Category: Mormon Life

Mormon Life – Family – Personal Reflections

The Same 10 Families

With the exception of student wards, every ward or branch I’ve attended seems to rely on a few families to fill all of the major callings. We’ll call them “the same ten families.” In our Long Island branch, there were about six families that carried the load. The branch president was married to the young women’s president. The young men’s president was married to the Relief Society president. The Elder’s quorum president was married to the primary president. We weren’t president level material there: my husband was a counselor in the young men’s presidency and the gospel doctrine teacher while I was a Relief Society counselor. Even so, we were exhausted by church and looked forward to moving away just to get a break on Sundays. (It was hard to leave, and we still miss the people of our branch.) So we moved to Provo. We thought that here, in the middle of happy valley, we would be extraneous and…

The Implied Statistical Report 2011

Missionaries and Convert Baptisms 2000-2011

Over the past few years I’ve put together an analysis of the cumulative information in the Church’s statistical reports. Three years ago I posted The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, and last year I titled my analysis The Implied Statistical Report, 2010. Over this time I’ve tried to improve my methods and the data available, collecting data from a few different sources. This year I’ve again looked at the data and discovered something unexpected: The Church’s real growth is actually faster in the U.S. and Canada than it is in the rest of the world.

Just Say No?

We have had horrible luck while traveling with finding church services through On one trip, the address it gave didn’t exist. (How do I know? After nearly an hour of looking, asking people in the shops nearby, meeting up with friends who were also looking, well, we never found it.) On another, church started an hour after claimed it did. So I’m gun-shy about trusting when I’m looking for church services. Which is why, last summer, on vacation, when my wife saw an older couple wearing missionary name-tags, we decided to confirm when and where the church met. Turns out that they weren’t assigned to that particular area.[fn1] Still, we started talking. At one point, the husband mentioned something he’d been asked to do, and said, “You don’t say no to a Seventy.” Let me interrupt myself right here to emphasize that it was a throw-away line. They had been asked to report on establishing some program…

Mormonism: A religion of the head or of the heart?

That question is not as straightforward as you might think. Garry Wills’ Head and Heart: American Christianities (Penguin Press, 2007) reviews these two different approaches and uses them to structure his history of Christianity in America. It is an effective format that helps the reader follow developments, in contrast to most histories of religion in America which are often overloaded with doctrinal and denominational details that have little interest for most contemporary readers.

Adventures in Family History, part 1

Sunday night, I was at a meeting, the intent of which was to help us each get a name to take through the temple. Bandwidth problems significantly detracted from our ability to do so, but, as I was playing on FamilySearch, I discovered something incredible: I’m descended from royalty! Don’t believe me? Check it out: See? Proof irrefutable. Mrs. Joan Brownson, my great-great-great-etc.-grandmother was the daughter of the King and Queen of England.[fn1] Except that it didn’t feel quite right. So I dug a little deeper. Under “Parents and Siblings,” I saw this: So it turns out I’m doubly awesome. Not only am I descended from Edward III King of England and Philippa Queen of England, but my particular ancestor was born almost 200 years after her mother died![fn2] — [fn1] It does, however, bring up a skeleton in my ancestral closet. It appears, based on somebody’s genealogical work, that Richard Bronson married his mother. Because his wife and mother…

Policing Submissions for Baptisms for the Dead

And it’s in the news again. We have Elie Wiesel’s name slated for baptism, baptisms performed for Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s parents, baptism performed for Anne Frank (for the ninth time!), baptism performed for Daniel Pearl (who was killed in part, at least, because he was Jewish), and baptism performed for Gandhi. This in spite of the Church’s agreement (in 1995!) to remove Holocaust victims from the database.[fn1] And, apparently, the Church has now sent out a strongly-worded letter to be read in Sacrament meetings.[fn2] In the letter, the Church (strongly) reiterates the prohibition on submitting celebrity and Holocaust victim names, with potential penalties to follow for improper submissions. Will this work? Hopefully.[fn3] But I’ve been thinking about possible ways to police the submissions as a backstop.[fn4] Note that I’m perfectly aware that there is debate over whether we should, as a normative matter, care about others’ perception of baptisms for the dead.[fn5] And there’s debate among those not of our…

The Bott Affair: Winners and Losers

It has been only one week since the initial Washington Post article quoting BYU Professor Randy Bott’s controversial statements was published. [See Kent’s very helpful ongoing chronology of events and published stories.] But a week is a lifetime online. While official and unofficial reactions will continue to play out over coming weeks and months, we can already see who the winners and losers are among the main players. Briefly, the winners are the LDS Church, LDS Public Affairs, LDS bloggers and columnists, the mainstream media, and the rank and file members of the Church. The losers are BYU and the BYU College of Religious Education. Professor Bott gets a category of his own.

The Bott Gaffe: A Chronology [Updated 6Mar12 9:45p]

Randy Bott

Since Wednesday, when I read the Washington Post article that cited BYU Professor Randy Bott, I have been surprised at two elements of the news and commentary I’ve read about it. First, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the unanimity of the response—no one that I’ve seen has tried to defend the ideas that Bott expressed. Second, I’ve been surprised at the speed of the official response. If it is possible, the response makes the views expressed by Bott seem anachronistic to Mormonism today. And I hope this response will make clear to those who still maintain some version of these racist views that they are no longer tolerated among Mormons.

My Cri de Coeur to Randy Bott [Updated][Update 2]

[Update 2:] The Church has responded, both with respect to Dr. Bott’s statement and with a statement on the Church and race. I’m adding the text of each to the bottom of the post, but I want to highlight these two excerpts: We condemn racism, including any and all past racism by individuals both inside and outside the Church. The origins of priesthood availability are not entirely clear. Some explanations with respect to this matter were made in the absence of direct revelation and references to these explanations are sometimes cited in publications. These previous personal statements do not represent Church doctrine. (In both, emphasis mine.) The first excerpt is wonderful, not pulling punches against our own. And the second, although it’s phrased in the passive voice, is pretty much as explicit a renunciation of previous thought as I’ve seen in the Church, and I know that I’ll be pulling these statements out when (or, I hope, if) I hear…

Taxing the United Order

The United Order appears (for now, at least) to be a relic of the 19th century; since them, the mainstream Mormon church hasn’t attempted to institute any large-scale communal economic structure based on Acts 2. And, frankly, I don’t have any reason to think that it will in the 21st century; the Law of Consecration seems to be something different than economic communalism (though economic communalism fits within the Law of Consecration).

Enough, already!

I was a little annoyed to hear it on the radio again yesterday. The Church was apologizing because apparently over-enthusiastic members had performed temple ordinances for recently-departed Jews, AGAIN! This time the situation was particularly egregious because the Jews involved are the parents of the late Nazi-hunter and war-crimes expert Simon Wiesenthal. Can those who keep submitting these names stop already?

Romance, MTC Edition

Tomorrow morning, a bunch of Provoans (and presumably others) will wake up with a brand new ring on their left ring fingers. To all of you: congratulations and good luck! This, though, isn’t your story.

Alan Lomax and All the Good

Today, were he still alive, Alan Lomax would have celebrated his 97th birthday.

I confess that I wasn’t familiar with Lomax until after I got married. The long and the short of it: Alan Lomax was a folklorist and an ethnomusicologist.

Mitt Romney’s Tithing Problem (?)

ABC broke the news: Mitt Romney has donated millions of dollars worth of stock to the Mormon church. SEC filings disclose that a Bain partner donated $1.9 million of Burger King stock to the Church; in addition, the Church has received stock of other Bain holdings, including Domino’s, DDi, Innophos, and the parent company of AMC Theaters.

But why? Why would Romney give the Church equity stakes in bad fast-food chains, second-rate pizza chains, and other such holdings?

Sex-Ed and Social Justice*

***WARNING: This post mentions sex. I use the word a lot in this post. If that makes you uncomfortable, this may not be the post for you.*** Over the summer, the Bloomberg administration announced that, for the first time in two decades, public school students in New York would be required to take sex-ed. The curriculum the administration recommended—HealthSmart (middle school and high school) and Reducing the Risk—include, among other things, lessons on abstinence and birth control.

Christmas Flavors

Finals are graded, so yesterday I made red onion marmalade.[fn1] Stirring the apples and red onions and lemons, I though about what food evokes Christmas for me.[fn2] Why food? Because a lot of my life today revolves around food. One year, I was up until two in the morning the day before Thanksgiving making mincemeat ice cream. (I didn’t believe my wife that we were getting up the next morning at 4 to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Turns out, she was right.) Every summer, we can tomatoes and jams and chutneys so that we can have those flavors during the winter. And sometimes we invite people over for dinner just to have an excuse to cook something new. What I remember: Christmas mornings, opening presents with my sisters and brother and parents, listening to Bing Crosby (or, sometimes, John Denver), eating nuts and chocolate candy and Vons eggnog (if there was any left) and, eventually, having a big…

Interest Never Sleeps

Hypothetical:[fn1] Alex and Pat both want a Kindle Fire.[fn2] Alex goes to the local brick-and-mortar[fn3] Amazon store, pays $200 cash, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Pat goes to the bank, gets a loan for $200, goes to the local brick-and-mortar Amazon store, pays the $200, and takes a Kindle Fire home. Who made the better decision?[fn4] *** In the Church, we’re suspicious of debt. Sure, we get a pass on student loans, a modest house, a first car, but, as a general rule, our leaders discourage incurring consumer debt, and celebrate those who have escaped debt’s clutches. Having grown up a member of the Church, and having heard the various talks and lessons, I suspect most members would say that Alex made the better decision;Alex has the Fire and no debt. Pat, on the other hand, has both the Fire and the debt. *** Assuming you agree with my intuition that, in general, Mormons would think that Alex made…

Harold Bloom, the Byrds, and Me

About a week ago, James posted a reflection on Harold Bloom’s (frankly awful) New York Times op-ed. Rather than directly responding, though (other than expressing his rightful disappointment), James engaged with Dr. Bloom’s allegation that Mormonism and Protestantism are converging. Though concerned about such a convergence, James ultimately (and rightly, I believe) doesn’t think we’re headed inexorably down that path. That said, Dr. Bloom is right that the Church has changed a lot between 1844 and 2011.[fn1] Change is inevitable and, as Ecclesiastes tells us, is to be expected. And, frankly, there have been a number of changes that, even if they risk our Protestantization, I’m really happy about. And I’m not talking Official Declaration 1 or 2 stuff—I’m going to assume that most of us are grateful that polygamy is no longer the sine qua non of the faithful member, and that all of us are grateful that we don’t live in the world of a racially-based Priesthood ban.…

Black Friday

Yes! The Dow is back down to 11,232! I feel a little like Jonah sitting on the hill, waiting for the fireworks. Hearing that news on the radio brought me my biggest smile all day. Of course, Jonah was roundly rebuked, because Nineveh repented in ashes, and he still was annoyed they weren’t destroyed. He clearly had an attitude problem, and lots of people might say the same about me. The Super Committee’s lame punt is just the most recent sign of the overall trend, though: at an institutional level, we haven’t even really admitted there is a problem, let alone started repenting. What do we need to repent of? Oh, there are plenty of things seriously wrong with the way we run our economy, including many of the favorite criticisms from both the right and the left, and the economy feeds into a lot of other things that are wrong with our society. I’ll just mention debt for now.…

A Missionary Reminiscence on Christmas

When the mission president announced to our small group of greenies that I was going to Strasbourg, I shrugged the resigned shrug of a missionary who knew nothing about anywhere but was willing to go wherever. One of the sisters expressed jealousy; Strasbourg, she said, was one of the best cities in the mission. She was right, and it would not be a good thing. Strasbourg is and was beautiful pre-Christmas.* Several weeks passed before I fully acclimatized to the major time-change, and the schedule of missionary life, but I loved Strasbourg almost instantly. The eastern area of France bordering Germany is known as Alsace, and offers the best of both countries in terms of food, architecture, and other things. Parks are plentiful, the accent is easier to master, and doner kebab is cheap. Two wards meeting in an actual chapel with a basketball court were staffed by over a dozen hard-working missionaries who made me feel welcome as we…

Things for Which I’m Thankful

1. My family. I haven’t said much about them on this blog, and will continue not to say much about them here, but I’m certainly thankful for them. 2. Social networks. And I mean this on all sorts of levels. Facebook has brought me back in touch with friends from high school with whom I otherwise wouldn’t have any contact. But I’m also thankful for IRL social networks: my colleagues, my neighbors, members of my ward, my kids’ friends’ parents. I’m thankful for the community that can happen when the guy comes out to repair your internet, and it turns out he has a kid the same age as your kid. 3. The eternal potential of (1) and (2). It adds that much more to these relationships to know that they can continue. 4. North Face. For this Southern Californian, it’s nice to know I’ll be able to survive another Chicago winter.[fn1] 5. Jim Henson. I remember watching the Muppet…

Quotes of Note- McKay on Running the Church

“Men must learn that in presiding over the Church we are dealing with human hearts, that individual rights are sacred, and the human soul is tender. We cannot run the Church like a business.”-David O. McKay Diaries, May 17, 1962, as quoted in “David O. McKay and the Twin Sisters’: Free Agency and Tolerance” by Gregory Prince, Dialogue 33:4 (Winter 2000):13. I read this as saying, we need to be sensitive to other people; we cannot make hard decisions and simply say, “this is business, not personal” as if real people were not involved. I wish we had more context for the statement by McKay.

Quotes of Note: Elder Hafen on Independence

Quotes of Note will be a recurring series of lesser-known General Authority statements of interest, as conversation starters. I’m starting with a favorite. “We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends. We must develop sufficient…

Utah Women in the Labor Market

The Atlantic Cities, currently one of my favorite sites, has, over the last several days, run a series looking into the best states for working women (both generally and in the “creative class”). What leaped out at me: Utah’s a pretty bad place to be a working woman.

All the Single Mormons

I wouldn’t be shocked if, in April’s General Conference, I were to hear a reference to “All the Single Ladies,” the cover story of this month’s Atlantic. In spite of its utter not-Mormonness, Kate Bolick’s article is oddly resonant of a strand of discourse we’ve been hearing in the Church for the last several years. In case you haven’t read the article,[fn1] a quick summary: the author finds herself still single at 39, in spite of having had plenty of relationships and in spite of the fact that she expected, at least for some portion of her life, to get married eventually (she points to 30 as the magic age). Now, she finds it less likely. So she explores the world of women who do not (by choice or circumstance or some combination) get married.[fn2] And largely she believes the decline in marriage is because of women’s increasing success, men’s declining status, and the marriage market. How’s that, exactly? Let’s…