Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

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

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 LDS.org 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…

Refugees

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

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

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…

Reading Nephi – 10:11-16

At the end of this section Nephi notes that there were many other prophecies of Lehi, and many of those prophecies Nephi wrote in his other plates. Here he’s only written what he thought appropriate. Well then, what has he written? Out of many prophecies, what does Nephi consider worth including? Two main things. First, he’s copied over Lehi’s messianism and re-interpreted that messianism for his reader. Second he’s laid a foundation for one of the major themes of the entire Book of Mormon: this notion of scattering and gathering, which he’ll take back up when relaying his own vision in a few chapters, and which gets repeated throughout the rest of the record. With this latter, there’s something else that’s interesting. Lehi isn’t just prophesying for his posterity, he’s given them a way of understanding and affirming the wrenching experience that they’ve undergone by situating their personal experience within a much grander, holy narrative. It’s necessary that branches be…

Reading Nephi – 10:1-10

The first lines go right along with the confusion and different worldview conspicuous in 9. Having just stated the Lord’s intention for Nephi to focus on the spiritual as opposed to the secular and his own confusion over this point, Nephi launches in to tell us about his journey, his reign, and his ministry. It’s all the same to him. It’s all the workings of God. And I Nephi through the first part of II Nephi is in fact about showing that God was behind Nephi’s reign. I wonder what’s behind this notion of a “land of inheritance.” It’s a large theme in scripture. Here, Nephi’s keen on establishing a new land of promise, which becomes a land of inheritance for his people. This plays large later in the Book of Mormon as overzealous nationalists insist on retaking the land of Nephi, which results in disaster. I wonder if it is a part of Nephi’s and later prophets’ focus on…

Guest Post: All Flesh

John Gustav-Wrathall is the newly-elected president of Affirmation: LGBT Mormons, Families & Friends, an international organization founded in 1977 to support LGBTQ/SSA Mormons and their families, friends and Church leaders. Following his election, I invited Gustav-Wrathall, a personal friend, to draft a post on his thoughts about the new policy, his interactions with Church leaders, and what he thought important that members know. The post below is the product of that invitation. For those who don’t know him, Gustav-Wrathall is an adjunct professor of American Religious History at the United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, where he teaches future Protestant ministers about Mormonism (and other religions). He is the author of Take the Young Stranger by the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA (University of Chicago Press, 1998), has published articles in Sunstone and Dialogue on being gay and Mormon, and is the author of the Young Stranger blog, which he has maintained since 2007. Though excommunicated from the Church, John has a testimony, and has been active in his south…

Reading Nephi – 9

This is an extraordinarily odd chapter—and odd in ways that really do support the either prophet or genius narrative of Joseph Smith. Why, if one were simply trying to cover up their mistake in losing 116 pages and the first several hundred years of history, would you stick this chapter in here? You go ahead and finish translating from Mosiah through Moroni. Then, since your narrative is screwed up, you plan out this clever narrative of there being “other” plates—the Small Plates of Nephi—tacked on at the end of the gold plates—you use this ad hoc addition of these other plates to backfill and fix your narrative. But if what you’re really worried about is the scandal of the loss of the 116 pages, why wouldn’t you stick this chapter with it’s explanatory narrative—all about God knowing the reasons for these small plates when Nephi himself doesn’t, but surely there’s some purpose—at the very beginning? Modified slightly, Chapter Nine would…