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

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…

A Letter From Salt Lake City

The Mormon Newsroom has posted a letter from the First Presidency to area and local leaders. This is unusual: generally letters from the First Presidency are read to members over the pulpit in sacrament meeting, where you hear it once (if you’re lucky) but do not get access to the written text for study or review. And the first line of the letter makes it quite clear what prompted the letter: “Enclosed is a statement by the Council of the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve in response to the recent Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage in the United States.” [See Obergefell v. Hodges opinions.] The attached statement is to be read to the membership on Sunday (but not in sacrament meeting). The letter anticipates some discussion following the reading of the statement.

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

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

(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

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)

Review: First Principles and Ordinances

I’m going to say some nice things about Sam Brown’s First Principles and Ordinances: The Fourth Article of Faith in Light of the Temple, published in 2014 by the Neal A. Maxwell Institute. But first some background. This short book (153 pages of text) is part of the Maxwell Institute’s Living Faith series, which also includes Adam Miller’s Letters to a Young Mormon. What I like about both books is that they take a relentlessly positive approach to the LDS doctrines and principles they discuss but avoid the oversimplified discussion that has become the norm for the LDS curriculum and mainstream LDS books. These are books directed at the intelligent Mormon reader.

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.

2912 Mornings: Reflections on 16 Years of Early Morning Seminary

This morning I am thrilled to share a guest post written by my amazing mother, Christie Frandsen. Christie is a gifted teacher, leader and speaker, and has taught early morning seminary, Institute, and adult scripture classes for many years in Southern California. She has also been involved in Girl Scouting for decades in many significant leadership capacities. She is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of eighteen. It’s 4:25 in the morning. I wake up with a start, instinctively look at the clock and see that I have 5 more minutes of blessed sleep before the alarm rings. I turn it off before it disturbs my husband, and close my eyes for those precious few minutes before my day begins. I recite Scripture Mastery verses in my mind to make sure I still have them memorized, or mentally go over my lesson plan one last time, silently praying to know if anything needs to be changed. My best lesson ideas come at…

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #25

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. Why was a story as embarrassing as Peter’s betrayal included in the scriptures? Consider D & C 1:24–28.   (adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

Review: Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy

Merina Smith’s Revelation, Resistance, and Mormon Polygamy: The Introduction and Implementation of the Principle, 1830-1853 (USU Press, 2013) does a very nice job summarizing scholarship on the LDS practice of polygamy during Joseph Smith’s lifetime and for the decade following his death. The focus of the narrative (which is based on the author’s recent PhD dissertation) is on the development of a theological narrative to support and justify the early practice of LDS polygamy. The author makes the point that a convincing theological narrative or justification was a necessary prerequisite for the acceptance and practice of polygamy by Joseph’s associates and of course by the women who participated. Later the practice was broadened to a much larger percentage of the membership of the Church. And this is a key point: it took years for Joseph to develop that theological narrative and to get others to accept that theology. This book tells that interesting story.

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #24

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.   Scholar Fernando Segovia lists seven different scholarly approaches to John 14-17: (1) Historicizing: the discourse is completely accurate, therefore chapter 15 occurs in a different location (because of 14:31). (2) Transpositional: sometime during transmission, the chapters were rearranged. (3) Redactional: there is a second speech (chapters 15–16) which is a different version of the first speech (chapter 14). (4) Symbolic: 14:31 is understood symbolically. (5) Unfinished: the text is a “rough draft;” the author did not finish polishing the text. (6) Compositional: the apparent contradictions in the text were deliberately crafted by the author to provoke the reader to think. (7) Integrative: regardless of the text’s history, we should ask: How does it now read? One example of this is to find a chiasmus:   A love, glory…

New Testament Gospel Doctrine Lesson #23

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. Some scholars conclude that women were present at the Last Supper. They cite the following evidence:   (1) Compare Mark 14:28 with Mark 16:7. (2) Referring to “one of the twelve” in Mark 14:20 means that there were others present (see also Mark 14:16 and 17). (3) The tradition for Passover was for women to be present and it would have been worthy of mention if Jesus were to depart from this tradition. (4) Women “came up with him unto Jerusalem” (Mark 15:41) and the reason that Jesus went to Jerusalem was to celebrate the Passover. Do you find these arguments persuasive? Why or why not? (How) does it matter if women were at the Last Supper? (adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

Day of the Lamanite, Deferred

Lamanite: An increasingly dated term that now rubs many people the wrong way when heard in public Mormon discourse. But the category lingers on despite LDS attempts to move toward a post-racial approach to priesthood and salvation. Lamanites, Nephites, children of Lehi, Indians, Native Americans, Amerindians — whichever term you choose, it’s clear the doctrinal category is still with us. There is still a racial component to the Mormon view of past, present, and future history. Let’s explore this a bit.

New Testament Gospel Doctrine #22

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. In what ways is a wedding celebration a good metaphor for the coming of the kingdom (see Matthew 25:1-13)? (adapted from Search, Ponder, and Pray: A Guide to the Gospels)

Guest Post- Taking Six Years to Teach the Book of Mormon

This post comes from Mom S. Over the last six years, we’ve had many conversations about the relevant books she was reading, questions that arose, and teaching ideas. I asked her to share some thoughts on this class and its effects.  Some time ago, I was asked to teach an adult scripture class in our ward. It was originally an extra activity for the Relief Society sisters but was expanded by the bishop to include any brothers who wanted to attend. I picked the Book of Mormon for the curriculum having learned from personal experience (16 years early morning seminary teacher, 4 years Institute teacher, 3 years stake adult scripture class, etc.), that a serious study of that book changes people.

On Conflation; or, Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater in 1911

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.

Review: Adam Miller’s Grace Is Not God’s Backup Plan

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.