About the McKay Quote…

As part of a different project, I found myself trying to track down the specifics of the famous quote: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” It’s possibly the most oft-repeated General Authority statement is the contemporary church; certainly it would give even certain famous statements by Joseph Smith a run for their money. President David O. McKay made this statement, as far as I can tell, at least twice from the pulpit during general conference; once as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve in April 1935, and once as president of the church in April 1964. (Neither of which are available on the church website–if someone has copies of conference reports from those dates, perhaps on cd-rom, I’d be very interested in getting reading McKay’s talks and getting the full context for the quote.) It is not original with President Mckay; he’s quoting a man named J. E. (James Edwards) McCulloch, who made this…

What Do (and Should) We Call Our Brothers and Sisters?

Last night, at our weekly elder’s quorum presidency meeting, I was struck once again at a verbal habit of our secretary: he refers to just about everyone in the ward as “Sister (or “Brother”) [insert first name].” I’m “Brother Russell.” The elder’s quorum president is “Brother Craig.” The Relief Society president is “Sister Mel.” In 35 years of life in the church, I’ve never before met someone who regularly speaks this way to fellow ward members in casual conversation. I’m familiar with this locution primarily through its historical association with Brigham Young, particularly via the writings of Hugh Nibley and especially Eugene England’s wonderful (and unfortunately out of print) biography, Brother Brigham. I had kind of assumed that it was a 19th-century style that had died out, but this fellow is hardly the sort to adopt a historical affectation. Perhaps it’s a regional and/or class thing? (Our quorum secretary is from Springville, UT, was born and raised there, never had…

The Mormon Jesus

I tried to ask this question earlier, in the context of The Passion, but it pretty quickly got lost in another round of beating the moribund R-rated movies horse. So I’ll ask again, without the attempt at pop-culture referentiality. How has Mormon Christology changed in the last half-century or so? And why?

Reality TV, Morals and Marriage

I just read an article in the March 2004 issue of Harper’s Magazine by Francine Prose titled, “Voting Deomcracy Off The Island: Reality TV and the Republican Ethos.” It’s a rather long, impassioned exploration of the messages and influence of reality tv programs that I found quite disturbing, especially given the popularity, growth, and perceived innocuousness of such programs. She notes incentives for deceit and dishonesty; institutionalized deceit on the part of producers; cruelty and humor at the expense of others; “morality as an albatross or obstacle” to success; that “every human being can and will do anything for money” [italics hers]; and the reduction of marriage to seduction and consumerist spectacle. [Note: Prose doesn’t, I feel, make her case that these values are intrinsically Republican. Corporate, yes. Republican, not really. GOP’ers can safely read it while on the train driving their Hummers. ;) ] I never watch reality tv, or more accurately, “reality tv,” and didn’t know who Ryan…

STQ: Temples & World Peace

My Seminary class has just started studying the Book of Isaiah. Chapter 2:2-4 contains the oft-quoted verses: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD?s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. While most Mormons…

Enhancing Nature

At first blush, this may not seem like a serious entry, but it is. (Well, mostly serious anyway.) The other night, I was watching television just before midnight. I don’t remember the program for sure, but since I have a limited palate, it must have been Law & Order, Monk, or a college baskeball game. In other words, nothing that would have signalled to me that I should be especially cautious about the commercials. Suddenly, I was assaulted by a commercial featuring a woman talking about “that special part of a man’s body.” I could not believe what I was watching! And, of course, like a gawker by an accident, I could not change the channel. I just sat there, slack-jawed. She kept saying that phrase over and over, using her tone to put it into italics.

A Mormon Image: Elijah Abel

Elijah Abel is generally thought to be the first black Mormon. (Click on the picture to the right for a larger image.) He was most likely born into slavery and escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. In 1832 he was baptized by Ezekial Roberts. In 1836 he was ordained an elder, most likely by Joseph Smith. He was later ordained a Seventy and during the course of his life he served at least three proselyting missions. He came west with the Saints, settling in Salt Lake City, where he worked on the Salt Lake Temple as a carpenter, although Brigham Young refused to allow Elijah to recieve his temple endowment. He died in 1884. Both his son and grandson were ordained Elders. For more information on Elijah Abel and other black Latter-day Saints, check out www.blacklds.org.

If you happen to be in California this weekend . . .

The Miller-Eccles Group has a speaker coming that sounds quite interesting. March 13, 2004 Speaker: Prof. Karen Torjeson Subject: LDS and their place in the Mosaic of Early Christian Belief-and-Why Claremont Graduate University Wants to Establish a Chair of Mormon Studies Time: 7:30 p.m. You will enjoy a riveting a stimulating presentation on comparisons and contrasts of Latter-day Saint doctrine and teachings with early Christianity, particularly with respect to the Godhead and Christology; the place of Mormonism in the mosaic of Christian belief and practices; Claremont Graduate University’s relationship to the Dead Sea Scrolls (and any connection to BYU’s scroll and manuscript preservation and digitization efforts); Why Claremont is interested in establishing a Chair for Mormon Studies (what is there about Mormonism that is worthy of study by the wider academic community). I omitted the location from this blog post to save it from spam-bots, because it appears to be a private home. Interested readers should go to the the…

The Political Limits of Agency

Mormons frequently invoke the idea of “agency” (whatever that means) in political discussions. We generally invoke it in liberal ways, as a justification for not regulating some for of behavior. What I want to question is this easy link between “agency” and liberalism. In the formulation given by John Stuart Mill, liberalism invokes freedom as a reason to abstain from regulating self-regarding activity. I think that when Mormons invoke the idea of “agency” to make liberal arguments they generally do so in some sort of a vaguely Millian way. However, given the theological uses to which the concept of “agency” is put, I don’t think it fits nicely into some version of John Stuart Mill. Here’s why.

Committees and Technology

We’re all aware of church committee meetings, the bane of our existence. (The oft-recycled joke is that the “Fourteenth Article of Faith” goes something like “We believe in meetings, correlation, committees, sub-committees, . . .”). In a recent thread, Steve Evans comments: My suggestion: embrace technology — the e-committee is the future of the Church. Is the e-committee — having meetings through chat, e-mail or IM — a good idea? I can think of reasons that it might not work well –the digital divides between rich and poor and between young and old; lack of knowledge of computers; potential difficulty in feeling the spirit in discussion via instant message; church hesitancy to endorse the Internet given potential problems the Internet brings into households. Yet I would be thrilled if I could have more church meetings via e-mail, IM, or chat. And it seems quite possible that the church will move in that direction. (Or perhaps the “committee blog” is the…

The Progression and Perfection of God

I’ve been thinking recently about how to reconcile the two ideas of the perfection of God and the principle of eternal progression. We read that God is perfect; and therefore we may think that he has reached some end point or finish line in his progression. At the same time, we read that as God is now, man may become, and we are told that our exaltation will involve eternal progression; these two ideas, read together, suggest that God continues to progress. (Query: Does this refer to the Father? The Son? Both? Since we believe that the God we generally deal with is Jesus, this post will relate mostly to Jesus in his role as God, but many parts can apply to both). How can we reconcile the ideas of a perfect God and a God who continues to progress? One potential resolution that I like is to suggest that God has perfected himself as an individual, and is now…

Babies in the Temple

When my wife was still about 8 months pregnant, she stopped by the ______ Temple (location deleted to protect the innocent) to inquire about any guidelines they had regarding attendance while pregnant. (Like how the airlines won’t let you fly, etc.) The matron looked at her with great concern and said, “You’re not planning on having the baby here, are you? Because we’d strongly discourage that.” We were rather stunned, both at the idea and that someone felt the situation warranted mentioning it at all.

Sunday School Lesson 11

Lesson 11: 2 Nephi 31-33 Chapter 31 Verse 2: What does the word “doctrine” mean? Why is what Nephi and Jacob have written sufficient? Sufficient for what? The phrase, “the doctrine of Christ” can be understood to mean “the doctrine that comes from Christ” or “the doctrine about Christ.” Which meaning do you think Nephi intends?

Discussing the Gospel

Over the course of the past four months, several people on this blog have mentioned that they appreciate the opportunity provided by T&S to discuss the Gospel in depth. Does this strike anyone else as odd?

Losing a Child

On March 5, 1987, my son Neill Earl Smith was born. Three months later, he died of pneumonia. He was a victim of a rare neurological disorder known as Werdnig-Hoffman Syndrome. He would be 17 years old now. My wife and I have had five other children, but I still miss him.

A Nepotistic Link

My brother (who is normally a sportswriter) has this article in today’s Deseret News, dealing with Mormon tours of Central America. Noel Reynolds, Stephen Houston, and Brian Birch weigh in. I’ll have to tell him that Sorenson’s book is “An Ancient *American* Setting . . .”

T&S = Instructor’s Manual

I just returned from a conference in Oregon, and found an email from a T&S regular, who related a story about her husband using one of our discussions to teach a Seminary class. I have done the same thing (several times), and I was wondering whether anyone else has had a similar experience. Do you ever use the insights gained here in teaching?

Mormon Baby Names

Is this an archetypal thing for a new father to be doing on a Saturday night, sneaking a post while/whenever the kid is asleep? We just went through a nerve-wracking and overly self-conscious process to coming up with 1) lists of baby names, 2) baby naming approaches, and 3) ways to avoid blundering into some naming meta-trend we weren’t aware of. Ultimately, we named our daughter Ada Catherine, inspired by my wife’s great great-grandmother, Ada Philena. Of course, both double names and great grandmother-era names are both trends in themselves. So, is it a particularly Mormon trend? What is/are Mormon baby naming trends? (Brush up on the current research at Utah Baby Namer.) A mission companion was named Joseph Hyrum; someone in NC (where I grew up) assumed my first name was Elder, didn’t blink an eye.

Thanks Linda, and Welcome Greg

Linda Hoffman Kimball’s illustrious run as a guest-blogger ended yesterday, and I’m sure everyone here joins me in thanking her for the great posts. Hopefully we’ll hear from you again soon, Linda! Our newest guest blogger, Greg Allen, joins us today. I was a fan of Greg’s critically-acclaimed blog for a while before I came across a post that outed him as someone who could contribute to our discussion here. Here’s a bit of a bio:

State v. Bell and Changes to Marriage

Bob Herbert’s New York Times column cites to an 1872 Tennessee case that upheld a law prohibiting interracial marriage. See State v. Bell, 66 Tenn. 9. The Tennessee Court wrote that: Extending the rule to the width asked for by the defendant, and we might have in Tennessee the father living with his daughter, the son with the mother, the brother with the sister, in lawful wedlock, because they had formed such relations in a State or country where they were not prohibited. The Turk or Mohammedan, with his numerous wives, may establish his harem at the doors of the capitol, and we are without remedy. The Court, of course, was wrong. Interracial marriage statutes were held unconstitutional in Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and none of the parade-of-horribles scenarios has come to pass in the forty years since. The difference between the threatened result in that case and the actual result when Loving was decided is instructive. The court…

Charity and the Ex Post/Ex Ante Dilemma

We are supposed to help those who are in need. The scriptures seem to be quite clear about this. And that, of course, is the problem. I have phrased the issue in what legal theorists call the ex post perspective. We take need as given and the morally relevant question is what our response to the need should be. Our decision is seen as being an after-the-fact (in this case the fact is need) event. The problem, of course, is that we can also look at our decision from what legal theorists call an ex ante perspective. Rather than seeing it as an after-the-fact event we look at it as a before-the-fact event. The event that our decision is “before” in this case is the reaction of others to that decision. Let me give a concrete example:

More on the Passion

Greg Easterbrook has a great comparison of Gibson’s Passion with Frano Zepherelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. I am a huge Zepherelli fan and I quite liked Jesus of Nazareth, although I haven’t seen The Passion. Easterbrook’s conclusion is that the Zepherelli’s is a better movie because it has more narrative and characterization and sticks more closely to the Gospels. Easterbrook writes,”The Christ story is among the most compelling ever told, yet directors can’t resist adding invented characters who are unnecessary.” The same can be said of the Church’s recent film Testaments, which is supposedly about the Book of Mormon, but as near as I can tell does not contain a single Book of Mormon character or story.

High School

Driving my daughter to Seminary and then to high school this morning, I learned an amazing amount about the social structure of Middleton High School. According to my daughter, the most despised group is the “Populars.” This is ironic because, as you may know if you have teenagers, the Populars aren’t … they just act like they are. The “Semi-Populars” (at this point, I am already beginning to think that she is making this up as we go) are really the most popular. These are kids who don’t act popular, but are really decent people, usually with a good sense of humor. The Freaks are fun. Well, at least those who are into drama and art. Some people are freaky in a creepy sort of way, and they are definitely not fun. The Druggies come in at least two varieties: Mild and Hard Core. The former are just dumb, but the latter might be dangerous. The Jocks are what they…