criticized by some non-Mormon interlocutors. Recently, Evangelical Sarah pointed out some concerns at her blog, writing: Being on the receiving end of the comment “You wouldn’t lose anything…” is frustrating, as it takes but a moment of real reflection to realize that I would lose some beliefs that are very precious to me if I were…

How Christian were the Founders?

That’s the topic of this fascinating NYT article. The article probably spends a little too much time poking fun at the backward Texans (though it’s so easy); but also does a good job of laying out the complicated question of deciphering just how Christian the founders were. My favorite quote: Or, as Brookhiser rather succinctly summarizes the point: “The founders were not as Christian as [conservative activists] would like them to be, though they weren’t as secularist as Christopher Hitchens would like them to be.” (Also, the scary Texans do get really scary for parts of the piece.) What do you think of the article, and of the underlying issues?

5 things to do while waiting for Feminist Mormon Housewives to return

Feminist Mormon Housewives is one of our favorite bloggernacle blogs, with a strong core of bloggers, a variety of smart and lively posts, and a great community. Unfortunately, FMH has been down for the past two days, a victim of the patriarchy — err, of a server crash. Lisa is optimistic that the blog will be up and running again soon. (Crosses fingers.) Meanwhile, what’s an FMH reader supposed to do in the interim? Here is one list of ideas: 1. Go check out the FMH Facebook group, where a variety of fun and interesting FMH-related discussions are taking place, with FMH bloggers like mfranti and Derek. 2. Read some other LDS women’s blogs. The Exponent is a great place to start, with more topic and tone overlap with FMH than just about anyone else. Zelophehad’s Daughters offers a wicked-smart take on Mormon and feminist issues. And you can also check out the Feminist section of MormonBlogs. 3. Brush up…

Church widget for Haiti

Some earlier comments have asked what steps the church has taken to publicize Haiti relief. One promising sign is a new widget, suitable for blogs or other media like Facebook, giving readers a link to the LDS humanitarian services online portal. According to the widget, almost 25,000 people have donated so far. If your means allow, I’d encourage you to add to that number, or to donate through other channels.

Shape-Shifting Lizards — Could They Be in Your Ward?

It’s been six years since we last warned our readers about the danger. Six years of danger, of vulnerability, of widespread ignorance. Six years for more innocent people to die — and to be replaced by the lizards. Yes, we have been remiss in our duties. But no longer. To quote noted herpetologist* Dan Peterson: For those who’ve wondered — and (let’s be truthful) who hasn’t? — whether the Church is actually controlled by demonic entities in the form of reptilian humanoids, or lizard men, you’ll find the evidence you’ve been seeking on this explosive Web site. Well, don’t just sit there — what more do you need? We encourage you to take action, read up on this threat, and to prepare for the lizard holocaust. Only then will your ward, your community, your family, be safe from the danger. Well, unless the lizards replace you, too. In which case they won’t. Cheers! — *Yes, herpetologist is a real word;…

Plausible deniability (updated)

Initial reports from hearings in the Prop 8 case today paraphrase an internal campaign document (see below for update) with the following language: With respect to Prop. 8 campaign, key talking points will come from campaign, but cautious, strategic, not to take the lead so as to provide plausible deniability or respectable distance so as not to show that church is directly involved. The proceedings are not being televised (over plaintiffs objections), and the case remains in early stages. Today’s arguments only examined the admissibility of documents; and this is not a direct quote from the document as far as I can tell, rather it’s a summary of the document by one trial attendee who writes for an anti-Prop-8 website. We’ll see whether the underlying document ends up becoming public, and if so exactly what language it contains. (The document was apparently in the possession of Mark Jannson, a ProtectMarriage.com executive committee member.) In the mean time, however, the early…

Martin Luther King on Religion and Social Justice

From the Letter from Birmingham Jail: There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual…