Internationalizing Mormon Leadership: The Normal Pace

Hands on a globe --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

In the Salt Lake Tribune of October 5, Jana Riess regrets that the top leadership of the Mormon church is all-white and overwhelmingly American, and that the recent apostolic callings missed the chance to reflect the church’s international diversity. Others have expressed the same disappointment. I can appreciate their concern, but I wonder how many non-American Mormons would agree. Are we certain that an apostle from Brazil or Kenya would be preferred by most Mormons in 130 other countries above a seasoned leader from Utah? Or did some of those disappointed Americans perhaps react from a “white guilt / white savior complex” by coming to the rescue of the allegedly discriminated-against international membership? Besides, do we know how many non-Americans may have been considered to fill the vacant apostle positions, but none was found adequate yet at this time? Perhaps the one closest to being called was finally considered too rigid? Then many would probably be grateful that Elder Rasband…

All the Lights Were Red: Thinking About Reform in Mormonism

A funny thing happened on the way to the conference. On Saturday morning I was driving to the final day of the SMPT Conference held on the BYU Campus. I hit the main BYU intersection near the Marriott Center. My light was red. There were cars stopped at other approaches as well. Everyone was stopped. All the lights were red. As I had been thinking Mormon thoughts while driving down Provo Canyon and onto campus, that seemed like a sign: Nothing is changing. No movement. Full stop.

Reading Nephi – 2:8-15

This passage doesn’t seem to reflect well on Nephi. I don’t blame Nephi. To the degree that any of us have good reason to think poorly of family members who have wronged us, I think that the older man Nephi has cause to think poorly of his brothers. But how can we not also see the older, embittered Nephi projecting back on his brothers here? Our memories are inevitably colonized by our present experiences—sometimes glamorized and sometimes darkened. If I read past Nephi’s retrospectively projected interpretation, however, I am deeply moved by Lehi’s wisdom and love. There is no way to see what this family is going through as anything other than wrenching and difficult. I keenly remember feeling like my whole life was torn out from under me when as a melodramatic young teenager my family moved towns. I certainly murmured. I continue to feel my feet kicked out from under me as I move through life (and alas,…

Reading Nephi – 2:1-7

Here is the great rupture. Nephi acknowledges that it came in a dream—a dream that made a coherent narrative of the details of Lehi’s life. Did he feel like a failed prophet? Did his heart break? Or did he feel vindicated or at least consoled in joining that host of ancient prophets who were rejected by their people—or was that a later, literary reconciliation? Regardless, the dream tells him to leave the Land of Promise. Again, forsaking the idea that this was a dramatic overnight event, and recognizing instead that it likely took place over the course of some time—what were the conversations with Sariah (goodness, I hope he had them) and his children? Neighbors or friends? Or if not with others, what were the conversations with himself? Jeremiah (whom Nephi later extolls) had not been commanded to leave, but to stay and preach and get himself locked up in prison. Other prophets had been killed. Why was Lehi spared?…

The Sabbath Day: Its Meaning and Observance

This was a talk I gave a month or so ago as part of High Council Sunday. In preparation for this talk, I read through Elder Nelson’s April Conference address on the Sabbath, in which he stated, “I am intrigued by the words of Isaiah, who called the Sabbath “a delight.” Yet,” he continued, “I wonder, is the Sabbath really a delight for you and for me?”[1] Well, Joseph Smith revealed that the Lord’s day should consist of “confessing thy sins unto thy brethren, and before the Lord” (D&C 59:12), so here’s my confession: the answer to Elder Nelson’s question, for me personally and on average, is a big No. My Sabbath experience has often been far from a delight. Maybe some of you can relate to this. For one, I work every other weekend. Half of my Sabbaths each year are typical workdays. But even those I have off don’t fend much better. I end up leaving church with…

SMPT Teaser: A Close Reading of Alma 32


I’m presenting this Saturday at the conference in Provo. I’ve kicked some of these ideas around for a while, but only started work on them in earnest recently. I’m addressing conceptions of faith and knowledge in Alma 32 through close reading. For me, that process entails creating a bibliography to see what’s been done, and working through the chapter closely and slowly, looking for patters and connections, textual issues, and logical flow.

Reading Nephi – 1:18-20

Two contrasts strike me in verse 18: a contrast between the way that Nephi uses the word ‘marvelous’ and a contrast between the visions and prophesying he attributes to Lehi here, and what we just got in verse 14. To begin with a word on the latter, I’m heartened that Lehi’s prophesying included beautiful, affirming, psalms; I trust his public messages did too, even if Nephi didn’t note this fact. I never hear the word ‘marvelous’ used to neutrally reference a marvel. It’s always used as a synonym to ‘wonderful.’ Marvels and wonders only receive a positive valence today; but Nephi’s clearly not using it that way. Which hints at something else buried here that is easy for us to miss today: it was indeed a marvel, something that defied common reason and common sense of the day, that Jerusalem, the holy city, the Lord’s city, the house of the artifacts of Moses and Aaron and the seat of God’s…

Doers of the Word: SMPT Conference Next Weekend

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology holds its 2015 conference next Thursday-Saturday (Oct. 8-10), at BYU, on the theme, “Doers of the Word: Belief and Practice.” Speakers include Noel Reynolds, Sam Brown, David Paulsen, Jennifer Lane, and about 30 others from Minnesota to Hawaii, including T&S’s own Jim Faulconer, Rosalynde Welch, Nate Oman, Ben Spackman, Adam Miller, and Ben Huff. Session themes include analysis of Book of Mormon rhetoric, the role of choice in faith, divine foreknowledge and human freedom, renaissance thought on a Christian restoration, the role of narrative in repentance, and the social nature of the Godhead. All sessions are free and open to the public. For more information, see the conference schedule on the SMPT website.

Reading the Book of Mormon for the First Time Again

The giant, angry pterodactyl makes sense at the end. Wait for it.

I read the Book of Mormon all the way through several times as a teenager. Between multiple readings and a knack for remembering anything that comes in the form of a story, by the time I was 19 I knew the Book of Mormon as well as any other 19 year old I met. Now I’m 34, and I routinely meet people whose familiarity with the text far, far outstrips my own. Sure, some of that comes from the fact that I know more Mormon studies folks now than I did as a teenager, but I’m not talking about the pro’s and the semi-pro’s out there who are doing great devotional and scholarly work. I mean just in terms of your average member: my command of the text is just nothing to get excited about. This isn’t surprising, because in the past 13 years since I came home from my mission, I don’t think I’ve completed a single cover-to-cover reading of…

A 15-year-old’s Notes about Sunday Morning Gen Conf

Sunday Morning Session–October 4, 2015 Conducting–Dieter F. Utchdorf Song, Prayer, Song   Thomas S. Monson Let your light so shine…be an example unto others–We let others see our light by being an example Being an example in word Being an example in conversation Charity Be an example in spirit Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time Purity Ronald A. Rasband (new apostle!) A few days ago he was called…interesting I always think it would be awkward to quote someone in conference who is at that conference The Lord doesn’t condone sinful conduct, but he rejoices when we come to him Gary E. Stevenson (new apostle!) The Lord will qualify whom he calls I think they purposely called them close to General Conference so they would have to ad-lib a talk, just to see how well they do Dale G. Renlund (new apostle!) God has called you for what he needs you to do, not…

The random thoughts and perspectives of a 17-year-old kid about the Sat. Morning Gen Conf session

So my mother comes into my room while I am reading a Ranger’s Apprentice novel, and says, “Hey bud! Want to write a blog post about Saturday Morning Conference session?” First thought: Zombie Apocalypse. No! There is absolutely No. Flipping. Way. I am going to write a blog that thousands of people could read, comment on, and maybe even be enlightened about. (Yeah, people sometimes do that. I can enlighten people. Occasionally.) Why am I typing this out now? Don’t ask me. Sometimes I am tempted to ask my therapist if he can crack open my head and see what really goes on inside of it.

Statements on Heavenly Mother


I appreciated the loving tribute Elder Holland just gave to all mothers, and in particular to our Heavenly Mother. In the wake of that talk, I’m reposting[1] some of the quotes on Heavenly Mother collected in Paulsen’s & Pulido’s BYU Studies article, “A Mother There.” [2] It’s a valuable resource to actually have before us a sampling of what church authorities have said over the years, and is one way to express the love and gratitude in my own heart. And now the quotes: “All human beings—male and female—are created in the image of God. Each is a beloved spirit son or daughter of heavenly parents, and, as such, each has a divine nature and destiny. Gender is an essential characteristic of individual premortal, mortal, and eternal identity and purpose.” (“The Family: A Proclamation to the World,” Ensign Nov. 1995: 102) “We were created . . . in the image of our father and our mother, the image of our God.” (Brigham Young, Discourses of…

Saul Callings


Saturday Morning conference referenced how Samuel was unsure that Saul was the right man to lead Israel. With the benefits of hindsight, one indeed wonders about the choice. Saul, in the end, had some serious problems as King. Does God call people knowing that they will, to a significant degree, fail? Yes, I think he does. I think he does it all the time. Yet sometimes I think people see someone called to a calling and, if it does not work out well, they question if the calling was inspired. Now, I don’t think that all callings are perfect. But nor do I think that just because things don’t work out storybook perfect does it mean the calling was not inspired. And to layer it on, I think a calling can be inspired even if God knows the person will not accept it. I even think a calling can be inspired even if the person shouldn’t accept it. A calling, even…

Reading Nephi – 1:7-17

Joseph Smith remarked on visions that they are something that overcomes the visionary—that is, they’re physically exhausting. After the famous vision he shared with Sidney Rigdon (D&C 76), Sidney was apparently quite overcome, and Joseph quipped, “He’s not as used to this as I am” (or something to that effect, a la Truman Madsen). Thus it appears to have been the case with Lehi—overcome after his experience in the presence of God (a pillar of fire being a typological Old Testament symbol for the presence of God), he casts himself upon his bed. But God wasn’t yet done with him. Hardy points out that this appears to be something of a cover-up, that Nephi appears to be intentionally blurring the lines between visions (note that Nephi’s narrative begins with what is clearly denoted as a conscious, daytime vision) and dreams, which Nephi often parenthesizes as a “vision.” Hardy sees Nephi as responding to the criticism lodged by Jeremiah that dreams…

My Life as a Mama Dragon

Today I am pleased to share a guest post by my mother, Christie Frandsen. Christie is a gifted teacher, leader and speaker, and has taught early morning seminary, Institute, and adult scripture classes for many years in Southern California. She has also been involved in Girl Scouting for decades in many significant leadership capacities. She is the mother of eleven children and grandmother of eighteen.   Last weekend in Provo, Utah, I attended the Annual International Conference of Affirmation, a support organization for LGBT Mormons, family and friends. This was my second conference, so I already knew it would be a weekend filled with an abundance of informative workshops, deeply inspirational stories, great music (you haven’t lived until you have sung Come, Come, Ye Saints with an auditorium filled with gay Mormons), too much delicious food, and not enough sleep. I knew I would be creating and renewing friendships with good people from all over the country who find ourselves in…

Reading Nephi – 1:1-6

‘I, Nephi’ begins his record in a remarkable manner, and I’m tempted to write long-windedly exploring the labyrinth of the first verse. I’m grateful that he acknowledges goodly parents and not just a goodly father. Some have certainly had only goodly fathers and not goodly mothers (Disney loves this scenario), but as written, I see a reflection of my own life in the first line of the Book of Mormon—of all of our lives. We have goodly Parents — Heavenly Parents. And, accordingly as Nephi notes, we have been taught somewhat in all of their learning, and are continuing to be so taught, which is the purpose of our sojourn. Indistinguishable from this learning is Nephi’s frank admission of affliction being integral to the whole process. And too often this can come to dominate our view of life. Nevertheless, there is goodness. And how these things are able to comingle in a divine setting is itself the substance of the…

The KJV and the Thereofs Thereof


The KJV is archaic and foreign today, but did you know it was already archaic and outdated when it was published in 1611? The translation team was instructed to follow earlier translations like The Bishop’s Bible (1568) and only change where they thought necessary. But the Bishop’s Bible was itself a revision of yet earlier translations, all the way back to Tyndale (1525)! This means the translators were not starting from scratch, but essentially critiquing and updating earlier work. The English used was not the current vernacular language of the people when it was published. The abundance of “barbed wire” for readers today is not all a result of linguistic change since 1611; KJV readers in 1611 found plenty of “barbed wire” too.

The General Conference Mirth Index – Take 2


I always enjoy the opportunity to laugh a little bit in general conference. In January, I introduced the General Conference Mirth Index (for the October 2014 conference), which sums up the number of laughs for each talk. As we enter into the next General Conference this weekend, let’s see how much laughing we did last April. A quick recap. To calculate this, I listen to each conference talk and record the number of instances of laughter that I hear. (Note that I’m not counting jokes or judging what is a joke; I’m only counting what induces laughter.) I listen to each talk in the language in which it was delivered, since the English voiceover often covers the laughter. I then adjust by the length of the talk. This has limitations – it weighs equally Elder Gibson’s chuckle from not eating dinner with Elder Pearson’s medium-sized laugh from #spaciousbuilding. Big picture. More than half the talks had at least one laugh…

“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost.”


The title of today’s post (“A woman is a woman no matter what, but manhood can be lost,”) is a quote comes from a long and interesting article from the Pacific Standard: Why Men Kill Themselves. There’s a lot that is interesting in the article, especially about some of the gender differences that lead to a much higher suicide rate for men as compared to women. Although there are certainly wide variations between cultures in the overall rate of suicide, it turns out that “In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female.” The article reminded me of Valerie Hudson Cassler’s article for Square Two: Plato’s Son, Augustine’s Heir: “A Post-Heterosexual Mormon Theology.” The article, a response to Taylor Petrey’s attempt to show how Mormon theology could be retrofitted to be compatible with eternal homosexual relationships, had a tremendous impact on how I view gender and religion. In the article, Cassler allows that “No doubt Petrey would argue that what he is advocating…

Thoughts on a Modern English Translation of the Scriptures

The Church recently announced that is going to be publishing an LDS “translation” of the Bible in Portuguese. I put “translation” in scare quotes because this is not a new Portuguese version of the Bible translated from the original Greek and Hebrew. Rather, it takes a previous Portuguese translation now in the public domain and updates its archaic language for modern Portuguese readers, adding LDS study aids. This is not the first time that the Church has issued new versions of the scriptures to make their language more digestible for members. For example, the original translation of the Book of Mormon into Korean used a very elevated and archaic form of the language that was difficult for modern Korean speakers to understand. My understanding is that the Church produced a new translation that was easier to read, and that it has done similar things in other languages. These efforts on behalf of non-English-speaking Latter-day Saints raise the question, why not…

What is Mormon Doctrine?

What is Mormon Doctrine?

For decades I’ve been fascinated at the regular conflation of doctrine, policy, and practice among members. We tend to claim the policy of today as not just practical, meaningful, and inspired, but as doctrine. Until it changes and we forget all about it. One example that comes to mind is the “doctrine” from my childhood of only taking the sacrament (and only passing the sacrament tray) with the right (covenant-making, clean, dextro) hand and never with the left (unlucky, dirty, sinistro) hand. Somewhere between the church of my childhood and my 30s, this teaching disappeared from all teaching manuals, missionary discussions, and the gospel principles class. (My search was not exhaustive and I haven’t renewed that effort, but I could not find this teaching in any current materials at the time.)