Oftentimes, we’re presented with what appears to be a package deal: If you accept A, you accept B-G as well. If you reject A, you reject B-G as well. Just as often, however, what appears as a package can and should be unpacked, critically and carefully examined to see if it really is so. In 1911 Provo, a controversy erupted over some teachers at BYU. Horace Cummings, the education commissioner, was sent down to investigate and make a report. Telling the entire story is beyond the length and attention span of the average blog, so I’ll just link to it here though it has been written about elsewhere. Cummings’ report is of interest to me because of the packaging of tradition, Old Testament interpretation and issues of miracles, science, and rationality.
Whether you are a student of the scriptures who reads 3-4 versions of the Bible simultaneously (at least one of which is in Hebrew or Greek) or you are so lackadaisical that scripture “study” means learning where the book of Romans is (hint: New Testament), you will want to read Adam Miller’s insightful, thought-provoking and beautifully written “paraphrase” of Romans, Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan.
At 7pm on Thursday, May 21, Writ & Vision will host a roundtable discussion on grace. Participants include Adam Miller, Joseph Spencer, and Jenny Webb. The discussion will focus on President Uchtdorf’s April 2015 General Conference address, “The Gift of Grace,” Adam Miller’s Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan: An Urgent Paraphrase of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, and a close reading of 2 Nephi 25:23 (“for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do”). The event is open to the public. Writ & Vision is located at 274 West Center Street in Provo, Utah.
The Pew Research Center is releasing the results of its “extensive new survey” on religion in America. In “America’s Changing Religious Landscape,” it summarized changes for reported religious identification: Evangelical Christians dropped 0.9% (from 26.3% of the US population in 2007 to 25.4% in 2014), Catholics fell 3.1%, Mainline Protestants fell 3.4%, and “Unaffiliated” rose 6.7% (from 16.1% to 22.8%). Overall, adults identifying themselves as Christian dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%. America is becoming less religious and less Christian.
You have probably heard about Joseph Smith’s Polygamy: Toward a Better Understanding (Greg Kofford Books, 2015; publisher’s page) by Brian C. and Laura H. Hales. It has been getting a lot of attention, coming as it does in the wake of the recently released polygamy essays at LDS.org. Furthermore, the book follows the three-volume treatment of the history and theology of Joseph Smith’s polygamy, authored by Brian C. Hales and (for volumes 1 and 2) Don Bradley and also published by Kofford. Not having read the three volumes, I assume the 100 pages of narrative text in this shorter volume, along with the 75 pages of biographical sketches of the 35 women who were, in one sense or another, plural wives of Joseph Smith, are something like a summary of the material discussed at greater length in the three longer volumes. An abridgement, if you will.
It’s time for a discussion of Russell Stevenson’s For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism: 1830-2013 (Greg Kofford Books, 2014; publisher’s page). I bought my copy at a book signing at Benchmark Books in Salt Lake. Deseret Book is carrying the book, but if you live in Utah County go pick up a copy at Writ & Vision, Brad’s new operation (on West Center in Provo, used to be Zion’s Books). We are fortunate to have Russell presently doing a guest blogger stint here at T&S, so I look forward to his responses to my review and to your observations or questions in the comments. For the Cause of Righteousness is both comprehensive, as it takes a global view of the topic for the entire history of the LDS Church, and timely, coming just after the Church’s publication of the definitive Race and the Priesthood essay. And the issue of race and the priesthood is…
So this week, the Salt Lake Tribune sponsored a live “Trib Talk;” the topic was “what Mormon women want.” You can watch it here. Afterwards, there was criticism that there wasn’t a traditional or a conservative or a happy-with-the-status-quo (or whatever term you’d prefer) position represented. (There was also criticism that, at least initially, it was planned as an all-white panel, but that’s a topic for a different post.) I have heard that more-traditional women were invited, but either refused or later backed out. There is also this dialogue you can watch, featuring Melissa Inouye, who identifies as an egalitarian feminist, and Caroline Allen, who identifies as a maternal feminist. I have a few thoughts about all of this:
This is the third and final post on B. Carmon Hardy’s Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice and Demise (Arthur H. Clark Co., 2007). The simple story of the end of LDS polygamy is that it ended in 1890 with the Manifesto. The not-so-simple story involves a Second Manifesto in 1904, which raises the obvious question, “If the First Manifesto ended polygamy, why the need for a Second Manifesto?” The First Manifesto did not end the officially sanctioned LDS practice of polygamy. In fact, it took twenty years to fully execute that momentous institutional change of course.
In a few minutes I’ll be leaving to travel to California, where I’ll be speaking this weekend at the conference of the Mormon Scholars in the Humanities. I’ll be speaking Friday morning on Karl Ove Knausgaard, and Saturday on Nibley + Terryl & Fiona Givens on atonement theory. Sunday evening at 7:00 pm, I’ll be speaking to the Bay Area Mormon Studies Council on the topic of “Disenchanted Mormonism: How (and Why) to Be Religious but not Spiritual.” The talk will be at the Berkeley Institute, located at 2368 LeConte Avenue. This event is open to the public — please come and invite others, or share the invitation. I’ve posted an excerpt of my talk below. For a sojourner in the disenchanted forest, then, what language might better serve that experience than the trio of doubt, freedom and choice? It would be difficult to match the elegance and appeal of that formulation, and I freely concede that I will fail…
I’m not susceptible to guilt. I’m sensitive to social pressure, for sure, and can be “guilted into” doing or saying things I don’t really mean. I feel terrible when I’ve failed to meet an obligation or hurt another person. But I don’t really feel that I’ve sinned — I don’t have the inner sense that God is unhappy with me, that I’m unworthy, or that I need divine forgiveness. I just want to repair my mistakes, or feel frustrated if I can’t. I sat in an Episcopal Easter vigil a few days ago, and the liturgy dwelled for a time on human sinfulness. I thought for a moment about my sins, and I actually couldn’t name anything specific at first. After a few minutes I lit on a relationship with one of my children that I have been been damaging with my actions, and I began to think of that as real sin, not just my being emotionally inadequate to the task of mothering. But that way of thinking — I’ve sinned, I’m guilty, I need God’s forgiveness and rescue — is not my first reflex. That’s just not the way my psyche works, for whatever reason: maybe my upbringing, or my brain structure, or my life experiences.
I’m not proud of this, but I’m not ashamed of it, either: it’s just how I am. I think it probably hinders my ability to empathize with others in some situations and veils a central part of human experience from me; it probably also makes me less scrupulous about private religious observances. Of course, maybe I’m a horrible sociopath and just don’t see it — I guess you’d have to ask my friends and family about that. On the other hand, my missing guilt receptors have probably saved me some needless anguish and kept me on a pretty even emotional keel that allows me to serve others and contribute in the community.
All this to say that I listened to Elder Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning talk, “The Gift of Grace,” with great interest and respect, but without the overwhelming emotional response that many people experienced. I felt happy for their sakes, happy that their burdens were lifted and their souls watered. But the talk didn’t really re-frame my own felt relationship to God in a deep way, because sin and forgiveness just aren’t the channels through which that connection flows. William James distinguished between “healthy-minded” and “sick” souls, without attaching moral judgment to either one: the healthy are those who feel fundamentally at home and right with the world, and the sick those who feel fundamentally broken and out of place. I’m a healthy-minded soul.* I would imagine that James’s “sick souls” are those who most fervently respond to Elder Uchtdorf’s talk.
While sin and guilt have scant purchase my soul, death stalks my imagination. I am terrified of death — my own death, the death of those I love, the death of the sun and the scattering of a cold universe. I’m afraid too of the death-seeking drives of human nature, our indenture to fleshly instinct and our lust for status, Lear’s “poor, bare, forked animal” and the Preacher’s lament that all is vanity and striving after wind. All flesh is grass. This fear should be assuaged by a robust sense of Christian grace — after all, in the resurrection Christ vanquished hell and death. But this witness has not yet been given to me, or I have not yet allowed it to penetrate my hard heart. I live in hope that it may someday, but for now the veil over my mind is lead.
Maybe my mostly sunny nature seems like a contradiction, then. But it doesn’t feel that way to me: I fear death as I do because life is so fine. I want a thousand miraculous April 7ths, when everything improbably blooms overnight and the air is sweet and velvet. I want to plant a thousand seeds, raise a thousand children, learn a thousand piano concertos. I want a thousand years of mud under my fingernails and fat earthworms slipping through invisible tunnels in the rotting leaves. I want to hike every dry canyon, shovel snow for days, nurse every baby. I want to read every book to my children under every shockingly spring-green tree, and together memorize the exact pattern of the leaves against the sky. I want to fly for miles with the wind in my hair and my son in my arms. The turning of the seasons, the passage of the holidays and the marking of that passage with my children fills me with belonging, at-homeness, connection to past and future and every leaf and stone. I feel that the world was given to me — no, that I was given to the world. I can only interpret this feeling as divine. As grace, in fact.
When Nibley writes about grace, he sets the scene in Eden. But it’s not the Fall he focuses on, it’s the Lord’s gift of creation, a new world in which Adam, male and female, is placed in every sense of that rich, earthy, growing, dying word. Place, for me, is grace. My deepest spiritual perceptions do not take the form of a cross; this probably makes me a poorer disciple of Jesus of Nazareth. They take the form of a tree. But there is grace there, too.
*With the exception of the months after each of my babies were born, when I suffered from terrible post-partum depression and anxiety. These experiences changed me, not least in bringing into focus the well-being that I am fortunate to experience as normal at other times.
I’m pleased to share a post written by my friend Christian Harrison. I’d like to write a few words about something that was said, during the Saturday morning session of General Conference.I grew up in Spokane, Washington. Living so close to the Canadian border, I frequently came across the random Canadian penny or dime. As a child, I learned that they were easily used to pay at the cashier but they were rejected outright by vending machines.You see, those Canadian coins weren’t counterfeit, they were just foreign. The cashiers knew the difference… but the machines did not. And what separates the cashier from the machine is experience — and the willingness to learn from it. The cashiers knew that the coins were valued the same as their US equivalents by their customers. The foreign coins weren’t part of the official economy, but they were part of mine. I knew that I could use them to get cookies at the grocery…
Choir: He Is Risen President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: My Redeemer Lives Invocation: S. Gilford Nielsen Choir: He Sent His Son Elder Robert D. Hales: Preserving Agency, Protecting Religious Freedom The blessings we enjoy now are because we made the choice to follow the Savior before this life. To everyone hearing or reading these words, whoever you are and whatever your past may be, remember this: it is not too late to make that same choice again and follow Him. As we walk the path of spiritual liberty in these last days, we must understand that the faithful use of our agency depends upon our having religious freedom. No one should be criticized, persecuted, or attacked by individuals or governments for what he or she believes about God. Some are offended when we bring our religion into the public square yet the same people who insist that their viewpoints and actions be tolerated in society are often very slow…
President Eyring is conducting this session of Conference, with music by the Tabernacle Choir. Invocation by Sister Linda S. Reeves, Relief Society Second Counselor. Benediction by Elder Kevin S. Hamilton of the Seventy. For this on-the-fly summary, text in quotation marks is a direct quote of a speaker, subject to correction when transcripts are available; other text is my summary of remarks by a speaker; and text in brackets [like this] is my own helpful commentary.
President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: For the Strength of the Hills Invocation: David L. Beck Choir: On This Day of Joy and Gladness President M. Russell Ballard: The Greatest Generation of Young Adults I know I speak for my brethren when I tell you that we wish it was possible for us to know all of you personally, and to be able to tell you that we love you and we support you. … what we need now is the greatest generation of young adults in the history of the Church. We need your whole heart and soul. We need vibrant, thinking, passionate young adults who know how to listen and respond to the whisperings of the Holy Spirit as you make your way through the daily trials and temptations of being a young contemporary Latter-day Saint. … it’s time to raise the bar not only for missionaries, but also for returned missionaries and for your entire generation. I…
Conducting: Pres Eyring Opening Song: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty[oddly, I have had this song running through my head continuously since yesterday. Maybe I’m inspired?] Music by Young Single Adult Choir from Davis and Weber Counties, Utah [Wearing “Easter egg colored clothing,” according to the people sitting in my front room with me] Prayer: Sister Stevens President Uctdorf: Sustaining
Choir: Guide Us, Oh Thou Great Jehovah President Uchtdorf conducted this opening session. Choir: Glory to God on High Invocation: Timothy J. Dyches President Henry B. Eyring: “Is Not This the Fast that I Have Chosen?” When we offer succor to anyone, the Savior feels it as if we reached out to succor Him. There are more hungry, homeless, and lonely children of Heavenly Father than we can reach. And the numbers grow ever farther from our reach. So the Lord has given us something that we each can do… It is the law of the fast. Your fast offering will do more than help feed and clothe bodies. It will heal and change hearts. The fruit of a free-will offering may be the desire in the heart of the recipient to reach out to others in need. … other storms and tragedies will come across the world to people the Lord loves and whose sorrows He feels. Part of your…
Religion isn’t about sin. Thinking that religion is about sinning (or not sinning) is like thinking basketball is about fouls. You should stop fouling but you can’t make the game be about fouls. That’s an impossible way to play basketball. And, more, it’s an impossible way to be religious.
Jeder soll nach seiner Fasson selig werden—everyone may find sacred bliss in their own way, in Frederick the Great of Prussia’s formulation of enlightened commitment to religious tolerance. Nowhere is this sentiment more evident today than at a community health club.
Are you feeling pressed for time? Just don’t have the energy to remember prayer? Download the new Auto-Pray (TM) app today! You’ll spend about ten minutes in initial setup. Using handy check-the-box options, indicate your prayer preferences, such as the standard package (1 morning, 3 meals, 1 evening) or any of a number of custom packages. You can go with the basic prayer (“we thank Thee for this day,” “we thank Thee for this food”) or add options of your choice. Want to thank God for the missionaries during morning prayer, and the Prophet during evening prayer? It’s as simple as check-the-box! You can build your own linguistic nuances right in, too! Want to make sure to include important terms like “moisture”? We’ve got that option! Want to add lots of extraneous Thees and Thous, passive-voice construction, and archaic verbs? We doth haveth that one, too! You can even customize your prayer to be in Yoda form (“these blessings, we…
In my prior post, I looked briefly at the origins of polygamy. Again using documents from B. Carmon Hardy’s Doing the Works of Abraham: Mormon Polygamy: Its Origin, Practice, and Demise (Arthur H. Clark, 2007), I will now look at the public practice of polygamy in early Utah. How did the Saints in Utah explain it to the world and what did visitors to Salt Lake City say about what they observed?
In a post at By Common Consent over the weekend (What has two thumbs and doesn’t give a crap about the Family?), Rebecca J writes that “If I’m not currently standing up for the Family, it’s… really just that I don’t care enough about the Family. I don’t think I care at all.” She goes on to write: I’m really not sure what they [Church leaders] mean. I mean, it can’t mean that I’m supposed to be speaking out against divorce or same-sex marriage or unwed parenthood because if it did, they would just come out and say that, right? I mean, I know that church leaders rarely just come out and say anything, but if I were to raise my hand and ask for clarification by saying, “Hey, does this mean I should be speaking out against divorce and/or same-sex marriage and/or unwed parenthood?” they would definitely not respond in the affirmative but would probably say something that had…