Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

Converts per Missionary


A few years ago in October 2012 the Church dropped the age for missionaries from 19 to 18 for men and 21 to 19 for women. There are various speculations of why the Church did this although I don’t think anyone knows for sure. (A popular explanation is that it cuts down on young men leaving the church when they go to college for their Freshman year) Regardless of why the Brethren did this, at the time I was concerned that it would lead to less effective missionaries. We now have a few years worth of data so we can examine the effect, In my view the most recent Church data in particular tells a story of a drop in missionary effectiveness.

The Best Kept Secret in the Church

This pamphlet contains advice about adjusting to missionary life. And while I am sure it would be particularly helpful for missionaries, it covers things everyone needs to know. It is humane and gentle, based in gospel principles, and reflects sound thinking about mental health.

Abraham, the legend

Abraham and Isaac, a favorite theme for painters

Right now in the Netherlands a man stands trial for the murder of former Health Secretary, Els Borst. The culprit has confessed, stating in his defence that God commanded him to kill dr. Borst as she was responsible for the new euthanasia laws. The immediate reaction of the Dutch public is that he is insane; also the court does not take his claim seriously. Now, such a claim in a murder case is rather new for the Netherlands, but in the USA this kind of delusion may sound familiar, like in attacks on abortion clinics. Claims on God’s command can be used for all purposes, also the most nefarious. The interpretation of a story’s message depends on who is telling it and what is the hidden agenda of the story teller. In my earlier blog we were wondering about Abraham’s intended sacrifice of his son, our basic conundrum, and now let us view Abraham not as a historical person but…

Conference of the Mormon Transhumanist Association, April 9, Provo City Library

I was a radical feminist for about 48 hours in 1995. Sitting in the Marriott Center as a 20-year-old BYU student, I listened to President Hinckley read the Proclamation on the Family for the first time to the assembled masses. And oh how I seethed! It felt intolerable to be defined from outside, to be told who I am and why and what that meant. I remember walking directly to the library afterward, sitting at a carrel and furiously scribbling my objections on the back cover of the packet of readings for my feminist literary theory seminar. Gender was a social construct! A performance! I get to choose what it means for me to be a woman! The packet told me so! Time passed, the anger ebbed. But the Proclamation has persisted, indeed grown in prominence over the years. Despite my initial recoil, the Proclamation is the future of gender for Mormonism. It makes a provocative, challenging, and internally tense set of claims about gender,…

Guest Post: Returning Early with Honor

L0011338 Hourglass in red leather covered case, second of two views.
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images
Hourglass in red leather covered case, second of two views.
Published:  - 

Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

This guest post was written by Lauren Baldwin, based on the paper she presented at the recent Association for Mormon Letters conference. Lauren is a professional writing student at BYU-I. After the 2012 mission age change, she was part of the first group of nineteen-year-old sister missionaries to serve in the Kentucky Louisville Mission. She works in technical communication and sometimes writes creative non-fiction on rainy days.

Free conference, April 14, at Christ Church, Oxford: Temporality and the Sacred in Religious Practice

Former T&S blogger  (and permanent T&S friend) Jim Faulconer and philosopher Marc Wrathall, currently at UC Riverside, are co-sponsoring a free conference on the character of religious existence, with particular emphasis on the experience of the sacred and the temporality of religious practice. The one-day even will take place on April 14 at Christ Church, Oxford. The event is free of charge, but registration is required. To register, please write to Britni Exton: [email protected] It looks like an impressive slate of speakers. Plus, Oxford! Please spread the word to interested friends and acquaintances in the UK. Browse the program below:

Abraham: the problem

Caravaggio's version of Abraham's sacrifice

At the moment I am teaching a course on ‘Religion and Violence’ for Leiden University in the Netherlands. The topic is all too obvious these days, especially after the last brutal terrorist attacks in Brussels. As a text we use Karen Armstrong’s Fields of Blood. Religion and the History of Violence, a book in which she in fact defends the right of existence of religion as such, a defence which is called for indeed. All through the western world, religion sits in the dock, accused of instigating violence, and by increasing popular consent is found guilty as charged. Would the world be better off without religion? The question was raised during Enlightenment and but now roams larger, wider and much louder. Increasingly the answer is a resounding ‘yes!’. Of course this is triggered by excesses, such as we just suffered in Brussels. Forgotten for the moment the manifold contributions to our society and to western civilization by Christianity; or by…

Elder Ballard on Building a Better Boat

In October 2014, Elder Ballard delivered his “Stay in the Boat” talk at General Conference, highlighting “faith crisis” as an emerging problem for members of the Church and likening it to white-water rapids. In October 2015, he followed up with “God Is at the Helm,” extending his metaphor and providing sage advice for how to stay in the Old Ship Zion. Most recently, he delivered a talk to CES religious educators on February 26, 2016, now posted at under the rather bland title “The Opportunities and Responsibilities of CES Teachers in the 21st Century.” I think he should have stuck with his winning theme and called it: “Building a Better Boat.” Highlights Everyone ought to read it. Twice. He announced that business as usual in CES just isn’t working anymore: “Gone are the days when a student raised a sincere concern and a teacher bore his or her testimony as a response intended to avoid the issue.” The problem…

Thank you Brother Ward, Sister Ward (no relation), Elder Mantz, and Coach Mostert (probably)

Without much fanfare, Utah has emerged as a per-capita standout in distance running. For a state with a population just under 3 million, Utah regularly produces strong teams and individual runners at the NXN and Footlocker national cross country championships at the high school level, competitive collegians, and a surprising number of postcollegiate standouts. This isn’t entirely surprising: if you give 3 million people the chance to live and train at altitude year-round, good things can happen.

An Americanized Gospel

A chatty post at the This Week in Mormons site, “Americanisms in a Global Mormon Church,” recounts a few of those Americanisms: Scouting, patriotic music in the LDS hymnal, women wearing (or not) pants to church. At a deeper level, the LDS Church has self-consciously embedded itself in the American myth. Consider “The Divinely Inspired Constitution” by Elder Oaks (1992) or “The Constitution: A Glorious Standard” by Elder Benson (1976). The notion that only in the USA could the gospel of Jesus Christ have possibly been restored is part of the Restoration story. Few American Saints really notice the extent to which the Church has Americanized the gospel of Jesus Christ, but non-American Latter-day Saints certainly do. Quietly filtering out overtly American elements of the gospel that just don’t work in a foreign land and culture may solve some of the inevitable difficulties. Is that enough?

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part III

Today I am pleased to present the third and final part of our interview with Tod Harris, manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. In Part 1, Tod walked us through the stages of producing a new edition of LDS scriptures in a target language. In Part 2, he discussed the value of ambiguity and literal readings in scripture translation. Today, he talks about the close kinship between LDS scripture translation and translation of the Qur’an,  the profound influence of a midcentury evangelical missionary on contemporary Bible translation,  and a key memo from the First Presidency and Quorum of the 12 that governs the literal nature of LDS translations. It’s fascinating stuff.  Thank you, Tod Harris!    9. Is there a role for members of the Church in translation? How can they be involved in the Church’s translation projects? Are there Church translation resources that could be made available to local members for some of the local translations needs? The short…

Utah Transcends Political Tribalism

This might be the last place you would expect to see it: a state where Republicans already prefer the inclusive message of Marco Rubio over the divisive messages of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz,* even before Rubio’s strong finish in South Carolina.** That is, if you didn’t know much about Utah. Utah is the reddest state in the Union, with a 36-point gap in party affiliation. Rubio is often called a moderate, so he should be the favorite in a place where the Republicans are tinted purple, like Massachusetts or Vermont, right? Nope! They prefer Trump, by 34 percentage points in Massachusetts and 15 in Vermont! Trump is leading nationally by around 14 points, and in nearly every state. Just look at the polls. Cruz won the Iowa caucus and leads in his home state of Texas and neighboring New Mexico. Otherwise, it is all about Trump right now—except in Utah. How is the reddest state in the Union coming…


I love the many ways the church has recently bucked anti-refugee sentiment and worked to help refugees. See here, here, here, here, here, and now here.

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part II

Today I am pleased to present Part II of our interview with Tod Harris (the third great-grandson of Martin Harris!), manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. In Part 1, Tod walked us through the stages of producing a new edition of LDS scriptures in a target language. Today, he discusses the value of ambiguity as a feature, not a bug, in scripture translation, the role of the translation process itself in planting new LDS communities around the world, and the priority of literal readings in scripture translation.    5. How do you handle ambiguity in the English text, when there’s not a straightforward way to convey the ambiguity in the target language? How do you ensure that translation choices remain consistent across languages where the original text is ambiguous?  One of the key features of scripture text that sets it apart from most other kinds of text is its multivalency—its ability to mean different things at different…

12 Questions with Tod Harris, Church Translation Department — Part I


Last November I met Tod Harris at the AAR-SBL conference and immediately began pestering him with questions about his linguistics work in the Church’s Translation Department. He graciously agreed to be interviewed for the blog, and today I am very pleased to share the first part of his peek into the complexities of  the Church’s extensive translation work. Second and third installments are available now.   Tod Harris currently serves as manager of scripture translation support for the LDS Church. Tod has been working in Church translation since 1986. He has a degree from BYU in German Literature and a master’s from Cal State Dominguez Hills in Humanities. Tod and his wife Lisa have three children and live in Salt Lake City, Utah.   1. Describe your role and responsibilities as senior linguist in the Church’s Translation Department. What is your background in terms of education and work experience? How did you come to this leadership role?  I began working as a volunteer in September 1986,…

BYU NT Commentary Summer Seminar

We are accepting application for the second annual BYU New Testament Commentary Series Summer Seminar, to be held for the four weeks of July 5 to July 29, 2016, on BYU Campus, Provo, Utah. The deadline for applications is March 31, 2016. The seminar is open to graduate students and recent PhDs who have research interests in Latter-day Saint readings of the New Testament.

Modern Christology, Part 2

Having covered the general topic in my earlier post, I’m going to pull a few additional topics from a book by Jesuit scholar Gerald O’Collins: Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus (OUP, 2d ed., 2009). As a Mormon writing for a largely Mormon set of readers, I’m naturally drawn to topics that complement or contrast with LDS Christological views.

Lay your gifts on the padded bench


During Sunday’s church meeting, a man stood at the pulpit and bore a forceful testimony. Citing Moroni’s closing exhortation to “deny not [God’s] power,” he testified of the reality of miracles unlocked by wholehearted faith and willing belief. “Doubt and skepticism are fashionable in today’s world,” he said, and conceded that these might play a legitimate if limited role for some. But spiritual enlargement and sanctification come to those who “deny not” the power of God but instead affirm it with positive belief. His testimony was not unlike dozens of other testimonies offered from that same pulpit. But this one was delivered with such sincerity and feeling that I was struck anew. The thing is, it didn’t ring a single bell in my soul. My religious experience doesn’t naturally take shape in the language of doubt and skepticism, and certainly I feel no inclination to identify tribally as atheist or agnostic. But I’ve been quite open, both publicly online and in my in-person relationships…

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…

Knitting Lessons

title image

I’m proud to post a talk delivered by my mother, Christie Frandsen, on January 16, 2016, at the Affirmation conference in southern California. Christie is a longtime seminary and institute teacher, and a scholar of ancient scripture. She is married to Russ Frandsen and is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of 18. Many thanks to Affirmation for planning and hosting a marvelous conference.  My beautiful brothers and sisters, I am humbled and nervous to be speaking to you this morning. I am not at all sure I have anything I can teach you because you are the ones who have been teaching me and have helped me so much the past 2 years, and I thank you so very much for that. But lucky for me and for you, the theme of this Conference is knitting, and even luckier, I was asked to talk about being a mother, and it just so happens I do know a few things…

Policy, Doctrine, and Revelation

Three angels hosted by Abraham, Ludovico Carracci (1555–1619), Bologna, Pinacoteca Nazionale. (Wikimedia Commons)

These three concepts exist, for most Mormons, in a tangled web. This has become especially evident in recent months as members have reacted to the Church’s new policies regarding same-sex married couples and their children that were announced in November. This discussion was stoked again following Elder Nelson’s recent remarks, leading to Dave’s post last week pondering: Policy or Revelation? The subtext to this question seems pretty clear: doctrine (often used synonymously with revelation in this discussions) doesn’t change. (For example, the Encyclopedia of Mormonism states that doctrine is “fixed and unchanging.”) And that’s the subtext that dominates all of these discussions: many members are deeply uncomfortable with the Church’s stance in relation to homosexuality in general and long for a change that would, in their view, follow the precedent of the Church’s 1978 Declaration (which followed after President Kimball “had received… revelation.”) by ending discriminatory policies that were never based in unchanging doctrine. Now, obviously the policy changes that…

Reading Nephi – 11:13-18

As commanded, Nephi looks, and what does he see? Interesting that the first thing he sees is cities, including Jerusalem and then Nazareth. What are the other cities? Why does he see cities? This is all in the context of Nephi being guided to come to understand the meaning of the tree. Ultimately Nephi determines it to represent the love of God, which sheddeth itself abroad in the hearts of all God’s children. I wonder, then, if the purpose of seeing the cities was merely to orient Nephi toward the greater context of the meaning of what he sees—this isn’t a vision whose significance is merely for Lehi’s family, nor even for the Jews only (though apparently the only two cities Nephi recognizes are Jewish). Instead, Nephi’s shown the population centers of the earth—this is a vision encompassing humankind. There’s no indication that Nephi notices this or any other meaning to the cities he sees. When the (new) angel asks…

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Mormons and Modernism

Mormons and Modernism: Modernism, Secularism — and the Mormon Response? Thinkers as diverse as Charles Taylor, Marcel Gauchet, John Milbank, Mark Lilla, and Louis Dupré have written about the origins of the modern period—the radical change in thought and society from the medieval period to the modern that occurred gradually and culminated in the sixteenth century. Modernism brought us the renaissance, modern science, the birth of the modern state and democracy, as well as, ultimately, what Nietzsche called “the death of God.” In the twentieth century, questions arose about modernism, such as “How should we understand its grand narratives?” and “What have been its costs to human being?” Recognizing both modernism’s difficulties and achievements, if we cannot think against or beyond modernism, can with think within it? This seminar for graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and not-yet tenured faculty will explore the emergence of modernism and its eventuation in what is often called “postmodern” thought. We will ask if Mormon thought should be understood as part of or in contrast to modernism. Do we have any unique responses to the…

Reading Nephi – 11:8-12

The first conspicuous element here is the replacement of Lehi’s test or opening—all that time walking in darkness—with Nephi’s being questioned by the angel. Nephi does not walk in darkness—his vision begins, after the opening angelic interchange, with looking directly on the vision of the tree. And this too is different. Lehi’s dream was experiential; Nephi’s vision is observational and propositional. This is huge. Nephi requested to see the things that his father had seen. In response, the angel shows him the tree. It doesn’t start with the field, and the other elements of the vision all come later. There’s no gradual unfolding as Nephi chooses what to scan and perceptually seek after. Nor is it presented as a mystery—Nephi begins with an understanding of what he’s going to see and at least a rough outline of what it means (though his purpose is to see and know more fully). Beginning at the tree, it’s as though the angel is…

Reading Nephi – 11:1-7

I’ll confess, I feel a mixture of serious disappointment and jealousy as I’m struck by the utterly exotic nature of this event. Note not only the coming of the angel, but that the angel does not come to Nephi for specific reasons of instruction or witness—not like the shepherds abiding in their fields or Joseph Smith praying for forgiveness. Here the angel comes to simply ask: “What do you desire?” Now admittedly, this appears to be a sort of test—all right Nephi, let’s see what you ask for, and then we’ll see what you get. And Nephi apparently chooses wisely, which leads to his vision. But God knows I’ll settle even for the test! Perhaps I choose wrongly and all I get is admonishment to repent and search the scriptures (the typical angelic injunction—maybe most folks choose poorly and Nephi really is prodigious). How could I not be infinitely content to be graced even with a mere test such as…

Reading Nephi – 10:17-22

Nephi does it again right at the start of this passage, though this time it’s in reverse: he talks about faith in the Son of God, and then realizing that his reader would need clarification on that, he inserts the parenthetical about the Son of God being the Messiah of whom Lehi had been prophesying earlier in the chapter. The whole passage here is interesting in terms of its being a small bit of autobiography leveraged to preach a sermon at us. Nephi relays his experience to us in order to explicitly teach us and convince us that we can follow in the same path. Lehi was faithful, followed the commands of God, followed the inspiration of the spirit, obtained revelation (his own and others’), diligently studied that revelation, and came to know the mysteries of God. Nephi heard and hearkened and followed the same seeking pattern. His autobiographical description is both an invitation and a warning—we will be judged…