Civil Disobedience

I received rather a shock some few days ago, reading through the Ensign report of the April 2003 General Conference Priesthood Session, which I had been unable to attend in person. In the course of a talk on worthiness, addressed primarily to young men preparing for missionary service, Bishop David Burton casually drops the following bomb into the midst of a homey sports metaphor: “Our participation in life’s important events may be jeopardized if we fail to follow the rules contained in our Father in Heaven’s commands. Involvement in sexual sin, illegal drugs, civil disobedience, or abuse could keep us on the sidelines at key times.” (“And That’s The Way It Is,” Ensign, May 2003)(emphasis added). Could he possibly truly mean what he seems to have said? That sitting at the wrong lunch counter is comparable to sexual misconduct and drug abuse? That political protest disqualifies one for missionary service? That adherence to gospel standards means Rosa Parks cannot demand…

Belated Thanks

I have to apologize for not thanking Melissa Proctor for her excellent guest-blogging. I was hoping to provoke her into another post or two, but she is ever-so-diligently preparing for qualifying exams and writing a dissertation prospectus, and has steadfastly refused all of my wiles. So, hearty, if somewhat belated, thanks to Melissa for some quietly thought-provoking posts. If you’re looking for a break from all the war talk, I’d suggest a re-reading of hers. (I’m still trying to figure out what to think about “Deseret.”)

A Peek Behind the Scenes at T&S

Our gentle readers may be interested to know that Jim’s post on discussing politics grew partly out of some extended e-mail discussion that has gone on today among the T&S regulars about a perception among readers of a conservative tilt in the comments and discussions here (there were a few e-mail complaints from readers; a few of the regular bloggers–cough, khh, cough–were feeling a little oppressed). After reading and responding to this flurry of e-mail, I checked in just in time to read the exchange on the Elder Packer and Beards thread about how the conservatives are oppressed around here. Perhaps if everyone feels opressed, we’re doing something right? If there’s anyone who doesn’t feel that his or her (or their, Kingsley:)) ox is being well and truly gored, please let us know immediately, and we will do our best to offend you! :)

Politics in the Church

Why is it that conversations about political and quasi-political topics among Latter-day Saints almost always devolve quickly into posturing and name-calling? And why, in my experience, does it seem that those who are conservative are more likely to head in that direction first? I admit that my perception may be biased by the fact that I’m “liberal” (read “middle-of-the-road” everywhere but among American Latter-day Saints). I may overlook more easily the faults of those who agree with me. Nevertheless, my impression is that because they are the mainstream of the Church, conservatives often tend to be smug about their position, assuming immediately that those who disagree with them are not only wrong (that follows by definition) but stupid, ill-willed, uninformed, and perhaps even evil. One need not respond to them, one need only dismiss them. And this is true even for many people who otherwise are intelligent and quite willing to engage in civil discussion of difficult topics.

The Eternal Significance of Cucumbers

This evening the Oman family ate cucumbers in triumph. The euphoria came from the fact that these cucumbers were the first fruits of our garden. We (meaning mainly Heather) have toiled in the soil, mixing the sweat of our brow with earth, water, and sky to bring forth vegetables! This is heady, elemental one-with-the-earth kind of stuff. The cucumbers, of course, taste infinitely better than those pathetic, commercially grown things you buy in the store. Which brings me, of course, to the apparent decline in prophetic counsel on gardens.

Three Statements on War

My previous post on LDS Ethics and torture generated not only a good deal of discussion on the particular topic, but on the related question of military service and just war. Since there appears to be quite a lot of pent-up interest in this topic, I am going to give it its own thread. To get the ball rolling, I provide three statements by Presidents of the Church during the latter Twentieth and early Twenty-First Century:

More on Elder Packer and Beards

The thread following Dan’s post on the church’s apparent (and inconsistent) “tonsorial jihad” has come to focus on the matter of “unwritten policies” and the existence of an “oral law”–something Jim doubts that any culture can exist without. I agree with him–there is and must be a place for mores, for unwritten guides to belief and behavior, in any healthy society. But it’s worth thinking a little more deeply about what this dynamic should and shouldn’t involve, in the church and elsewhere.

This and that

I just have a few minutes today, but there are some fun happenings in the bloggernacle: Ryan Bell asks if the system of church leadership and callings creates “limited spiritual jurisdiction” (and why we should care); Bob Caswell is blogging about Sex in the City (and maybe it’s just my observation, but I always thought that Sons of Mosiah gave T & S some serious competition for the title of most sex-obsessed Mormon blog); Jeff Lindsay has a very passionate and articulate post about the problems of pornography; Grasshopper has interesting thoughts about the question of why the restoration happened when it did; and Gary Cooper has a nice post about the importance of Isaac.

Newly-Discovered Tablet Sheds Light on Pre-Existence

Look, my proto-Semitic is a little rusty, but since I found the facsimile online and the real scholars are busy, I thought I’d take a stab at it. It cuts off in the middle, but before that is an interesting little dialogue with some compelling parallels to the doctrine and practices of the Restoration. Someone told me that FARMS is planning a special issue on it in a few months.

Hanging by a Thread

This past week, the Washington Post released the full text of a fifty-page Department of Justice memorandum, prepared for the White House at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, discussing the legal justification of torture. Academic commentators analyzing this memo have characterized it as “a legalistic, logic-chopping brief for the torturer.” The memo attempts to set out possible legal justifications and defenses that might be asserted by the government after they have physically and psychologically abused detainees (and, presumably, been found out). The legal theories presented might be charitably described as dubious, including a fairly implausible theory that Congress cannot restrict the activities of the executive branch in wartime. The analysis of this memo was picked up in a subsequent Department of Defense memorandum on the justification for torture, which in turn appears to have set the stage for the atrocities committed at Abu Ghraib, and for the matters complained about by the International Committee of the Red Cross,…

Facial Hair

Dan Burke speculated, tongue in cheek, on the purpose of the church’s policies against facial hair stemming from a desire to protect members against archetypal authority figures, but the most likely reason for the policy is fashion cycles: the church’s historical acceptance of facial hair perfectly tracks the American fashion trend.

Typical LDS Women

Michelle recently wrote that she considers some of the women at T & S ” . . . such a breath of fresh air because they are so well-educated, intelligent, and unafraid to put forth strongly held opinions. But may I point out the emperor’s lack of clothes and say you are not typical LDS women?”

What is with Dialogue?

Last week, I got my copy of the summer issue of Dialogue in the mail, and it left me scratching my head at the editorial practices (and politics) in Mormon studies. In particular, I was puzzled by the sudden facination with Quakerism.

Oops — I forgot

The judicial nomination of Thomas Griffith, General Counsel of Brigham Young University and Bush appointee to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals seems to have hit a slight snag — as reported by this morning’s Washington Post, Griffith appears to have been acting as the University’s chief legal officer without the little detail of a license to practice law. Apparently Griffith’s admission to the District of Columbia bar lapsed for failure to pay his dues, and he never quite got around to sitting for the Utah bar. Highly embarassing, but perhaps not fatal to the nomination if no one’s out for blood during the confirmation process.

Tonsorial Jihad

Recent anecdotal evidence suggests that someone in the bowels of Church headquarters has launched yet another installment in the periodic holy war against masculine facial hair. A new member of our stake presidency was instructed by a visiting Area Authority Seventy to shave his beard. He was told by the Seventy that there was no scriptural or doctrinal basis for this instruction, but that it is currently an “unwritten policy.” At about the same time, several acquaintances of mine who volunteered to serve as veil workers at, respectively, the Oakland and Saint Paul temples were informed that they could do so only by becoming clean-shaven. While no one has yet quite dared denude the temple representations of the Father and the Son of facial hair, given that Moroni seems to have lost his beard in Church art representations over the past hundred years, perhaps it is only a matter of time. Coming from a profession where beards are relatively common,…

Sunday School Lesson 24

Lesson 24: Alma 13-16 The outline of the story in these chapters, from the Sunday School manual: a. Alma 13. Alma gives a powerful discourse on the priesthood and the doctrine of foreordination. b. Alma 14. Alma, Amulek, and other faithful believers are persecuted for their righteousness. The Lord delivers Alma and Amulek from prison because of their faith in Christ. c. Alma 15. Zeezrom is healed and baptized. Many people in Sidom are baptized. d. Alma 16. The words of Alma are fulfilled as the Lamanites destroy Ammonihah. The Lord prepares people’s hearts to receive the word preached by Alma, Amulek, and others. I will concentrate on chapter 13

Gordon B. Hinckley to Receive Presidential Medal of Freedom

The church web site is reporting that church President Gordon B. Hinckley will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom from national President George W. Bush. President Hinckley writes that: I will be deeply honored to receive this prestigious award from the President of the United States. I am profoundly grateful. In a larger sense, it recognizes and honors the Church which has given me so many opportunities and whose interests I have tried to serve. To the Church, to my associates, and to our people everywhere I extend my gratitude and with each of you share the honor of this recognition.

Blogging in a Different Voice

In my last post I raised several questions about the nature of participation in blogs and other computer mediated communication (CMC) fora, based upon research detailing the life-cycles of such fora. An additional, related line of research that seems to me important for the future of a blog such as Times and Seasons is a substantial body of work exploring the gendered nature of CMCs. This research arose out of observations that suggested a surprising scarcity of female participation in openly accessible CMC fora. Subsequent empirical and ethnographic studies by Susan Herring and others suggest that men and women have different discursive styles that are accommodated quite differently by CMC technologies. Analysis of messages posted by males in CMC fora find a masculine discursive style that tends to be aggressive, confrontational, and argumentative, placing a high emphasis on rationality and logical consistency. Posts by women on the other hand, are apt to be more conciliatory, emotive, and empathetic, placing a…

One Hundred Years of Home Teaching?

Many years later, as he faced the firing squad,* William Morris was to remember that distant afternoon when he blogged about the (potential) existence of a Mormon magic realism. . . I recommend William Morris’s excellent series of posts on this topic. The discussions can be found here, here, and here. Go read up, so that your children won’t be born with the tail of a pig! *Firing squad: Well this is Utah, after all.


Over at his blog, Davis Bell is wondering who the single bloggernackers are. Now I’m not going to harrass LDS singles for not being married yet — I’ll leave that to your meddling Aunt Melba. But if you’re a single bloggernacker or reader and want to let Davis know, drop him a comment. Off the top of my head, I think there are at least a half dozen or more single bloggernackers: Payne, Celibate, Arwyn, Eric Stone, Jan, hmm, there are probably several that I’m forgetting. (All of the T & S regulars are married, but we’ve had single guest bloggers, in Melissa and Ben).

The Market for Bloggers

Those of us who have been using the Internet for awhile have watched the waxing and waning popularity of a variety of discussion media – beginning with USENET newsgroups, then listservs and chatrooms, various types of conferencing interfaces, IRC channels, and now weblogs. A few of us even remember FIDONET and dial-up computer BBS fora prior to the general accessibility of the Internet. Blogs seem to be the latest in a long line of electronic discussion formats. Researchers who study the social structure of computer-mediated communication (CMC) have noted that CMC discussions appear to evolve through one of a discrete set of predictable life-cycle progressions. Most start with a period of initial growth and enthusiasm, where participants join the forum and post actively. A very few discussions achieve an equilibrium of arrivals and departures that sustains them in a steady state over a long period. More often, they fall into decline; some slowly collapse in on themselves, like a white…

Introducing the Church

I am currently in Giessen, Germany, teaching a class on venture capital to a small number of German law students. Earlier today, I met with the Dean of the law school and the professor here who supervises the exchange program between our schools. They were fascinated by the fact that I speak German, albeit within a very limited range of topics. This ability, such as it is, is a byproduct of my mission in Austria. When I mentioned this fact to my hosts, one of them replied, “I know virtually nothing about Mormons.” What an invitation! I obliged by providing a brief history of the founding of the Church, from First Vision through the pioneer exodus. After the meeting, I thought to provide my hosts with some reading material about the Church. My reflex in such circumstances is to send a Book of Mormon, and over the years, I have distributed a fair number via this sort of contact. But…

The Hipness of Divine Society

The idea of “social construction” is really hip in the social sciences and the humanities, or at least it was really hip a decade or two ago. Generally the concept gets invoked with another idea, namely “essentialism.” Here is how the game works. We take some quality – say race – and then we argue about its nature. If we are essentialists (and it is pretty unhip to be essentialist about anything), then we would argue that race is somehow an inherent, natural, biological quality. If we are social constructivists (and being the hip, smart people that we are, we are, of course, social constructionists), then we argue that there is nothing inherent about race. All of the characteristics we associate with this concept are actually social creations that are not contingent on nature, essence, or anything else. The distinction gets deployed in normative discussions as well. That which is essential supposedly provides us with a sure foundation for ethical…

Interesting note

I just noticed this post over at the Mirror of Justice, discussing an article by Monte Stewart and Dennis Tolley which suggests that scholars undervalue the scholarly production of conservative religious law schools, and (it appears from the post) the faculty of these schools. The findings are certainly interesting. The authors also note that their research indicates that BYU is the second most conservative of the religiously affiliated law schools.

Paying the Lord’s nth

We were treated this past week to a priesthood lesson on the law of tithing, which we were told is a simple rule that can be lived perfectly. We owe this particular trope, I believe, to President Spencer W. Kimball, who suggested that on the road to perfection, we master the commandments one at a time. He recommended beginning with tithing, because it’s easy to count to ten. At ten percent we are “perfect” in obeying the law of tithing, and we can then move on to perfect ourselves in incremental obedience to the next commandment. This formulation of tithing treats it as a clear and bright-line command. In legal scholarship, such bright-line commands are called “rules” — for example, “Drive at 55 miles per hour.” In contrast to rules, legal scholars have also recognized in law a different kind of imperative called a “standard” – for example, “Drive at a reasonable speed.” Unlike clear, hard-edged rules, standards are fuzzy…

Welcome to Dan Burk, Guest Blogger

After months of effort, we have finally convinced Dan Burk to join us for a stint as a guest blogger. Dan is the Oppenheimer, Wolff & Donnelly Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. His primary area of expertise is intellectual property law, and he has special expertise in cyberlaw and biotechnology. He has long been a professor in demand and has taught and visited at numerous law schools, most recently at Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. (And if my information is still current, Dan will be teaching at Cornell Law School this fall.) You can find Dan’s official bio here, but one important fact of his life is omitted from that bio: we served in the same mission (the now-defunct Austria Vienna Mission) in the early 1980s. Strangely, we didn’t meet and become friends until we were both law professors. I never talk to Dan without learning something new, and…

Utah-Idaho-Arizona missionaries

Clark says “we treat missions as a way of converting Utah and Idaho Mormons who’ve been in the church their whole life but never had to gain a testimony.” I was converted in the mission field and lived most of my life prior to getting my job at BYU in the mission field. Since then, I’ve several times lived in the mission field for extended periods. In other words, I think I have a reasonably good understanding of both life in the mission field and life in Utah/Idaho, and I would add northern Arizona. I also spent three years as a branch president at the MTC and worked with hundreds of missionaries, and in graduate school I served as ward mission leader for some time as well as in the stake mission presidency. Though there are lots of stereotypes about “Utah Mormons,” based on my experience I don’t think they have much basis in fact. In particular, I don’t think…

Lessons on Sex and Morality, from the Book of Esther

The Old Testament gives us all sorts of strange stories. One that I’ve been thinking about lately is the delightfully wacky book of Esther. In particular, I’ve been wondering about the lessons on sex and morality that we can learn from this book. And I find the answers a little surprising, to say the least. We’ll start with lesson one from Esther: Use sex to get power.

A Dynamite Testimony

I’m so grateful that one of our ex-guest-bloggers,, gratefully took the opportunity to bear his testimony about Napoleon Dynamite, a Rushmore-esque indie film by Mormon writer and director Jared Hess. Check out’s remarks here.