Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Two Churches, Two Gospels

As a Mormon, you belong to two churches: your local congregation, be it ward or branch (the Local Church), and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Institutional Church). While something similar may be true for members of other denominations, it is more true for and has more effect on Latter-day Saints. You may draw strength from both your Local Church and from the Institutional Church; I do, and I think most Mormons do. But they are surprisingly distinct units, with rather different, if complementary, agendas.

Some Thoughts on the Inevitable Failure of the Ordain Women Movement

It’s hard to know the future, but I will hazard a prediction: the Ordain Women project will fail. If I understand its ambitions correctly, Ordain Women would define success as an announcement that the prophet, having followed the invitation of these faithfully agitating sisters, has gone to the Lord and has received a revelation that women are to be ordained to the priesthood. I don’t know if women will ever be ordained to the priesthood, but I would be shocked if this was to happen while any institutional breath breathed in the Ordain Women movement. There are two reasons for this. The first is that for pragmatic reasons Church leaders do not want to change basic doctrines or practices in response to what they see as attempts to publically embarrass the Church over its basic doctrines and practices. Doing so creates an incentive for others to seek to publically embarrass the Church. I suspect that Church leaders also worry that…

Mormonism: The Last Fifty Years

mormon image

Over the holidays I read The Mormon Image in the American Mind: Fifty Years of Public Perception (OUP, 2013), by J. B. Haws, a BYU history prof. Technically, the book is a study of how the LDS Church and Mormonism in general is perceived by the American public, and the author presents survey data throughout the book to gauge the ups and downs of the various ways that Mormons and the Church are viewed. No doubt the book is required reading for every LDS Public Affairs employee. But for most readers the book also serves quite nicely as a narrative history of the last fifty years of Mormonism. A lot has happened and a lot has changed: reading about George Romney’s 1968 quest for the Republican nomination for President is like reading about another world.

Reasoning Together – Zion

We talk about Zion in a lot of different senses, but I think most of these share the general idea of communally gathering, developing, sharing, and partaking in everything that is lovely, virtuous, or praiseworthy or of good report. How do we do this, both collectively and individually, on both a theological and political level? Once again (obviously) I can’t adequately answer that question here. But once again I’m bothered by a lot of the discussions I see flying around our virtual and ward-level worlds. I don’t like the divisive,  polemical way in which these discussions are framed – especially when the discussion revolves around whether all is well in Zion or whether Zion is in need of some serious, often non-contiguous reform. In what follows, this question is my main target and what I want you to consider. Is the good ship Zion sinking while the crew and passengers obliviously bask in what they take to be the sunlight?…

Partaking of the Fruit of the Tree

tree

One of my favorite parts of Christmas is sitting in the darkened living room, gazing at the lighted tree. There is something magical and transfixing about the warm, gentle light, the fragrance of pine, and the palpable presence of nature that fills my home with its incongruous beauty. I have many memories of reading Scripture by the light of the Christmas tree. Usually we read from Luke, with Matthew’s bit about the Wise Men added in; sometimes we expand into Isaiah, either spoken or set to Handel. This year, though, when I stole a moment of stillness out of the hectic holiday rush to sit beside the tree, the words that came to my mind were Nephi’s: “I looked and beheld a tree . . . and the bbeauty thereof was far beyond, yea, exceeding of all beauty; and the cwhiteness thereof did exceed the whiteness of the driven snow.” It had never struck me before how much meaning the…

Evangelicals Need Inoculation Too

I hope you have seen the recent public announcement of the initiative to use the Gospel Topics section of LDS.org to essentially do what we have been calling “inoculation” for the last ten years (see here for a list of links to Bloggernacle posts on the topic). The three short video interviews of General Authorities listed at the top of the Gospel Topics page (identified with titles like “How will Gospel Topics be enhanced?” rather than identified as GA interviews) give additional details about the initiative. While there is a lot of ground to cover, this is a very promising development. We should nominate whoever championed this initiative for Mormon of the Year.

Happy(?) Repeal Day!

prohibition_ends_repeal_day_cocktails

The Twitters tell me that 80 years ago today, Utah became the 36th state to ratify the 21st Amendment, thus ending Prohibition.

Whatever you think about Prohibition, it’s probably worth noting the Pres. Grant was not a fan of its end. In fact, he addressed the end of Prohibition—and Utah’s role in ending it—at General Conference in 1934. Here’s an (annotated by me) excerpt of what he said:

The Practical Atonement

This is the third of three posts on the atonement (see here and here). What effect, if any, does the atonement have on your day-to-day life? Does it change how you think, how you feel, or how you act? I think most Latter-day Saints would agree that the atonement is not simply about something that will happen at some distant point in the future (Judgment Day) when, thanks to the atonement, one might be pronounced sinless and eligible to enter a resplendently glorious celestial world instead of being cast down to hell, away to outer darkness, or off to a dimly glorious telestial world. But how exactly does the atonement work for us in the here and now? And why do so many Mormons not feel cleansed, redeemed, and confidently hopeful in the here and now thanks to the atonement but rather feel guilty and inadequate? What are we missing?

The Theological Atonement

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Last week I posted The Atheological Atonement, noting that the LDS Church affirms the atonement but not any particular theory of the atonement, and suggesting this is actually not a bad “official” position for the Church to take. This post takes a different approach: if the Church were to move towards a publicly stated theory of the atonement, in which direction should it move? I will be relying on Gustaf Aulen’s (1879-1977) fine little book Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of Atonement (Macmillan Co., 1966; American edition, 12th printing, trans. by A. G. Hebert; originally published in Swedish in 1930).

The Death of Ishmael[fn1]

jewish-tombstone

Early in the Small Plates of Nephi, Ishmael and his family join Lehi and his family in the wilderness. In spite of their likely close proximity, though, we don’t know much about Ishmael.[fn2] Nephi and his brothers found favor in Ishmael’s sight. Although at various times Ishmael’s sons and daughters act for or against Nephi, we don’t have any sense about where Ishmael falls in the Laman & Lemuel/Lehi & Nephi continuum.

The Life and Times of Parley P. Pratt

Parley Pratt biography

I recently finished reading Parley P. Pratt: The Apostle Paul of Mormonism (OUP, 2011), by Terryl L. Givens and Matthew J. Grow. Most Mormons know Pratt by name from reading the Doctrine and Covenants. A few Mormons have read Pratt’s autobiography, which gives some idea of the extent of his missionary travels, but provides little detail about his influential writings or his busy family life (he had 9 wives and 23 children at the time of his death). Any reader of this biography will come to appreciate just how significant a role Pratt played in the early LDS Church, almost from the moment of his conversion in 1830 right up to his death in 1857. Here are a few of the highlights from the book.

Confessions of a Former Stay-at-Home Mom

stay at home mom

After nine years as a stay-at-home mom, I recently got a full-time job. I’ve been working for a month now, which seems long enough to state some preliminary observations about how things are going. The short answer is, I am happier than I’ve been in quite a while. I have way more patience for my children when I come home at six o-clock from an office full of adults than I did when I was at home with them all day. My emotional resources are magically magnified by being away from home during the work-day doing something interesting and creative, and I am much better able to deal with the inevitable complications and setbacks of life. And it is so nice to not be living paycheck to paycheck anymore. Worrying about money all the time and freaking out when we had an unexpected car problem or other non-budgeted expense was not an easy way to live. Life is a little more hectic,…

A Mother Here – New Art and Poetry Contest

A Mother Here

There have been LDS art contests in the past, either sponsored by LDS church institutions or by private organizations, but none have yet focused on Heavenly Mother as their theme. That changed this month with the newly announced A Mother Here Art and Poetry Contest. Aiming to stimulate the visual and poetic expression of Heavenly Mother, as well as highlight the nascent divinity that resides in women as well as men, monetary prizes in excess of $2200 will be awarded to the best entries. The contest accepts two-dimensional art submissions to be considered in its visual arts awards, and all forms of poetry for the poetry awards. The contest will accept submissions until March 4, 2014, after which award-winning entries will be chosen by prestigious judges Susan Elizabeth Howe (esteemed poet, playwright, and professor) and Herman Du Toit (former head of the Durban Art School and former head of museum research at BYU’s Museum of Art). Winning entries will be announced…

The Approaching Zion Project: Deny Not the Gifts of God

stones

This chapter (understandably) overlaps significantly with the previous chapter, Gifts. These are, after all, discourses he delivered at various times, to various audiences, with common themes. I’m reading them separately, though, and different things hit me at different readings. So, like always, I won’t discuss everything Nibley focuses on (and I’ll try to not spend too much time on things I’ve discussed previously). With that out of the way, on to the chapter.

The Earliest New Testament

paul writing

This is the third post (first, second) in a series on the New Testament. This post covers what should probably have been the first post: consideration of the seven undisputed letters of Paul, chronologically the earliest documents in the New Testament, written in the 50s. They give us the best information we have on the early Christian churches scattered around the Roman world. Oddly, Paul’s letters receive much less attention in most LDS discussion of the New Testament than the gospels.

King Noah’s Blues

Chicago-Blues-Festival-2013

I could see them before I crossed Michigan Avenue into Grant Park. There were probably five of them, holding big yellow signs with blocky letters, Bible verses. It seemed out of place, fifty feet in front of the entrance to the Chicago Blues Festival, but maybe I just didn’t understand the logic behind it. I don’t remember the verses the signs promoted, and the picketers seemed nice enough, holding signs but not harassing the passersby, passersby who, like me, basically ignored them. Maybe they’d picked out verses of scripture with special applicability to fans of the blues; then again, maybe these were just generic holy protest signs.

Damnable Defaults

A great deal of the discussion on women in the priesthood that I see happening right now[1] concerns our efforts to control and propagate various narratives. Personally, I find our current default narratives even more upsetting than our current practices.

Revelation

revelations

My previous post on the upcoming BYU New Testament Commentary series was so well received I have decided to do some follow-up posts discussing individual books. I’ll start with Revelation, partly because that will be the first volume in the BYU series but also because I happen to have a copy of Elaine Pagels’ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation sitting on my desk for one more week. While a fairly informed reader of the New Testament, I’m no scholar and navigate Greek only with the help of a good interlinear New Testament and various supplements, so my discussion is mainly drawn from the secondary literature and the English text I read in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), the New International Version (NIV), and of course the trusty King James Version (KJV). But that’s enough to author helpful blog posts. Enough throat clearing: So who wrote Revelation, what is it talking about, and why is…

The Approaching Zion Project: What is Zion? A Distant View

Movie-PerilsOfPauline-RRTracks-01

Another confession: I had a really hard time with this chapter. And it’s not just because I read it sitting in an airport waiting for a plane that was delayed for an hour and a half. Rather, it’s because of the way Nibley speaks of the wealthy. Certain of his descriptions feel, to me, so laughably one-dimensional—so moustache-twirling, tying-the-heroine-to-the-tracks—that I find myself fighting both his prose and my instincts to not just dismiss his entire piece out of hand.

The Approaching Zion Project: Our Glory or Our Condemnation

Garden_of_Eden,_Eden,_TX_IMG_1834

Now that I’ve read my first chapter of Approaching Zion, a couple more caveats before we get started. First, I’m not going to bother summarizing what Nibley said. Instead, I’m going to try to engage it, responding to ideas that engaged me, whether I agree or disagree. Second, I’m not going to try to engage with the full text; in Chapter 1, there were two things that really spoke to me, and one more that I’m going to mention and defer until a later installment. Feel free, in the comments, to engage with what I’ve engaged with, what I’ve said, or something else in the chapter that you feel needs to be responded to. With that, let’s go!