When Symbolism isn’t Symbolic

969 - Batman Featured Image

A few weeks ago I listened to an episode of This American Life with an unfortunate title: Batman.[1] The title, which really doesn’t set the right tone for the episode to follow, refers to Daniel Kish, a blind man who taught himself to echolocate as a child. He gets around the world relatively unaided (including, for example, riding a bike) by clicking and then listening to the echoes. This ability has made him world famous, but it really shouldn’t be so unusual. And perhaps the most chilling thing is the fact that most blind kids will intuitively start clicking or snapping or stamping to test out their environment with sound. But they are so often discouraged that they never get the chance to develop their skill to the level Daniel did. They are discouraged, of course, because clicking or snapping repetitively isn’t conducive with normal social expectations. Thus far the tale is sad, but it is not unusual. The idea that social conventions can be…

The Branch of Love: A Black History Month Tribute to Valentine’s Day

William P. Daniels

To purchase For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013, click here. This piece tells the story of a long-forgotten black Latter-day Saint, William P. Daniels, who enjoys a singular position in LDS history: the only known black branch president to function in his office without holding the priesthood. William P. Daniels loved to cook and looked dashing in a three-piece suit. A tailor by trade, Daniels had a charisma about him. Missionaries adored him, church leaders trusted him, and his name rang throughout the Church. No one enjoyed reading the Book of Mormon more than he did, and no one was more aggressive in handing out copies. But Daniels also had a problem. He was a black man in the white South Africa Mormon Church of Mowbray. Daniels knew well the kinds of doctrines that the Saints believed about his people. Daniels had visited Utah himself in 1915 and asked Joseph F. Smith to his face why…

Is excommunication a medieval solution to a modern problem?

I believe it was Joanna Brooks who first formulated the idea that “excommunication is a 19th-century solution to a 21st-century problem.” It bears the marks of her elegant, intelligent phrase-making. Since it was first uttered, this idea has fed a swelling criticism of the practice of excommunication, following from the high-profile disciplinary action against Kate Kelly and now John Dehlin. This particular criticism is separate from — though often prompted by — the specifics of the Dehlin and Kelly cases: it’s a denunciation of the practice in general, either for apostasy or for any transgression. To expel a dissident from a community is “medieval, punishing, barbaric,” as Dehlin put it in his recent Radio West interview, a throwback to the brutal religious ideology that motivated the Inquisition. In turn, this criticism has prompted several defenses of the practice’s sociological utility and spiritual legitimacy. It’s a complicated question, and I respect voices on both sides. As with many issues, I hesitate…

For Zion – Part 2

The first chapter of For Zion lays the groundwork for Spencer’s reading of Paul’s theology of hope. It focuses especially on Paul’s letter to the Romans. Understanding the details of this “theology of hope” is crucial to understanding Spencer’s full account of what’s at stake in the law of consecration.

For Zion – Part 1

Whatever happened to Zion?  Whatever happened to the law of consecration? Aren’t these things from a long time ago? Or for some time way in the future? No. They are only ever for now. Saying that we’re not ready for Zion is like telling a guy lost in the desert he’s not ready for water.

Who gets to be a Mormon?

I have a few questions about boundaries and numbers that I would like to put before the group for your collective insight. While the questions are related, they are not building any particular argument. 1. If the Church excommunicated everyone who quietly disbelieves any or all of the core doctrines that John Dehlin has rejected, how many people would we lose? 2. If the Church dropped from its rolls all those people who have slipped or stomped out of activity, those who opt out of meetings and callings and the home and visiting teaching programs, how big would be the fold of the Lamb of God? 3. Can people remain “Mormon” without belief and/or activity? Has our church been around long enough to have secular Mormons? What does it mean to be a Mormon? 4. John Dehlin has said that he will continue to call himself a Mormon, but “Mormon” is trademarked. Is the Mormon Stories Podcast vulnerable to legal…

On Reading Scripture and Being Human

Darwin's Monkey - Square

About three weeks ago, David Bokovoy wrote an interesting blog post on historicity in the scripture in which he argued that questions of historicity are unhelpful anachronisms that tend to miss the point of scripture: It’s important for modern readers of the Bible to recognize that biblical historians were not motivated to write their accounts out of antiquarian interest. The past was far too important a tool for these authors to simply recount what really happened. Instead, biblical authors used history as a tool to convey themes concerning the God of Israel and his relationship to his chosen people. Bokovoy’s primary target in the article was an essay written by Paul Hoskisson. The main point of Hoskisson’s article was that Mormons are correct to “intuit the strong bond that exists between our faith and historical events,” and that “everything depends upon the historicity of what Elder Bruce R. McConkie called the three pillars of eternity—the Creation, the Fall, and the…

T&S Welcomes Guest Blogger Russell Stevenson

Cause of Righteousness

We are pleased to welcome Russell Stevenson as a guest blogger. Russell has a master’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky, and after a stint teaching at Salt Lake Community College he is now in the Ph.D. program in African history at Michigan State University studying Mormonism in Nigeria. He blogs at Mormon History Guy and at Rational Faiths. February is Black History Month, the right time for Russell to share some of the material from his two books, Black Mormon: The Story of Elijah Ables and the just-published For the Cause of Righteousness: A Global History of Blacks and Mormonism, 1830-2013 (Kofford Books, 2014). Join me in welcoming Russell to Times and Seasons.

Messianicity & Historicity

The Book of Mormon is a messianic text. As messianic, it means to interrupt and overwrite our normal experience of time. When this overwriting occurs at the level of the individual, it’s called repentance. When this overwriting occurs collectively, it’s called gathering. Both kinds of overwriting implicate the other.

Genesis- Various thoughts and notes on a Saturday night.

One depiction of Israelite cosmography, the inverse snow globe with the water outside.

The new Seminary manual on the Old Testament approaches the authorship of Genesis in a reductive and simplistic way. (HT: David Tayman, who also did the Israelite cosmology art below.) Ask students if they know who wrote the first book in the Bible. After they respond, invite them to turn to Genesis 1 and look in the title to see who wrote the book of Genesis. (You may want to explain that in addition to writing Genesis, Moses wrote Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The book of Moses in the Pearl of Great Price also contains Moses’s writings.) Now, this is certainly traditional. But I think the manual’s reinforcement of the simplicity of the tradition creates problems, as per Julie’s excellent post on The Next Generation’s Faith Crisis. Moreover, it’s a tradition that we have not examined closely or often, with rare exceptions. It’s a tradition we have often shared with conservative Protestants and Jews, although with a difference. I’ve been through…

Practical Apologetics: Historicity

Over the holidays I borrowed a copy of Historicity and the Latter-day Saint Scriptures (BYU Religious Studies Center, 2001). Turns out the full book is available online at the RSC site. The book features articles by the usual cast of religion profs and scholarly apologists, plus an apostle and a philosopher. Given how central the historicity issue has become of late (as evident in the Book of Abraham essay, for example) this seems like a good topic for my occasional series on practical apologetics. At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, I am going to suggest that LDS writers who address historicity take one of two approaches, which I will label “no middle ground” and “it’s not so simple.”

Announcing the 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar

2015 01 19 Wheatley Institution Header

The 2nd Annual Wheatley “Faith Seeking Understanding” Summer Seminar will be held from June 22 – July 10, 2015 under the direction of Professor Terryl Givens. Here’s the seminar description: What are the general contours of Christianity’s efforts to find a marriage of belief and intellect? Does Mormonism face the same challenges as the broader Christian tradition? What are the contributions of Mormon theology to current debates in the political and cultural realms? How reasonable are LDS positions on the family, marriage, pro-life and end of life issues? Is the Mormon theological tradition an asset or a handicap in the public sphere?  With what mix of revealed truth and rational discourse can Mormons best address these issues in public debate? Students in the seminar will spend three weeks addressing these and related questions. Along the way they will survey illustrative moments in Christianity’s engagement with secularism, and examine pivotal Mormon theological understanding of such concepts as agency, the eternal soul,…

The Influence of Law on Mormon Theology in the 20th Century

I recently published an article that T&S readers might find interesting. It traces the legal issues faced by the Church as a result of its international expansion after 1945, arguing that the pressures created by these concerns tended to modify Mormon theologies of the state in the last half of the twentieth century. There is a bunch of interesting stuff in the paper (or at least I think that there is), but it mainly makes two contributions. First, it tries to provide an overarching narrative for Mormon legal history in the late twentieth century. Second, it shows that just as with the abandonment of polygamy at the end of the 19th century, law has been an important force in the development of Mormonism in the twentieth century. Here’s the abstract from SSRN, along with a link for those who want to read it: International Legal Experience and the Mormon Theology of the State, 1945-2012 Nathan B. Oman William & Mary…

Times and Seasons’ 2014 Mormon of the Year: The Authors of the LDS Gospel Topics Essays

Times & Seasons is proud to announce the 2014 Mormon of the Year:  Authors of the Gospel Topics Essays. The Mormon of the Year is our annual designation of the Mormons who had the greatest impact or influence on Mormons and Mormonism during the year. Beginning in 2013 the LDS Church has published a series of essays on LDS.org, under the heading of Gospel Topics, addressing controversial topics involving the church and its history. These special essays, currently covering 9 topics, represent a new approach both to public outreach and to informing the church membership on these subjects. While the publication of these essays is a step taken by the church as an institution, we feel it is appropriate to recognize their anonymous authors as the 2014 Mormon of the Year, because it is in substantial part because of these authors, and others doing related work, that the church is able to take this new approach. The essays have changed how…

A Brother in Zion: One man’s unlikely journey into Mormonism


It was the jumpsuit that brought it all into focus, a jumpsuit much like one he had worn years before. But this jumpsuit was white. That one had been orange. Dressed in the white polyester garment, David was prepared for baptism into a new church. A fleeting glimpse of himself dressed in white seemed to capture the great changes in his life and outlook over the past months. White was his new orange. God’s voice began speaking in his heart. “You’ve been getting away with some things you’re not supposed to be doing, and it’s only by the grace of God that you’re here,” Dave heard. As he closed his eyes to pray with his new Pentecostal church family, the whole room suddenly grew bright. “There are many different ministries, but one God,” someone said. The words jumped out at him. Dave opened his mouth to object: after all, hadn’t he just chosen a new church? The Spirit spoke to…

We are all Charlie

French journalists with press cards and "Je suis Vharlie" (I am Charlie, before the premises of Charlie Hebdo.
Photo Gonzalo Fuentes

The horrendous attack on Charlie Hebdo last Wednesday has shocked the world. This is beyond humanity, and all reactions, also from the Muslim communities, is one of deep anger and clear condemnation. Everywhere this murderous spree is seen as an attack on a core value in modern free society, the freedom of the press. Whoever attacks the free press, attacks democracy and free society, so whoever attacks a free press in fact attacks us, all of us, none excluded. Throughout Europe, people flocked to the large squares, expressing their revulsion for this brutal massacre, voicing their conviction that this is not to be tolerated. Thus, the ever so divided Europe unites in one voice, that we are all Charlie. The target, Charlie Hebdo, is a satirical magazine which by definition is iconoclast. It choses provocation, not dialogue, trying to shock, not to gloss over. Their humor is not mine, and their policy is not the one I advocate to bridge…

Incredulous About Joseph Smith’s Polygamy

Incredulous About Joseph Smith's Polygamy

Entrenched in Mormon Culture I am a 7th generation Mormon who grew up in Utah County. I attended church all my life, had regular family scripture study and FHE. My dad was a BYU math professor and my mom a devout scripture scholar. I graduated from seminary and graduated from BYU (with all its required religion courses) and married a 5th generation, returned missionary in the temple. And I didn’t learn that Joseph Smith personally practiced polygamy until I was in my 20s. I had heard the story about Emma pushing Eliza down the stairs, causing a miscarriage in her jealous rage. But it was all fabricated nonsense created by anti-Mormons trying to defame the prophet. Like everything else that looked or sounded unsavory. Everyone knew about the public polygamy in Utah. Every year our elementary class toured the Beehive House, complete with all the wives’ bedrooms and  fairly open discussion about managing the logistics. Polygamous ancestors were a dime a…

Laughing through General Conference


No one comes to General Conference for the jokes. And yet, some of the conference moments I remember most clearly involve laughter. In 1997, after Elder Nelson gave a laudatory talk about President Hinckley, President Hinckley took the stand and said, “I thought we were conducting General Conference. It’s turned out to be a funeral.” He went on to challenge Elder Nelson to a duel in the basement of the Tabernacle. Later in the session, he postponed the duel. It was a fabulous moment in conference history. What does humor in General Conference do? First, the spiritual tide of General Conference can feel overwhelming at times and humor can break it up, making it easier to be attentive to the rest of the counsel we’re receiving. Second, it can teach a subtle lesson, as with the humility implicit in President Hinckley’s embarrassment at being praised. Third, it can make a story that teaches a lesson more memorable, as when President…