Introducing Meg Conley

Utah wedding and portrait photography

I am excited to introduce Meg Conley as our newest guest-blogger here at Times and Seasons! Meg Conley is a freelance writer and blogger specializing in topics of womanhood and motherhood. Her website, megconley.com, is quickly becoming a nationally recognized platform for women’s issues and day to day inspiration. She has appeared on Good Morning America, Nightline and The Steve Harvey Show. Her writing regularly appears on The Huffington Post. She is also, as she puts it, “the mother of two sparkling girls and married to the kind of man that lights the days.” I’ve been a big fan of Meg’s writing for a long time now, and I’ve been consistently nagging her to write for Times and Seasons. She will be joining us for two posts a month over the next two months. I’ve already read her first post, and it’s great. I hope y’all enjoy her pieces as much as I do.

Do Mormons Have a Duty to Vote?

We'll get back to Trump towards the end.

You might think that this is a strange question, and that of course everyone has a duty to vote. That’s part of being a good citizen, isn’t it? Well, there’s a growing body of opinion that says this isn’t so. It all starts widespread agreement that voting doesn’t make a lot of sense from the perspective of an individual voter. Your chance of swaying a national election—of being the decisive vote—is for all practical purposes zero. So there’s no benefit to voting. But there are costs. There’s the gas you pay for the drive to the polling place and the value of the time you spend waiting in line, for instance. This makes voting sort of like buying a lottery ticket when the jackpot is $0.00. It doesn’t matter how cheap the ticket is, no one would buy it at any price. Of course, there are some folks that think voting might be worthwhile because it’s not just who wins…

Data, Doctrines, & Doubts: Improving Gospel Instruction

I’m grateful for the invitation and excited to participate here at Times & Seasons. The following is a talk I gave in our recent Stake General Priesthood meeting as the newly called Stake Sunday School President. While many of the ideas below were conceived independently, I was heavily influenced by some of Ben Spackman’s writings (especially the quotes) when it came to their final form. Big thanks to him. I’ve been asked to speak tonight on improving gospel instruction in the home and at church. So much time could be dedicated to analyzing the best teaching methods and the how-to of engaging gospel lessons. However, I will forgo these particulars partially due to time constraints, but mainly because they don’t really get to the heart of the matter. There are plenty of resources provided by the Church that can assist us in improving the mechanics of our teaching. Manuals like Teaching, No Greater Call or Preach My Gospel as well as Leadership and Teaching tutorials…

Introducing Walker Wright

After citing him on multiple occasions here at Times and Seasons (for example here and here), I’m very pleased to announce that Walker Wright will be joining us for a guest blogging stint. Walker is an MBA student at the University of North Texas, and his primary interests are in the theology of work and sacralizing the mundane. Walker has written for Square Two, presented at Sunstone, Mormon Transhumanist Association, Faith & Knowledge, and Mormon Scholars in the Humanities, and is contributing a chapter to Julie Smith’s forthcoming Come, Let Us Reason Together: Dialogues with Scripture. He also blogs at Difficult Run, Worlds Without End, and at his own blog The Slow Hunch.

Covenant and Speech

Membership in the Church is a covenant relationship. We repeat this to ourselves a great deal but generally aren’t clear exactly what we mean by it. Often, we imagine a covenant as a contract, a set of reciprocal promises. Given what the scriptures say about covenants, this isn’t a false way of thinking about it, but it is seriously incomplete. The most powerful image of covenant in the scriptures for me is the image of marriage. Israel, we are told, is like the (often faithless) spouse of God. A marriage is a relationship that is defined by reciprocal promises, but it isn’t just defined by reciprocal promises. It is also defined by love, passion, and what I think of as habits of affection. We often think of love as a kind of Dionysian force that assaults us, but married love is more than simply Dionysian. It is also agricultural, something that one treasures, cultivates, and seeks to protect. I think…

Reminder: SMPT deadline Tuesday Sept. 1

Paper proposals for the Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology’s 2015 Annual Meeting are due soon—Tuesday, September 1. There have been a number of strong submissions already, and we are looking forward to more. For full details on the conference and the call for papers, see the original announcement.

Church Sticks with Boys

Church Sticks with Boys

As Dave Banack wrote yesterday, in spite of some public huffing and puffing, the church has decided to continue the relationship with the Boy Scouts of America. They have also decided to continue to seem unaware that the first word in the organization’s title makes it gender-exclusive. With equal concern for the substantial number of youth who live outside the United States and Canada, the Church will continue to evaluate and refine program options that better meet its global needs. The correct wording should be “with equal concern for the substantial number of male youth who live outside the United States and Canada.” The powers that be, again, haven’t noticed that it’s not “youth who live outside the United States and Canada” who don’t have access to scouting. It’s male youth who live outside the United States and Canada and female youth from every corner of the globe. In other words, there are far more female youth without the resources, infrastructure, incentives, support, and awards than…

Church Sticks With BSA

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At least for the moment, as announced in this statement posted at the Mormon Newsroom: “Church to Go Forward with Scouting Program.” So despite the sharply worded LDS statement released a month ago at the Newsroom expressing frustration with BSA for the timing and content of the decision to allow gay scout leaders to serve and despite Internet rumors that an LDS-BSA divorce was imminent, this troubled marriage will continue, at least for now. How long will this last given declining support for BSA among the LDS rank and file? And what does this mean for LDS youth and youth programs?

The Most Important Question about the Future of Mormonism

A couple of weeks ago, Patheos had a fun series of blog posts on the future of the Mormonism. (I’m too lazy to provide a link; Google it.) Most of the contributions were insightful and interesting, but I was struck that none of them put front and center what I think is the more important question facing the Church today. Mormonism is driven, ultimately, by missionary work. If you look at the development of our theology, for example, it has largely been formulated in the context of polemics driven by the needs of proselytizing. We articulate our theology through the process of trying to convert people, rather than trying to covert people to our previously articulate theology. More dramatically, whatever seems to be the most successful missionary message tends to come to dominate Church discourse and transform Church practices. We don’t necessarily invent new doctrines or the like for missionary purposes, but the way in which we present those doctrines…

“Another Important Step Forward in the Restoration of the Gospel”

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Yesterday, President Oscarson announced on her Facebook page that she was now assigned to be a member of the Missionary Executive Council. President Burton is now a member of the Priesthood Executive Council (which has been renamed the Priesthood and Family Executive Council) and President Wixom is now on the Temple and Family History Executive Council. In an article in the Deseret News, former General RS Presidency member Sheri Dew said that “This is yet another important step forward in the restoration of the gospel.”

Teaching Old Testament for Seminary

Concept image of a lost and confused signpost against a blue cloudy sky.

You recently got called as a Early Morning Seminary teacher, and feel surprisingly sanguine about it. Then you found out that you’re starting with Old Testament this September, and all of a sudden, your confidence in the face of world-weary, eye-rolling teenagers plummeted. Why is this so tough? The audience is hostile and sleepy. You teach every day, without the luxury of a whole week to think through your 45 minute lesson. You’ve got to get in there every morning to teach about the longest book we know the least, with the hardest material that is also the most foreign, culturally speaking. Not to stack the deck, but you’ve got my respect, Sister Volunteer Seminary Teacher.

Seer Stones and the New Narrative

A week ago, the Church released a suddenly iconic photograph of Joseph Smith’s favorite seer stone, and also posted at LDS.org an article by three LDS historians, “Joseph the Seer,” to be published in the October 2015 Ensign. It seems clear that the image plus the content of the article are going to rewrite the standard (“official”) LDS narrative concerning Joseph Smith’s translation of the Book of Mormon text. I’m concerned it may also bring folk magic back into that narrative and even back into mainstream LDS culture. That seems like a step in the wrong direction.

Review: Fresh Courage Take, or What It’s Like to Be a Mormon Woman

Fresh Courage Take

I recently read the new book Fresh Courage Take: New Directions by Mormon Women (Signature Books, 2015; publisher’s page), edited by Jamie Zvirdin with a foreward by Joanna Brooks. Twelve enlightening essays reflecting the plight, fight, and delight of being a Mormon woman circa 2015. You might ask: Not being a Mormon woman myself, who am I to write a review of this book? I know at least a few Mormon women rather well (mother, wife, daughter). Also, I have read lots of blog and Facebook posts by articulate Mormon women sounding some of the same themes and experiences, albeit shorter and less polished than these published essays. There’s a certain “I’m mad as heck and I’m not going to take it for much longer, only a few more years, but I really enjoy teaching the Sunbeams” quality to a lot of Mormon feminist writing. These essays show even less mad and more enjoyment.

Another View of the Seer Stone

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Yesterday by invitation, I attended  the first known joint press conference between the LDS Church and its cousin, the Community of Christ (formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, or RLDS.) The occasion was the release of the 2-part 3rd volume in the Revelations and Translations series of the Joseph Smith Papers, the Printer’s Manuscript of the Book of the Mormon. As with the others, these books are hefty, high-quality, and thought-provoking. While available at Amazon (part 1, part 2), they will also be available in their entirety online soon. 

Society for Mormon Philosophy & Theology 2015 Call for Papers

The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology will be meeting at Brigham Young University, October 8-10, 2015. This year’s conference theme is “Doers of the Word: Belief and Practice.” From the Call for Papers: The Society for Mormon Philosophy and Theology invites paper proposals on any aspect of Mormon belief, including its philosophical ramifications. We particularly encourage submissions on this year’s theme. Religious faith is not merely a matter of belief but of action. Indeed, several passages in scripture suggest that true belief cannot be separated from action. In John 7:17, for instance, Jesus indicates that the practice of faith is a means of acquiring knowledge: “If any man will do [God’s] will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.” Yet other scriptures seem to emphasize the intrinsic, perhaps independent importance of both belief and practice, as in D&C 131:6, “It is impossible for a man to be saved in ignorance.” This year’s theme examines the…

My Theory of the Church’s Statement on the Change in BSA Policy

Yesterday my Facebook feed erupted with posts by LDS friends expressing dismay over the Church’s announcement that it would reconsider its relationship with the BSA in light of the BSA’s announcement that it would now allow gay scoutmasters. After all, the BSA policy allows local troops to set their own guidelines regarding gay scoutmasters, and in any case the Church has no objection to gay scoutmasters, so long as they are living the law of chastity. Why the sharp response from the Church? I have a theory about, this, but it is only a theory. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court decided a case called Boy Scouts v. Dale. Dale sued the BSA under a New Jersey anti-discrimination law, arguing that the BSA’s policy excluding him from being a scout leader because he was gay violated the law. The BSA argued that the application of the New Jersey law violated its rights of expressive association under the First Amendment. The…

Mormons and Scouting: A Messy Divorce?

Mormons are talking about Scouting this week as the first significant aftershock of Obergefell v. Hodges rips through the LDS Church. It started with the July 27 announcement by the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that its “National Executive Board ratified a resolution that removes the national restriction on openly gay adult leaders and employees.” The BSA statement announcing the decision included this paragraph explaining that local units can still set their own guidelines for selecting adult leaders: Chartered organizations will continue to select their adult leaders and religious chartered organizations may continue to use religious beliefs as criteria for selecting adult leaders, including matters of sexuality. This change allows Scouting’s members and parents to select local units, chartered to organizations with similar beliefs, that best meet the needs of their families. This change also respects the right of religious chartered organizations to choose adult volunteer leaders whose beliefs are consistent with their own.

 Small Group Dynamics

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Far and away, when I am in a small group and decisions need to be made, most people would prefer that someone else make them.  There are notable, and loud, exceptions.  Four year olds, for example, very much want to make decisions.  But for most  adults, I’ve found that the majority typically  prefer that someone else ponied up and decided where we go to eat or in what order things will occur.[1]  This is because, one presumes, they are not so concerned about the exact decision making them happy.  They are generally willing to go along with most reasonable things. Let me stop and remind you that this is my general experience.  Perhaps you live in a world of sharp elbows and loud demands.  Perhaps you teach fourth graders or lawyers or interact regularly in some other highly vocal and demanding group.  Or maybe you make lots of high stakes decisions on a regular basis where people care deeply about the…

A Look at Life on the Trail

A view of Devil's Gate

On a recent corner-to-corner drive across the state of Wyoming, I paralleled the Mormon Trail for about 200 miles: from where the trail intersects I-25 (about 80 miles north of Cheyenne), through Casper (site of the first Mormon ferry), along Wyoming 220 past Independence Rock, Devil’s Gate, and Martin’s Cove, then up US 287 past Split Rock to the Sixth Crossing of the Sweetwater River. I’ve never been much for pioneer tales, but I enjoyed taking in the landscape that was the common experience of the first twenty thousand Mormons who made the overland trek to Utah.

2015 Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture, July 23 at BYU

Participants in the 2015 Summer Symposium on Mormon Culture will be presenting research papers this Thursday, July 23rd, on the seminar theme, “Organizing the Kingdom: Priesthood, Church Government, and the Forms of LDS Worship.” The symposium will run from 10am to 5pm in Room B094 of the Joseph F. Smith Building. The full program is posted on the Maxwell Institute Blog.

Selecting New Apostles

From the Salt Lake Tribune, a variety of reflections on the upcoming selection of two new apostles for the LDS Quorum of the Twelve. Many of those quoted in the article favor a pick that would advance ethnic or international or gender diversity. No one made the obvious prediction: a married white male from Utah with a law degree.

Another Proclamation?

For the second week, LDS wards and branches in the USA and Canada were presented with the Letter over the signature of the First Presidency, the Statement over the title of the Council of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the unsigned background material in Q&A form accompanying the Letter. These have all been officially published at the Mormon Newsroom. Social media continues to report a variety of reactions at the local level: some bishops simply read the Statement with no discussion, others conducted a Q&A comment period with considerable discussion. Reported comments (when permitted) following the reading of the Statement range from expressions of love and support for gays to jokes and laughter to complete silence. In a post last week, I examined the text of the Letter and Statement in detail. This week, let’s talk a little more broadly about how it has been…

Some things Jana Riess gets wrong about the Church and religious freedom

I like and respect Jana Riess a great deal, but she has a blog post up on religious freedom in which she makes a number of mistaken claims that are worth pointing out. First, she suggests that the Church´s commitment to religious freedom is shallow or poorly thought out. After all, she says, wouldn´t a robust support for religious freedom include minority religions such Rastafarians? Yes it would. However, since 1990 at least the Church has vigorously supported legislation that allows Rastafarians and other minority religions to challenge laws burdening their practices. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which the Church helped to pass, was in direct response to Supreme Court opinion holding that the State of Oregon could criminalize the use of peyote by Native Americans. Jana also claims that “The LDS Church has lobbied hard for the right of conservative religious persons – like, say, those who are members of the LDS Church! – to refuse [service in public]…

Symposium on Mormon Theology and Social Issues, July 9th at BYU

Participants in the Wheatley Seminar on “Mormon Theology and Social Issues” are presenting papers in the Harold B. Lee Library Auditorium at BYU on Thursday, July 9th. See the schedule below. SECOND ANNUAL WHEATLEY SEMINAR SYMPOSIUM FAITH SEEKING UNDERSTANDING “MORMON THEOLOGY AND SOCIAL ISSUES” 10:00 Brock Mason, “Marriage and Sexuality: A Mormon View” 10:30 Kim Berkey, “’As in Adam all Die’: Temple Robing and Dying in Mormon Thought” 11:00 Joe Spencer, “The Moral Stakes of Philosophy’s History” 11:30 Alan Clark, “Inheriting the Enlightenment” 12:00 LUNCH BREAK 1:30 Jonathan England/Spencer Green, “Communal Environmentalism” 2:15 Randy Powell, “Capital Punishment: A Mormon Theological Critique” 2:45 Holly Huff/Maged Lhroob, “An LDS Theology of Mental Illness” 3:30 Diana Brown, “Mormon Conceptions of Embodiment and Female Beauty Culture” 4:00 Rachel Hunt, “A Mormon Ethic of Food” 4:30 Jared Rife, “Renewing Body Energy and Spirit”

Revisiting President Packer on “Scientific Neglect” and Meetings

Given that my studies have involved the interpretation of Genesis, science, and evolution, Elder Packer and I have not always seen eye to eye. I remember well on my mission when Time Magazine ran the cover article about Mormon finances. This made it all the way to France, where we had a copy, and my companion Elder West really focused in on their description of Elder Packer as “the LDS Church’s hard-line number 3 man.” And indeed, he had and has that reputation. But around 2007, while I was teaching volunteer Institute in Urbana IL, we attended a CES fireside for CES teachers, where he spoke. I think he felt that he was talking to insiders, whose commitment and knowledge ran deep, and we saw a different side of him. He was casual, funny, self-deprecating… surprising. We really only see the public persona of the Apostles, which is a very limited and selective part of them. I reprint below some comments from a…