Chieko Okasaki on women in the Church – 9.22.01

Less than two weeks after the attacks of September 11, Sister Chieko Okasaki spoke at the Manhattan Stake Priesthood Leadership meeting. She delivered what I thought was a thoughtful, courageous, and provocative sermon. The reaction afterward was striking: some men lined up at the podium to thank her; others lined up to object to stake leaders. Today I just happened to come across my notes from that meeting, and I thought it would be worthwhile to post them here, for posterity if nothing else. So here they are, without editorializing (and with apologies for their limitations):

Has Mormon History Taught Us Anything?

Since the publication of Leonard Arrington’s Great Basin Kingdon, the writing of Mormon history has largely been professionalized. The major players in the field are no longer autodidacts like B.H. Roberts or Joseph Fielding Smith. Rather, they are by and large university trained historians, generally with an emphasis on 19th century American history. So here is my question, if we think of ourselves not as Mormons but as students of history, has the “New Mormon History” (if I may use that now loaded phrase) taught us anything? My answer: Not much.

Sunday School Lesson 2

Lesson 2: 1 Nephi 1-7 (11 January 2004) As is often the case for Sunday School lessons, there is a tremendous amount of material to cover in this week’s lesson. These questions will focus on only a few verses that help us see some of the lessons taught in these chapters. However, to help keep the study questions in context, here is an outline of the history surrounding Lehi’s flight from Jerusalem and an outline of the story in these chapters:

Condercet, Brigham, and Succession to the Presidency

Condercet was a French social theorist in the opening decades of the 19th century and is credited with first discovering a paradox of majority voting that bears his name. Here is the paradox: Imagine that you have a group of three people (A,B, and C) who are voting on three different alternatives (X, Y, and Z). A prefers X to Y and Y to Z. B prefers Y to Z and Z to X. C prefers Z to X and X to Y. If X is paired in a vote with Y, then X wins (A and C against B). If Y is paired with Z, then Y wins (A and B against C). But – and this is the kicker – if Z is paired with X, then Z wins (B and C against A). In other words, even if the individual preferences of A, B and C are transitive, the collective preferences of A, B, and C are…

Encounter on the Plane to India

I am happy to report that my trip to India went smoothly. Two long plane rides, but my luggage and my hosts were both waiting on the other end, much to my relief. Moreover, I was pleased to find that my room (a dorm room at the Management Development Institute just outside of Delhi) has a computer with internet access. Thus, this post.

Most Influential Essay

Without question, the following essay has shaped my world view more than any other. I’ve spent so much time turning the ideas in my head that I can no longer tell where they stop and where mine began. One of my favorite priesthood or Institute lessons is to pass copies to everyone in the class, read it, then lead a discussion. It never fails to make an impact. Several people have later told me it changed their whole perspective on life, as it did mine. I strongly recommend doing the same thing for your class or family. Here’s the slightly condensed version I hand out. The full version is here.

Consecration: A Practical Suggestion

One of my pet peeves is the comment, often heard in Sunday School, that “the Lord has not asked us to live the law of consecration.” Those who have been to the temple should know better. The more pressing question for me is how to implement this relatively simple law. This seems to be the current topic of conversation under the Material Prosperity thread below, which, like the Eveready Bunny, just keeps on going. In this post, I want to propose a practical way of thinking about consecration.

Just Curious …

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you must have noticed the ever-changing header in the sidebar. The one that says, “Quite possibly the most ______, yet _______, onymous Mormon group blog in history.” When I first started blogging here — on the second day of the life of Times & Seasons — this thing (what do we call it?) was already in place. I find it oddly entertaining, and sometimes I just reload my browser again and again to see what comes up. I tend to like the simple ones. Here is my favorite from today: “Quite possibly the most admired, yet cryptic, onymous Mormon group blog in history.” Kaimi just informed us that our adjective list is 374 words, but we are always looking for more. Feel free to make suggestions in the Comments below. In the meantime, I am just curious: What was your initial reaction to the description of the blog (whatever that might…


At Nate refers to an ancient blog entry he wrote: Though the discussion in question was baptism for the dead and some objections by non-LDS to the practice, Nate made a very good point in passing: we don’t really believe in damnation except for those who are LDS.

Famous Mormons

Practically every church member I know likes to talk about famous Mormons. Of course, there aren’t a lot, and my experience has been once the discussion gets past a few well-known members — Steve Young, Orson Scott Card, Dale Murphy, Shawn Bradley, Danny Ainge, Donny & Marie — the conversation tends to skew towards the “I heard that xx was Mormon too!” direction. However, I just noticed (via Rachel Woods LDS) a web site that lists famous Mormons. How cool is that?

Natural Disasters

John P. Pratt’s recent column at Meridian sent me reeling. (Thanks to Brent for the pointer.) While Pratt tries not to overstate his thesis, the gist of the column is that God (sometimes?) punishes local populations for their wickedness by inflicting natural disasters. The Old Testament is replete with such occurrences, but as regular patrons of this blog know, my understanding is that many (perhaps most) of these stories are metaphorical. Even if you disagree with me about that, I hope that we can agree that Pratt’s analysis is sadly deficient.

Church Members and Financial Scams

A recent story in Deseret News discusses yet another recent financial scam that victimized thousands of church members. (Link via Dave). This one, according to the news, was a classic Ponzi scheme. Church members are, in my observation, unusually susceptible to Ponzi schemes, multi-level marketing, Amway and similar programs, and other get-rich-quick devices. (I know, there are differences between Ponzi schemes and some types of legal multi-level marketing. As far as I am concerned, they are all dubious devices for removing money from the gullible.) I have wondered over the years why church members are more likely to be deceived. A few possible factors come to mind.

Insightful Discussion over at Dave’s

I like our lengthy discussions, and do not want this blog to become a “portal” or collection of links a la Instapundit. (“Look at this link. Read the whole thing. Indeed.”).* However, there is a time and place for all things, including basic links. To wit — I just noticed Dave’s post about Mormonism and Christianity, and while I don’t have anything to add to it in the way of analysis, I certainly recommend it to our readers. A sample: Mormons feel chronically misunderstood by the rest of Christianity. This is understandable, given the persistence of the silly question “Are Mormons Christian?” But apologists and missionaries alike seem certain that there are simple and correct answers to all questions or criticisms of Mormon doctrine, teachings, and history, and that they, as Mormons, can provide these explanations. Of course, when Bruce R. McConkie, a Mormon apostle, tried his hand at a systematic exposition of Mormon doctrine, it was deemed to be…

Mormon Doctrine: The Legacy

A few years ago, another law professor asked me what I thought of Richard Posner’s legacy with respect to law and economics. For those of you who do not inhabit this world, Posner is generally credited with popularizing the economic analysis of law, partly through his articles, but largely through the influence of his book, Economic Analysis of Law, now in its sixth edition. At first blush, discussion of his legacy might seem silly. Surely, the great Richard Posner had a salutary influence on the so-called Law & Economics Movement. But we wondered whether Posner’s proclivity for overreaching and sensationalism might not have tainted that legacy. Would economic analysis of law be more widely embraced today without him? Just recently, inspired by my holiday reading on evolution, I have again wondered the same thing about Bruce R. McConkie and Mormon Doctrine. While I have strong positive feelings about the late Elder McConkie, I joined the Church after the revelation regarding…

“Goodly Parents”

Jim reminds us that next week begins a change in the Gospel Doctrine curriculum. This year’s course of study is, without a doubt, my favorite book in the world, The Book of Mormon. I hope to see a vigorous discussion of Jim’s provocative study questions, but I am going to anticipate him by a week or two with a post about the first verse of the Book of Mormon: “I, NEPHI, having been born of goodly parents, therefore I was taught somewhat in all the learning of my father.” In my humble opinion, this verse does not mean what most of us think it means.

God and Football

Living in Wisconsin, I have observed that the line between religion and football is thin. During my formative years, I was the lone Minnesota Vikings fan in a small Wisconsin town. Fortunately for me, the Vikings were quite good during the 1970s … although never quite good enough to win the Super Bowl. More importantly, the Green Bay Packers stunk during those years. After I joined the Church in the early 1980s, I stopped paying attention to professional football because I wanted to keep the Sabbath Day holy, and professional football does not have much to recommend it in that regard.

Sunday School Lesson 1

For some time I have created study notes for members of my Gospel Doctrine class. I hand them out a week before the lesson (unless I’m behind, as has occasionally been the case). For the most part the notes consist of questions about the passage assigned for reading. I have avoided commentary, hoping that the questions would be a vehicle for people to think for themselves about the readings. These questions are intended to provoke thought; I usually have no particular answer in mind myself. Since some of those who haunt this list may find the study questions useful. I’ll post them here each week as well.

Meeting Times

One of the familiar New Year’s rites for Mormons is the changing of the meeting times. My ward is moving from 11:30 to 1:30 meeting times. I’m not thrilled — the 11:30 time had its drawbacks (primarily that Sacrament Meeting fell right in the middle of nap time and lunch time), but a 1:30 starting time means that church doesn’t end until 4:30, and we won’t be home until after 5. That means that we will get less done on Sunday. (Sunday mornings are pretty much wasted time, but I occasionally get something productive done on Sunday afternoon after church). I was just wondering how this ritual fits in to Mormon history, and to the general religious landscape. Is the January 1st meeting-time change a recent development in the church? Does anyone (Jim?) know where the idea came from? How does this fit in to the change to 3-hour block meetings? And, is this a little bit of sui generis…

Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men

Our mission Christmases were mostly lonely times, but God gave us a gift on the second one. We had made little scrolls that we tied in red ribbon. On the scrolls we had printed a short message that said: “Silver and Gold have we none, but that which we have we give unto you. Two thousand years ago the Savior said, ‘Peace I leave with you, Peace I give unto you.’ We give you our love, and our wish that the Savior’s peace be with you.” We went caroling to the members and the neighbors and left them with a scroll.

The Little Drummer Boy

When I was 15, my Grandma Joe cried as she read this story from the newspaper to me and my brothers and sisters. Seeing the story touch her helped it touch me. “I am a poor boy too” has been my favorite line from The Little Drummer Boy ever since.

Eddi’s Service

This is my favorite Christmas poem. It’s funny, and bittersweet, and captures very well, I think, the transcendent point of the humble event at the heart of this holiday, a point powerfully expressed in the carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” when we sing: What can I give Him / Poor as I am? If I were a shepherd / I would give a lamb. If I were a wise man / I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: / Give my heart. That is, we give whatever we can, to whomever we can. He will always receive it (Matt. 25:40). Also, as someone who grew up on a farm and milked cows on many Christmas Eves and Christmas mornings, I appreciate the reverence of the animals in the poem; for of course, as we all know, at midnight on Christmas Eve all animals can talk. Enjoy, and to all my fellow Times and Seasoners, and…


As is evident from my participation on this blog, I am not a scientist, but I enjoy reading good, non-technical, science writers. One I really like is Carl Zimmer, who blogs at The Loom. He writes a lot about evolution and genetics. Ady Hahn (our guest blogger who is currently on Christmas break) promised to talk about evolution later, but after reading the latest entry at The Loom, I feel the desire to press the issue.

The Foreknowledge of God

I just fulfilled a longstanding promise to myself: I finally read the Foundation trilogy by Isaac Asimov. I have had many false starts on this project over the years. Asimov was not a great stylist, though he had many interesting ideas. The Foundation books are animated by one such idea: psychohistory. For those who haven’t read the books, I would describe psychohistory as the use of history, psychology, sociology, and mathematics to examine the behavior of large groups of people. While individual behavior cannot be predicted, psychohistory can (more or less) accurately predict the fate of millions. Is this how God works?


Is it good, bad, or neutral, to have sex before marriage? This topic comes up often in discussions in many places. The church has taken the unambiguous position that pre-marital sex is wrong. For us as members, what does the church’s teaching mean about its (and our) attitudes about sex generally?

Hugh Nibley on Learning, Working, and Wealth

The STQ: Material Prosperity thread has been a good one to follow; I’ve some strong (if somewhat inchoate) feelings on the whole topic of righteousness and wealth, but haven’t taken the time to put them down. However, both A Humble Scientist and Clark Goble have made reference in their comments to the writings of Hugh Nibley on these matters, and that reminded me of a favorite Nibley passage of mine. This is from “Deny Not the Gifts of God” (in Approaching Zion, pg. 145): “What are we instructed to do, then, in our falled state? One of the shortest and most concise sections of the Doctrine and Covenants tells us, ‘Let your time be devoted to the studying of the scriptures; and to preaching, and to confirming the church…and to performing your labors on the land‘ (D&C 26:1). The Great Triple Combination–farming, church, and study. Even so Adam was told to cultivate his garden, preach the gospel among his children…

Mere Mormonism

A while back, Russell suggested the possibility of a Mormon holiday to celebrate Joseph Smith’s birthday. Last Sunday, I took at least part of his suggestion to heart in my Elders’ Quorum lesson

Our “High Church” Christmas Eve

The first Christmas my wife and I were together (1993), Melissa wanted to attend a Roman Catholic Christmas midnight mass, a longstanding wish of hers. I’d never attended a midnight mass either, and so we did: late on the evening of December 24th, we and some friends attended a lovely mass at St. Francis of Assisi parish, in Provo, where I found singing the Christmas hymns (during communion and the recessional) to be more fulfilling than I think I ever had previously. By the next morning, Melissa and I decided that we needed to attend a church service every Christmas Eve. That we have done every year since, bringing our children along as they’ve been born and have grown. We’ve attended midnight masses since then, but have mostly opted for Protestant services earlier in the evening: Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, and Presbyterian. We’ve come to realize that many Protestant denominations have more-or-less formalized certain Christmas Eve services, with the lighting…