Category: News and Politics

Politics – Current Events – Media

Reminder: SMPT deadline Tuesday Sept. 1

Paper proposals for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2015 Annual Meeting are due soon—Tuesday, September 1. There have been a number of strong submissions already, and we are looking forward to more. For full details on the conference and the call for papers, see the original announcement.

Church Sticks With BSA

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At least for the moment, as announced in this statement posted at the Mormon Newsroom: “Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program.” So despite the sharply worded LDS statement released a month ago at the Newsroom expressing frustration with BSA for the timing and content of the decision to allow gay scout leaders to serve and despite Internet rumors that an LDS-BSA divorce was imminent, this troubled marriage will continue, at least for now. How long will this last given declining support for BSA among the LDS rank and file? And what does this mean for LDS youth and youth programs?

The Most Important Question about the Future of Mormonism

A couple of weeks ago, Patheos had a fun series of blog posts on the future of the Mormonism. (I’m too lazy to provide a link; Google it.) Most of the contributions were insightful and interesting, but I was struck that none of them put front and center what I think is the more important question facing the Church today. Mormonism is driven, ultimately, by missionary work. If you look at the development of our theology, for example, it has largely been formulated in the context of polemics driven by the needs of proselytizing. We articulate our theology through the process of trying to convert people, rather than trying to covert people to our previously articulate theology. More dramatically, whatever seems to be the most successful missionary message tends to come to dominate Church discourse and transform Church practices. We don’t necessarily invent new doctrines or the like for missionary purposes, but the way in which we present those doctrines…

“Another Important Step Forward in the Restoration of the Gospel”

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Yesterday, President Oscarson announced on her Facebook page that she was now assigned to be a member of the Missionary Executive Council. President Burton is now a member of the Priesthood Executive Council (which has been renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council) and President Wixom is now on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. In an article in the Deseret News, former General RS Presidency member Sheri Dew said that “This is yet another important step forward in the restoration of the gospel.”

Teaching Old Testament for Seminary

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

You recently got called as a Early Morning Seminary teacher, and feel surprisingly sanguine about it. Then you found out that you’re starting with Old Testament this September, and all of a sudden, your confidence in the face of world-weary, eye-rolling teenagers plummeted. Why is this so tough? The audience is hostile and sleepy. You teach every day, without the luxury of a whole week to think through your 45 minute lesson. You’ve got to get in there every morning to teach about the longest book we know the least, with the hardest material that is also the most foreign, culturally speaking. Not to stack the deck, but you’ve got my respect, Sister Volunteer Seminary Teacher.

Another View of the Seer Stone

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Yesterday by invitation, I attended  the first known joint press conference between the LDS Church and its cousin, the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS.) The occasion was the release of the 2-part 3rd volume in the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers, the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of the Mormon. As with the others, these books are hefty, high-quality, and thought-provoking. While available at Amazon (part 1, part 2), they will also be available in their entirety online soon. 

Society for Mormon Philosophy & Theology 2015 Call for Papers

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be meeting at Brigham Young University, October 8-10, 2015. This year’s conference theme is “Doers of the Word: Belief and Practice.” From the Call for Papers: The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme. Religious faith is not merely a matter of belief but of action. Indeed, several passages in scripture suggest that true belief cannot be separated from action. In John 7:17, for instance, Jesus indicates that the practice of faith is a means of acquiring knowledge: “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” Yet other scriptures seem to emphasize the intrinsic, perhaps independent importance of both belief and practice, as in D&C 131:6, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” This year’s theme examines the…

My Theory of the Church’s Statement on the Change in BSA Policy

Yesterday my Facebook feed erupted with posts by LDS friends expressing dismay over the Church’s announcement that it would reconsider its relationship with the BSA in light of the BSA’s announcement that it would now allow gay scoutmasters. After all, the BSA policy allows local troops to set their own guidelines regarding gay scoutmasters, and in any case the Church has no objection to gay scoutmasters, so long as they are living the law of chastity. Why the sharp response from the Church? I have a theory about, this, but it is only a theory. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Boy Scouts v. Dale. Dale sued the BSA under a New Jersey anti-discrimination law, arguing that the BSA’s policy excluding him from being a scout leader because he was gay violated the law. The BSA argued that the application of the New Jersey law violated its rights of expressive association under the First Amendment. The…

Mormons and Scouting: A Messy Divorce?

Mormons are talking about Scouting this week as the first significant aftershock of Obergefell v. Hodges rips through the LDS Church. It started with the July 27 announcement by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that its “National Executive Board ratified a resolution that removes the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees.” The BSA statement announcing the decision included this paragraph explaining that local units can still set their own guidelines for selecting adult leaders: Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.

 Small Group Dynamics

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Far and away, when I am in a small group and decisions need to be made, most people would prefer that someone else make them.  There are notable, and loud, exceptions.  Four year olds, for example, very much want to make decisions.  But for most  adults, I’ve found that the majority typically  prefer that someone else ponied up and decided where we go to eat or in what order things will occur.[1]  This is because, one presumes, they are not so concerned about the exact decision making them happy.  They are generally willing to go along with most reasonable things. Let me stop and remind you that this is my general experience.  Perhaps you live in a world of sharp elbows and loud demands.  Perhaps you teach fourth graders or lawyers or interact regularly in some other highly vocal and demanding group.  Or maybe you make lots of high stakes decisions on a regular basis where people care deeply about the…

Selecting New Apostles

From the Salt Lake Tribune, a variety of reflections on the upcoming selection of two new apostles for the LDS Quorum of the Twelve. Many of those quoted in the article favor a pick that would advance ethnic or international or gender diversity. No one made the obvious prediction: a married white male from Utah with a law degree.

Another Proclamation?

For the second week, LDS wards and branches in the USA and Canada were presented with the Letter over the signature of the First Presidency, the Statement over the title of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the unsigned background material in Q&A form accompanying the Letter. These have all been officially published at the Mormon Newsroom. Social media continues to report a variety of reactions at the local level: some bishops simply read the Statement with no discussion, others conducted a Q&A comment period with considerable discussion. Reported comments (when permitted) following the reading of the Statement range from expressions of love and support for gays to jokes and laughter to complete silence. In a post last week, I examined the text of the Letter and Statement in detail. This week, let’s talk a little more broadly about how it has been…

Some things Jana Riess gets wrong about the Church and religious freedom

I like and respect Jana Riess a great deal, but she has a blog post up on religious freedom in which she makes a number of mistaken claims that are worth pointing out. First, she suggests that the Church´s commitment to religious freedom is shallow or poorly thought out. After all, she says, wouldn´t a robust support for religious freedom include minority religions such Rastafarians? Yes it would. However, since 1990 at least the Church has vigorously supported legislation that allows Rastafarians and other minority religions to challenge laws burdening their practices. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Church helped to pass, was in direct response to Supreme Court opinion holding that the State of Oregon could criminalize the use of peyote by Native Americans. Jana also claims that “The LDS Church has lobbied hard for the right of conservative religious persons – like, say, those who are members of the LDS Church! – to refuse [service in public]…

Symposium on Mormon Theology and Social Issues, July 9th at BYU

Participants in the Wheatley Seminar on “Mormon Theology and Social Issues” are presenting papers in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium at BYU on Thursday, July 9th. See the schedule below. SECOND ANNUAL WHEATLEY SEMINAR SYMPOSIUM FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING “MORMON THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL ISSUES” 10:00 Brock Mason, “Marriage and Sexuality: A Mormon View” 10:30 Kim Berkey, “’As in Adam all Die’: Temple Robing and Dying in Mormon Thought” 11:00 Joe Spencer, “The Moral Stakes of Philosophy’s History” 11:30 Alan Clark, “Inheriting the Enlightenment” 12:00 LUNCH BREAK 1:30 Jonathan England/Spencer Green, “Communal Environmentalism” 2:15 Randy Powell, “Capital Punishment: A Mormon Theological Critique” 2:45 Holly Huff/Maged Lhroob, “An LDS Theology of Mental Illness” 3:30 Diana Brown, “Mormon Conceptions of Embodiment and Female Beauty Culture” 4:00 Rachel Hunt, “A Mormon Ethic of Food” 4:30 Jared Rife, “Renewing Body Energy and Spirit”

Revisiting President Packer on “Scientific Neglect” and Meetings

Given that my studies have involved the interpretation of Genesis, science, and evolution, Elder Packer and I have not always seen eye to eye. I remember well on my mission when Time Magazine ran the cover article about Mormon finances. This made it all the way to France, where we had a copy, and my companion Elder West really focused in on their description of Elder Packer as “the LDS Church’s hard-line number 3 man.” And indeed, he had and has that reputation. But around 2007, while I was teaching volunteer Institute in Urbana IL, we attended a CES fireside for CES teachers, where he spoke. I think he felt that he was talking to insiders, whose commitment and knowledge ran deep, and we saw a different side of him. He was casual, funny, self-deprecating… surprising. We really only see the public persona of the Apostles, which is a very limited and selective part of them. I reprint below some comments from a…

Winning the peace

My niece's wedding, with the children

The supreme court has decided, so now in all of the USA same sex marriages are legal. With this landmark decision the USA has joined the many nations in the world where such a union has become official, and from the Netherlands, the first country where these marriages became official, we extend a warm welcome to America. Great that you joined the swelling crowd who thinks that LGTB should not be discriminated against, also not in marriage issues. You are becoming a ‘modern nation’ now (I hope you recognize a European ‘tongue-in-cheek’). In an earlier blog I explained how preciously little impact this SSM issue has had on the members, wards and stakes in the International Church. i.e. in the largest part of the LDS Church, a notion repeated by many bloggers and commentaries. That means that the recent church statement has very little bearing on the situation outside the USA and will raise questions and eyebrows when read in…

The Perversity of Orthodoxy

I could have called this post “Same-sex marriage: The Belgian perspective,” but it includes more. “The perversity of orthodoxy” – that’s how one of the members in our Belgian ward identified the broader issues which triggered this post. He called me on Sunday afternoon, upset by a Sacrament meeting talk that same morning and in need to vent frustration. Perhaps “perversity” was too strong a word. Maybe “perfidy”? Probably too weighty a word, too. At least “the insensitivity of some who defend orthodoxy” or “the indelicacy of some church statements in the US in relation to the international church”? Difficult choice. I just wanted to convey the intensity of his reaction, hence the title of this post. There had been two talks that morning, and the contrast was telling. Sarah Sarah, around thirty, had given the first talk. A little nervous, soft-spoken, she had her talk all written out, the result of days, perhaps weeks, of toiling on it. Her…

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #27

So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises. Most ancient manuscripts of Mark end after 16:8 and early Christians do not seem to know any of this chapter after verse 8. The style, vocabulary, and themes in Mark 16:9–20 are quite different from the rest of Mark. Therefore, the vast majority of scholars believe that the Gospel of Mark originally ended with verse 8 and that verses 9–20 are a later addition by another author. It is also possible that the original ending (any material after verse 8) was somehow lost. Suppose for a moment that, as most scholars believe, the Gospel did originally end after verse 8. Why did Mark write such an abrupt ending? What effect does it have on you as a reader?  (adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the…

A Nation Divided

Today our government has taken another step toward moral upheaval, or, if we think more optimistically, toward a crisis that will reshape it and its relationship toward the people it governs, potentially in a constructive manner. The government of the United States of America presents itself, in Lincoln’s immortal words, as a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Its premise is that the legitimacy of government depends on the consent, and not merely the passive, but the active consent, participation, and support of the governed. Today’s Supreme Court ruling mandating same-sex marriage across the Union goes against the democratically enacted laws of a strong majority of the states, and against the constitutions of many of them. It also goes against the deeply held moral beliefs of half its population, and against the moral tradition that originally made democratic self-government possible in the West. The federal government no longer merely embodies a separation of church and…

C.S. Lewis on Inspired Adaptation and Myth

"Elder" Lewis

I wrote recently that there’s no reason why God, who spoke to ancient Israelites “in their weakness, after the manner of their language” could not adapt familiar myths so “that they might come to understanding” (D&C 1:24.) Here, I cite that prophet-with-a-small-p “Elder” C.S. Lewis, who argues that inspiration can include adaptation of uninspired sources. 

How the New Perspective on Paul Illustrates the Science-Religion Creation Debate

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(As with many of my posts, this is kind of trying things out, thinking them through in public and on the fly. It’s messy, so I welcome thoughts and substantive corrections.) In order to keep track of my research, I’ve been making a timeline of three kinds of events relevant to our understanding of Genesis: First, events in LDS history that impinge on the interpretation of Genesis, e.g. the 1911 BYU controversy or BH Roberts- Joseph Fielding Smith Debate (1930s). Second, events that lead to the recovery of ancient Near Eastern context of Genesis 1, such as the discovery/decipherment of Akkadian (Babylonian and Assyrian) and the Enuma Elish (first published in 1876 in English) Third, discoveries in the scientific world, such as Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859), and the discovery of the function (1952) and structure (1953) of DNA. Although scientific influences are the best known, they are, conversely, the least influential on our understanding of Genesis 1.

Pilate and Jesus, a colonial view

Jesus was tried by the Jewish elite in a hasty trial

In studying the last days of Jesus, like in lesson 26 of Gospel Doctrine, we habitually view the complicated chain of events that led to Jesus’ death from the viewpoint of the victim, with the dominant party furnishing the bad guys, the culprits of the story. Evidently, the Jewish authorities are prime suspects, but throughout Christian history one specific player has had a very bad press, Pontius Pilate. Most Christians have at least partly blamed him for the crucifixion, pointing either at his ruthlessness or at his presumed lack of spine, or even both. That, however, is the view from below. Let us now have a look from ‘above’, and see the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate in action as a colonial administrator. For me as a Dutchman, living in a country which has a – both lamented and glorified – colonial past, such a view might be closer than for an American. After all, Indonesia and West Papua once were…

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #26

So here’s the plan: each week that the gospels are covered in Sunday School, I will post one question from my book along with a brief discussion of the issues that it raises. As you read Mark 15, look for irony. Consider why so much in this chapter is ironic and what you should learn from it. (adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

Harnessing Fresh RM Enthusiasm to Train Future Leadership

It’s a truism that lots of people read few books. And certainly as we get married, have jobs, kids, responsibilities, many of us find our leisure time is spent simply recovering from the day and picking cheerios out of the carpet.  Moreover, lots of people who DO read just don’t have  interest in history, doctrine, or scripture and choose to read other things. But then, you have recently returned missionaries.