Category: Mormon Thought

Doctrine – Theology – Philosophy

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

photo courtesy of wikimedia commons

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


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…

Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone?

It’s a vexing question, asked frequently and nearly always plaintively. President Boyd K. Packer asked it rhetorically this week, supporting and strongly affirming the church’s stance on sexuality and marriage. He stated: We teach the standard of moral conduct that will protect us from Satan’s many substitutes and counterfeits for marriage. We must understand that any persuasion to enter into any relationship that is not in harmony with the principles of the gospel must be wrong. From The Book of Mormon we learn that wickedness never was happiness. Some suppose that they were pre-set and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural. Not so! And then the question: Why would our Heavenly Father do that to anyone? Remember, he is our father.1 But what if we all stepped back for a bit and genuinely asked that question? What if, instead of using it as a rhetorical device to support our position (and make no…

Give us this day our Daily, One-of-a-Kind, World-Famous, Awesome Magic Brand Bread

By Adrienne Cardon [Adrienne sent me the following submission.] I was just a Beehive when those rosy, soft around the edges Homefront commercials rolled out on late-night television. These iconic spots featured families in motion, well-coifed moms and busy pops who metamorphosed from 90’s corporate dads to storyteller/ballplayer dads in 30 seconds. Family, isn’t it about time? asked the ads. They were a bit schmaltzy, they were a bit dewy, they were a bit, well backlit. But here’s much forgotten takeaway – they were effective. This little tagline, this bookend to each commercial was extremely successful. Little by little, public perceptions started to change. People started to pair the word “Mormon” with the word “Family.” Congratulations, branding team. Mission(ary) accomplished. So, seeing the newest efforts is a bit puzzling to me, because the takeaway word I’m hearing this time around is “same.” “I’m an artist.” “I’m a surfer.” “I’m a fashion designer.” “I’m a public relations manager.” “ . .…

An Apostle on Muslims


Yesterday, I read the following comments on Muslims by an LDS Apostle: I am aware it is not without a great deal of prejudice that we as Europeans, and Americans, and Christians in religion and in our education, so called, have looked down upon the history of Muhammad, or even the name; and even now we may think that Islam, compared with Christianity as it exists in the world, is a kind of heathenism, or something dreadful…

Correlation is Killing Sunday School

Once upon a time, there was Sunday School, an independent auxiliary whose officers were appointed by senior LDS leaders and whose primary task was to develop a Sunday School curriculum, and commission and supervise the writing of lesson manuals. They did a nice job. Then came Correlation.

Myth and Ritual

Like some of you, I’ve been reading a book or two on the Old Testament, this year’s Sunday School course of study. Most recently I read Susan Niditch’s Ancient Israelite Religion (OUP, 1997), described in the jacket blurb as “a perceptive, accessible account of the religious beliefs and practices of the ancient Israelites.” Too often our approach to the Old Testament is essentially cherrypicking — highlighting passages that affirm our own beliefs and understanding while skimming over or simply ignoring everything else. We can do better. Niditch takes a worldview approach, suggesting we ought to strive to see how the Israelites saw the world as a way to understand Israelite religion. Myth and ritual are two aspects of this “worldview analysis,” which, along with experience and ethics, form the template Niditch uses to examine the Israelite worldview revealed by the texts of the Hebrew Bible and by surviving archeological artifacts. I’ll touch on a few of the points Niditch makes…

Where Is Mormonism Headed?

That theme is addressed from many different angles in The Future of Mormonism series at Patheos. It might be the best online event on Mormonism I’ve seen, with contributors drawn from across the Mormon spectrum. Here are a few highlights. Mormonism in the New Century by Armand Mauss — Mauss sees the retrenchment-assimilation pendulum swinging back toward assimilation as the Church moves into the 21st century. He lists several signs of this “new posture of diplomatic outreach by the church leadership.” Mormon Publishing, the Internet, and the Democratization of Information by Kristine Haglund — Dialogue’s editor weighs in on “the challenges facing Mormon publishing.” Like blogs, which Haglund rather coyly describes as showing “that people really like to hear themselves talk.” I like her suggestion that the bottom-up efforts of independent journals and blogs may help Mormonism develop a “framework for engaging the ever-broadening discourse about Mormonism in the new media world.” Partnering with our Friends from Other Faiths by…

What Did We Lose?


In 70 AD, the Romans capped their extended campaign to crush a Jewish revolt by destroying the magnificent temple in Jerusalem. The Jews lost their temple. Earlier, they had lost political autonomy and the kingship; later, in 132 AD, another Jewish revolt was suppressed and Jews were barred from living in or even entering Jerusalem. Despite this loss of temple, king, and land, the Jews adapted and Judaism endured. In the 19th century, Mormons had their own sharp if somewhat less dramatic struggle with American government and culture. What did we Mormons lose?

The End of the World

Yellowstone geyser

I took a stroll through the End of the World last week. Brought the wife and kids and a picnic lunch. It was beautiful, as always. But one of these days (and it won’t be long) it will be gone. Maybe us too.

How to write a revelation


I have been working on a paper looking at the Doctrine and Covenants, and my research has me thinking about how the texts of modern revelation were produced.  I think that there are a lot of Mormons who assume that the words of the revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants were dictated word for word to Joseph.  On this model, the Doctrine and Covenants is rather like the Qua’ran, which also consists of a series of revelations given to a prophet over a period of years in response to concrete historial circumstances.  Pious Muslims affirm that the Qua’ran was dictated word for word in classical Arabic to the Prophet Muhammed and transmitted without error to the present.  Some Islamic theologians have gone farther, declaring that the Qua’ran is uncreated in time.  Rather, it is an eternal emanation of the Divine mind, the Word that was in the beginning with God incarnate in the world.  (There are problems with this story of the…

Reincarnation, Mormon style

In a PEW survey a few months back, 24% of American adults indicated that they believed in reincarnation (ie, that people will be reborn into this world again and again). Apparently many Christians don’t have a problem overlapping their Christianity with Eastern beliefs.

A Mormon Image: Joseph’s Birthplace Memorial At Dusk

Joseph Smith Birthplace Columns Boatright

“I was born in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and five, on the twenty-third day of December, in the town of Sharon, Windsor county, State of Vermont.” Joseph Smith History 1:3 By Gary Boatright Jr. ___ This picture is part of our ongoing series highlighting Mormon images. Comments to the post are welcome; all comments should be respectful. In addition we invite you to submit your own images to the Mormon Image series. Other images in the series can be found here. Rules and instructions, including submissions guidelines, can be found here.

Inoculation Works

I finally picked up and read a copy of Simon Southerton’s Losing a Lost Tribe: Native Americans, DNA, and the Mormon Church (Signature, 2004) a couple of weeks ago. Yet I still attended church last week and have not drafted a resignation letter. Inoculation works. There’s nothing particularly new in the book — it summarizes mainstream academic views about the origins of the native inhabitants of the Americas, reviews more recent DNA evidence that confirms the mainstream view, then critiques mainstream LDS beliefs about the Book of Mormon and the peopling of the Americas. It is not a book that should have stirred up much controversy. That it did suggests we LDS have a problem, but it’s not a DNA problem. Our problem can be described in two words: Correlation and inoculation. Problems With Correlation What is Correlation? It is an organizational unit within the LDS bureaucracy with a staff and a budget. What does it do? It reviews most…

An Unexpected Gift

06-17-2010 090

At 3:28 this morning we welcomed a new son into the world. As one would expect, congratulations and well-wishes have come flooding in from friends and family all day. And for all of these we have been moved and grateful. First thing this morning, however, we received a congratulatory gift we hadn’t anticipated. Women housed in the Alexandria Detention Center had sent us a hand-crocheted blanket, cap and set of booties. (In Packer yellow-and-green for my Cheese-head wife no less). Both modern and ancient scripture admonish us to serve the “least” of those among us, noting that doing so is akin to serving Christ himself. My wife and I found ourselves touched that, at such a sacred and spiritual time for our family as the birth of our new son, we had been remembered by some gracious women who, by some standard, might consider to be the “least” of those in our society today. Humbled by the act, we resolved…

Zion and the Limits of Intellectual Agrarianism

07-01A Jackson County Plat 1933 cropped

There is a strand of progressive Mormon thinking that associates Zion with an exaltation of agrarian virtues.  I am thinking here of folks like Hugh Nibley or Arthur Henry King or my friend Russell Arben Fox who argue that small scale, local economies, ideally based in large part on agriculture provide the best possible model for building Zion.  At least one way of understanding this line of thinking is to see it as a kind of Mormonization of agrarian thinkers like Wendell Berry.  It is striking in this regard that Leonard Arrington, whose works on nineteenth-century Mormon communitarianism provide the historical ur-texts for much of this thinking, was trained at North Carolina in a progressive economics department then much under the influence of an earlier generation of Southern agrarian thinkers. I am skeptical.

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.

Claremont Conference: What Is Mormon Studies?


The Claremont Mormon Studies Student Association is holding its Spring 2010 Conference on April 23 and 24 on the theme What Is Mormon Studies? Transdisciplinary Inquiries into an Emerging Field. The Conference line-up is as follows: Keynote Address Jan Shipps – Indiana University-Purdue University Critical Approaches to Mormon Studies Loyd Ericson – “Where is the Mormon in Mormon Studies?  Subject, Method, Object” Cheryl L. Bruno – “Mormon History from the Kitchen Window: White is the Field in Essentialist Feminism” Blair Van Dyke – “How Wide the Divide? The Absence of Conversation between Mormon Studies and Mormon Mainstream” Christopher C. Smith – “What Hath Oxford to do with Salt Lake?” Challenges Facing Mormon Studies Adam S. Miller – “A Manifesto for Mormon theology” Jacob Rennaker – “Through a Glass, Darkly? Biblical Studies, Mormon Studies, Parallels, and Problems” Greg Kofford – “Publishing Mormon Studies: Inside Looking Out” Scholar Panel Brian Birch  – Utah Valley University J. Spencer Fluhman – Brigham Young University…

Theological Anthropology at UVU this weekend

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology holds its 2010 conference at UVU this Thursday through Saturday (March 25-27) on the theme of theological anthropology. Invited speakers include: Terryl L. Givens (University of Richmond)—”Finding the Divine in Man: Romantic Angst and the Collapse of Transcendence”; Kevin Hart (University of Virginia)—”The Prodigal Son”; Laurence Hemming (Lancaster University)—”A Singular Humanity: The End of Anthropology”; David K. O’Connor (University of Notre Dame)—”Plato, Purity, and the Iconoclast Temptation: A Catholic Imaginarium” Other session themes include agency and grace, the natural man, human pre-existence, perfectability and theosis. The full conference schedule and abstracts of the presentations are listed on the SMPT website. All sessions are free and open to the public.

James Alison and the reconciled discourse of dissent

James Alison. Photo couresy of

Last week a friend invited me to attend a lecture sponsored by the  SLU Theology Club and featuring James Alison, a Roman Catholic priest and theologian.  Alison grew up in Britain, was raised in a low-church Protestant tradition, converted to Catholicism, and now resides in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, living as an openly gay Catholic and working with AIDS patients. That collision of proper nouns seemed provocative. The talk was to be titled “The Gift of the Spirit and the Shape of Belonging: Meditations on the Church as Ecclesial Sign.”  Even more promising: Catholic ecclesiology shares something in common with its LDS counterpart, inasmuch as both traditions revere an ecclesiastical hierarchy and value orthodoxy, and I hoped that Alison’s remarks might offer a wavy mirror on the shape of my own belonging. I was not disappointed.  Alison opened by observing that ecclesiology, or contemplation of the church as an institution, is always a “broken-hearted” discourse, informed by communal contrition and enlivened by…

Remembering Stewart Udall

McKay and Johnson

Stewart Udall, U.S. Secretary of the Interior under Kennedy and Johnson and a prominent member of a prolific Mormon political dynasty, passed away Saturday morning at his home in Sante Fe, New Mexico, according to a statement from his son, Senator Tom Udall. Known affectionately as “Stew,” he was ninety years old and the last surviving member of Kennedy’s original cabinet. While he did not remain an active Latter-day Saint in his later life, he nevertheless kept close ties with the Church and continued to self-identify as a Mormon, claiming that he was “Mormon born and bred, and it’s inside me… I prize my Mormon heritage and status.” More than that, throughout his adult life he served as an important intermediary for the Church on both political and religious matters. Background and Public Life Stew was the son of former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Levi S. Udall. He was born in the small town of St. Johns, Arizona in 1920 and…

Do Titles Matter?

Wife of President.

There is a long-standing tradition in the church to use honorific titles identifying priesthood positions for men at just about every level beginning when they become missionaries. Elder, Bishop, President. Women — even those who hold similarly named positions — are generally referred to as simply “sister.” In my 45 years in the church, I can recall less than a handful of times when a woman was referred to by title. When I was 19 we moved to England while my dad took a sabbatical from BYU. My mom soon made a dear friend in the mission president’s wife. We spent hours and hours helping her fulfill her various duties. (My mom out of friendship, me out of a desire to hang out with cute missionaries.) This was more than a full time job. Upon returning home, I started paying attention to the Church News announcements of new mission presidents. The notices generally told about the man who’d been called,…