12 Questions for Rodney Smith, part two

Here is the second half of President Smith’s responses to your questions (for part one, click here). We thank him for his participation and extend our best wishes to both him and Southern Virginia University. 7. If the Church offered to take over SVU and turn it into BYU-Virginia, would the trustees go for it? Or does the institution value its independence from the Church and wish to maintain that independence?

“I think people should mate for life, like pigeons or Catholics.”

We’ve previously discussed the state of Mormon film, and some of the bloggers have wondered wistfully when we’ll see a Mormon Kieslowski, Korosawa, or even Kubrick come along. Now, over at Let Your Mind Alone, J.D. Payne has expressed a different goal: to become a Mormon Woody Allen (minus the whole yucky Soon-Yi thing, one hopes). He has posted some ideas for a film script on his blog and asked for feedback. Readers with creativity and/or senses of humor may want to look it over. (The rest of us can now get back to work.)

Too Serious About the Word of Wisdom?

When I was six years old, my best friend’s mother got out some ice cream for me. When I put a spoon in my mouth, I noticed a strange flavor. I looked at the box to see what the flavor was: COFFEE! Panicking, I put my hand over my mouth and immediately ran home to spit it out in a toilet. The poor woman called my mom to see what was wrong. I’m not sure what she said, but thinking about that experience reminds me of just how overboard good Latter-day Saints sometimes go when it comes to the recommendation-turned-commandment known as the Word of Wisdom. One of the few correct things that most people know about Mormons is that they generally don’t smoke, drink, etc. And that’s one of the few things that some of our members seem to really understand as well. The Word of Wisdom is an inspired and marvelous thing, certainly, but I worry about how…

12 Questions for Rodney Smith, part one

We are pleased to present the first half of our 12 Questions for President Rodney Smith of Southern Virginia University (for part two, click here). For more information on President Smith and SVU, click here. 1. What were the driving forces behind the creation of SVU? Truthfully, SVU was created as a matter of inspiration, not to the church or its leaders but to a few very able and faithful members of the church, who saw the need for a university in the LDS tradition in the East. I encourage you to visit campus and you will come to better understand why I can say this without hesitation. Each day I have been here I have witnessed a miracle that responds to a very real challenge. This may sound a bit unlawyerly of me to speak in this manner, but it is true.

Recent Change to the Political Neutrality Statement

Over at BCC, John Hatch points out an important new change to the church’s political neutrality statement. The statement has an additional new sentence, and it reads: In addition, members who hold public office should not give the impression they represent the Church as they work for solutions to social problems. John gives a detailed breakdown of some of the recent incidents of church legislators invoking church doctrine to justify legislation, and of the numerous statements issued by the church over the last year repudiating those legislators. This change drives home the point the the political neutrality statement is serious. The church doesn’t support Bush. It doesn’t support Kerry. It is neither Democrat nor Republican. And except in certain specific areas where the church has taken an explicit position (such as the ERA, or possibly the gay marriage amendment), it is probably wrong to suggest that church doctrine requires one to follow a particular political ideology. One need not be…

Davis Bitton: “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church”

Davis Bitton, one of the Mormon church’s most prominent historians, has written an essay with the provocative title, “I Don’t Have a Testimony of the History of the Church.” First delivered at the 2004 FAIR Conference, his purpose is to distinguish the gospel, of which he has a testimony, from church history, of which he does not. Meridian Magazine has published the essay here. I don’t find his reasoning persuasive.

Countering Pornography

My impression is that pornography is a widespread problem among members of the Church. While women sometimes fall prey to its enticements, the overwhelming majority of pornography consumers are men. The perils of pornography are of particular concern for those who work with the young men, but many Elders and High Priests also suffer from a so-called “pornography addiction.” As I have encountered members of the Church who are dealing with this problem — whether as Church leaders or as parents — one thing has become depressingly clear: we are not very effective at countering the magnetic force of pornography.

Subscribe to Sunstone as part of your ward’s missionary effort?

Kristine has the details. Does this mean that Sunstone subscription is part of the three-fold mission of the church? Will we soon be seeing mission callings extended to the Sunstone Symposium Mission? (Is that a foreign language mission?). “You have been called to the Sunstone Symposium mission, feminist-speaking. . .” (For many church members, that might indeed be a foreign language!).

Mental Health in the Church: Suggestions for Leaders

Before my time as guest blogger expires (thanks, Kaimi, for the opportunity!), there’s a serious issue that I’d like to raise, especially for you who are or who will be leaders in the Church. The issue is mental illness. Very few of us have had any training in recognizing and dealing with mental illness, but there is a great need. I would especially urge bishoprics, Relief Society presidents, and other leaders to learn about mental illness and look for its symptoms. Stake leaders, it may be helpful to provide more training abvout mental from competent sources for your leaders so they can better deal with the many forms of mental illness that afflict some of our members. I think my biggest surprises when I was a bishop came from experiences with those who suffered from various forms of mental illness. Some had kept their suffering hidden for years without ever getting help, but how much help was needed all that…

Hobbies

Last week I had an interesting conversation with a young father in my ward about hobbies. He was lamenting the fact that he has none. He used to have hobbies, but the press of family, work, and Church has squeezed all self-indulgence from his schedule. I was interested to hear this because I had said almost exactly the same thing to my wife about five years ago. I had completely given up my youthful passion for golf. I rarely watched television, and certainly didn’t have any regular shows. Reading? Forget about it, unless it was related to a paper that I was writing. No video games, no movies, no pez dispenser collections. Even BYU sports was out. When a student asked about my hobbies, I responded simply, “none.” Fortunately, I enjoy my family, my work, and my Church service because they still account for virtually all of my waking hours. More recently, however, as my children have gotten older, I…

Are you embarrassed?

Many of you have heard about the latest sex scandal associated with BYU’s football program. For those who haven’t, four members of the football team are being investigated in connection with the following events: The 17 year old told detectives she met the men at the mall on Sunday August 8th, and willingly went to their off campus apartment. Inside she claims she was accepted their offer to drink vodka, a pornographic DVD was playing on a TV, and that she later passed out and awoke to find herself undressed. She says she was raped by three or four men over a period of 20 to 30 minutes. If the story is true, I feel very sad for the young woman. Unfortunately, many such events go unreported and unpunished because of ambiguities of proof and ambivalence about blame. And, of course, even those cases that are reported do not attract the same amount of media attention as this case, though…

Careers for Bloggers

I’m struck by the similarities in careers of so many bloggernackers (and probably bloggers in general). In fact, outside of four major groups, it’s fairly hard to think of others. The major categories are: The lawyers: Myself, Nate, Adam, Greg, Matt(?), Steve Evans, Aaron Brown, Dave Underhill, etc. The professors or students: Russell, Jim, Gordon, Adam when this blog started, Logan, Bob(?), Ben Huff, Ben Spackman, Melissa Proctor, Taylor Petrey, etc. The stay at home mothers: Kristine, Julie The techies: Clark Goble, Grasshopper, Eric Stone, Kim Siever That seems to largely cover it. Where are the doctors? The accountants? The bankers? The architects? They don’t seem to write Mormon blogs (or perhaps I just haven’t noticed them). A rare exception to the trend is our current guest blogger Jeff Lindsay. There have been a few other exceptions, such as frequent commenter Gary Cooper.

How the Other Half Lives

The only place online (besides T & S, of course) where I hang out is a message board for homeschoolers. The place is fascinating to me because it overcomes one of the biggest (in my opinion) disadvantages of Internet life: people with widely varying viewpoints are talking to each other over there. We all school the same way, but in addition to your evangelical Christians, we have every other flavor of Christians, non-religious types, Jews, Muslims, pagans, etc.

“Our Mothers (and Grandmothers) Knew It”: The Testimony of Talitha Cumi Garlick

A controversial event in Church history occurred when Brigham Young and Sidney Rigdon both presented their arguments to the Church regarding who should lead after the death of Joseph Smith. Many members of the Church have heard that when Brigham Young rose to speak, he seemed to sound like and even look like Joseph Smith, indicating to many witnesses that the mantle of the Prophet had fallen on Brother Brigham. I had long wondered if this story was simply wishful thinking. But when I later found the brief autobiography of my ancestor, Talitha Cumi Garlick (after two marriages, it was Talitha Cumi Garlick Avery Cheney – I’m from the Cheney line) and read her testimony of that event, the story became more credible, closer to home.

That Darn Political Neutrality Statement: Now What Am I Supposed to Do?

Last Sunday morning, I was just starting to feel comfortable with the presidential election, having carefully completed my “lesser of two evils” analysis to make my decision about which of the two leading Skull and Bones members I wanted for President. And then during sacrament meeting, the bishop got up and read the Church’s political neutrality statement. It said something about not endorsing any party or candidate – sure, I was OK with that – and THEN came the catch: it said we were under a “special obligation” to seek out and uphold “leaders who will act with integrity and are ‘wise,’ ‘good,’ and ‘honest.’” NOOOOO! How can they call that “political neutrality”? And where on earth am I going to find politicians who meet such standards?? I’m back to drawing board, folks. Is there a check box on the ballot for “none of the above”? Or is there some third party candidate that the Church has endorsed — uh,…

Advice from Church Leaders

Don over at Nine Moons tackles the question of how we should treat “advice” from a church leader (Bishop, Stake President). In Don’s case, the advice was to get out of the movie business. Don asks: My question is: Is “advice” in an interview like this “counsel” that should be taken and obeyed? Or is it just an opinion that should be taken like anyone else’s opinion? That’s a tough question. It’s easy to say that we should take advice to read our scriptures, write in our journal, and do our home teaching. But I’m less certain of the proper course if your Bishop says, “I know you want to go to law school, Kaimi, but I think you need to go be a bus driver instead.”

Betting with Blaise

Clark mentioned Pascal’s wager in a comment, and that reminded me of a thought I’ve had for some time: Pascal’s wager seems like a bad deal for Mormons. In case anyone is unfamiliar with Pascal’s wager, the basic idea is that God can either exist or not. If he does exist, then believers go to heaven. If he doesn’t, then it really doesn’t matter whether one believes. The smart money says to believe in God and take the x% chance of infinite happiness. How does this apply to Mormonism? Well, we have the added wrinkle of some pretty good second-best destinations. Thus, if one’s options are to either be a believing Mormon or a believing Catholic, and the two possibilities are that either Mormonism or Catholicism is true, the resulting chart of possibilities would look like this: —- Mormonism Correct Catholicism Correct Believing Mormon Celestial Kingdom Hell Believing Catholic Terrestrial Kingdom Heaven

Religious Implications of the Placebo Effect

Abstract: Physicians frequently consider the placebo effect in evaluating the efficacy of medical treatments on the human body. It may also be wise to consider the placebo effect and its organizational and psychological analog, the Hawthorne effect, in religious treatments of humans. In suggesting that the placebo effect be considered as a factor in treatments such as LDS Priesthood blessings or declarations of forgiveness or salvation in a variety of faiths, the divine power behind such treatments is not necessarily challenged. The placebo effect, in religious terms, is not a sign of weakness in the patient or a tool for trickery by the therapist, but may be a real expression of the importance of our mental state: when we feel loved and cared for, we are strengthened. There may be a relationship between the placebo effect and both faith and charity that may be helpful to explore and understand. Analysis of changes in performance of a group of people must…

The Lord’s Baseball Team

I’ve always thought that one of the more fun and personal conference talks in recent years is Elder Wirthlin’s story about playing football against Whizzer White. Inspired by that story (and by the misery that acompanies focusing on baseball reality at present, given the current status of my Diamondbacks), I pondered this question: If the Lord fielded a baseball all-star team, composed of past and present great church leaders, who might be on it? (We’ll focus this on church leaders, so real athletes like Dale Murphy and Todd Heap are off the list). Here are some thoughts: First base: Mormon. We read about him, “And notwithstanding I being young, was large in stature.” Maybe I’m projecting too much into this, but Mormon strikes me as Mark McGwire without the andro questions, or possibly a Rafeal Palmeiro type. I can see him averaging 50 home runs and batting around .280, with 120 to 140 RBI, and he’s undoubtedly tough. Yeah, definitely…

Scouting v. Personal Progress

My son — with significant prodding from his mother — has been an inspired Boy Scout, and he just completed his Eagle Project. Actually, this is not unusual in our neck of the woods, as almost all of the young men in our ward attain the rank of Eagle. Having missed the scouting experience myself, I have been amazed at how much he has learned through the scouting program. Indeed, I was so impressed with the program that I recently offered my 16-year-old daughter a deal: fulfill all of the requirements for Eagle Scout (slightly amended to meet her interests — i.e., no camping), and receive a scholarship for college.

And yet another new bloggernacker

New additions to the bloggernacle continue to proliferate. I imagine at some point we’ll have to find some new taskmasters and start forcing new bloggernackers to make bricks without straw. But for the moment, we’re happy to welcome them to the bloggernacle. On that note: Rusty Clifton, over at his new blog, Nine Moons, has written several quality posts of late. He has an interesting discussion of symbolism in Mormon art. He also wonders if God has a sense of humor. Rusty’s blog looks like a great addition to the bloggernacle!

Three Against Hitler: Questions for Our Day

When does one stand up against a tyrannical government, when speaking out may cost you your life? What role should organized religion play when a once-free country becomes subject to tyrants who do not hesitate to crush all opposition? How should the Church at least at a local level deal with tyrannical governments: get along and survive, confront and perish, or some other path? These are issues implicitly raised in the fascinating book, Three Against Hitler by Rudi Wobbe and Jerry Borrowman (American Fork, Utah: Covenant Communications, 2002). This well-written account gives Ruddi Wobbe’s experience as a young Mormon teenager in Nazi Germany who had the courage to speak out against the Hitler regime.

Fellowship of the (Blog) Ring

I just noticed that a “BYU blogs” blog ring has been established by Nate Cardon. It’s currently a rather small blog ring, with three member blogs, but likely to grow (it’s only a few days old) and it sounds like a potentially interesting development in the bloggernacle.

Face Cards

Over on the unwritten rules thread, rabble-rousing Randy made a short comment about face cards: A couple of years back, a couple of kids brought some face cards to youth conference. (The audacity!) One of the stake youth leaders objected and asked a member of the stake presidency to confiscate them. This counselor in the stake presidency (a convert to the church not familiar with the so-called evil of face cards) consulted his GHI and quickly determined that there was nothing addressing the issue. He then told the youth leader that he had no intention of taking away the cards in the absence of some directive in the handbook. I must admit lack of knowledge in this area. I’ve heard from numerous church members that face cards are banned, or are evil. Randy’s comment seems to indicate that there is no official policy. What is the rule (if any) on cards? (No, not just suicidal kings). And does anyone have…

Politics Redux

Davis Bell has posted a political breakdown of frequent bloggernackers. (Along with a few remarks about how T & S used to gross him out, but we’ll let those pass). Davis’s assessment is in, and it may (or may not) surprise anyone: I’m a liberal; Matt is a conservative; Nate is a cipher. The list includes quite a few well-known bloggernackers. Check out Davis’s list and (of course) register a complaint (with him, not me!) if you were left off or mischaracterized (he promises, err, prompt responses). A useful comparison tool may be found in this old T & S post, where many people posted their scores from a political quiz.

Q: When is a policy not a policy?

A: When noone knows about it? A couple of Sundays ago, in the hall during Sunday School time, I was talking about vasectomies with a woman in my ward. (What?! What do *you* talk about in the hall during Sunday School?) She was telling me quite matter-of-factly how glad she was that her husband had been willing to have one when they were sure their last child had arrived. This woman is fairly conservative, and I’m sure she would never knowingly do something contrary to Church policy. In any case, she would not discuss it openly if she had. She just had NO IDEA that the Handbook of Instructions “strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control.” Moreover, unless she or her husband had been prompted to consult with the bishop about the surgery, there’s no way they *could* have known about the policy. So I’m wondering what the usefulness of such policies is. It’s true, of…