Author: Wilfried Decoo

I am a native of Belgium - the Flemish side. Born in 1946, I grew up in Antwerp. I obtained my B.A. from the Antwerp Jesuit University, my M.A. from Ghent University - both degrees in Romance languages. As a teacher of French and history I worked a few years in Central Africa for the Belgian Cooperation. Next I went to BYU where I finished a PhD in comparative literature. From 1974 on I spent most of my academic career at the University of Antwerp, as professor of applied linguistics and language education. In 1999 the department of French and Italian at BYU asked me to join their ranks, but I also retained an affiliation with Antwerp. I retired from BYU in 2011. I am a convert to the Church and have a strong testimony of the Restoration. So does my wife, who is also from Antwerp. We have one daughter, Ellen, born in 1988. We're a happy little Flemish family, traveling back and forth between our two homes, in Antwerp and in Provo. I enjoy writing about Church life -- "Simply Mormonism" -- which explains the trend in most of my posts.

For Dutch-speaking readers

I apologize for not having contributed much to Times and Seasons lately, but since last year I have chosen to concentrate on our Dutch-speaking members and friends. So much is available in English, so little in many other languages. Our site is geared to information that can enrich the understanding of Mormonism. This year the site is mainly devoted to the Book of Mormon curriculum. Wherever possible it integrates intellectual, cultural and artistic contributions from the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Flanders).Even if you don’t read Dutch, you’re welcome to browse through one of the lessons under “Evangelieleer 2016”, like this one with 16th and 17th century paintings of old men (to celebrate patriarchal record keepers) or this one on language and Bible history.Enjoy the art and like us on Facebook if you feel so! But in particular: thanks for passing this information to Dutch-speaking people, including former missionaries from Holland and from Dutch-speaking Belgium.

International? Peripheries? Global? In search of a name

What is an adequate label for the areas outside of the so-called “Church’s center”? If it pertains to non-US countries, “international” is commonly used, but semantically it is flawed because the United States itself belongs to the circle of all nations. “Foreign” and “alien” sound non-inclusive for a church that emphasizes worldwide unity and belonging among its members. As a neutral geographical term, “abroad” fails if one wants to include in the discussion ethnic minorities within the United States. Those have become particularly noteworthy as the Church again allows Mormon wards with a foreign ethnic or lingual identity on American soil, such as Cambodian, Korean, or Russian.[1] Within the United States, thousands of immigrant Mormons, or converted after immigration, represent various cultures, languages, and countries. For decades the Church has been struggling to find optimal ways to accommodate their needs. Recognized American racial and ethnic groups, such as American Indian and African American, form similar groups for specific study. Even…

Internationalizing Mormon Leadership: The Normal Pace

In the Salt Lake Tribune of October 5, Jana Riess regrets that the top leadership of the Mormon church is all-white and overwhelmingly American, and that the recent apostolic callings missed the chance to reflect the church’s international diversity. Others have expressed the same disappointment. I can appreciate their concern, but I wonder how many non-American Mormons would agree. Are we certain that an apostle from Brazil or Kenya would be preferred by most Mormons in 130 other countries above a seasoned leader from Utah? Or did some of those disappointed Americans perhaps react from a “white guilt / white savior complex” by coming to the rescue of the allegedly discriminated-against international membership? Besides, do we know how many non-Americans may have been considered to fill the vacant apostle positions, but none was found adequate yet at this time? Perhaps the one closest to being called was finally considered too rigid? Then many would probably be grateful that Elder Rasband…

The Perversity of Orthodoxy

I could have called this post “Same-sex marriage: The Belgian perspective,” but it includes more. “The perversity of orthodoxy” – that’s how one of the members in our Belgian ward identified the broader issues which triggered this post. He called me on Sunday afternoon, upset by a Sacrament meeting talk that same morning and in need to vent frustration. Perhaps “perversity” was too strong a word. Maybe “perfidy”? Probably too weighty a word, too. At least “the insensitivity of some who defend orthodoxy” or “the indelicacy of some church statements in the US in relation to the international church”? Difficult choice. I just wanted to convey the intensity of his reaction, hence the title of this post. There had been two talks that morning, and the contrast was telling. Sarah Sarah, around thirty, had given the first talk. A little nervous, soft-spoken, she had her talk all written out, the result of days, perhaps weeks, of toiling on it. Her…

Understanding Anger against Mormon Missionaries

We sometimes hear stories about Mormon missionaries who are confronted with angry people. We praise the missionaries for suffering for Christ like the apostles of old. We condemn the iniquity of those who loathe the messengers of the Lord. I am going to take up some perspectives of those angry people—because of my mother and others I’ve known over the years. And thousands I do not know. In other churches, missiology experts have been studying at length this topic of tensions, conflicts, and social damage resulting from Western missionizing, including the ethical issue of intra-Christian proselytism. We Mormons seem to ignore it or do not want to be confronted with it. But with the surge in our missionary numbers and the insistence to “hasten the work”, the topic is acute. But first, my mother. A former cloister novice who ultimately chose marriage and motherhood, she raised me, her only son, with a deep love for education, languages, and Catholic-faith commitment.…

Martha’s Sacrament

Times & Seasons used to post, from time to time, something “From the archives”. So is this one. *** Martha was one of the older sisters in our branch. We counted a scant dozen of them, singles and widows, making more than half of the congregation and being its very backbone. When I got to know her, Martha was in her sixties. Huge by nature and strong from her lifelong labors as a market woman, she lived in a modest but sunny apartment, four flights high. Rent and utilities took most of her tiny pension, but she managed. Every Sunday the happy woman rode to church on her big black bicycle, rain or shine. She entered our old rowhouse as if it were a palace, beaming faith and friendship. In the living room, meaning our chapel, she gave talks and testimonies with a stentorian voice, developed during her years on the market place, praising Joseph Smith and the Book of…

Utah same-sex marriage and the international church

Media around the world have been reporting the developments in Utah in relation to same-sex marriage. Nearly always the articles and broadcasts also mention the Mormon Church as the conservative force that tries to prevent same-sex marriage. What could be the effect of such reporting on the image of the Mormon Church worldwide? As far as can be known, what do church members around the world think about same-sex marriage? How will the Church deal with same-sex couples who are legally married in a growing number of countries? This (long) post tries to suggest answers to these three questions. But first, the broader context. The broader context: media and religion The news about Utah runs parallel with similar news about other countries and states. Various countries are currently considering the legalization of same-sex marriage. Meanwhile same-sex marriage has already been approved in a fair number of countries, most of which belong to developed nations, such as Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, the Netherlands,…

International Day of the Girl

Today is the International Day of the Girl.  Yesterday, the Deseret News devoted an article to it but 24 hours later, no one had yet commented. Another article appeared today, but as of now, no comments yet. Perhaps there is no need to voice support for something everyone agrees on? Still, worldwide, tens of thousands of children have been conducting activities to support education for girls, following the lead of Malala Yousafzai. Anything to report from Utah? Other themes of the Day deal with forced girl marriages and teen pregnancies due to poverty and lack of sexual education.  In my home country, Belgium, teen pregnancy is very rare. So, for the campaign a short film was made about a 14-year old pregnant girl who comes to a Belgian school. I thought it would be interesting to share it on this International Day of the Girl.

The Mormon moment abroad: thank you, Jim Dabakis.

Michael Otterson advised the press: to understand Mormonism, go to the source and allow Mormons to define themselves. But what if these Mormons are survivalist Joel Skousen, Tea Party painter Jon McNaughton, or Tammy, an anti-government gun-toting rodeo queen from Overton, Nevada? All three were lengthily interviewed on French national radio.

The blood of Israel in Europe

At a multi-stake conference in Berlin in 2010, Area President Erich W. Kopischke quoted Joseph Smith as having declared that “England, Germany, Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium have a considerable amount of the blood of Israel among the people which must be gathered out.”

Primitive church

Times & Seasons used to post, from time to time, something “From the archives”. I revisited a post I published eight years ago, updated a few items, and thought it would still be worthwhile to read. My question to you: what are your memories of the “Primitive church”, if you ever had the privilege of experiencing it?

Informing members timely – a PA function?

Last week a Belgian church member, with a long record of outstanding leadership service in the Church, put a link on his Facebook page. The link went to an article in a local newspaper, titled “Homosexuality kills more than smoking” (translated), reporting on the recent anti-gay outburst of Jim Wallace, head of the Australian Christian Lobby. With a short note next to the link, our Belgian brother indicated his approval of Wallace’s views. His Facebook has numerous church members and outsiders as friends.


Eugene came from the Congo and accepted the gospel while studying in Belgium. After having obtained a doctorate in economics of developing nations, he returned to Africa. During the years with us, Eugene fulfilled many callings, willingly responding to the recurrent changes in positions our branch and district demanded in the relentless cycle of convert baptisms and inactivation.

Do not convert exchange students

When I was counselor in the Belgium-Netherlands mission presidency, the mission president asked me one day to handle the following. He had received a letter from a Utah family informing him that they had hosted a Belgian student as part of a high school exchange program. The family was “super excited” to tell the mission president that they had succeeded in converting the girl to the church. She had been baptized!

Sacrifice and retention: An unsolvable dilemma?

In Lectures on Faith, Joseph Smith taught that “a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has the power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation” (Lecture 6, verse 7). The Church’s dramatic history demonstrates that this call to sacrifice was not mere rhetoric. Extolling the endurance of the pioneers is part of Mormon tradition. In talks and lessons members are repeatedly reminded of commandments and duties.

Mormons without the Mormon Church

In his recent conference address, Elder Ballard emphasized that we must avoid the name “Mormon Church” and instead use as much as possible the official, full name of the Church. His message stems from two concerns: (1) the missing association with the name “Jesus Christ”, hence no immediate recognition of the Church as Christian. (2) the potential confusion with other groups, in particular polygamist groups, that are referred to as “Mormon.”

Catholic parish registers belong to humanity

According to various news outlets the Catholic Church has ordered its dioceses to not allow Mormons access to parish registers any more. For decades, our Church has copied and preserved millions of pages of parish registers around the world, as part of the injunction to seek out ancestors and perform ordinances in their behalf. There are probably still millions of pages out there, uncopied.

Mormon identity and culture

The following is part of a larger study on the concept of “gospel culture”, which I have been working on. In a previous post I presented the question “How American is the Church?”, which yielded very interesting comments. For the present post I excerpted some further parts on culture and Mormon identity, with various questions to the reader.

How American is the Church?

(The following is an excerpt from a larger study on the concept of “gospel culture”, which I have been working on. I hope that comments will help me correct and refine this aspect on Americanness). For the past few decades, in their efforts at internationalization, church leaders have stressed that this is “not an American Church”, but an international, universal Church.


The mission president called. Would I, as his counselor, conduct a baptismal interview? A case he wouldn’t have the zone leaders handle, a woman with a troubled past. Most likely involving a chastity issue.

Watching conference

Stake conference in the mission field. Still the mission field, for although we are a stake, there is no stake center, only a chapel in some of the main cities, and rented rowhouses elsewhere. The stake covers some 10,000 square miles. Therefore we gather in this huge, sparsely lit movie theatre—theatre number 14 in a massive cinema complex close to the highway.

Sunday – the latest book by Craig Harline

I’ll start this book review with two anecdotes of my own, from a Mormon ward in Belgium. Last Sunday, in church, the bishop’s sister told us that her little boys were so excited because they were looking forward to the swimming party in the afternoon. The bishop’s own family and the families of his siblings were going to enjoy a pleasurable family Sunday afternoon: togetherness, games, swimming, fun and food, and it would probably last until late in the evening.

Church whisperers

The buzz pervades the chapel. The whispers assemble to an insistent setting escorting the speaker’s voice over the sound system. The multiple murmurs from all corners of the audience spawn a hum that any outsider would consider disturbing. But we are used to it – our own relentless liturgical sound.