Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

Handbook 2: Introduction

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After the Church posted the text of the 2nd volume of its administrative handbook (formerly known as the Church Handbook of Instructions—CHI) last fall, a few bloggers looked at the handbook, including our own Dave Banack.

Doctrine and Practice

I enjoyed Alison’s post from a couple of weeks ago, Does Gender Matter?, but I’m a little confused how the pieces fit together. The post appears to accept the nonscriptural, uncanonized Proclamation at face value, stating: “Gender is part of who we are and who we have always been. It is important. It matters.” That makes it difficult to argue for reform of what is identified as a problem: “The church uses gender to delineate authority, callings, and roles.” However, there is a different way to see the issue.

Immigration Where?

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When I was on vacation a few years ago I picked up a local paper and found a number of articles about the problems that area was facing because of illegal immigration. Predictably there was crime committed by the illegal immigrants, and a lot of hate towards them. For an American nothing there was unusual–except that I was in South Africa.

Taking Section 89 Seriously

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Which revelations we cherish and consider central, and which one’s we sideline and (sometimes literally) forget is surely a result of a complex host of variables. Local culture and politics are obviously a huge deal. The Word of Wisdom is a revelation that is particularly interesting

Personal and Community Responsibility

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Yesterday in priesthood we discussed President Monson’s October 2010 Conference address on the Three Rs of Choice. One of the three Rs is ‘Responsibility’ — which led, of course, to discussing personal responsibility. In the discussion it occurred to me that personal responsibility is very closely connected to community responsibility.

The Language of God

I recently breezed through a short book by Herman Wouk (author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Caine Mutiny) titled The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion (Little, Brown and Co., 2010). The book has the virtues of being short, entertaining, and informative as it recounts the author’s quest to relate his deep religious and cultural attachment to Judaism to his equally firm attachment to a scientific worldview. That’s the sort of quest many people in the 21st century are engaged in at one time or another.

Can institutions repent?

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A recent news story about the beatification of John Paul II mentioned that the late Pope had led the Catholic Church to “repent” for its anti-semitism. The use of the word “repent” stuck out in my mind, and made me wonder, “Can an institution, such as a Church, repent?”

Making Mormons in the 21st Century

Jan Shipps always has something interesting to say about Mormonism. An essay you might not have run across is “Making Saints: In the Early Days and the Latter Days,” in Contemporary Mormonism: Social Science Perspectives (Univ. of Illinois Press, 1994). It turns out that becoming a Latter-day Saint (or acquiring the characteristics of Mormon ethnicity) involves more than just conversion or joining the Church.

Debating Mormonism

A few weeks ago I judged several rounds of a debating tournament held at the local high school. Teams from all over the state participated. Imagine walking by a high school cafeteria and seeing a couple of hundred students dressed in suits and skirts, chattering like all kids do but also pouring over notes and outlines for the upcoming matches. It was an impressive sight.

Reading Scripture in the 21st Century

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I recently read Thinking Through Our Faith: Theology for Twenty-first-Century Christians (Abingdon Press, 1998) by C. David Grant, a professor of religion at TCU. The book might be described as a short prologue to a 21st-century approach to theology, one that takes full account of science, historical criticism, and pluralism — in short, the sort of book you probably would not encounter in a BYU undergraduate religion class.

Regime Change in the LDS Church

I recently finished America’s Three Regimes: A New Political History (OUP, 2007) by Morton Keller, a retired history prof at Brandeis. The author suggests there have been three enduring American political regimes: a deferential-republican regime that lasted from the Revolution until the emergence of true party politics (Whigs and Democrats) during the 1830s; a party-democratic regime marked by strong party identification and increasing voter mobilization that lasted until roughly the Great Depression; and a populist-bureaucratic regime that saw the rise of big government, the rise of the independent media, and the decline of party identification and effectiveness. Can LDS history be parsed the same way? Are there successive LDS regimes (using “regime” in the same sense as Keller did, an enduring, stable arrangement of institutions and practices) that display significantly different ways of running the Church or of constituting the Church as an organization?

The Implied Statistical Report, 2010

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A couple of years ago my post The Implied Statistical Report, 2008, looked at what can be learned from a detailed examination of the data the Church releases each April Conference. This conferences’ data includes an additional statistic not found in earlier reports, the number of Church Service Missionaries, which led me to look again at the statistics to see if I might find something else.

Sunday Morning Session

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President Henry B. Eyring conducting. Discourses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, Elder Paul B. Johnson, Bishop H. David Burton, Sister Silvia H. Allred, Elder David A. Bednar and President Thomas S. Monson. Perhaps even more so than previous sessions, the theme of this session was the Church Welfare program. President Eyring mentioned the 75th anniversary of Church Welfare in his opening remarks, and the remarks of both Bishop Burton and Sister Allred focused on Welfare.

Saturday Afternoon Session

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Pres. Uchtdorf conducted again, and following the customary audit report and statistical report, talks were given by Elder Boyd K. Packer, Elder Russell M. Nelson, Elder Russell J. Maynes, Elder Cecil O. Samuelsen, Elder Dallin H. Oaks and Elder M. Russell Ballard.

A tool for Conference analysis

While we know that gospel principles are eternal, we must also admit that the language used to describe them changes over time. And now we have a tool for discovering and analyzing how Church leaders have changed their descriptions of the gospel over the past 160 years.

Balancing Political Positions with the Church and the Gospel

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My earliest memory of conflict over Church decisions came because of a local stake division and boundary changes.I remember my mother venting about how one high councilor in one stake prevented the boundary change from following local political boundaries, which would have, in my mother’s view, give Church members a more unified voice in local politics.

Applying the Golden Rule Collectively

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Christian religions, in general, believe in what is widely known as the golden rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. In fact, as I understand it, most belief systems have some version of this idea. It seems to me that it is usually understood individually. But I have to believe that we should also apply it to groups — other countries, other peoples, other races, other sports teams… and other religions.

Tsunami

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I am sure that many of you have been following the stunning events in Japan: earthquake, tsunami, meltdown. Our first personal reaction to such events is always concern and sympathy for those swept up in the ongoing human tragedy. The first LDS institutional response, when resources are available, is to forward relief supplies and helping hands to those in need of assistance. But at some later point comes personal and institutional reflection. Is this just the sort of natural tragedy that happens from time to time, or is it a divine sign of the end times? Or both?

International Bibliography 2010

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With the growth of the LDS Church worldwide, I think few academics of Mormonism disagree that the Church’s international progress deserve more attention. Even so, I was surprised when I compiled a list of international publications from last year. The list is substantial.

Peace

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Sometimes unintentional mistakes lead to interesting lines of thought. A few weeks ago I misheard a speaker in an LDS meeting. The speaker was quoting John 14:27, and either because of the speaker’s mispronunciation or my imperfect hearing, I heard the word “live” instead of the word “leave.” This lead me to think about what it means to live in peace.

Challenges of Church History

Just finished A Brief History of History: Great Historians and the Epic Quest to Explain the Past (The Lyons Press, 2008) by Colin Wells. It is a quick review of all those names you have heard a time or two (Thucydides, Tacitus, Guicciardini, Ranke, Burckhardt, Turner, Braudel, etc.) woven together into a narrative. Favorite quote: “History is everywhere; we live in it.” The comments in the book that are worth discussing at an LDS blog concern the challenges of writing Church History.

Notable Race-Related Changes to Footnotes and Chapter Headings in the Standard Works

Marvin Perkins is a Latter-day Saint music producer who is currently the Public Affairs Co-chair for the Genesis Group and who has worked to nurture understanding between African Americans and Latter-day Saints and attack misconceptions (see our 12 Questions series with Brother Perkins from 2009).  This morning, Brother Perkins circulated the following email to his “Blacks in the Scriptures” listserve (which is re-posted here with his permission): ______________________________ Friends, Many of you have recognized the new LDS.org website.  Some of you have recognized that with the new site also came changes to chapter headings and footnotes in the scriptures.  Not nearly as significant in number as the changes that were made in the 1981 edition of the LDS scriptures, but equally confirming on the messages being conveyed.  Here are a list of the changes that I’m aware of, along with some thoughts and two very compelling short videos below.  I’d love to hear your thoughts as you prayerfully review the…

Helpless as a Baby

This is the time of year for Christmas devotions. This year my thoughts have been on the impulse to serve the needy that we have at Christmas. We don’t have it at Easter. My thoughts have also been on the Christ child. The religious significance of the grown Christ, on the cross and in the garden, is obvious. But what did Christ do for us as a bare baby?

Church and Family

After a flurry of posts related to the new edition of the CHI (now titled Handbook 1 and Handbook 2), the Bloggernacle has fallen silent. (The Salt Lake Tribune has followed up with a helpful article.) One of the new features of Handbook 2 (“H2”) highlighted in the worldwide training broadcast is the three introductory chapters that provide a foundational and doctrinal context for the guidance given in the balance of the book. I am going to note a few statements given in the four pages of Chapter 1, “Families and the Church in God’s Plan,” with short comments following each statement. The bold titles are my own; all quotes are from H2.

Downgrading Doctrine

Here is a second post (see No. 1) drawn from Stephen Prothero’s God Is Not One (HarperOne, 2010). In Chapter 7, titled Judaism: The Way of Exile and Return, Prothero comments on how ritual and ethics receive greater emphasis in Judaism and doctrine receives less emphasis than in, for example, Christianity. I wonder to what extent this is also true of Mormonism. Noting how narrative Exodus is followed immediately by the detailed legal and ethical recitations in Leviticus, Prothero notes that Judaism is “about both story and law,” and that Judaism stresses “doing over believing, orthopraxy over orthodoxy.” The word “orthopraxy” should set off your Bloggernacle word alert (see discussions here, here, here, and here, for example). If Prothero thinks Jews emphasize orthopraxy over orthodoxy, he is saying that correct practice or action is more important to Jews than correct opinion. He summarizes this by saying, “So Jews are knit together more by ritual and ethics than by doctrine.” Is…

Mormonism in God Is Not One

I’ve been reading Stephen Prothero’s new book, God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions That Run the World — and Why Their Differences Matter (HarperOne, 2010). I’m rather enjoying it, which is a bit of a surprise given that I’m not generally a religions of the world kind of guy. Anyway, Prothero devoted a generous two pages in his 34-page chapter on Christianity to Mormonism and said some refreshingly pleasant things about us.

What we talk about when we talk about God

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Bruce Feiler’s daughter was just five when she pitched him a question right to the gut of religious experience:  “Daddy, if I speak to God, will he listen?” Feiler writes books on the Bible and God for a living, so he’d presumably given the question some thought. Nevertheless he had no good answer ready for his daughter. So he did what any loving parent would do:  answered the question with an inartful dodge, and then wrote about it in the New York Times style section. How do we answer our children’s questions about God, he asked, when we are ourselves doubtful, confused, or otherwise conflicted? Feiler solicited comments on the matter from a formerly-Catholic agnostic playwright, a formerly-Episcopalian agnostic New Testament scholar, and a popular Conservative rabbi in Los Angeles.  It’s not hard to guess the direction their responses took.  Among the educated elite readership of the NYT, a kind of ritualistic doubt partners with a set of tolerant gestures…

Once upon a time on earth: the Church in a changing world

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In debates over controversial religious issues, one often encounters a certain kind of argument from history, a sort of “once upon a time” argument. Once upon a time, it’s argued, the Church considered a given practice or belief, from witchcraft to usury to the heliocentric cosmos, to be immoral, unbiblical or otherwise forbidden.  The particular practice or belief in question varies, but the structure of the argument and its implication are nearly always the same: the Church once considered such-and-such to be evil, but now it doesn’t; thus by means of a progressive trope of enlightenment, the argument proceeds, the Church should also de-stigmatize and embrace the controversial topic at hand. (Often, it should be noted, these arguments are made with a great deal of care and nuance and insight.) In one sense, I’m sympathetic to this argument. I share the view that knowledge of and from God is a profoundly historical and historicized knowledge—and it that sense, it is…